Since the death of the longterm contract, Hollywood studios and stars make a deal, do one picture and then go their separate ways. Now, in an arrangement that harkens back to the old studio system, Bette Midler has signed a contract with Walt Disney Pictures to star in three successive movies.
Because even the biggest studio only makes around 15 movies a ye a r, there is no chance that Hollywood will return to the contract system of 40 years ago, when MGM could boast that it had “More Stars Than There Are in Heaven.”
Yet Clint Eastwood has had a handshake agreement wi th Warner Brothers that has kept him there for all but one of hisÂ movies dur ing the last decade. And in June 1983, Eddie Murphy was signed to a five-picture contract by Katzenberg, who was then president of production at Paramount Pictures.
An arrangement such as Midler’s allows a studio to do some of the long-range star-building that was commonplace 40Â years ago. Katzenberg describes himself as “investing in the Bette Midler business.” The advantages, he says, are the ability “to exploit on a long-term basis rather than picture-by-picture.”
However, such contracts require both star and studio to relinquish some control and the balance can be delicate: Eighteen months after Murphy signed his contract, he was able to renegotiate and obtain more money. “The old system was something that worked for a business where each studio was making 50 f i lms a year,” said Katzenberg. “Actors were cattle. They were told where to go, what to do, and when o do it. There was no ‘Wh y ?’ in the vocabulary. This arrangement is a genuine partnership, and it takes immense trust on Bette Midler’s part.”
“Why shouldn’t I trust t h em?” asked Midler, who has starred in three successful comedies for Disney during the last 12 months. “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” sold S62 million worth of tickets, r anking 10th among movies released in 1986. “Ruthless People‘” grossed S72 million at the box office and ranked 8th. And “Outrageous Fortune,” a movie aboutÂ two women two-timed by the same man, broke the Disney record for an opening weekend. Shown in 1,081 theaters last weekend, “Outrageous Fortune” grossed $6.4 million.
“These people are the only ones in town who gave me a job,” said Midler. “I did The Rose’ and never got another job for five years. I finally did ‘Jinxed,’ and ‘Jinxed’ really put me in the sewer. After the proverbial seven years of lean, I’m marketable again, and these people are the ones who did it for me. Why shouldn’t I be loyal to them?”
Midler, who had previously been signed to play the voice of a spoiled Park Avenue poodle in the studio’s upcoming animated version of “Oliver Twist,” will also be allowed to develop projects under her new deal with Disney.
When actors worked under seven-year contracts, they had a choice of accepting the roles offered by their studio or being suspended without salary (sometimes the roles they were forced to play brought them Academy Awards). Today, withÂ the balance of power shifted, a number of actors have damaged their careers by making their own wrong choices or being so afraid to make a commitment that they can go two years without making a movie.
Midler actually had to be talked into all three Disney films. When Paul Mazursky, the writer and director, asked her to be in “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” Midler, who was 40, was stunned.
“I was happy to be offered something, but the part was the mother of a 20-year-old daughter,” she said. “I imagine myself to be a perennial 25-year-old type. Then I thought, ‘Oh what the hell, who cares? A job is a job.’ For the first time I didn’t stop to think about my fans or my image. It was a good lesson. A simple lesson. Good parts don’t come along that often and if you’re in for a penny, you might as well be in for a pound and really commit yourself.”
In March, Disney will release another adult comedy, “Tin Men,” starring Dreyfuss and de Vito and directed by BarryÂ Levinson. According to Robert Levin, senior vice president of advertising, more than half of the audience for Midler’s films during the first few weeks consists of people the industry calls “older” – over 25. It took four to six weeks for the core teen-age audience to discover “Down and Out” and “Ruthless People.”