LOS A N G E L ES â€” W i th “Beaches,” Bette Midler stops clowning around. For the last five years, Midler, who made her screen debut in the 1979 drama “The Rose,” which earned her a best actress Oscar nomination, has played it fast and funny in hits such as “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” Kuthless People,” “Outrageous Fortune” and “Big Business,” allÂ for Walt Disney’s Touchstone Pictures.
But as a first-time producer under her All Girl Productions wno began her career as a cabaret performer, she wanted to tackle a serious topic: the importance of friendship and the acceptance of responsibility.
She found such material in “Beaches,” the story of two mismatched girlhood friends who share their fears, frustrations, triumphs and failures through three decades. Co-starring Barbara Hershey and directed by Garry Marshall, the PG 13 picture requires Midler to use both her musical talents, since her autobiographical cha r a c t er is a
nightclub performer and her dramatic skills.
But the still flamboyant Midler views “Beaches” as something a bit more important than mere entertainment and hopes it will help balance the plethora of projects with negative themes currently clogging big and little screens.
“I think that so much of the Hollywood product is so ugly and so anti-human that there’s got to be some kind of backlash, some kind of response to that,” said Midler, whose daughter, Sophie, is 2 years old. “We’re creating a generation of people who have no feelings. When you’re in a home where people don’t express themselves in loving terms
and where you don’t get values from school, you have to get them from somewhere.
“I really think that television and films have failed the children in a (proper) way to behave that is kind and good.”
“Children should know that you don’t have to be paranoid and you don’t have to fear Freddy (Krueger of the ‘A NightmareÂ on Elm Street‘ series) everytime you go out at night. It’s hard to describe, but I just know that there’s a lot of (entertainment) out there that’s just too ugly for me to bear.”
With “Beaches,'” Midler, who married artist Martin Von Haselberg five years ago, was intrigued by playing an autobiographical character, a performer named CC Bloom who begins her career as a bawdy singer and blossomsÂ into a multi-faceted entertainer.
“I liked the fact that CC Bloom changes,” Midler said of the script. “She grows up and takes responsibility for her fate and the fate of others. I also like that she sings and comes from a background that I sort of understand.”
“When I was a teen-ager, I started to become a driven person, because I found something (show business) that I could really sink my teeth into. From the time I was a teen-ager, I was running along a course that parallels this character’s.
‘”Beaches’ (originally titled ‘Friends’) came to me through (novelist) Iris Rainer Dart, who always said she wrote it for me (and gave her the galleys for the book in the early 1980s) She’s a good friend of Mark Rydell (who directed ‘The Rose’), and Iris wanted us (Midler and Rydell) to work together again. She loved ‘The Rose* and wanted to be in on the early stages of writing a picture which would reunite us.
“We sent it to Mark, but he decided he didn’t want to do it.”
‘”Beaches’ has changed my mind (about making a new album) to a certain extent, because I wasn’t going to put a soundtrack out for it,” said Midler, who will next appear in “Stella,” a remake of King Vidor’s 1937 tearjerker “Stella Dallas” with Barbara Stanwyck. “I didn’t think it mattered. A lot of the music has been recorded by other people before, and I didn’t think that people would want to have a record of it.
“But everyone who worked on it said he or she loved one song or another, and finally I said, ‘Maybe it’s ail right (to put out a record)’ I went back in and put a soundtrack together.”
Midler can also be heard singing in the Walt Disney animated epic, “Oliver & Company,” in which she does the voice for the pampered poodle Georgette. It’s an experience the multi talented performer savored.
“I started on ‘Oliver & Company’ a couple of years ago, because when you’re on a lot (in this case, the Disney lot, where she works as a contract player for the company’s Touchstone Pictures), you get things,” she said. “They figure, ‘She’s here. Give it to her.
“But I liked Georgette right away and t h o u g ht she was a great character. I could understand why they would give me a (flamboyant) character like that. It was around the time ‘Outrageous F o r t u n e* (a 1987 f i lm co-starnng Shelley Long), and I was playing yet another brash type. I worked hard on Georgette.
“I love cartoons, especially the Disney cartoons. I was very thrilled that I was involved with t he s t u d iot h at m a de ‘ W ho Framed Roger Rabbit’ (1988’s highest-grossing film) When all those characters from all thoseÂ other cartoons came on (in ‘Roger Rabbit’), my heart just soared It was like a strange homecoming”