BootLeg Betty

BetteBack February 3, 1980: Bette Left ‘The Rose’ Tired And Exhausted

Santa Ana Orange County Register Evening
February 3, 1980

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HOLLYWOOD — Bette Midler‘s eye shadow was fuchsia-purple-mauve. Her hair hung in ringlets — tiny, ash-blonde, kinky ones — with ends just touching the neck of a woolly black sweater covered with little jet beads. Her face looked puffy and pallid. Bette Midler looked tired. No funny old Sophie Tucker jokes. No sequins. No lipstick. No glitter. And, plain, raw talk. Forget sparkles.

“Someday somebody is going to make a film about Janis Joplin and it’s not gonna be me,” she said. “It’s gonna be somebody who can sound more like her, who looks more like her and can sing more in that range. There’s a lot of girls who can sing that style. But I would never want to dance on her grave like that.”

Eight years ago, shortly after Joplin’s tragic death due to drug overdose and a brutal love for Southern Comfort, a story called “Pearl” began to float around Hollywood. It bounced through several scriptings (including one by Michael Cimino who soon left the project, however, to pursue “The Deer Hunter”, five directors and, at least, that many leading lady rock singers who were seriously considered for the Joplin character.

Eventually, Midler — the Divine Miss M who had routed her way into show business via the Continental Baths and gone to the top with “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” while Joplin, literally, sang her guts out — agreed to do the part. But the movie, retitled “The Rose” because Rose happens to be the name of producer Marvin Worth‘s mother, was to have — and as completed — had little, if anything, to do with the Joplin legend. Instead, it became a very generalized movie about any rock singer in the ’60s awash in the turmoil of social upheaval, and the counterculture scene of drugs, psychedelia, anti-war demonstrations, love-ins and guitar riffs.

The simplistic story: talented singer from small town gets involved in the big, lecherous world of rock ‘n’ roll and can’t handle it. Pushed by a money-hungry manager, she weirds out on drugs and booze and collapses on stage while the audience chants, “Rose! Rose! Rose!”— a demand almost for blood.

Rumors already sprout that Midler’s performance — brutal, intense and fairly terrific despite the flimsy material the film boiled down to — may gain an Academy Award nomination.

It is her first major film. It has left her tired and exhausted.

Midler is talking about Bette Midler after the movie has premiered and she is sitting at the Century Plaza Hotel and is “ti-yerd,” she says in a mysterious, Texas-like accent: “I have a certain amount of insecurities, but I try not to dwell on them. I use a lot of that stuff, though, when I work. That terror. The memories of loneliness. I think you have to use that when you’re acting. The basic rule is, ‘You are the only person you actually know.’ I mean, so most human beings are always reaching out to know another person! You’re born alone and you die alone. You never really know the other person or read their thoughts to know their minds—thank you!”

“My biggest shocks was when I found it wasn’t any fun — life. I was brought up thinking the usual high school things. It’s all going to be very wonderful when you get out of high school or, just like it is in high school. Like you go and you see these people every day and you do these things. But real life is not like school at all. It’s a fight to the finish and life invariably beats. What keeps you alive is just the chance of having a couple of fleeting moments of unadulterated joy—usually.”

Midler’s steady’ ‘persorial companion since the early 70s has been her manager, Aaron Russo, who guided her career from Manhattan’s now-defunct gay haunt, the Continental Baths, into the limelight of the concert stage, Broadway revues and multimillion-dollar record sales. Russo also guided her through initial deals for her movie debut in “The Rose” and became the film’s co-producer with Worth who, previously, had committed the controversial “Lenny” to celluloid. Last February, However, Midler and Russo abruptly untethered bonds, personal and otherwise.

“Have I been lonely? Oh, sure,” she continued. “I feel terribly lonely right now. Do I take care of myself ? Not particularly. I don’t eat right. I’m one of those persons who goes on a crash diet and drinks juices and waits for the weight to drop off. I’ve been at it since last February and how am I doing? I don’t know. I’m in business for myself now and I’m learning that stuff and it’s reeaaly a drag.”

“I listened one time to Janis Joplin. The catalogue I wasn’t able to imitate that sound.

“A sound that’s very, very high and a brilliant, brilliant sound but not my sound at all. I might wish for it, but I could never, never be. So I began to listen to people who sing more in my register — which are guys. Male singers. And, a couple of lady singers like Millie Jackson and Etta James who are more altos or mezzos as opposed
to a sopranoish blues sound, which I really don’t have, but like Tina Turner and girls who don’t have the most glorious Voices in the world, but are more good-time.”

Midler said she doesn’t know if she will do another movie. She has written a book, “A View From a Broad,” about touring Australia. She keeps recording albums, the latest of which is “Thighs and Whispers.” And, she intends to continue on the concert stage and, hopefully, take a year off.

“So many pictures are small,” she said.

“They deal with small subjects and slices of life and I don’t want to do a slice of life. I’d want to keep making bravura movies. I’d want operatic roles, but I don’t know that there are many parts like that around. Slapstick comedy, maybe, I could try that. Gracie Allen — oh, 1liked her a lot. But more like Martha Raye, I think. I’d like to do a comedy with music. But a big one. A great big one with a lotta dancing and sequins and beads and my hair in ringlets. Fancy. I like production. Colorful sets. Colorful clothes. I like technicolor movies. Jelly-bean colors.

Rita Hayworth, oh, God!

“You know, I don’t want to die without leaving a mark, I think most human beings want to believe they didn’t live in vain. Not just pass through and, you know, nobody would have believed they were really there. And, I gotta say I got a very bad case of that — just not wanting to pass through and have nobody remember I was there. So I keep making an effort.”

Midler pulled a pack of cigarettes from her handbag. She lit one. Slowly, she held the match to her face and watched the flame go out.

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