BetteBack August 2010: Was Bette Midler right to turn down Sister Act, Misery and Chicago?

The Guardian
Was Bette Midler right to turn down Sister Act, Misery and Chicago?
By Stuart Heritage
Friday 6 August 2010


She passed up Oscar-winning roles and is now playing a talking cat. Should life have worked out differently for Bette Midler?

In theory, promoting a film like Cats & Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore should be the easiest thing in the world. You just have to pitch up, tell everyone that it’s a fun family film, and then go home. You could, if you felt that starring in a film about some talking animals had somehow compromised your artistic credibility, simply admit that your children wanted you to be in it. That’s what Chris O’Donnell said, and nobody thinks any less of him.

What you don’t do, though, is follow Bette Midler’s lead. Midler, who plays the eponymous Kitty Galore character, seems to be intent on promoting Cats And Dogs 2 by listing all the other disastrous career choices she’s ever made in her life. In an interview with Metro this week, she waded through them one by one, saying: “There was Sister Act, which was written for me, but I said: ‘My fans don’t want to see me in a wimple’ … I also didn’t do Misery and Kathy Bates won an Oscar for it.”

In addition, Midler also reportedly rejected Chicago – she was rumoured to have been offered any role she liked – which went on to win six Oscars. And these are just the roles that she turned down. Presumably, she didn’t have enough breath to list all the horrible projects that she did make, like The Women and Nicole Kidman’s remake of The Stepford Wives and The First Wives Club, not to mention her toe-curling sub-Nanny sitcom Bette a decade ago.

But Midler’s honesty does raise an interesting question – what if she hadn’t turned down those roles? Would the films still have gone on to enjoy huge success, or would her involvement have put people off?

Obviously we’ll never know for sure, but Bette’s larger than life persona and vocal ability do seem tailor-made for films like Sister Act and Chicago. Misery, though, is a different beast entirely. You could spend days, maybe even years, trying to form a mental image of Midler done up in Kathy Bates’s dowdy Annie Wilkes outfit, mallet in hand, and never fully picture it.

Even if she had taken up the offers of Sister Act and Chicago, success would not have been guaranteed. Sister Act was Whoopi Goldberg’s last big film before she lapsed into the same funk of voicing funny animals in cartoons that Bette Midler finds herself in now. And Catherine Zeta-Jones may have won an Oscar for Chicago, but have you seen The Rebound? Don’t worry, neither has anyone else.

So maybe Bette Midler should just accept her lot. Everyone makes mistakes, and she hasn’t made nearly as many as other stars. Even the most cursory glance through should tell her that. Geena Davis turned down Jodie Foster’s role in Taxi Driver. Happy Go Lucky’s Sally Hawkins turned down Kate Winslet’s role in Titanic. Brooke Shields turned down Basic Instinct, A Fish Called Wanda and Scarface. And Debra Winger? She turned down American Gigolo, Arthur, Blue Velvet, Ed Wood, Ghost, Indecent Proposal, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Sleepless in Seattle. However bad she feels about her lot, Bette’s still got some way to go before she notches up a portfolio of missed opportunities that vast. Plus, don’t forget she’s in a film about a funny talking cat at the moment, and you’re not ”“ so who are you to judge?

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