BetteBack March 19, 1973: Bette Midler Collides With Her Image

Los Angeles Times
March 19, 1973


Bette Midler, who during the past few months has charged up the media-paved road from Cult Figure through Passing Fad to Impending Superstardom, entered the Champagne Room of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel with such conspicuous lack of fanfare the press awaiting her missed its cue.

So like the dutiful wife of an aspiring politician just beginning his rise to the top, Bette Midler held out a hand politely and pleasantly asked the names of the reporters who were meeting with her for lunch in anticipation of the corseted chanteuse’s concert Saturday night.

“I’ve never seen you not in costume,” one reporter shyly hastened to explain.

“But, dahling, I am in costume,” replied Bette with a nod to the purple pantsuit that she wore, “this is early usherette.”

So then what else had the press been expecting? Had even they come to believe the fripperies of the copy they wrote? Had all their Photoplay prose sucked them in? – stories about this daft Jewish girl from Hawaii – the very essence of camp – you know the one, the girl who made it really big performing for the great gay brother hood of New York’s Continental Baths – the Divine Miss M, as she calls herself – the last of the truly tacky ladies.

Oh my, as Bette herself might answer, always careful to keep one step ahead of her chroniclers, they do not understand.

“I just like to give ’em a good time, you know,” Bette said of her current concert tour. ‘It’s like a party. I never had any parties when I was a kid – I never went to any and I never gave any – so it’s like I’m the hostess and they’re the guests and I do all the entertaining and they just sit there.

“We were in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago and this chick came up to me and she said, ‘You know, you remind me so much of myself. Whenever I go to a party I get drunk and I carry on just exactly the way you carry on.’ And I think that’s what it is.”

It is not simply a question of camp, she insisted. “I play the theatrical grand dame. Miss M is larger than life-size. When I was a kid I had to be larger than life-size to make friends and get attention. I didn’t use to enjoy it, but now I do.’

Bette smiles imperiously, the smile on her insouciant pink lips competing for attention with the half-moons of turquoise that rest atop her eyes. “I can’t hear from the cacophony of the cameras,” she says of the photographers about her.

But perhaps, it is suggested, Miss M’s shtick is an urban number, nurtured in New York and knowingly seconded by we sophisticates here on the Coast.

Bette again demurred: “Oh, the Midwest! They adore me in the Midwest! I don’t understand, I really don’t, but they really like me. Out there on the Great Plains! All the corn and the cattle. They don’t see too many sequins, I guess.

“My act is terribly American. Everyone understands it because they’ve all lived it out. In Europe – where they’re not really crazy about America in the first place -they’re disdainful. They think I’m a bit hyped over there. They weren’t really nuts over my record and they can’t figure out what all the excitement is about.”

For the moment, Bette continued, she had no intention of abandoning the act.

“I have a lot of things I have to do yet with the show. It hasn’t gotten to where I want it. I need a couple more years at it – before I give it up.

“I never sang with a rock ‘n’ roll band, but I’m thinking about taking that instrumentation and doing a whole range of material. And I’d like the act to get much faster, speedier. You know how Tina Turner starts – very fast. Well, I’m fast but I’m not as fast as she is. I would like to be as fast or faster than Miss Turner.

“You see, a lot of my music has been body music. There’s body music and there’s head music and there’s emotional music and I’d like my act to be a lot more body music because I love to dance and I love to get people to dance. All kinds of dancing . . .”

Bette broke into a kind of reverie: “The Lindy. The Boston Monkey. The Stop-and-Go. I eventually would like to have an act where people couldn’t sit still.”

In June, Bette promised, she will return to Los Angeles – possibly to an engagement at the Greek Theater . . . this summer she will record a second album. . . . she would love to return to the stage if a musical with good dialog could be found . . . or do a movie, a wild comedy, perhaps, or a serious dramatic role . . . Sarah Bernhardt‘s life or Edith Piaf’s. Or Dorothy Parker’s, a woman present suggests.

“But some of you haven’t opened your mouths all afternoon,” Bette suddenly scolded. ‘Now is that any way – here it is a free lunch and everything. Come on, get hot, let’s get intimate.”

And with that, the press luncheon dissolved into a coffee klatch, Bette Midler presiding, again asking the names of each of her guests in shaking their hands goodbye, having shown herself to be not half as tacky a lady as Miss M might care to admit.

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