A Derailed Film Career – Bette Midler Commands Both Comedy and Drama
By BRENDON MCCULLIN
November 1, 2015 07:00PM EST
Bette Midler caused a minor stir recently by suggesting that Disney has held off on producing a sequel to 1993’s Hocus Pocus, in which she starred with Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker, because the studio “can’t find a virgin.” Of course, her joke also served to remind people that The Divine Miss M was once a bankable actress in Hollywood. Midler has kept a low profile recently, although she is due to have a role in Trudie Styler’s Freak Show, about a high school boy who runs for homecoming queen. While we wait to see Midler back on the big screen, we take a look back at what made her so divine in the first place.
Garry Marshall’s 1988 hit Beaches helped define the term “chick flick,” launched the career of Mayim Bialik, and single-handedly caused a spike in Kleenex sales. It also provided Midler with the biggest hit of her recording career, the movie’s theme song “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Playing the life-long best friend of Barbara Hershey’s doomed lawyer, Midler broke hearts as she raced to see her pal one more time. Neither Marshall nor Midler are big on subtlety, but just try watching it without choking up anyway.
Scenes From A Mall
Marital comedy Scenes from a Mall is perhaps only really notable for being one of the few films in which Woody Allen starred in without directing or producing (Paul Mazursky was at the helm). What story there is revolves around Allen’s sports lawyer and his psychotherapist wife (Midler) admitting their infidelities to each other. Midler and Allen showed flashes of chemistry, but the opportunity was entirely wasted.
Ruthless People (1986)
Midler kicked-off a highly lucrative second act to her career as a comedian in 1986’s Ruthless People. Playing the shrewish wife of Danny DeVito who’s kidnapped by a bumbling couple (played by Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater), Midler gave a tour de force performance as a woman who could drive anyone crazy. The joke, of course, is that DeVito doesn’t want her back and was planning on doing away with her himself. Directed by the Airplane! team of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, the film clicks along with mean-spirited glee. Unfortunately, it looks dated now but in the mid-80s it made Midler a viable comedy star.
The Rose (1979)
Midler made a name for herself playing cabaret shows on the West Coast, so she was ready-made for the lead in the pseudo-Janis Joplin story of The Rose. The singer earned critical acclaim for her raw performance as the self-destructive rock star at the center of Mark Rydell’s film. Midler came away with a Golden Globe, an Oscar nomination and a Number 1 hit with the film’s theme song. Not a bad haul considering that it was her first lead performance on screen.
For the Boys (1991)
Midler paired with Rydell again for 1991’s For the Boys, playing Dixie Leonard, a fictional USO entertainer who teams with James Caan’s emcee to entertain the troops during World War II. The film gave Midler the opportunity to sing a variety of standards, but it also brought a lawsuit from Martha Raye who thought the story came too close to her own life. Midler garnered a Golden Globe and another Oscar nomination for her performance, but the film was generally a disappointment both with critics and at the box office.