BootLeg Betty

BetteBack December 10, 1993: “Gypsy” Almost Never Made It To Television

Harrisonburg Daily News Record
Bette Midler Stars In ‘Gypsy‘ Revival
December 10, 1993

Bette Midler stars as Mama Rose, mother of legendary stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, in the three-hour CBS TV movie, “Gypsy” of the 1959 stage hit that starred Ethel Merman 30 years ago.

It airs 8 p.m. Sunday.

“I’ve always wanted to play that part,” says Midler, who co-stars with Peter Riegert.

In the American theater, there’s a couple of roles for women you grow into … a part that people dream of playing all their lives,” she says.

“And this Rose was a dream of mine.”

The score — including such gems as “Everything’s Coming up Roses” and “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” — also enticed her, Midler says.

“I love those songs. One after another, every single one of them is a hit.”

Perched on a chair in a Beverly Hills hotel suite, Midler looks every bit as chic as her surroundings. A black pantsuit shows off her newly slender figure, and she wears a fanciful mop of blond curls.

“I AM thin,” says Midler, in surprised tones, surveying her image in a mirror after an onlooker’s comment.

Very unlike Mama Rose, who conveys heft and an unyielding obstinacy. She is the mother of all stage mothers, a larger-than-life, driven woman who ultimately pushes her daughter into the seamy world of burlesque.

“In my bones, I felt ‘I could play that, I could play that’ .. . But I didn’t think it was going to come to me this soon,” Midler says.

It did take some persuasion to bring “Gypsy” creators Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne around, Midler recounts.

“They said ‘Absolutely not. No way,” when Midler first put out feel era about filming “Gypsy” again, she says. The
poorly regarded 1962 version starring Russell had disappointed them, she says.

Then Craig Zadan, a Sondheim friend, “started talking to him about doing it for TV. He worked on them until they said ‘Maybe it isn’t a bad idea,'” Midler says.

(The play had two major and acclaimed stage revivals: in 1971 with Angela Lansbury as Rose and in 1989 with Tyne Daly in the starring role.)

Zadan, Neil Meron, Robert Halmi Sr. and Midler’s partner, Bonnie Bruckheimer, served as executive producers for the CBS project. Emile Ardolino, who died last month, directed Midler in a faithful adaptation of the musical.

But unlike Merman, who played it brassy and hard, Midler says she decided to bring a softeredged approach to the
character drawn from Gypsy Rose Lee’s memoirs.

“My idea for it originally was even darker than what we wound up doing,” Midler says. “The truth is, a person who lets her daughter strip … what kind of a person is that?”

But she felt Mama Rose, who endured childhood poverty and periods of abandonment by her own mother, deserved more subtle shadings.

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