BootLeg Betty

BetteBack December 11, 1993: Divine Miss M stars in Gypsy

Medicine Hat News
December 11, 1993

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Three decades ago, Broadway star Ethel Merman claimed the musical Gypsy as her own. Now another divine Miss M, Bette Midler, is trying it on for size.

Midler stars as Mama Rose, m other of legendary stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, in a three hour CBS TV movie (8 p.m. ET Sunday) of the 1959 stage hit that later became a film vehicle for Rosalind Russell.

“I’ve always wanted to play that part,” says Midler, who costars with Peter Riegert.

“In the A m erican theatre, there ’s a couple of roles for women you grow into … a part that people dream of playing all their lives,” she says. “And this Rose was a dream of mine. ”

The score — including such gems as Ever>’thing’s Coming up Roses and You Gotta Have a Gimmick — also enticed her, Midler says.

“I love those songs. One after another, every single one of them is a hit. ”

Perched on a chair in a Beverly Hills hotel suite, Midler looks every bit as chic as her surrounding.

A black pantsuit shows off her newly slender figure, and she wears a fanciful mop of blond curls.

“I AM thin,’’ says Midler, in surprised tones, surveying her image in a mirror after an onlooker’s comment.

Very unlike Mama Rose, who conveys heft and an unyielding obstinacy. She is the mother of all stage mothers, a largerthan-life, driven woman who ultim ately pushes h er daughter into the seamy world of burlesque.

“In my bones, I felt ‘I could play that, I could play that.’ But I didn’t think it was going to come to me this soon,” Midler says.

It did take some persuasion to bring Gypsy creators Jerome Robbins, A rthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne around, Midler recounts.

“They said Absolutely not. No way,” when Midler first put out feelers about filming Gypsy again, she says. The poorly regarded 1962 version starring Russell had disappointed them, she says.

The play had two major and acclaim ed stage revivals: in 1971 with Angela Lansbury as Rose and in 1989 with Tyne Daly in the starring role. But unlike Merman, who played it brassy and hard.

Midler says she decided to bring a softer-edged approach to the character drawn from Gypsy Rose Lee’s memoirs.

“My idea for it originally was even darker than what we wound up doing,” Midler says.

“The truth is, a person who lets her daughter strip . . . what kind of a person is that?

“She really does have a problem.”

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