BetteBack – Monday, January 29, 1990: Bette Talks “Stella”

The Indiana Gazette
Bette Midler‘s mother inspired characterization in new movie
Monday, January 29, 1990

LOS ANGELES i A P i – “Oh. 1 can’t go o n ‘” Be t te Midler exclaimed in mock despair in the middle of an i n t e r v i e w. She seemed to be her u s u al k i dd i ng self, but her eyes were mi s t ing, and she called for a tissue. Wh at caused the sudden surge of emotion? It happened when she was asked if her own mother had made sacrifices similar to those of Midler in her new f i l m. “Stella,” based on the twice-filmed t e a r – j e r k er ‘Stella Dallas.”

The co-production of Touchstone Pictures and Samuel Goldwyn has been updated and altered to fit 1990s audiences, but the basic plot is the same: A single mother agrees to send the d a u g h t er she loves to l i ve w i th t he g i r l ‘s w e a l t hy f a ther.

“My mother is the i n s p i r a t i on for my cha r a c t e r i z a t ion of Stella,” Midler said. “My mother was indomitable; she had great w i ll and great strength. T h a t ‘s w h at 1 tried to bring to this c h a r a c t e r. She has no self p i t y; she just gets on wi th i t. My mother was j u st l i ke t h a t.

“I tend to be on the m a u d l in side I tend to say, ‘ W hy is this happening to me’.’ Wh y ” Why’.’ Why’.” To Stella and my mo t h er t h at never crosses t h e ir minds. They d o n ‘t sail through l i f e; they get t h r o u gh it, at all costs.

“My f a t h er was not affectionate. He never praised me too highly so that I would get a swollen head I should t h a nk him for t h at every day of my l i f e, because I iiave a certain amount of h u m i l i ty and I t a ke everything w i th a g r a in of salt, all success and all f a i l u r e .”

Her assessment of her f a ther has mellowed; she used to r ema rk that he “was one of those poo-poohers – ‘You’ ll never amo u nt to a h i ll of beans ‘” Both her parents have died. It was on the matter of sacrifices t h at the actress s t a r t ed to emotionally break up. She quipped her way out of it and switched to other matters. Such as why she chose “Stella.” a role the l a te Barbara Stanwyck made f amous in 1937.

“Even though people remember it as j u st t h is side of melodrama or being a t e a r – j e rke r, i t ‘s not t h at to me, I t ‘s a serious, s t r a ight forwa rd examination of a single mo t h e r ‘s life in these times . ..”In Barbara Stanwyc k’s verson,Stella was a p a r ty ga l. a con-artist.

Even though she did put her daughter first, she was taking the g i r l ‘s f a t h er to the cleaners. Basically, she didn’t love h im. but she set her cap to ma r ry h i m. It was more of picture about class. “All those aspects of her charact er were left by the w a y s i de in our p i c t u r e. She’s not a schemer She gets p r e g n a nt but she doesn’t marry because she k n o ws they wo u ld never have a real ma r r i a g e. She lets him go.

Despite the heavy dramatics of “Stella,” she considers “The Rose” her biggest challenge. “The Rose’ had more bravura scenes,” Midler said. “That remains my favorite picture to this day. T h a t ‘s no disrespect to my directors and co-stars in later years. I ‘ ve had great directors, and many of them h a ve become good friends. “But ‘The Rose’ was my first p i c t u r e. It was a charmed experience, and I had a wonderful crew and co-workers. You never forget the f i r st one. ”

Midl er ( n a m ed for Bette D a v i s) gr ew up on Oahu in Hawa i i, where her parents had relocated from New Jersey. She endured t a u n ts as the o n ly Jew in her school and found refuge in splashy MGM musicals. “Mi l l ion Dollar Mermaid’ was my f a v o r i t e .” she said ” I ‘m like an Esther W i l l i a ms f a n a t i c. She was in her own special world at MGM, and it made quite an impression on me.”

Af t er studying theater at the University of Hawa i i, she assaulted New York but could find work only as a hat check girl, glove seller and go-go dancer. Her luck changed after chorus work in “Fiddler on the Roof.” and her bombastic personality made her a huge hit in clubs and concerts.

Despite her Academy Award nomination for “The Rose.” Hollywood didn’t seem to know what to do with her. “Jinxed” was her only film offer, and it lived up to its title. In her own words, her film career “went down the toilet.” The t u r n i ng point came when she m a r r i ed h er h u s b a n d, promoter Ma r t in von Haselberg. “He brought a kind of stability and grace into my life when I didn’t have t h em,” she said. “He’s very protect i v e, but he’s also very amus ing and he has great kindness. He helps me organize my thoughts in a way that I never did before.

“We were not married very long when the ‘Down and Out in Beverly Hi l l s’ script came in. It was not a s t a r r ing pa rt and it was a low salary, and it was presented to me in such a way t h at it hurt me and made t h i nk I wa sn’t worth a n y t h i ng. He told me I should do i t .”

Af t er “Down and Out ,” ” R u t h l e ss People,” “Outrageous For tune’ and “Big Business,” she is now treated w i th great respect by Touchstone Pictures and has her own production company at the Disney studio. Her first production was “Beaches.”

“That was a n o t h er dream of mine to be able to work at Disney,” she said “I grew up on the Disney cartoon characters, and I always wanted to be part of the ir world.”

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