Bette Midler: at 30 falling apart?
By BOB THOMAS
January 16, 1976
“Migod, there I was, going under the knife on my 30th birthday. Is that some kind of a message? I turn 30 andÂ suddenly my body starts to fall apart!”
Bette Midler was responding in character to another critical happening of her eventful three decades. Last Dec. 1 she spent her birthday undergoing an emergency appendectomy at Century City Hospital.
Did that slow down the Divine Miss M, as her billing reads? Forget it. She canceled three dates at the start of a national tour but opened three weeks after the operation in Berkeley, performing with a style that would exhaust a gymnast.
She opened at the Music Center here Dec. 26 before a cheering audience that included Groucho Marx, Robert Evans, Laurence Olivier, Rod McKuen, Lily Tomlin, Hugh Hefner and the astonished doctors who performed theÂ appendectomy. “It hurt a little at first,” said Midler, “but now I’m used to it.”
Next on the tour: Denver, Oklahoma City, Houston, Dallas, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Boston.
Reviewers in those cities will be hard-pressed to find new descriptions of Bette Midler, the most remarkableÂ talent to emerge since Barbra Streisand. She seems to hark back to a mellower era of solo performers â€” Jolson, Cantor, B r i c e , e t c . I n h e r performance she salutes one of (hem by telling blue jokes in the Sophie Tucker manner.
INDEED, ONE of her ambitions is “to get my live performing down perfectly so I can be like those stars of theÂ past.” But were they that great, or did they just seem so in a less sophisticated era? “I don’t know,” she admits, and hence she interrogates elders who have seen superstars of the past.
She doesn’t look like a superstar as she sits in her hotel suite in a blue robe, sans makeup, putting her reddish hair up on rollers. She seems like the Jewish girl from Oahu who -came to the mainland to make a name for herself.
LANDING IN New York 10 years ago, she found no sudden recognition of her talent. She worked as a file clerk andÂ gogo dancer until she made the chorus’in “Fiddler on the Roof.” She broke in her act at M a n h a t t a n ‘sÂ C o n t i n e n t a l Baths and quickly became the darling of the homosexuals who patronized the place.
They still adore her, although not as clamorously as before. When she played Los Angeles’ Universal Amphitheater in the summer of 1973, the audience almost o v e r s h a d o w e d h e r p e r f o r m a n c e .
The Music Center audience was more subdued, although one young man did appear on opening night as Carmen Miranda, complete with turban.
“Naturally they follow me, because I started out with that audience,” said Bette.
“But it is not as noticeable as it was, and that’s good. I think it’s important to reach a wider audience.”
THE MIDLER performance is raucous, noisy and unpredictable, and you get the impression her iife is, too. Indeed she admitted that she retired for most of 1974 because she was physically and emotionally exhausted.
“Everything happened so fast,” she said. “There was a lot of pushing and shoving, people grabbing at me, grabbing at the show.
I had worked two years with only two weeks off, appearing in a lot of strange places â€” hotel lobbies, bus stops, shopping centers.
“Two years after I started I was playing The Palace and there was a lot of heavy breathing. I had no temper left and I was snapping at people, the way I always do when I am tired. So I just took off. I went to Paris.”
SHE RETURNED to New York with her revue, “Clams On The Half Shell,” some of which remains in her current show â€” she appears in the hand of a life-size King Kong.
She has recorded a new album, “Songs of the New Depression,” and would like to do more. What about movies?
“Yes, some day. There have been offers but’nothing that seemed just right. Both Lily Tomlin and I were up forÂ ‘Won Ton Ton’ but we turned it down for the same reason: we didn’t think it should be directed by the man (Michael Winner) who directed Charles Bronson. I definitely want to do m o v i e s, p r e f e r a b l y slapstick. I’m good at that.”