This is my 800th farewell appearance here at the Continental Baths,â€ jokes a much younger Bette Midler after a rousing opening number singing The Carpentersâ€™ â€œFriends.â€ She continues, â€œI didnâ€™t expect to be back so soonâ€¦They had me booked at Fire Islandâ€¦I was supposed to work at Cherry Grove â€” I was supposed to sing. But they couldnâ€™t find room for me in the bushes.â€
In this stunning archival footage, we see what is thought to be Betteâ€™s actual farewell appearance at the Baths, the now-iconic relic of a pre-AIDS existence in the late 60s, early 70s.
The Continental Baths opened their basement doors in 1968 at the Ansonia Hotel on New York Cityâ€™s Upper West Side. Owner Steve Ostrow told Betteâ€™s acting teacher at the time that he was starting a â€œnightclub in his basement.â€ Bette had recently put together a solid 20 minutes of material, and booked the gig, later revealing that she was unaware at the time that many of the audience members would be in their towels. But she didnâ€™t seem to mind one bit.
This video is thought to have been filmed around 1971. Look closely and youâ€™ll see Barry Manilow backing her up on piano.
â€œChattanooga Choo-Chooâ€ (Andrews Sisters)
â€œEmpty Bed Bluesâ€ (Bessie Smith)
â€œFor Freeâ€ (Joni Mitchell)
â€œEasier Said Than Doneâ€ (The Essex)
â€œChapel Of Loveâ€ (The Dixie Cups)
â€œI Shall Be Releasedâ€ (The Band)