When Bette met Billy, it wasnâ€™t quite love at first sight.
â€œDonâ€™t tell Billy!â€
We tell Billy, and he emits a sniff. â€œNow youâ€™re going to make me cry,â€ he says.
He remembers every detail of that night in New York. â€œShe came in late one night and sang â€˜Danny Boy,â€™ â€ he recalls. â€œActor Danny Aiello was the bouncer and Chris Albrecht, the programming genius at HBO, was one of the bartenders.
â€œAs for Bette and I, we had a mutual friend who did a lot of work with Bette over the years. He brought us together and said, â€˜You guys should be doing something together.â€™
â€œAbout 100 years later, this movie happened.â€
In â€œParental Guidanceâ€ (opening Tuesday), Crystal is a baseball announcer who has just lost his gig just as his daughter (Marissa Tomei) desperately needs a babysitter. Crystal and wife (Bette Midler) bring their old-school skills to the new-school parenting practiced in this generation.
Crystal says the film has unexpected dramatic moments. â€œItâ€™s a very powerful movie. You donâ€™t expect it to hit you as hard as it hits you. Itâ€™s rooted in very real things about how the different generations relate to each other,â€ he says.
The Midler teaming was a natural. â€œWhen you pal around and rehearse, you create the chemistry,â€ he says. â€œYou get a feel for it.
â€œOnce you start shooting, itâ€™s a different level of pressure, but Bette and I always had fun together.â€
To play longtime marrieds, Crystal hung out with Midler to create a little history and a comfortable feeling. â€œBette and I went on a date. We went to the movies together and we drove around Atlanta. We didnâ€™t even know where we were going.â€
Crystal, 64, also brought his real life to the film. He and wife Janice have two daughters, actress Jennifer, and producer Lindsay. Theyâ€™re also grandparents these days.
What kind of parent is Crystal? â€œI was appropriately strict when I had to be,â€ he says.
â€œI think kids are the toughest take-home exam you will ever get. I raised two girls during the busiest time in my career. That was a challenge. But my wife and I devoted our lives to raising them properly.â€
Heâ€™s learning a lot as a grandparent of children 9, 6, and 3, with one more on the way.
â€œAs parents, my daughters listen more than we did. But Iâ€™m also a fan of the old-school parenting vs. the current wave. My generation had a lot of common sense when it came to parenting.â€
There have been several life lessons since he became a grandfather.
â€œNow, I know how to Tivo,â€ he says. â€œI know every crazy thing you can do on a phone including watching a movie. Itâ€™s remarkable and great â€” although no one goes to a library anymore, which makes me sad.â€
â€œProgress,â€ he says with a sigh.