BootLeg Betty

BetteBack December 16, 1979: Midler on The Rose’: ‘Like what I lived through’

Elyria Chronicle Telegram
December 16, 1979

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CHICAGO — At first it seemed the casting mistake of the century.

Bette Midler as Janis Joplin. Bette Midler, the Divine Miss M, renowned proponent of Trash with Flash, risen to fame and fortune through the gay bathhouses of New York.  Janis Joplin, blues-singing, Southern Comfort-swigging pied piper of the 60s, dead too
young of a heroin overdose. The two of them worlds apart.

But in “The Rose,” Bette Midler has transformed herself into an earthy, raucous hard-living rock singer who, like Janis, lives on the edge, and who, like Janis, cannot keep herself from plunging off.

“I think Janis and the Rose are sisters under the skin,” Ms. Midler says to reporters gathered in Chicago for a screening of the film “Janis was very independent, she was free-spirited, she was aggressive on the stage. And she had a certain vulnerability and a childlike quality. I think her spirit hovers around the film.”

BUT “THE ROSE,” although it started out as a biography of Joplin, became fiction, and Ms. Midler says she tried to get through the movie without becoming a carbon of the late singer.

“I didn’t make any effort to imitate Janis. I wanted to avoid that. I thought it was very.-.necrophiliac.

“It’s too soon to make a judgment about what she did. I was a great admirer of hers, and I didn’t feel really that I could do justice to her. All I could do was try to create the spirit of that kind of performer, the kind of hell-bent-for-leather performer that she was.”

To become the Rose, Ms. Midler had to put her own campy, red-headed stage personality behind her.

“I BECAME a blonde for this film because I didn’t want her to be a redhead,” she says. “I wanted her to be as far away from my own persona, my red-headed Divine, as I possibly could get.”

But sometimes it was hard, she said, not to give in to the emotions that wracked the Rose.

“You know, sometimes when people ask me questions about this character, I have a real hard time not bursting into tears,” Ms. Midler says. “A lot of it is a lot like what I’ve lived through.

“I identified with her. I thought she was lost. I think we’re all lost. Everybody carries around a whole bundle, invisible emotional baggage on their back — terrors and fears and nightmares and rejections — and I just try to remember I’m not the only one.

“IF YOU THINK you’re the only one in pain, I’m sure it gets deeper. But when you realize you’re not, and this is the human condition, and life is a real drag, then it’s a little easier to bear.

“You have to try to remain objective and remember that basically it’s just a job and not try to fall into that trap. I got pretty close to the character, but I think I survived it pretty well. I’ve been performing for a lot of years and I have a pretty good perspective of what it takes.”

Not a surprising attitude for the diminuative 30-year-old who never did anything the way it was supposed to be. She grew up Jewish in Honolulu where everyone else was Asian,  made it to Broadway as one of the daughters in “Fiddler on the Roof” and then was discovered delighting gay audiences in Manhattan’s Continental Baths. What keeps her going, she says, is the thrill of the chase.

“I used to want to prove something, but now that I’ve proved it, that desire has been eliminated. The chase is to see how good I can get. You never really become skillful; you never really stop learning how to do what it is I’ve chosen to do.

“I’M FASCINATED by the whole range of possibilities in performing. I’ve always wanted to do all of it.”

With her dyed frizzy blond hair, swept up in the back, leather pants and crepe shirt spangled with poodles, Ms. Midler seems the epitome of the brassy Miss M. But that character, she says, is only a part of her.

“I’m like that — I have my moments,” she says. “I must admit that I do spend a lot of time in a quiet state. But when I get on the stage it’s another story. I love to perform, and I love to be the life of the party.

“But it takes a lot of energy to be on all the time. I don’t have the energy, you know? I’ve had plenty of off nights, and I used to get real sick over them. I’d flagellate myself and cry and get drunk. But I don’t do that much any more. I’m a little more sedate and mellow. I
still do have my off nights, but they don’t terrorize me the way they used to.”

IT IS THAT performer’s attitude, that take-things as-they-come professionalism, that keeps her going in spite of everything.

“I’m my own worst critic,” she says. “I’m just learning now, after 15 years of working on the stage, to say, well, that was okay, that was good, you did all right.

“I was filled with this thing … I don’t like to use the word self-loathing, but that’s what it comes down to — never being satisfied with what you do.

“I’ve always tried to stay away from thinking I’m so hot. It’s for other people to tell you you’re hot. When you Start thinking you’re hot, you’re in a lot of trouble.”

 

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