There was also a new and unusual kind of performance space called the Continental Baths in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel on the Upper West Side, which was actually a menâ€™s bathhouse. I had heard about this crazy lady called Bette Midler who sang up a storm there, so I decided to check it out. The bathhouse was a place for gay men to meet discreetly, but this was the early seventies and gay life was starting to bloom and smash out of the closets and businesses wanted to cater to this crowd, so they added entertainment to the mix of faux exercise, swimming pool, and anonymous sex. When I first saw the divine Miss M., she was singing by the pool accompanied by her pia- nist, Barry Manilow. Bette did indeed sing her heart out and she drew a much larger crowd than the space could hold. Crammed to the gills, people actually fell into the pool trying to watch her perform.
Bette glorified the camp humor in the gay community. In the middle of her performance sheâ€™d look down a hallway and call out, â€œHey, boys, thereâ€™s a girl out here working,â€ or, â€œCome out, come out, wherever you are . . . I know youâ€™re in those damn rooms doing who knows what.â€ She was so good that I had to have a recording of her performance, and I did the unspeakable: I took a tape recorder to the baths.
Not everyone walked around in towels, although most did, and it has been reported that even Manilow sometimes did so, though I donâ€™t believe that was the case. But Bette certainly brought in people who were there only to see her and who were not necessarily gay at all. Ah well.