BetteBack February 16, 1974: The Divine Mr. M – The Man Behind Bette Midler (Barry Manilow)

Winnipeg Free Press
February 16, 1974

THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: (l-r) Barry Manilow performs with musical guest Bette Midler on September 12, 1973 -- (Photo by: Fred Sabine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON — Pictured: (l-r) Barry Manilow performs with musical guest Bette Midler on September 12, 1973 — (Photo by: Fred Sabine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

He has become known as the Divine Mr M because of his association with Bette Midler, the Divine Miss M. But now he’s hoping, if the label sticks, that the Mr M reference will be because his name is Manilow and because he’s made a name for himself as a solo performer.

“I won’t even mind if they call me Mr. Q,” Barry Manilow said, contemplating his future without Miss Midler. The two have been a team since Miss Midler was discovered singing at the Continental Baths in New York and Mr Manilow was her accompanist.

“It was hate at first sight.” Mr Manilow said. “We didn’t trust each other but we recognized each other’s talents and that kept us together.

I remember when we were working on Leader Of The Pack, we screamed at each other all the time.”

It was toward the end of their three-year working relationship that they discovered they really loved each other. Mr Manilow said, but went on immediately to explain that they love each other as friends, not as lovers. And now that they have established their mutual adoration. Mr. Manilow said, he does things for her out of love, “not because I’m her conductor.”

Mr. Manilow has been more than a conductor to Miss M He’s been her arranger, accompanist and record producer. He’s been her alter ego and now each of them is going to go it alone.

Mr. Manilow was not certain Miss Midler was planning anything other than a vacation in Hawaii where she grew up. As for him, he’s going on tour and will be headlining at such places as the Troubador in Los Angeles. Ihe Cellar Door in Washington. Ihe Bitter End in New York and Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago, where David Steinberg got his start.

“I’m going to be the headliner.” he explained. “I don’t know if you know what that means. It means that I’m not going to fight the knives and forks as the opening act. I’ve done that. I’ve paid my dues.”

Curiously, his new status as starring act will mean less money for the lanky, blond musician, who has made a veritable fortune writing television commercials and producing Miss M.

Not only do his earnings go beyond his imagination but he has no interest in them. He buys what he needs and says he has no idea of what he has.

“I hired a business manager to handle my money for me. I’m not good at handling it. Now. if I see something I like, like a sweater which costs $35, for example, I’ll call my manager (business) on the phone to see if I can afford it. I can’t get used to having money.”

Mr Manilow grew up in Brooklyn and went to Eastern District High School, which was not a reform school he is quick to add. despite the institutional sounding name.

“But it was a tough neighborhood I was the kid who used to get beaten up on his wav home everyday ”

During his high school years he earned more than spending money playing the accordion at weddings and bar mitzvahs but did not aspire to become a professional musician.

“It just .wasn’t secure enough, my parents thought.”

On his way to the Continental Baths. Miss Midler and his own record contract, he studied advertising at college, worked in the mailroon at CBS and was promoted little by little until he became a film editor. He married at 20. was divorced a year later and has remained single since.

He went on to produce a television show for CBS called. Call Back, which was a showcase for young performers, all of whom wanted him to write special material for them and to coach them.

“One day I staged a minor revolution I quit my job and went back to school to study music theory and orchestration at Juillfard Meanwhile, I was accompanying people and.coaching them in my apartment. It was like Grand Central Station, with people constantly coming and going I couldn’t stand all those people around the house.”

Did the neighbors complain?

“No They used to knock on the door and I would think it was because they were disturbed and they would ask me to coach them.”

This was at a time when he was about ready to throw in the towel, when one of his students asked him to go with her for an audition at the Continental Baths.

“She wasn’t hired but I was. They needed someone to accompany acts on Saturday nights and they offered me $125 per night. It meant I was freed. I didn’t have to take in coaching and I could write at home.”

Then two weeks later Miss Midler came in to work out – and Mr. Manilow was back in the coaching business.

“I wanted to leave after we put the act together. I wanted to make my own career. But she kept pushing me to do one more gig. She would say, “Stay with me until I do the show at the Upstairs” (where she was discovered by Johnny Carson), or stay with me until I go to Las Vegas.”

It was that way until a few weeks ago. But what started out as “hate at first sight” turned out to be “love at the final parting.”

Mr. Manilow is on his own now.

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