THE Capital Times
Bette Midler on a hit streak
Thursday, June 9,1988
Bette Midler marches into the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles carrying her 18-month-old daughter, Sophie. Both of them are dressed to the nines.
Midler is enjoying new-found confidence as the star of four hit comedies in a row for Disney’s Touchstone Pictures: “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” (1986), “Ruthless People” (1986), “Outrageous Fortune” (1987) and this summer’s “Big Business.” In “Big Business,” Midler and Lily Tomlin play two sets of identical twins who are separated and mismatched at birth. One set is poor and lives in the sticks; the other runs a multinational corporation in New York City.
Midler may be on top of the heap, but she keeps one eye on the recent past, when her film career was in decline. After winning an Academy Award nomination for her performance as a doomed Janis Joplin-like singer in “The Rose” in 1979, she made one other film, the disastrous “Jinxed!” (1982), and then dropped out of the film scene until “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” resurrected her screen career.
During that down time, Midler continued to tour in concert, where she first gained recognition with her ribald styleÂ of song and dance.
The Hawaiian-born performer moved to New York in 1965, and a year later landed a role in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Her big break, however, took place in humbler surroundings: New York’s Continental Baths. Her performances at that bath house landed her a recording contract.
In 1972, Midler won a Grammy for her debut album, “The Divine Miss M.” In 1973, she won a special Tony for packing a Broadway theater for her one-woman concerts.
Here, Bette Midler talks about her relationship with Disney Studios, the down side to stardom, and why she really doesn’t smoke cigarettes.
Q: You’ve won a Grammy – why didn’t you sing the theme song for “Big Business”?
A: It’s too much trouble. Typically, they only give you two or three hours to do the song. And if it’s not any good, you’re stuck with it forever – like nuclear waste.
Q: How do you feel about being called Disney’s biggest star since Minnie Mouse?
A: I’m thrilled. I don’t know how Minnie feels about it, but we haven’t had lunch yet.
Q: Considering Disney’s G-rated past, did you ever think you and your raunchy brand of humor would ever find a home in the Magic Kingdom?
A: Ironic, ain’t it? But I loved Disney’s view of the world, even though it was a narrow one. It did a service, yet a disservice, too. Let’s face it: If Walt were alive today, they wouldn’t let me in the front gate of the studio.
Q: How do you rate the current management of Disney, which has turned out one hit comedy after another?
A: They’re so straightforward. There’s no internal politicking or backstabbing or intrigue – which has not been the case with my experiences at other studios. I’m kind of easygoing. I don’t like conflict.
Q: After you received an Oscar nomination for your performance in “The Rose,” were you surprised that your film career didn’t take off?
A: I wasn’t surprised. I was hurt. And I’m still not all that secure. I don’t feel like the reigning queen of the Magic Kingdom. Believe me, they can take it all away from you tomorrow, so I don’t let it get to me.
Q: Which of your Disney films is your favorite?
A: “Big Business” is the “cleanest.” It’s PG-rated. It’s the only film I’ve made that I can take Sophie to. And it’s the only film I’ve done where I liked how I looked on the screen.
Q: I notice you’re smoking. Did you smoke when you were pregnant?
A: No! I don’t really smoke now. I just like to have something to do with my hands.
Q: When you were making “Outrageous Fortune” with Shelley Long, there were press reports that you two didn’t get along.
A: Well, she had an agenda that was not my agenda: Her goals were often in conflict with mine, but part of an actress’s job is to bring a beehive of creativity and thoughts on the set.
Q: You told Vanity Fair in an interview that you’re tired of doing comedies and long to do drama.
A: That’s not true. I’ll do anything Disney gives me. I’m under contract.
Q: What’s your next project?
A: It’s a drama with Barbara Hershey called “Beaches” spanning 30 years in the life of two girlfriends. I’m always playing opposite women. I guess Disney thinks I’m not ready for the fellas.