BootLeg Betty

BetteBack January 28, 1986: ‘You mean I won’t live forever?’

Bette Midler in the fast track
Bette Midler interviews are funny, witty, stimulating.
By David Hinckley
New York Daily News
January 28, 1986


It is suggested to Bette Midler
she will run out of time before she
runs out of ideas. Her reply is swift,
without trace of a smile.

“Oh no, don’t SAY that,” she
says. “You mean I won’t live forever?”
Trying to pin Bette Midler down
in a phrase or two is like trying to
play Name That Tune with the
motorman on a moving subway
train. Under anything resembling
normal circumstances, it cannot be

Take, for instance, the present.
Atlantic has just released her latest
album, a live comedy session with a
d u s t i n g of song and t h e
honest-enough title Mud Will Be
Flung Tonight. Bette flinging mud
at Madonna: “Touched for the very
first time? . . . Ha! . . . Today,
maybe.” At the French: “The nation
that gave us Renoir thinks
Jerry Lewis is a genius.” At Bruce
Springsteen: “I knew him when his
arms were as skimpy as his chord

R-rated Disney

Meanwhile, she is also starring in
the movie Down and Out in Beverly
Hills, the first R-rated film from
a Disney studio. Midler isn’t the
specific reason for the R, though
she does her part with a howling orgasm
scene unavoidably reminiscent
of a similar moment in
Porky’s. Otherwise, she plays what
seems at first to be a walking
California joke, a bored, newly
monied housewife with tacky home
furnishings and a weakness for any
charlatan who promises eternal enlightenment
and thin thighs in more
than two syllables. Actually, it
tunis out, she doesn’t like the joke;
she’s just trapped in it. But let s not
get ahead of ourselves.

She will also begin filming, any
minute now, her next movie: Ruthless
People with Danny DeVito.
After that, she’s planning to star in
the Ina Ray Hutton story, a musical
about a woman bandleader of the
’30s. In between she may squeeze in
a Broadway revue, perhaps along
the lines of her 1975 Clams on the
Half Shell.

If that happens, it might answer
the question of whether she can go
home again. In the Clams days
she was still Hot Young Star of Chic
New York, Queen of Flash and
Trash, Most Bizarre Success Story
of the ’70s. Here was a Jewish girl
from Hawaii who looked like six
feet of body scrunched into a fivefoot
frame, who got her first notice
in the Continental Baths with Barry
Manilow as her musical arranger,
who had a wonderful voice she often
seemed not to take seriously, who
could do nothing too outrageous.

Soon after Clams she thanked the
Harvard Hasty Pudding Club for its
“woman of the year” award by
shooting the audience a moon.
“I’m an entertainer,” she reflected
years later, with a strong trace
of a smile and no visible hint of
regret. “I’ve built my own house.”
That house has included two
movies: The Rose, for which she
won an Oscar nomination, and
Jinxed, for which she won a nervous
breakdown. It’s also included
albums, tours, books and TV specials,
which have told both lots and
little about the compulsive woman
behind them.


At the end of her long 1983 tour,
she mused about being exhausted
(“You pour everything into it for
six months and it never turns out
quite the way you envisioned . . .
a l t h o u g h certain nights are
magic”), but doomed never to

“One of my favorite songs is Marshall
Crenshaw’s You’re My Favorite
Waste of Time. To me, just
spending time with friends is like a
vacation. You don’t make any
money doing it, but it’s refreshing.”

Which is as specific as she gets
about her life. An interview with
Midler is funny, witty, stimulating,
even chatty; you just don’t end up
painting toenails and telling secrets.

She doesn’t mind providing a
cheerful “None of your business” to
requests for names, places or
dates, and she once mused, “I can’t
believe people really care what I
have for breakfast or who I sleep

Even if we forget the personal
side, however, some professional
questions remain. Is she a rock ‘n’
roll singer? Actress? Cabaret singer?
Comedienne? Performance artist,
whatever that means? Even
when she seems to be singing, is she
sometimes putting us on? The only
recent career even remotely comparable
to hers in scope, success
and style is Eddie Murphy‘s. So is
that it? Is she a short Eddie
Murphy with a large chest?

Yes, well, we had to get to the
chest, if only because Midler has
gotten more mileage out of that
subject than Dirty Harry gets from
a .44 Magnum. On Mud, after telling
a few hundred chest jokes, she
remarks, “Does anyone knock the
pope because all he talks about
is God?”

As it happens, the chest jokes
probably provide a good clue to the
whole question of who this woman
is, since they comprise perhaps the
best example of her major weapon:
pre-emptive strikes. She dodges
scrutiny the way she dodges insults,
by raising the subject so loudly
herself that the question fogs over.

If you sometimes sing parodies,
then maybe that’s what a bad tune
was supposed to be. If your stated
wardrobe goal is to look tacky, how
can you fail as long as you don’t
wear a business suit?

On Mud, she does a routine on
her 1984 marriage to Martin von
Haselberg, previously described
only as a “commodities dealer and
performance artist.” “He’s a German,”
she says on the record. “A
Kraut. Every night 1 dress up like
Poland and he invades me.” And
everyone laughs and the fact remains Midler has guarded this
marriage the way IBM guards microchip

Now, it’s no crime not to invite
People magazine on the honeymoon.

The mildly ironic part is that
someone who prefers to dodge insults
makes money by handing
them out.

But then, that’s show biz. As opposed
to life.

Best deal

“The questions you hear in the
entertainment business these days
are all ‘How can we make the best
deal?’ or ‘How can we sell it?’ Not
‘ Is it any good?’ And that’s a
change over just the past 10

But is the business part at least
sometimes stimulating?

“It would be,” she says, quite
serious, “if it weren’t a matter of
life and death.”

What she’s more sure about is her
fans. “They’re great. They let me
try so much. Some of the ones I see
now I knew 10 years ago in the
Village, when I was shooing them
off my doorstep. It’s fascinating to
see how they’ve grown up. They
have jobs, they’ve lost weight. They
don’t call themselves Mother Teresa
any more.

“Of course, I don’t call myself
Mother Teresa any more, either. So
maybe I’ve grown up, too!

Certainly possible, although the
continuing shroud around her private
life makes the theory difficult
for an outsider to confirm. Which
doesn’t matter a whit, of course; if
she’s happy, what difference
whether we have the details? Her
former manager Aaron Russo once
said she had Y’a lot of love to give
and a fiery temper,” a combination
that suggests her conservative approach
is wise.

“I like to shop alone,” she said in
1983. “And I’m fortunate that I can.
I remember Marilyn Monroe saying
once that she could turn it on
and off —by certain gestures she
could become Marilyn or not. I feel
a little bit the same way. Like when
I wash this face off, there’s no face

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