Kathy Najimy on fighting for equality, “Hocus Pocus,” and performing with the American Pops Orchestra
By Randy Shulman
May 16, 2019
Kathy Najimy Tells How She Really Met Bette Midler
MW: One of your biggest hits was Hocus Pocus, which just celebrated its 25th Anniversary. Disney made a big deal about it. Can you briefly talk about your experience making it?
NAJIMY: I’ve made 30 films, and you never know which ones are going to stick, which ones are going to become really popular. You just sort of make them. So the experience of it was only very singular to me because I had been a huge fan — like a crazy sycophant fan — of Bette Midler’s growing up.
I had all of her posters. I had all of her records. I had several incidents where I would run backstage at the Hollywood Bowl with guards running after me, and opening all the rooms until I found her in the room. I had one where I found where she lived in New York when I visited New York in the ’70s and left a message with her housekeeper. I even had one where I sang to her.
MW: That’s something.
NAJIMY: Well, I worked for a singing telegram company in San Diego. So my boyfriend at the time, Greg Barnes, who is now a big fancy Broadway costume designer, had designed costumes for a junior theater’s Alice in Wonderland. He gave me the “I’m late, I’m late” bunny costume. We took the bus up the Hollywood Bowl where Bette was performing and I pretended to the officials that I had a singing telegram for her after the show. But it really was just from me.
So, I hopped backstage, and in all these pseudo-celebrities were in Bette’s room surrounding her. And I sang a song and handed her the telegram that said, “From Kathy.” And she said, “Kathy? Kathy who?” And I said, “I don’t know, but I love you, too!” And I hopped out and fainted.
So for all of those experiences, plus more that we can’t go into today, getting a call from Jeffrey Katzenberg, after I did Sister Act, who said, “I want to offer you a role in a movie called Hocus Pocus to play Bette Midler’s sister” — that was really a full fate turnaround. An interesting highlight of my life.
MW: Did you ever reveal to Bette that the singing bunny was you?
NAJIMY: I didn’t want to freak her out, so I would slowly let her know things. Like, “Oh, you wore those shoes in Chicago in March of ’78. No, no, you didn’t sing that at that concert. You sang this other song.” She would always sort of look at me side-eyed until one day I said, “Remember that girl who ran backstage and got pulled off by the guards?” And she said, “Yes.” I go, “And then, remember that bunny?” And she said, “Yes.” I said, “Well, I’m the bunny.”
MW: What did she say?
NAJIMY: I think it was just a very slow sort of like, “Oh God, I’m making a movie with a crazy person” into very good castmates and friends.
MW: What was it like working with her?
NAJIMY: It was great. She’s tough and she knows what she wants, and so am I, and there was a lot involved in Hocus Pocus. There was dancing and singing and children and animals, and I mean, it was just flying, it was a lot, but it didn’t do well the first weekend. It didn’t do well at all. It just took years and years, and slowly started building an audience, generation after generation.
MW: And now it’s a phenomenon.
NAJIMY: Who knew?
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