BootLeg Betty

Gay Pride: I Love This Exchange Between Bette Midler & Gay Activist Vito Russo, 1975 (Full Interview Included)

Vito with Bette Midler at the June 24, 1973 Gay Pride rally in Washington Square Park in New York City’s Greenwich Village, which followed the fourth annual Gay Pride parade. Vito was the emcee.
Bette Midler and Vito Russo -June 24, 1973

Back in 1975, on the eve of the Broadway premiere of Bette Midler’s Clams on the Half Shell Revue, she granted one of a handful of interviews she gave to The Advocate, despite what Midler’s friend and Advocate reporter Vito Russo (author of The Celluloid Closet) described as “an overprotective publicity team.”

Russo provided a lengthy reminiscence of Midler’s bathhouse days: “You could take your pick of any one of 50 empty folding chairs in the basement of the Continental Baths…. Midler would complain weekly that the pool activity and that `goddam waterfall’ were cramping her act.”

Russo asked Midler what she thought about the rapid changes in attitudes toward gay men and lesbians and how “some people can’t cope with it.

Vito Russo: I point out that the world is changing rapidly and that some people can’t cope with it.

Bette Midler: “But it’s the way of the world, though, Vito. We’re not the first people to have to go through a crisis. You wouldn’t have wanted to be around during the Black Plague now, Vito, would you? There are always the best of times and the worst of times all the time. It’s part of being on the planet. We haven’t learned everything yet. I just wish somebody would contact another planet. There’d be so much more to talk about. You know, I take the Smithsonian Magazine and there’s this article in it about this old civilization that’s just been found. I tell this to everybody. It’s on the Danube in Yugoslavia and it’s 7,000 years older than the oldest caveman drawings. It’s intelligently laid out in little trapezoidal areas. (She is drawing little areas on the table with her fingers and is really getting into describing the city in a very fascinating way.) One day these people who lived there just up and left or disappeared. Imagine? So there/s a lot going on we don’t know about.”

Vito Russo: I ask if she thinks there’s a gay audience any more than there’s a straight audience.

Bette Midler: “I don’t know about that, Vito, I really don’t. I know that there are individuals, but I don’t know if there’s a group of people who called each other up and say ‘Let’s all meet tonight and we’ll go to see, uh, Shirley Bassey. I just don’t think it happens. It’s not the way it is.

Vito Russo: I feel obligated to point out the issue is that performers should let their gay fans know that it’s all right to be whoever you are. I do not point out to her that after a recent screening of Sunday, Bloody Sunday Shirley Bassey said that she had to leave the theatre because seeing two men kiss made her sick to her stomach.

Bette Midler: “Oh, hell, Vito, listen. It’s all right for anybody to be who they are. Just as long as they don’t let their dogs shit on the street. Just so they don’t make your life miserable. I don’t think there’s enough time to fritter your life away thinking about bad things or venomous thoughts about other people and how they live.”

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