The Divine, Demure Miss MÂ Is On A Roll With ‘For The Boys‘
By Ryan Murphy
November 28,1991Â Â
“For me, there are no challengesÂ as far as acting is concerned,” saysÂ Bette Midler, completely serious. “IÂ just get up in the morning and do it.Â I never wake up and say, ‘Oh myÂ God, this is so hard!’ Oh no no no,Â that’s not me. At this point in myÂ l i f e, I feel I can do ANYTHING.”
That said, Midler guffaws, grabsÂ the interviewer’s lapels, widens herÂ raisin orbs into Gloria Â Swanson-sizeÂ bull’s-eyes and acts the part of a psychotic legend gone to seed. “Don’tÂ you agree?!” she hisses.
“Well, you’d better!”
Manic and merry in a Four Seasons hotel suite, where she is holdingÂ court, talking about her Â l i fe Â andÂ times and new movie musical “ForÂ the Boys,” Midler is nothing like theÂ tough old movie broad she self-cons c i o u s ly sends up. There ‘s not aÂ rough edge in sight.
All curves and cashmere and billowy softness, she looks like a Botticelli subject on Slimfast. Toned afterÂ mo n t hs of tap lessons (she clickedÂ away 20 pounds), yet still decidedlyÂ ripe and f u l l – f i g u r e d, she is largerÂ than l i f e, even in repose. The famousÂ bosom spills pr e c a r ious ly out of aÂ jade green Armani suit. On her noseÂ rests a pair of granny spectacles; on her head, a peroxided pineapple of aÂ hairdo.
On this warm Los Angeles afternoon, however, her most noticeableÂ accessory is her confidence. She isÂ convinced that “For The Boys,” 20thÂ Century-Fox‘s $40 mi l l ion holidayÂ spectacular about the travails of twoÂ USO entertainers, is a winner.
In the film, Midler appears opposite “the f a b u l o u s” James Caan,Â who plays Eddie Sparks, a Bob HopeÂ character who sings, dances and argues with Midler’s Dixie Leonard, a w a r t i me b o m b s h e ll who ages 50Â years before our eyes and, like Midler, can do just about anything.
“This character is the most exciting I ‘ve ever played,” she rhapsodizes. “She sings, she dances, sheÂ chews the scenery, she makes peopleÂ cry, makes them laugh.” Midler leans back and expels a heartfelt sigh ofÂ r e l i e f. “Fina l ly,” she says, ” I ‘veÂ f o u nd a film that truly takes advantage of all my abilities.”
At 46 she has, indeed, arrived.Â Ma r r i ed w i th c h i ld a nd b l i s s f u l lyÂ busy at the office (her All Girl Productions is developing more than aÂ dozen projects), she is at the peak ofÂ her powers. Her string of ’80s Disney comedies has made Walt’s studioÂ richer to the tune of $300 million andÂ has transformed her into a one-woman commodity; there is Oscar talk forÂ her performance in “For The Boys.”
“We’ll see,” she says. “Who theÂ hell knows? I mean, I think I shouldÂ have been nominated for ‘Beaches.’Â The critics didn’t like it, but the people sure adored it,”
Ten years ago, it was a differentÂ story. The p u b l ic and the criticsÂ turned away from 1982’s “Jinxed!,”Â the aptly named f o l l ow- up to herÂ 1979 f i lm debut “The Rose,” and Midler was, essentially, washed up.
She drowned her sorrows in the bott l e, Â t r e m b l ed Â t o w a rd Â a Â n e r v o usÂ breakdown and was sure she wouldÂ never work again.
“But she sure turned it all around,Â didn’t she?” marvels Mark Rydell, aÂ close friend who directed her in “TheÂ Rose” and in “For The Boys.” “Hollywood couldn’t figure out what to do with her at first. But now, she’sÂ like this national monument. SheÂ should be up on Mount Rushmore.”
T e ll this to M i d l er a nd sheÂ shrieks. “Oh, right! What does thatÂ mean? That I’m craggy?!”
OK, so maybe monument is tooÂ strong a word. But Midler will takeÂ credit for filling a void.
“When I came on the scene inÂ 1972,1 think people wanted a hearty,Â fuller, robust character Â like myself,Â because it was in opposition to theÂ skinny little things like Diana RossÂ that they had been confronted withÂ for years.”
And is Dixie Leonard, like Midler’s theatrical persona, the DivineÂ Miss M, a diva? She recoils at theÂ thought. “Oh no, no, honey,” sheÂ says. “There’s no temperament involved with her. When you say diva,Â I think of outrageousness, and DixieÂ is not outrageous. She’s a real person. When I think diva, I think ofÂ people who are allowed to have fits,Â like Maria Callas. Now, she was aÂ diva. Have you ever heard her sing?Â Oh, she was INSANE. She was justÂ MAD!”
Midler leans forward in her seatÂ and shakes a finger. “You know, IÂ popul a r i z ed that word diva. But IÂ think that term is misused now. EveryÂ other filly out of the gate is called a diva nowadays. And you know what?Â They ain’t divas to me!” She lets outÂ a whoop, “And I do not like the competition! Not that I have any.”