Bette Midler shows, again, why she’s simply Divine
April 2, 2014
When Bette Midler reflects on her younger self, she recalls a gal with “so much drive and will” that “I’m lucky I didn’t turn into Saddam Hussein. Fortunately, mine was channeled towards fun and joy, rather than anything negative.”
So when Midler, now 68, decided to re-release A View From A Broad, the “heavily embroidered” memoir she first published back in 1980, she saw it as an opportunity to shine her light anew. “Two generations have grown up since I put it out,” she notes. “It’s a bit of a soufflÃ© for this dreary world.”
The book (Simon & Schuster) documents the world tour that “The Divine Miss M” started just before launching a successful film career with her Oscar-nominated performance in The Rose. The singer/actress/comedian recounts her adventures with the “motley crew” she describes, in a new introduction, as consisting of “a quarrelsome band that murdered the time; three libidinous girl singers; and many, many attractive soundmen, stagehands, road managers, drivers and fans.”
We meet other colorful characters, from a dresser who serves as Midler’s confidante and moral lecturer to a snooty French salesman with a soft heart, while Midler offers her own often cheeky insights and admonitions.
“The voice that seems to amuse me the most when I’m writing has this sort of hifalutin’, musn’t-damage-my-manicure type of personality,” Midler says. “That’s not what I’m like at all in real life. I’m actually so down-to-earth that it’s boring. But it’s a respite to be ridiculous. I have strongly held views, but I don’t like to shake my finger at anyone.”
Though Midler didn’t make any adjustments in revisiting her work of “faction,” she found it “easy to transport myself back. Even though I’ve moved on, those memories are extremely vivid â€” more so than a lot of memories I have of things I worked on after that period. My memories of family life, of my marriage and bringing up my daughter, are extremely sharp and clear, but with work it’s different somehow.”
One recent gig that Midler won’t soon forget is her appearance at the Academy Awards on March 2, when she sang Wind Beneath My Wings for the “In Memoriam” segment honoring artists and industry insiders who died over the past year.
“It was the largest orchestra I’d ever faced,” she notes. “The sound was just so thrilling â€” one of the biggest thrills of my life. The (musicians) were actually in another location, so it was a little nerve-racking; but I had to jump in, to not let technology ruin my experience. So that was a personal triumph â€” though I really went out there to say my goodbyes, to the departed. I think it did what I meant it to do.”
Midler plans to pay homage to another late Hollywood icon by playing Mae West in a film she’s developing for HBO. “I actually used to impersonate her when I was a kid. Then years later I did it on Johnny Carson‘s show, and her lawyer sent me a cease-and-desist order.”
Midler laughs. “You know, now that I’ve reached the age that (West) was when I started doing her, I understand. Of course she would say that no one could play her like she could play herself â€” even if they had to pull her off a gurney to do it. She was a true force of nature.”
Much as Midler’s own life has evolved since she first unveiled Broad, live performance remains her defining passion. Last year, she earned acclaim on Broadway in John Logan’s one-woman play I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers; the production later transferred to Los Angeles.
“I’ll be 80 in 12 years,” she points out. “I do hope that I don’t die on stage â€” that’s happened to other people. But this is what I do when you strip it all away: I show up and communicate with an audience, and try to give them color and spectacle, and to not bring in the hideous parts of existence. And I’d still like to see the world, to meet it in a bigger way.”