BetteBack June 5, 1988: Motherhood mellows outrageous Bette Midler

Doylestown Intelligencer
June 5, 1988


LOS ANGELES – In the last few years, one of Hollywood’s most outrageous personalities nas gone from being Bawdy Bette to Motherly Midler.

The change actually began four years ago, when Bette Midler married Martin Von Haselberg in a Las Vegas ceremony periormed by an Elvis Presley impersonator/minister.

The 43-year-old actress changed even more 18 months ago after the birth of her daughter, Sophie According to tVlO TV* 111 t”l f’lloTlto’^ TlO’*f ^TTTtOT” if* ^ d ixiidiige 101 uie oeuei “The career tends to look a little bit unimportant in light of the baby,” she said. “My child has a beautiful smile, a terrific sense of humor, great rhythm and – something that I don’t have – great balance She’s also optimistic, and I hope the world doesn’t beat her down ”

Midler emphasized the uords “beat her down,” no doubt remembering how Hollywood pounded on her after her initial screen success in 1979’s “The Rose,” a musical-drama loosely based on the Me of Jams Jophn.

Following that triumph, Midler waited for the offers to role in None did Three years later, she agreed to star in “Jmxed,” a box-office disaster directed by Don Siegel and co starring Ken Wahl She fought with everyone on the film, suffered a nervous breakdown and was written off as an unstable talent by the Hollywood establishment

She returned to the mainstream in 1986 when Paul Mazursky asked her to play a shamelessly pampered California worn an m “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” for Touchstone Films, a division of Walt Disney Pictures The Touchstone hierarchy, led by Jeffrey Katzenberg, felt Midler offered pieniy of comedic possibilities and signed her to an
old fashioned studio contract, albeit a very lucrative one Midler rewarded their faith with the back-to back smashes “Ruthless People” with Danny DeVito and “Outrageous Fortune” with Shelley Long

Another potential blockbuster arrives Friday when “Big Business” – a laugh a minute farce co-starring Lily Tomlin as her mismatched twin sister – opens She’s currently filming Touchstone’s “Beaches,” co-starring Barbara Hershey in a relation ship drama with five original songs. In addition, Midler has “10 or 12 pictures in various stages of development.”

But even in the light of such staggering success, Midler still vividly recalled the pain involved Aith “Jinxed” and what that expenence taught her.

“I never say ‘I gotta (do a picture).’ I don’t think about anything (in terms of screen choices). They (the Touchstone hierarchy) show me, they tell me (what she’ll do next) and I show up They are better judges of it (material) than I am I don’t have that much emotional investment

“I always wanted to be a contract player, to know what it was like in the old days to not know what your next picture was and to do one picture after another Then, after 10 years, you can say, ‘Gee, I made this many pictures I have a backlog of work’ Now I know what it feels like, and it has its ups and downs It’s a lot like being Pmocchio on the Island of Lost Boys. You know what happeiis to Pir-occhio0 He winds up in a cage.

“But I would never want to live like I lived after ‘Jinxed’ It was just horrible I suffered a lot I was in a constant state of anxiety and couldn’t eat, sleep or stop crying I was m the worst shape I don’t want to do that again, because I don’t think anything in life is worth that. I thought my career as a film actress was over “I refused to believe it, even though it (her career) had all the earmarks of being dead as a doornail. I kept on fighting.”

Her fight for roles was witnessed by director Paul Mazursky, who teamed her with two other troubled actors – Richard Dreyfuss and Nick Nolte, both of whom also reunited their failing careers – in “Down and Out in Beverly Hills ” Overnight, Midler’s name became box office gold, and she relished crediting the gifted Mazursky for her re
newed fame.

“I didn’t think my direction would be comedy I thought it would be straighter,” she said “That film put us all (she and her two co-stars) back on our feet Whenever I get an award or something, I always try to say thanks to Paul Mazursky, because I really do believe that if it hadn’t been for him I’d still be in the toilet He fought with me, because I didn’t think anyone would believe me having two children of that age (near adult in ‘Down and Out’), but he believed it, and it worked out.

“Also, I loved being part of an ensemble, and I discovered that I didn’t have to have my name above the title. Then, the whole onus wasn’t on me, and other people shared the burden. I wasn’t nervous, because I felt ”¢Down and Out’ was Richard and Nick’s picture and that I was just iu^puitjijg Uiclu j. leu ime, He.y, guys! You do the worrying’ That was good, because it was very freeing.”

For Midler, one of the most attractive elements of “Big Business” was sharing top billing with Lily Tomlin, a brilliant, exacting performer famous for her attention to detail

“I prefer to work with others ” she said “I don’t like to carry a project by myself anymore I did that when I was younger and didn’t know any better, but now, I think it’s best to have as much support as possible Lily is really brilliant and has a language gift to communicate to the people she works with what she’s trying to achieve I can’t do that I can show you instinctively, but I can’t articulate it verbally I don’t think I have the patience which
she has ”

The demanding Tomlin often asked for retakes on “Big Business,” while the more spontaneous Midler did her best work during initial takes According to Midler, that difference didn’t cause any problems

“I’m very easygoing, and I like Lily,” Midler said “It sort of was my ballgame in a way, though not my picture. I have just been there (at the Disney studio) for so long and I know so many people on the crev,r I wanted it to be pleasant

“At a certain point in your life, an actor must learn generosity, and when someone is struggling to get something and the goal is the betterment of the picture, you let it go It wasn’t insanity or ego Lily didn’t want to show-off, she wanted the movie to be better That’s all the difference in the world.”

Looking radiant with her newly svelte body and flaming red hair, Midler is all smiles these days as she looks back on her life, one which began in our 50th state

More than four decades ago, Midler’s free-spirited father moved his wife from their Patterson, N J , home to the land of his dreams Hawaii Midler was born in Honolulu, where she was “the only Jewish girl in an otherwise Samoan neighborhood ”

Midler’s mother, an avid movie buff, named her daughter after her idol, Bette Davis Numerous trips to local theaters turned the ess fan, and she broke into the entertainment field with a bit part in the epic, “Hawaii.” With her earnings, Midler moved to New York, where she performed in Greenwich Village coffee houses during the 1960s and immersed herself in singing, dancing and acting lessons She landed a spot in the chorus of “Fid dler on the Roof” and worked herself up to a featured role as Tevye’s oldest daughter

Deciding to change the course of her career, Midler created an outrageous character – the Divine Miss M – and put her in a unique show of music (with songs ranging from rock numbers to “Am I Blue?” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”) and decidedly off-color jokes With a then unknown musical arranger named Barry Manilow, she opened her show at New York’s Continental Baths, an all-gay place soon crowded by straight couples who heard about Midler’s act

By 1973, Midler was a hot mainstream attraction Her show at New York’s Place Theatre set that place’s box-office record for advance ticket sales in a single day – $160,000 That record was shattered the following year \vhen Midler’s “Clams on the Half-Shell Revue” grossed $200, 000 in one day

“I took this tacky little show of mine around the world, and some people who couldn’t even speak the language loved it,” Midler said of her stage show.

“My favorite country was Australia. I loved it, because most of the people there are descendants of major convicts so they have no airs ”

Midler, who’s now as mainstream as Minnie Mouse, fondly recalled those days at the baths (or “tubs,” as she called them) and expressed regret that AIDS destroyed those outlets.

“It’s too horrible what happened,” she said “I have very strong images of what was going on in my life (when she played the baths), very strong images of the power of the audience and of the relationship between me and the audience. I can’t change those memories, and I’m glad I have them ”

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