BootLeg Betty

BetteBack: The Refined Miss M – 1986

USA WEEKEND-JAN. 31-FEB. 2, 1986
The Refined Miss M
By Jack Curry

For years her fans knew her as the Divine Miss M — as in madcap, manic and
melodious. These days, just past her 40th
birthday, Bette Midler is no less divine. In
fact, stripped of the lame and lace of her
audience-pleasing performance self and
wrapped into her favorite highback chair,
she’s divine to the nines.

But as the diminutive diva settles into
her Beverly Hills living room and shares
thoughts about her current life and hopes
for the future, it’s clear that there are new
sides to our Miss M: mature, married,
mogul, maybe even motherhood.

“I sometimes think I’d like to put together all the interviews I’ve done before
this time in my life — that really would be
a laugh,” says the barefoot Bette, 5 feet 2,
dressed in stirrup pants and an oversized
sweater. “There was just no one home, no
one home.”

If she feels a “Vacancy” sign hung on
her soul for much of the late 1970s and
early 1980s, she’s definitely replaced it
with an “Open for Business” shingle.

Bette’s back in a big way: Her first movie
since 1982. the comedy Down and Out in Beverly Hills, opens this weekend. In it
she plays an “intense, very very intense”
housewife, Barbara Whiteman, who decides to turn the guest room over to a skid
row bum, played by Nick Nolte, whom
she finds floating in her pool. Richard
Dreyfuss plays her husband.

“I didn’t make a movie for so long because nobody asked me. On this one, they
actually contacted me,” she boasts.

Enthuses the film’s director, Raul Mazursky (An Unmarried Woman. Moscow
on the Hudson): “Bette is brilliant as Barbara. She’s hilarious. What you get with
Bette is her — there is a sense of outrageousness about her which is priceless.”

The movie marks the beginning of
Midler’s branching out She has cut her
first all-comedy LP, the hilarious Mud
Will Be Flung Tonight, currently in record shops nationally. And she already
has begun work on Ruthless People, another film comedy due for release sometime in June.

And personally, Midler has taken on
that one challenge she skirted so long: In
1984 she became a wife, marrying fortyish
German-bom investment analyst Martin
von Haselberg, after a two-month romance. “When I got married, my husband cleared my head a lot Talking to . him, 1 was able to throw out a lot of things
that weren’t important. And he encouraged me to do whatever it was I really
wanted to concentrate on.”

No sooner had she left the Las Vegas
chapel where she took her vows than she
went through a resetting of priorities. She
says it was badly needed in the wake of
the career slump that followed her Oscar
nomination for best actress in the 1979
movie The Rose.

After that peak, Midler says, she lost
her motivation. “Once I saw’ myself on
the big screen and had my dream. I was
simply lost There was no new goal.”

Only one other film offer came her way
— the appropriately named flop Jinxed
(1982). And without new aspirations,
Midler — who came to fame in the early
’70s camping through golden oldies, with
two Grammys and a Tony Award-winning Broadway revue — put herself on
automatic.

In the past, Midler has described the
Jinxed period as one of exhaustion and
depression; on a 1983 concert stop in Detroit, she collapsed offstage. Today, she
plays down the seriousness of her condition, preferring to label it merely as a creatively fallow period.

She recalls making records without the zest that fans remembered from the early
days, when Midler’s frequent appearances
on The Tonight Show introduced her orange hair, eclectic ’40s outfits and quick
outrageous wit to the heartland, creating a
coast-to-coast audience for hits like Do
You Want to Dance, Friends and Boogie
Woogie Bugle Boy.

Looking back now on the post-Rose
era, Midler is surprisingly tough on herself
for what she considers the ebb of her creativity.
“The last record I made (No Frills,
1983) I was in the studio for over a year,
and I don’t like that process. There’s so
much technology, whatever humanity I
had was slowly being eroded. And I spent
a year making that record and nobody
bought it Nobody cared about it except
me.” The album produced no top-40 singles and received limited airplay.

Her marriage snapped her out of the
sleepwalk her career had become. Finally,
the artist found a center to her life on
which to build solid decisions. She admits the restructuring, at first had some
false starts.

“I consideiied very seriously not singing
anymore,” she says, realizing now how
disappointed her longtime fans would
have been. “I thought I wasn’t taking my singing seriously. I wasn’t paying attention to it. It wasn’t just because I wasn’t
selling records anymore. !t had just f a l l en
by the wayside. Well, thai (plan) lasted
two weeks.”

The life overhaul took some time to get
going, with alternatives and options
tossed off as quickly as Midler tosses off
one-liners in her stage routines. The old
urge to be in pictures reasserted itself, so
Midler went mogul. She set up her own
production company to make sure she
would have a steady supply of film pro-‘
jects just right for her special mix of passion, frivolity and low-down humor. She
also signed a three-picture deal with the
Disney Studios, of all people — they’re
behind Down and Out — that makes “the
Divine Miss M a co-worker of Mickey
Mouse.

“I never tell”people I’m working for
Disney — Walt would roll over in his
grave.” she blurts. In fan, she has signed
with Touchstone, a new adult-oriented
sub-studio under the Disney banner,
whose most succesful project to date was
the mermaid fantasy Splash. “If I hadn’t
made my name practically taking my
clothes off and being bawdy. I’d be delighted to work for the straight Disney
guys. I grew up watching Dtimlw and
those movies. And Hayley Mills — I was
crazy about her.”

Named by her movie-mad mother after her favorite star. Bette Davis. Midler
says her own youth, spent watching old
Hollywood musicals in Honolulu, inspired her adult musical style. She got her
start in the ’60s as an extra in the movie
Hawaii and moved on to bit parts in
Broadway musicals, including Fiddler on
the Roof.

Now she’s making a start as Bette the
Boss: The nove! responsibilities of developing projects, optioning movies, and
overseeing rewrites have sharpened the
focus of the once easiJy distracted songstress. “I’m not an organized person and I
know in pictures, you’ve just got to be.”

Among her aims during her mogul
phase: create opportunities for many of
the unknown performers she has passed
on the way up. She’s pouring a lot of
drive i n to a pet project — the life siory of
’40s swingiime conductor Ina Ray Hutton — because it wiil offer a bandstand of
pans to her struggling colleagues.

“I get to wear great clothes and real
good hairdos, but I also intend to put everyone’in it I’ve known so many fabulous
girl musicians. Some of them are still in
Honolulu. I’ve been lucky and if I have a
chance to do something nice I want to do
it.”

Having established a solid niche for
herself in Hollywood, she’s eager to feather her domestic nest. too. In place of the
thunderous cry of a packed concet halls,
she’s thinking of the palter of a baby
Bette. The blossoming of her mothering
instinct was predicted in the kjddy book
she wrote. The Saga Of Babv ‘Divine.
which was critically saluted when it was
published in 1983. In creating its title
character, an i n f a nt alter ego for herself,
she was basically confronting her desire to
have children.

“I’m trying, but I haven’t had any luck
yet.” she says. She remembers news’papcr
accounts that falsely reponed she was
pregnant six months ago during Down
and Out filming, and laughs them off “If
nothing happens soon. I’m going to start
going to the fenitity man to sec xvhat’s
going on. But I fee! quite strong and
healthy.”

So much so in fact that she claims she’s
giving in to one of her oldest foes: her
weight. Starting from her two-show-anight period in the late ’60s. when she was
playing New York’s club scene, through
her sell-out gigs at Radio City in the late
“70s. the hustle of her performance style
kept off any unwanted pounds. Now {he
cherubic chantcuse says the married life
and the executive l i fe have conspired to
fill her out.

“Oh. I’ve gained a lot of weight since
I’ve been married. My husband loves restaurants and I’ve never (before) gone
about eating with the gusio he’s taught
me. I’ve been eating food from countries
you didn’t even know had food.” she says,
laughing.

But she’s not worried: Once she goes
back to filming she loses extra pounds.
Her current project. Riiih/ess People, costars Judge Reinhold and Danny DcVito.
It’s a black comedy about a kidnapping.
And since she expects to work and work
and work from here on in. it’s unlikely
we’ll ever see a Midler mi d r i ff bulge. “I
want to work with Dustin and Warren
and Meryl and Sylvester — everyone.
You know in the old days you used to go
from picture to picture and make 80 of
t h em over your lifetime. Now. it’s like
12.” she says.

And for the Divine Miss M — as in
more — that’s just not enough. “From
now on. I’m just going to take chances
and not treat everything like a career
move. And that way. I’ll make 80 piclures, all right.

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One thought on “BetteBack: The Refined Miss M – 1986

  1. Aww… That’s so cute that at the same time this story was being run, she got pregnant with Sophie.

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