Bette Midler loves to chatter.
She chatters about coveting fame as a kid but valuing artistry as an adult. She chatters about why she took the role of pulp writer Jacqueline Susann in the new biopic ”Isn’t She Great.” She chatters about fashion, particularly the eye-popping, brightly colored Pucci getups she wears in the movie – which turn out to be one of the reasons Ms. Midler took the part.
”It’s glamorous, but it’s not high glamour. It’s a kind of a funky glamour,” she says.
And it dates back to a time when glamour somehow seemed more important, Ms. Midler says, citing a comment Ms. Susann once made.
”She herself said this: ‘1967 was the last year everything was all right.’ … It was the last year people dressed a certain way, where clothes really mattered, and the whole society was well turned-out. After that, it was never the same again,” Ms. Midler says.
The busy-patterned Pucci stuff in ”Isn’t She Great” is refreshing, and hilarious, she says, ”Because when it was popular, it was almost a gag.”
The bronzed-haired Ms. Midler, now 54, has won four Grammys, two Emmys (one for the memorable ”Tonight” appearance on Johnny Carson’s next-to-last show) and a Tony. She’s also received two Academy Award nominations in a film career that’s included several bombs as well as such hits as ”The Rose” and ”The First Wives Club.”
Now she’s playing Ms. Susann, the writer of such mega-best-selling potboilers in the late 1960s and early 1970s as ”Valley of the Dolls,” ”The Love Machine” and ”Once Is Not Enough.”
Nathan Lane plays Irving Mansfield, Jackie’s manager and husband, whose constant exclamations of ”Isn’t she great?” inspired the title.
”I admired her will, her life force, which simply wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Ms. Midlersays, adding that she could also relate to Susann wanting to be famous for fame’s sake.
Ms. Midler can understand Susann’s motivation because, as a little girl, Midler would sing for her mother and daydream about being famous.
”I always wanted to be a big star, even before I knew what being a big star was. And I have to admit I really wanted to be famous before I knew what it meant. I didn’t get it at all. I was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean,” says Ms. Midler, who was born and reared in Hawaii. ”I had no clue. There was something glittering in front of my eyes, and I wanted to be part of that glitter.”
But while grabbing the glamour and the glory, ”I really got into the more studious aspect of it, the musical aspect, the idea that music was an art. … The joy that you really get out of life is the song that’s well-sung or being part of a musical experience that’s really well-done and it’s moving and transcendent for an audience.”
So it’s the work and the art that moves her now, says Ms. Midler.
”The rest is garbage. It’s fool’s gold. But you don’t know that when you’re a kid. All you know is that you don’t want to be unknown.”
And, anyway, what’s so great about fame, she wonders now.
”You look around, all these billions of people on this planet, and some of them are perfectly happy. And nobody knows their name. And they’re perfectly happy….
”So who’s to say I’m any better off than they are? I just got trapped in a dream. And they didn’t but they’re living, and they’re happy. And they just have just as much joy in their lives as I do in mine, probably more.”