New York Post
30 years later, ‘Beaches’ stars reflect on tears, terror, triumph
By Rachelle Bergstein
December 20, 2018
At the moment Hillary dies at the end of “Beaches,” the chorus swells. Even now, 30 years after the film’s Dec. 21, 1988, release, it’s hard not to tear up over the story of two yin-and-yang women and their lifelong friendship, especially with that signature power ballad, “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” driving the emotion home.
And yet, says Marc Shaiman, the film’s music supervisor, that track almost didn’t make it in.
“They wanted Bette to do an original song, so it could be up for Oscar nomination,” Shaiman says about star Bette Midler. “And of course, I wanted the chance to write that song, too.”
But Shaiman says he had “Wind” in mind for a “template.” He had loved Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar’s 1982 song since the first time he heard it. He invited Midler, producer Bonnie Bruckheimer and director Garry Marshall to his tiny rental house in Los Angeles to play it for them.
“I sang with my back to them because the piano was facing the other way,” Shaiman says. “When I turned around, they were all awash in tears. That song’s spot was locked from that moment on.”
It turns out, the making of “Beaches” was almost as weepy as the experience of watching it. Here, with a nod to the song’s lyrics, some of the movie’s key players share their favorite memories with The Post.
“It must have been cold there in my shadow”
The role of CC Bloom — a brassy, Bronx-born singer and actress — was written with Midler in mind. Since the movie opened with a flashback of an 11-year-old CC meeting her blue-blood counterpart, Hillary, the filmmakers needed an up-and-comer who’d make a convincing young Bette.
“When I started acting, my parents wrote a letter to different agents saying I was a Bette Midler/Barbra Streisand type,” says Mayim Bialik, who won the role at 12, after four months of auditions. “I was like, ‘I’m not a redhead . .?. I’m gonna be eliminated.’?”
“She was so raw,” producer Nick Abdo says, “but we really wanted her, because she looks so much like Bette. Bette didn’t think she looked like her, by the way.”
When we first see young CC, she’s smoking a cigarette under the boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ, a scene actually filmed at Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach.
“I didn’t know how to light a cigarette,” says Bialik, who currently stars on TV’s “The Big Bang Theory.”
“My mom was under the boardwalk with me, and she would be the one to light it. They were herbal, they smelled really bad.”
“You’re everything I wish I could be”
Barbara Hershey played Hillary, but hers wasn’t an easy audition: Midler took off before they could run lines together, so Hershey was left to play her scene against director Marshall’s assistant.
“My agent told me I’d done the best [of all the actresses], but the studio head said there was ‘something missing’ between me and Bette,” Hershey tells The Post. “I said, ‘Did you tell him it was Bette?!’ ”
Misunderstanding aside, the two had terrific chemistry from then on, Abdo says: “They were so into it, they just gave it their all.”
There was only one other hiccup, says Bruckheimer. “She didn’t have the lips when she got the part,” she says of Hershey’s famously puffed-up pout. “She showed up on the first day of shooting with them. We almost fainted!” (Removing Hershey’s dark lip liner helped.)
Lainie Kazan, while only five years older than Midler, played CC’s mother. She recalls Hershey as being “very quiet, she kept to herself,” off the set. And Midler: Kazan says she was “just a delight, to tell you the truth.”
“You were the one with all the strength”
Despite the painful subject matter — Hillary, a single mom, succumbs to a rare cardiac infection — Bruckheimer says Marshall didn’t shy from shtick. “He created an atmosphere of so much fun, and every time there was a blooper, he would shoot it for the gag reel.”
“What a sense of humor!” Kazan says of Marshall, who died in 2016. With his encouragement, she improvised quite a few of her lines, including “What are you, a camel?” when young CC hogs a boardwalk water fountain.
“I’ve got it all here in my heart”
The cast and crew had become so attached to the characters, Hershey says, that when she and Midler shot Hillary’s death scene, there was hardly a dry eye in the house. “When it finished and I opened my eyes, the whole crew was crying,” she says. “My [teenage] son was visiting the set that day .?.?. he basically thought everyone had lost their minds.”
Producer Margaret South says that when the film was completed, they were terrified to screen it for Disney’s honchos, because the stakes for their careers were high. “Garry Marshall sat outside in his car,” she says.
He had nothing to worry about. “David Hoberman, who was our [Disney] executive, a tough guy, fell on the floor and burst into tears at the end of the movie,” South says. “And so I had a button made for him saying, ‘I cried.’?”
South says she never guessed the movie would endure as it has. “We didn’t win any awards but when I say that I worked on the movie, people notice. People love ‘Beaches.’?”