BootLeg Betty

BetteBack January 16, 1980: Success Blooms for Bette Midler as “The Rose’ Heads Her Toward Oscar

Altoona Mirror
January 16, 1980


If there is anything that’s certain in this life, besides death, taxes and the rising cost of gasoline, it is that Bette Midler will get an Academy Award nomination for her leading role in “The Rose.”

So far, there is only one other female performance in ’79 that comes close to hers — Sally Field in “Norma Rae“. And it appears totally positive that both of these gifted ladies will get nominations.

Miss Midler’s is the more surprising of the two. We all knew Sally Field could act — we had seen plenty of evidence of that before, But all we knew about Bette Midler was that she was a great, although outrageous singer.

In “The Rose,” however, she is superb. If you see it, you will be knocked out by the power of her performance. You may not like the character she plays — a tortured, self-serving rock singer, supposedly modeled somewhat after the late Janis Joplin — but you will feel her pain as though it were inside you.

The brilliant director of the film, Mark Rydell, calls her a genius, nothing less.

“Yes, a genius,” Rydell says. “Somebody like her comes along once in a decade, maybe less.”

Rydell says that Alan Bates, who co-stars in the movie with her, “had his mouth open ihe whole time.” Rydell says Bates told him he had been working for 30 years and has never seen anybody like her.

“Bates said he couldn’t believe it was her first film,” Rydell says. “And neither could I.”

Rydells says that Miss. Midler, with a reputation for temperment, was anything but tempermental during the filming. He characterizes her as “an angel, a puppy dog.” But he does say that sometimes the prospect of the day’s work that
lay ahead of her was almost too ‘overwhelming.

“She would come in in the morning,” the director says, “and would be facing a day of acting unhappy or miserable all day long. So she had trouble getting started many mornings, with that facing her, and I understood it.”

He says the quality that most impressed him about Bette Midler was her honesty.

“She is savagely honest,” he says. “She has a built-in phony-detector and it is working all the time.”

He says her honesty affected everyone on the set in a positive ways. It made everyone operate at his best, he says.

Rydell says that he doesn’t know where she got it, but she knew a lot about movie-making going in.

“She is a student of moviemaking,” he says, “but she is a student with a Ferrari engine. I think that, with help, this girl will be able to do anything.”

For Rydell, “The Rose,” which has a heavy rock music setting, might have seemed an unlikely project. He says lhat he never liked rock music — he studied at Julliard and was a serious jazz musician before he turned to acting and, ultimately, directing.

He says that in the ’60s — Janis Joplln’s decade — he was working hard as an actor and didn’t have time to listen to the current musical fads. So he never really was conscious of Joplin and her contemporaries.

But he became a Midler fan when he first saw her, singing “Superstar,” on a Burt Bacharach TV special.

“I realized then,” he says, “that she was tremendously gifted. I realized then that she is an arc light waiting to be turned on.

And so, when the people who wanted to make “The Rose” approached him, he read the script and said, yes, he’d do it — but only with Bette Midler as the star. Previously, there had been several attempts to make the film with other stars — Ken Russell, for one, was planning to do it with Valerie Perrine.

This is only Rydell’s sixth picture. He is very selective, with good reason. As he says, when you spend years of your life on a project, you don’t want to get involved with anything except the best.

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