Bette Midler would sell you the clothes off her back
By Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY Updated 2h 14m ago
October 25, 2011
NEW YORK â€“ Letting go hasn’t been easy for Bette Midler.
“I cried my eyes out,” Midler concedes while assembling the more than 300 items she’ll sell Nov. 12 at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills. The collection of clothing, shoes, accessories and other memorabilia traces some 40 years of fabulousness, from the singer/actress’s early gigs to her 2008 Las Vegas spectacle, The Showgirl Must Go On, staged for two years at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.
“I was OK until I saw the catalog,” says Midler, 65. “Then I lost it. I’m not really a hoarder â€” except in my warehouses. I saved everything. But this last show in Vegas was so enormous that I gave a lot of it away right there. I called the schools and universities and said, ‘Come take whatever you want.'”
Some of Showgirl’s treasures were left, among them a mermaid suit worn by the last incarnation of one of Midler’s recurring characters, Delores de Lago, and costumes representing the show’s seasonal theme: for fall, a burnt-orange crinkle chiffon gown, and for winter, a rhinestone-studded pink leotard with a feathered headdress and peignoir. All are included in the auction, which will raise money for Midler’s New York Restoration Project, an organization focused on underserved parks, gardens and outdoor spaces.
Leafing through the catalog, Midler also is drawn to simpler and more subdued fare. There’s the elegant silver wool suit, with double-breasted jacket and pleated skirt, she wore in 1990 to accept the record-of-the-year Grammy for Wind Beneath My Wings. Or the vintage striped jersey dress she modeled on the back cover of her 1972 debut album, The Divine Miss M: “I bought it in a thrift store for 10 bucks. It had been full of holes, but somebody loved it enough to patch them up.”
“Recycle, reuse, repurpose” is Midler’s sartorial philosophy. She points to a Norma Kamali number that “started life as a plain green lamÃ© dress, then I added this sort of garland of fabrics.” A beaded Bob Mackie gown originally designed for Cher’s first solo TV outing in 1978 proved similarly durable: “I took it on the road with me and wore it till it fell off my back.”
Midler admits that she “barely wore” many of the other items, though “each one is a very strong memory for me. Some make me laugh, and some are so moving. The main thing I get when I look at them is what a wild ride it’s been.”
The journey continues for Midler, who will appear as half of “an old married couple” with Billy Crystal in the comedy Parental Guidance, due next year.
Midler is a parent herself, to daughter Sophie von Haselberg, 24, who is also an actress and fashion enthusiast. Midler calls her tastes “eclectic. We have a good time. I’ll say to her, ‘I cannot be seen with you in that,’ and she’ll say (the same) to me.”
Watching other young performers, Midler sometimes feels inclined to give more serious advice. “I should have a diva boot camp, where I tell them, ‘You don’t have to have the kitchen sink the whole time. You can clear the stage and be on your own, in a beautiful dress and a pin spot. You don’t need 50 people in spandex behind you.'”
But “I always enjoy it when people put on a show,” Midler adds. “I love watching them find their way.”