BetteBack November 24, 1991: Talking For The Boys

November 24, 1991

Bette Midler – wife, mother, movie and pop music star – is tending to business. Show business.

She’s facing a battery of interviewers, moving from table to table, trying to maintain her energy. The night before, the star endured the pressure of having her new motion picture, “For the Boys,” play before an A-list audience of industry executives, stars and the national press corps. Superstars Richard Gere and Alec Baldwin headed the star parade.

More taxing for Midler, was the post-screening show. For the first time in seven years Midler sang a full-length concert flanked by a pair of 12-foot-high gold Oscars. The newly blonde star belted out 40 minutes of tunes, finishing to a standing ovation for the title tune from her film “The Rose.”

SANDWICHED in the program was a duet with James Caan on “Baby It’s Cold Outside ” Joked Midler, as she introduced-her “For the Boys” co-star Caan “He’s survived” Barbra (Streisand) Kathy Bates (in ‘Misery’), and now me.”

Then there was the gown she chose to wear for her concert: “I couldn’t get into it without having; to struggle,” she confessed the next morning.”

Still to come are the reviews when the film opens nationwide Wednesday, but the 45-year-old “performer” must have felt relief at simply having completed the film that was seven years coming.

Midler and her company,-All-Girl Productions, have a contract with “the Disney orgahization that gives Disney first look at projects. Disney passed on “For the Boys.”

“I expected them to pass,” Midler said. “1 could hear them saying, ‘What do-you need the Korean War for?’ Nobobdy remembers that war. “But’I never despaired for a single second.”

Another strike against the movie is tne fact that musicals have long been out of favor. They’re also; deemed too expensive. The absence of full-scale musicals is a situation Midler deplores.

“In the old days, the studios made musical units – like Arthur Freed‘s at MGM,” she pointed out “But they
let them die or let them just go away. There’s no apprenticeship.” People are not able to do the same
quality of work when that happens ”

NEXT STOP: 20th Century Fox
The studio gave “For the Boys” a green light without hesitation. However, the end was not in sight. Four more years
were invested developing the script. The result is the 50-year saga of a singer ( M i d l e r) and a c o m e d i an
(Caan) who meet on a USO tour during World War II The pair moves on to become America’s favorite TV entertainers, but their personal relationship is fraught with trauma.

The choice of Caan came from director Mark Rydell. “He was not the first person to come to mind,” admitted Bonnie
B r u c k h e ime r, co-producer with South and a partner in All-Girl. Rydell’s task was made d i f f i c u lt by Caan’s record, which at t h at point did not include “Misery,” the f i lm which restored him to prominence in the industry.

“Jimmy had a bad period,” Rydell said “There was the tragic personal loss of his beloved sister. When she died so young, it shattered him ” Furthermore, Rydell said, “He s always been kind of a rebel; He wouldn’t play in those garbage films. He just wouldn’t play in a –‘Terminator 2. He could h a ve added that Caan suffered an acute
drug problem.

But Caan had done a musical film, “Funny Lady” (1975), surviving the obsessive perfectionist Streisand, and had
displayed a deft light comedy touch in Rydell’s own film, ” H a r ry and Wa l t er Go to New York” (1976). Rydell sounds like the president of Caan’s fan club when he describes the actor “Jimmy has greatness in him as an actor. He’s very selfless; He never sues for sympathy, and he never curries favor ”

Finally, the director said, “I told Bette I wouldn’t do the picture without him ”

MIDLER WANTED the talent, the f ami l i a r i ty and the s e c u r i ty of Rydell, who had presided over “The Rose” (1979), which earned her an Oscar nomination. She caved in to Caan’s casting.

But, Midler conceded, “1 was absolutely terrified,” at doing a f u l lscale musical again, her first since “The Rose ”
A f t er s e v e r al f l o p s, n o t a b ly “Jinxed” (1982), Midl e r ‘s screen career was washed up She said, “1
found a road – the bawdy comedy road seven years ago with ‘Down and Out in Beverly Hills ‘ 1 had a lot But, Midler conceded, “1 was absolutely terrified,” at doing a f u l lscale musical again, her first since “The Rose ”

The added prospect of playing a character at age 80 also f r i g h t e n ed the star “I’d never done it like Dustin Hoffman did in ‘Little Big Man’ and Keir Dullea in ‘2001’ So I spent some days at an old-age home, but I found that the makeup was a tremendous help ” From the personal standpoint, she said, seeing herself wrinkl ed, p u f fy and liver-spotted, was “depressing ”

Midler is more than a t i t u l ar head of All-Girl Productions. According to B r u c k h e imer, “Bette and
Margaret work on story d e v e l o pment. We’re on the phone with her every day, several times a day, when she
isn t in the office ”

BRUCKHEIMER also calls Midler “very, very cost conscious. She does not want to spend a lot if she doesn’t have to ”
Example- Rather than s h i ft production to England, Korea and Vietna m, M i d l er a nd c o m p a ny f o u nd
suitable locations in Ca l i forni a, then hired real servicemen and reservists as extras

One week, the extras were plenliful The next, half the supply d r i ed up. They had been shipped off to fight in Operation Desert Storm.

” It w as h o r r i f y i n g , ” R y d e l! recalled “But it lent a resonance to what we were filming”

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