BootLeg Betty

Bette Midler On Movies, Music, And Her Gay Fans

Mister D: Once again UK journalists outdo the US as far as interviewing. Great job!

Gay Times UK
Bette Midler Interview
By Darren Scott
Sept. 2014

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We’re having a debate with Bette Midler about her music. She doesn’t believe us when we note the eight year gap between her last, Grammy nominated album, Cool Yule, and her new one, It’s The Girls, is far longer than the one between No Frills and Beaches.

As gay conversations go, correcting Bette Midler on her back catalogue is pretty much the daddy of all things gay.

And it’s not really about to get particularly butch – The Divine Miss M has finally been coaxed back to the studio by long-time collaborator Marc Shaiman for an album of songs by girl groups of yesteryear. So yes, pretty camp.

Not that Bette thinks in such terms – a long-standing gay icon, supporter of LGBT rights, former GT cover star and, well, she started her career singing to gay men in saunas, so she’s practically one of us. It seems only right that, in our anniversary issue, we have a GT classic answer…

“Well I do love my gay fans…” she begins, before quickly making complete sense. “But I kind of like everybody, I don’t like to separate people. I’m not a segregationist! But because you’re so sweet and so genuinely gentlemanly…”

Flattery will indeed get you everywhere Ms Midler. But the pressing question GT wants to know the answer to before we talk music is about her movies.

“Which one do I think my gay fans like best? I hadn’t really considered it. But you mean which one’s the most camp? Oh gee, I don’t really know. What do you think?”

Oh she’s good. Another gay icon classic tactic – to turn the question back on us. Fortunately, as she already knows, we’re prepared and reply with Beaches, Hocus Pocus and Big Business.

“Oh how interesting. Well, I have to say Big Business is pretty funny. That’s one I would think was the most camp, but I don’t know. I think they’re divided. I think a lot of people really love The Rose. I think that people love to see the scenery being chewed and I think that they loved the music. You know what? I have no idea, to tell you the truth. You just say what you wanna say and I’ll say, ‘Yep that’s right!” she laughs.

As if we’d ever do such a thing.

Actress, singer, comedian, legend, mermaid. The Divine Miss M has done it all and now, after the aforementioned hiatus, she’s back where she started from. Eerily so, in fact, with It’s The Girls being so very reminiscent of her first two albums.

“I think so too.” she agrees. “Marc Shaiman, who produced this record, was a big fan of mine when he was a kid, like 14, 15 years old. He knocked on my door when he was 16 and he was such a pest. But he’d fallen in love with those first two records, they introduced him to all sorts of music that he had no idea existed. He always talks about that, he talks about me in a way, really I’m like his godmother.

“He knows that music and the people so well. He and his partner Scott were the songwriters on Hairspray, so they know the genre. He’s great at pastiche. All our roots are so far back and so into that music that I think it was a great, really inspired choice to go with him.

“Plus, he loves me, looks after me, he takes care of me. If I say, ‘I need another note’, he’ll say, ‘How about this?’ Instead of leaving me in the booth to suffer silently alone. Or loudly alone,” she deadpans.

“It just seems like it’s time. People are sort of waking up to the fact that it’s stuff that they love, it seems like it’s sort of in the zeitgeist. I didn’t really realise when we started it, because we started talking about it last year. Previously a friend of mine had pitched me an idea that was very similar. It’s been on my mind and I really love the stuff, it’s easy to sing, it’s fun to sing, it spreads joy, so why not?”

The same friend who tried convincing her to do an Andrews Sisters record perhaps?

She laughs. “No, I have plenty of those though! Those are legion. Peoople would lynch me if I didn’t do The Andrews Sisters.”

But it’s not all music from the 40s, 50s and 60s. Because we need to talk about her stripped down version of TLC’s Waterfalls. Oh yes.

“YES!” she proclaims excitedly.

“Oh I’m glad you brought that up. I really love that, I really do. I’ve always loved that song and I’ve always loved those girls. I mean, it’s a really sad song. But I wanted it without the rhythm that’s so insistsent on the TLC version. Stripped down, it’s just so so sad.”

Have there been any other groups in recent years that have caught her ear?

“Oh of course! My God! I love Destiny’s Child, I followed them. I thought their songs, especially the really funny ones, were absolutely wonderful.”

Funny ones?

“Bills, Bills, Bills. But then Beyoncé left them, but her songs are really kind of girl groupy too. I mean “if you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it! That song.”

Bette Midler is actually singing Single Ladies to us.

“They’re all like little playlets. They’re kind of funny in a way that a lot of music isn’t. They’re humorous. TLC – I thought No Scrubs was a REALLY funny song. I went looking for those writers, but when you get the list it’s like 18 people on a song…

“The Spice Girls came up, the Bangles came up, the Go-Go’s cam up. We came close to Walk Like an Egyptian but then I thought, ‘I know her, I know Susanna Hoffs’. But ultimately, when people think of girl groups, they really think of the 60s. I flew my flag for The Andrews Sisters and The Chordettes and TLC. I said, ‘Let’s not just make it one thing, there’s too much other really good music that I’d like to sing.”

But it’s not all about song – stage and screen have also recently beckoned.

“They invited me,” she says of her recent Broadway production of I’ll Eat You Last to the West End. Despite considering it, instead the story of Hollywood aent Sue Mengers is currently ‘in mothballs’. “It’s not that high on the list, but it’s definitely something that i’ll keep in my back pocket.”

While we’re talking of hearsay, we might as well round up those rumours. Sorry to break it to you, faithful reader, but a lot of the Bette projects you’ve heard about may not be happening….

First Wives Club 2?

“You know they tried to do a sequel, I have no idea,” she laughs. “I know that there are projects for the three of us to get together again, but I don’t think they have anything to do with that particular piece. They tried it many many years ago right after they had their big success, but I don’t think they had any luck. I dunno, it’s hard to tell…”

Hocus Pocus 2?

“Well she did die. I died.”

Ms Midler, Disney villains never die.

She chuckles to herself for a while. “You know, you’re absolutely right. That would be fun! We’d be a little bit long in the tooth, but it would be fun. I’m SO surprised at the legs that picture has. As the years have gone by it’s only gotten bigger and bigger. People tell me stuff that I had no idea. Just last year they said, ‘You know they play it for a whole week.’ I think they play it for a whole month on television or something ridiculous. Everyone knows it, actually the really young ones say ‘I know you, you’re the witch from Hocus Pocus.’ And I go ‘Well yes, that’s ONE of the things I did…’ I was really surprised that it’s taken on a life of its own.

Hocus Pocus – The Musical?

“How funny! Well, you would know more than I, they’re not emailing me!”

There was a novel, called Beaches 2, that was written specifically for her….

“Beaches 2?! Oh I think she [Iris Rainer Dart] published that years ago. But I heard that she was doing a musical of Beaches, I heard that, I did hear that. but that has nothing to do with me. She’s, she thinks carefully, “a force too! She’s energetic, she’s up there cranking and I admire that aobut her. I don’t know anything about it, I think they had a workshop? She didn’t tell me, she didn’t keep me in the loop.”

Plans for a definitive book about her life?

“No. I have no plans to write that,” she says, following a recent re-release of A View From A Broad. “No, I think that was it for me. That’s what I had to say and I said it and that’s that. I don’t really want to write an autobiography. First of all, I don’t remember much of it,” she chuckles. “I really don’t! And most of it was about work and I don’t think people would be interested in the work part of it. it’s a lot of technical jargon and a lot of stuff about deals and all that kind of thing, and because i’m not a songwriter I don’t have that ‘and then I wrote.’ I didn’t have that to fall back on. And my escapades I’m keeping to myself. I’m trying to be merciful to my family,” she laughs.

The Mae West HBO biopic?

“Well that one’s very interesting, that one really looks like it’s going to go. That’s Billy Friedkin, who’s wonderful, and Doug McGrath who’s also someone to be reckoned with. I’ve met the two of them and they have a great idea for it. That’s a great story, because she was such an interesting character and lived such a curious life. It started when she was just six-years-old, she was a real showbiz prodigy, in a way. She completely invented herself and was very, very proud of what she’s done. She never changed gears. She wrote her own material and she really let women have a sex life that they hadn’t had. Nobody knew they were interested in it before her. So God bless her.”

We’re glad that one’s happening, even if we can’t get Bette back on a broomstick.

“Oh well, I think she’s prettier,” she laughs. “She doesn’t have those teeth.”

Before that, a week of UK TV appearances beckon, shortly after this issue hits shelves.

“I’m so excited. I’m lining up my restaurants now…”

Dinner aside, might we get a live event or two?

She laughs loudly. “Is there something else Oh! You mean I have to work?”

A Divine tease indeed – all we can say is watch this space…

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