BetteBack Interview January 25, 1990: On ‘Stella’ – “Oh, I can’t go on!”

Medicine Hat News
January 25, 1990


LOS ANGELES (AP) – “Oh, I can’t go on!” Bette Midler exclaimed in the middle of an interview.

Her eyes were misting, and she called for a tissue, l^ e surge of emotion came when she was asked if her own mother had made sacrifices similar to those of Midler in her new film, Stella, based on the twice-filmed tear-jerker Stella Dallas.

The co-production of Touchstone Pictures and Samuel Goldwyn has been updated to fit 1990s audiences, but the basic plot is the same: A single mother agrees to send the daughter she loves to live with the girl’s wealthy father.

“My mother is the inspiration for my characterization of Stella,” Midler said. “My mother was indomitable; she had great will and great strength. That’s what I tried to bring to this character.. . .

“My mother was a homemaker who worked really hard. She kept four children pressed and cleaned and ironed. She was a great mom. She taught me to read when I was about four years old.

“My parents had no money. We all had a sense of humor and a healthy respect for other people. We learned kindness, we learned all the gopd things: to work hard, to compromise, to get along, to respect other people’s property and other people’s achievements. I couldn’t ask for a better set of parents.”

Both her parents have died.

Switching to other matters, she explained why she chose Stella, a role the late Barbara Stanwyck made famous in 1937.

“Even though people remember it as just this side of melodrama or being a tear-jerker, it’s not that to me. It’s a serious, straightforward examination of a single mother’s life in these times.. . .

“In Barbara Stanwyck’s version, Stella was a party gal, a conniver. Even though she did put her daughter first, she was taking the girl’s father to the cleaners.

Basically, she didn’t love him, but she set her cap to marry him. It was more of a picture about class.

“Those aspects of her character were left by the wayside in our picture. She’s not a schemer. She gets pregnant but she doesn’t marry because she knows they would never have a real marriage.”

Midler (named for Bette Davis) grew up on Oahu in Hawaii, where her parents had relocated from New Jersey. She endured taunts as the only Jew in her school and found refuge in watching splashy MGM musicals.

After studying theatre at the University of Hawaii, she assaulted New York but could find work only as a hat-check girl, glove seller and go-go dancer. Her luck changed after chorus work in Fiddler on the Roof, and she became a hit in clubs and concerts.

Despite her Academy Award nomination for The Rose, her first picture, Hollywood didn’t seem to know what to do with her.

The turning point came when she married promoter Martin von Haselberg.

“He brought a kind of stability and grace into my life,” she said. “He helps me organize my thoughts in a way that I never did before.

“We were not married very long when the Down and Out in Beverly Hills script came in. It was not a starring part and it was a low salary. . . . (But) he told me I should do it.”

After Down and Out, Ruthless People, Outrageous Fortune and Big Business, she is now treated with respect by Touchstone Pictures and has her own production company at the Disney studio. Her first production was Beaches.

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