BootLeg Betty

BetteBack October 4, 1980: Miss M strutting her stuff

Winnipeg Free Press
October 4, 1980

Bette Midler Live In Germany

TORONTO —Few performers can command the attention of a roomful of jaded journalists. There are perhaps a handful of personalities capable of turning a blase crowd, who’ve seen and heard it all, into a throng of drooling fans.

Peter Ustinov and Orson Welles are among the few talents I have seen turn strait-laced professionals into massive bowls of jelly. I can now add Bette Midler‘s name to this select group.

The divine Miss M was in Toronto several weeks ago to promote her new book A View from a Broad and to attend the world premiere of her movie, Divine Madness. Tagging along was Divine Madness director Michael Ritchie.

Although Ritchie is a veteran of such screen blockbusters as The Candidate, The Bad News Bears and The Island, the crowd virtually ignored him. Ritchie frankly admits: “You don’t direct Bette, you just try to capture her energy on film.”

To recreate the excitement .of a Midler concert, Ritchie used 11 camera crews and wound up filming three consecutive evening concerts. “She’s amazingly professional. While we were making the movie, Bette was getting over the flu but she maintains such a high intensity level, you’d never know it.”

The divine Miss M listens and flashes a broad smile. The smile is warm with just a vague hint of a mischievous child. “Michael’s a sweetheart. He didn’t try to change the show to accommodate the cameras — lucky for him.”

She’s quick with zingers and her laugh has a slight cackle. “Michael tried to throw me one evening by putting a stiff in the front row. This guy looked like he was straight out of American Gothic. You would have thought he’d stumbled into the wrong concert by ‘accident and couldn’t understand what all these people were clapping and screaming about.”

The prank, however, didn’t work. Ritchie says that when Midler is on stage, there is no way of stopping her. “The excitement in this film is real, not like in The Rose,” Midler points out. “They didn’t tell me when they were filming The Rose that the audience was paid to be movie extras.

In Divine Madness, they had to pay $10 to get a seat.”

Midler is a big star today. But the image of a cult personality lingers on in some people’s minds. However, an Oscar nomination, hit records and sellout concerts are evidence she’s no longer playing to a select crowd.

One journalist at the conference asked about Midler’s early days playing in the New York bath houses. He referred to a quote from the Village Voice describing the performer as “as woman imitating a man imitating a woman.”

The crowd roared when the writer of the Village Voice article, Arthur Bell, turned out to be present, popping up to say, “I wrote that.”

Midler didn’t miss a beat. She turned to the journalist and said, “Arthur, is it still true?”

Bell had no complaints. It was an old quote and severely out of date in light of Midler’s recent accomplishments.

“When I started out at the baths, I had a predominantly gay audience, I like their sense of humor —kind of quick and laced with sarcasm. The people who frequent the baths expected me to do more than sing a couple of songs. I had to develop a shtick in order to survive.

. “I think the assessment in the Village Voice was fair one at the time. I’ve discovered over the years that I have a pretty good ear. I’m sure in respect to my audience I’ve developed some of their vocal mannerisms.

No one who has seen Midler’s stunning performance in The Rose would mistake her for a man, “The Rose changed my career and I was tremendously flattered by my acting nominations. I’m not really big on awards. I used to be, but then I lost the Oscar.

Boy, then did I want that honey.”

“All through The Rose I was on my best behavior. I was a real bore — something I don’t intend to repeat now that I’m a star.”

After only two movies, Midler is a genuine hot screen personality. She’s not certain what her next film role will be. Several, including the intriguingly titled Polish Nightingale, are no longer on the studio’s active list.

“I think I’d like to work with Sylvester Stallone. I’ve got this thing for beefy Italians.

“Actually, the biggest thrill for me was writing A View from a Broad. It’s the one thing I’ve done recently where I had no idea whether I’d be able to pull it off.”

She flashes a quick smile at Ritchie. “Much as I loved doing Divine Madness the book was really something special. I didn’t have anyone holding a net underneath me. I did it all myself.”

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