BetteBack February 19, 1973: After A While Bette Is Infectious

The Chicago Tribune
February 19, 1973

The Divine Miss M, Bette Midler, posing on the tour truck during a break in rehearsal. (Photo by Tom Hill/WireImage)
The Divine Miss M, Bette Midler, posing on the tour truck during a break in rehearsal. (Photo by Tom Hill/WireImage)

WELL, I may as well come out with this without mincing words; God knows there’s enough mincing associated with the subject as it is. The Bette Midler cult is going to have to camp along without me.

Big deal, of course. Because, right now, Bette Midler has enough fervent – no, rabidly rapturous – fans to fill the Auditorium twice, which is what happened Saturday night, and everybody seemed to get what they wanted.

Bette, that is. Camping it up ad infintium in the 40’s look: slacks and purple midriff tie shirt, an unappetizing mammary flopping out periodically. Bette, posturing and pouting and putting on and putting out the double and triple entendres about the gay, “quaint little crowd.” Bette, crooning in her sequined corset, singing ’40s fluff and ’60s Sangrilas, backed by a trollopy trio and, oh wow, this is Bette Midler so it must be divine and my dear, isn’t it just too, too trash-shy?

TRASH, of course, is Bette Midler’s stock in trade. “Trash, that’s what it is. Just trash. What we have dedicated our lives to, trash with flash.” All this in New Yawk accents, alternately fake breathy and brittle. New Yawk, where she got her start singing in the steam baths, then onward to the Tonight Show, the blue circuit, and a following – tho not as bizarre a one as one might hope for, judging from the Saturday night audiences. Just a few guys with corsages here and there, a couple of wigs and a few rhinestones, tho Bette was sure there were “three numbers out there as the Andrews Sisters.” Lots of knowing laugher.

Bette’s for those who like their camp and trash at blitz pace. She’s on continuously, camping, mugging, grinning like a gargoyle or pouting pettishly, slinging the entendres about her “trash-babies” and the oh, so gay life they lead. Half the time was spent in peripatetic bawdy ramblings and racings about the stage, the other in song – torches, ’40s fluff, “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” and retro-rock.

PLUS, curiously enough, John Prine’s “Hello in There” and the country western hit “Delta Dawn,” both made even more incongruous by the fact that they were being sung by someone wearing what looked like a tube of wrinkled Reynolds Wrap which was soon enough chucked to reveal rhinestone and black underpinnings. Bette does give it all she’s got, and year, sure, she’s too much. Too much, too much, too much.

Friends of mine on their fourth time on the Midler merry-go-round [three times at Mr. Kelly’s plus the Saturday night show] tried to explain the whole thing at intermission, right after Bette had garnered a standing ovation after untying her halter and coyly letting them all hang out. “After a while, she’s infectious,” they said. I could understand that. I was already suffering from jaundice.

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