WASHINGTON â€” Bette Midler sounds like something the cat dragged out But she has every nght to be pooped, having goneÂ from making the Disney film “Hocus Pocus” to the planning of her first concert tour in 10 years, currently set for nine cities and counting.
And in between, she made a lavish, threehour movie for CBS of the great 1959 Broadway musical “Gypsy,” to air in December.
Midler plays the mother of stnpper Gypsy Rose Lee in the show. It’s a real movie, to be released theatrically abroad, and not just a performance taped onstage.
“We shot it as a film and it’s terrific, it’s beautiful.”
Midler declares from her home in Los Angeles. “It looks great, the kids arc wonderful in it. everybody’s good, the costumes are great, the photography’s great, the music is of course superb and the book is excellent. So we have veryÂ “”â€¢ ^â„¢” high hopes for it.”
“Gypsy” was already filmed once, in 1962, with Rosalind Russell in the role t h at Ethel Merman created on Broadway. Told the first film version was awful, Midler launches into a passionate defense of its star.
“I don’t t h i nk anything Rosalind Russell did could be awful,” says Midler, getting on her high horse. “I adored her. I thought she was totally b r i l l i a n t, totally b r i l l i a n t, and very underused and underrated She was a genius’ When you watch her in ‘Au n t ie Mame’ or in ‘His Girl Friday,’ you just can’t conceive t h at she wasn’t the queen of the world!”
But Bette â€” no slur was intended on RuSsell, only on the ponderousncss of the film.
“Oh,” says Midler “Well. I was just rising to the occasion because I’m really a Roz Russell fan. Anyway, I haven’t seen the movie in about 25 or 30 years and I didn’t watch it for the very reason that I didn’t want to be influenced byÂ it.”
Midler has other movie projects in the works, including a coproduction with Eddie Murphy about the life of Florence Greenbcrg, pioneering record company executive, and a film on the life of singer-actress Lainie Kazan, a friend of Midler and the kind of bold and brassy woman Midler admires.
“I haven’t read the script yet but the dnbbles have been coming through to me and I hear it’s very f u n ny so I have high hopes for it,” Midler says. “I like playing those larger-than-life ladies.”
There is an ominous pause.
“It’s amazing that I can s t i ll have high hopes after all these years,” Midler says reflectively, breaking into an ironic laugh. What does she mean? “Well, you know, it’s hard. It’s very hard. And you can get trampled on, any step of the way.”
Midler’s movie career has indeed been spotty and included such notorious flops as “Stella” (a grungy remake of “Stella Dallas”) and “For the Boys,” a misbegotten musical But Midler is the perennial down-but-not-out gal. “I find it amazing that I keep picking myself up and d u s t i ng myself off and keep plowing on,” she says. T h a nk heaven she does.
Her decision to return to the road may have been partly inspired by the overwhelming emotional response to Midler’s spectacular performance on Johnny Carson’s sccond-to-last “Tonignt Show’ last year. She later won an Emmy for it.
The concert tour will take Midler to Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Cinc inna t i, Washington and other cities. She’ll spend six weeks at New York’s Radio City Music Ha l l, which seats 5,800 people at a time. Tickets, says a Midler spokeswoman, are going fast.
All those roars from appreciative fans will help dispel Midler’s blues over her movie career and her contract with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, which hasn’t gone all t h at well.
“They’re extremely nervous, cautious people,” she says of the studio executives. “It’s very hard to get things that have a sense of outragcousness to them done there.”
The concert tour puts her back in “the Bette Midler business,” she says.
“It’s going to be a real nice change from doing what other people want me to do. For a change. I’m doing something I want to do.”