The untold truth of Bette Midler
BY DESIRÉE O
JULY 6, 2020
Bette Midler is a singer who’s wooed countless music lovers over the years with songs like “From a Distance,” “You Don’t Own Me,” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” She’s also an actress who’s appeared in both movies and on the small screen. For her efforts, she’s won multiple Grammy Awards, Tony Awards, Golden Globe Awards, and Emmy Awards, as well as earning a pair of Academy Award nominations. Yes, that’s right: She’s just one Oscar away from an EGOT!
But beyond that — and to perhaps get a better idea of who Midler really is — she’s someone who explained to the Chicago Tribune in 1988, “I won’t tell you how much my breasts weigh, but I consulted a postage scale. It costs $87.50 to send ’em to Brazil. Third class.'” That’s the kind of crude (yet oh-so-sharp) comedic edge, mixed with a heck of a lot of talent, that helped make her a star.
It’s also the kind of out-in-the-open attitude that might make you think that you know everything there is to know about Midler. But that fact is that there are plenty of intriguing details about her life that might surprise even the most devoted of fans. This is the untold truth of Bette Midler.
Bette Midler was born and raised in Hawaii
Midler also found something to delve into when she discovered acting. After getting into drama when she was younger, she graduated from Radford High School and continued her education at the University of Hawaii, where she pursued her passion for performing. However, things really took off for the young actress when she landed a role as an extra on the 1966 film adaptation of James Michener’s novel Hawaii, per Britannica. It marked her first professional gig, and at the end of filming, she “accompanied the film crew back to Hollywood.”
In 2017, Midler showed gratitude to her Hawaiian teachers after winning her second Tony, saying (via Hawaii News Now), “I never had a chance to thank them publicly. But 57 years later, I got my chance.”
The Divine Miss M made her name in a gay bathhouse
Bette Midler may have a notable name, however, she also happens to be known as The Divine Miss M. This is the moniker she first used while working at a gay bathhouse in Manhattan called the Continental Baths — where, F.Y.I., she was at one time “accompanied on the piano by the then-unknown Barry Manilow,” according to Biography. Midler “convinced Manilow to [play] clad only in a towel,” per Splice, and he, in turn, told the BUILD Series in 2017, “She’s performing in front of guys with towels on. She would sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ and they would all get up and the towels would drop, and she could check out the merchandise.” Oh my!
As the “world’s most influential gay club” (via The Guardian), the “decadent” bathhouse was often frequented by stars like Alfred Hitchcock, Mick Jagger, and Andy Warhol. The Continental Baths were also where Midler — who was nicknamed “Bathhouse Betty” — fine-tuned her “outrageously bawdy comic routines,” as Biography puts it. While the “gig paid $50 per night,” according to The Advocate, it “proved fruitful” in another way: Her performances “[earned] her legions of fans.”
With her popularity and fan base growing, Midler released her first album in 1972 titled The Divine Miss M, which helped her earn the Grammy Award for best new artist. We’re sure the men at the bathhouse loved it!
The star had a nervous breakdown after her career stalled
Bette Midler may be undeniably successful these days and even experienced a few impressive achievements in the early days of her career. But that wasn’t always the case, and Midler’s professional low points ended up causing her serious mental health issues.
After earning two Golden Globes (one for best actress in a comedy or musical motion picture and the other for a new female star of the year in a motion picture) for her role in the 1979 Janis Joplin biopic, The Rose, Midler “was not immediately offered more film roles, and she struggled to establish a film career,” according to Britannica. “After a strenuous concert tour in the early 1980s, she sank into a depression and suffered a nervous breakdown.”
Midler later talked about the struggles that she endured at the time to the Chicago Tribune, saying, “I was defeated. I couldn’t face the world. I slept all day and cried all night. I was drinking to excess. I was miserable.” Fortunately, Midler was able to overcome her depression and, by continuing to move forward towards her goals, she once again started to find the opportunities and accompanying success that she was aiming for.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, or call the National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
Bette Midler married her husband of over 30 years after two months
Bette Midler told the Chicago Tribune that she connected with the man who became her husband, artist Martin von Haselberg — who’s also known as “commodities trader Harry Kipper,” according to the Los Angeles Times — during the period in her life when she suffered a nervous breakdown. Per the Tribune, “That was October 1984. In two months, they were married.”
Midler recalled her nuptials to Time (via the Tribune), saying that they “checked into the wedding suite at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas” before getting their “license and [winding] up at the Candlelight Wedding Chapel” at 2 a.m. After “[putting] on a soundtrack of Fellini’s ‘Juliet of the Spirits'” and getting “teary-eyed,” they were wed by an Elvis impersonator.
The couple went on to have a daughter, Sophie. However, in 2014, Midler admitted to Good Morning Britain (via the Daily Mail) that things weren’t always amicable between the parents. “We used to fight bitterly,” she said, adding, “We came to the conclusion that we wanted to raise a … really wonderful child, we never wanted to hurt that kid in any way and we stayed together until it got better.” That same year, Midler told The Guardian, “Marriage is a hard proposition. My husband … and I will have been married 30 years come December. You have to be willing to make sacrifices and compromise, but we think it’s worth it. We keep [plowing] through and we’re in heaven.”
Bette Midler’s daughter is basically her twin
In 1986, Bette Midler welcomed a baby girl into the world with her husband, Martin von Haselberg. These days, their daughter, Sophie von Haselberg, is forging her own path in the entertainment industry thanks to the fact that she inherited both her mother’s talent and looks. Honestly, in Midler’s daughter, you can see the same eyes, nose, cheeks, smile, fair hair … the list goes on!
However, Sophie initially resisted one similarity between them. “I tried not to become an actor,” the younger von Haselberg admitted to Town & Country in 2017. She also explained that her mother tried to dissuade her from going into show business, saying, “My mom, when I was a kid, would tell me, ‘Save yourself.'”
Despite her mother’s warnings, the actress — who’s appeared on TV shows like House of Cards, American Crime Story, and American Princess — told T&C, “I always knew it was what I would end up doing.” She explained, “I tried to focus on other things for a long time, but eventually I wanted it so badly that I couldn’t anymore. I didn’t want to go through life being miserable because I couldn’t do the one thing I wanted to do.”
In the end, Midler was able to offer more advice, per InStyle, telling her daughter to “create [her] own work, and not just to do the projects that other people involve [her] in,” which has surely helped Sophie shaped her own identity.
Bette Midler has been involved in many scandals
Bette Midler’s bold ways can get her into sticky situations. For instance, she sparked fierce reactions when she went after Kim Kardashian for the reality star’s nude selfies, and told The Telegraph (via the New York Daily News) that Ariana Grande not only has a “silly high voice,” but also “[looks] so ridiculous” when she’s “slithering around on a couch.” On top of that, Midler posted what was criticized as a transphobic tweet about Caitlyn Jenner, and shared “a NSFW photo of First Lady Melania Trump from a steamy shoot with British GQ in 2000,” along with what USA Today deemed to be a “vulgar hashtag.”
Frankly, Midler can even stir up a scandal that only involves herself and those who are seemingly supporting her career. For instance, she caused trouble in 1998 when she complained about her sitcom Bette, saying on The Late Show with David Letterman (via People), “[It’s] the lowest thing that ever happened to me in my life … I’m like a dung beetle pushing this ball of dung up a mountain.” And then there was the time Midler tweeted that “women, are the N-word of the world.” Granted, she later apologized.
However, there’s a chance that Midler isn’t that remorseful and could find herself in trouble in the future due to the fact that, as she told The Guardian, “Sometimes I know I sound ancient. But now I’m old I can say anything I damn well please.” That’s debatable.
There’s another famous singer who Bette Midler would love to work with
Considering Bette Midler is one of the most iconic singers in the music industry, it’s amazing when she teams up with any notable peer. Just check out “Buckets of Rain” featuring Bob Dylan, “Manhattan” with Rod Stewart, and her collaboration with the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb, “The Greatest Ears in Town.” However, there’s another beloved songstress she would love to work with — and a duet that fans would surely freak out over!
“I would have liked to have duetted with Barbra Streisand by now,” Midler told The Guardian in 2014, adding, “She is adorable.” That’s certainly one way to describe the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner and Grammy Legend Award recipient. Midler also revealed that there had been “talk of a collaboration” on Streisand’s album, and explained, “I wanted her on mine, too, but sadly it didn’t come to anything because we were both buried in our respective projects.”
Fortunately for Midler, it seems as though Streisand is also a fan of her work. When Midler starred as Streisand’s late talent agent, Sue Mengers, in the play I’ll Eat You Last back in 2013, Streisand sent a statement to the Los Angeles Times via her publicist, saying, “It was a wonderful performance. Bette made me laugh in the same way that Sue did and she touched my heart as Sue did.”
Bette Midler did not want to take on her most popular song
Bette Midler has released plenty of popular tunes over the years. However, there’s one that’s been a favorite among fans ever since they first heard it and likely shed a tear or two (or fully bawled their eyes out!) while listening to the touching lyrics. We’re referring, of course, to “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
Written in 1982 by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley, plenty of singers have taken on the tune, including Roger Whittaker, who was the first to record and release it, as well as Sheena Easton, Lou Rawls, and Gladys Knight & The Pips. But it became a hit when Midler performed it for her 1988 film Beaches. The song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and helped her earn the Grammy Award for album of the year in 1989, in part, because, as Rolling Stone puts it, Midler “sings the hell out of the song.”
However, it turns out that Midler originally wasn’t interested in the tune. While chatting with The Guardian in 2014, she admitted, “When I first heard ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ I thought: ‘I’m not singing that.'” Thankfully, she explained, “[Long-time friend and producer] Marc Shaiman insisted and it was the biggest hit of my career.”
The actress turned down some truly iconic movie roles
Bette Midler has starred in plenty of popular films, including 1991’s For the Boys, 1993’s flop-turned-fan-favorite Hocus Pocus, and 1996’s The First Wives Club. However, it turns out that she’s also turned down gigs in a trio of incredibly successful movies.
Midler told Metro (via The Guardian) in 2010, “There was Sister Act, which was written for me, but I said: ‘My fans don’t want to see me in a wimple.'” Um, gotta say she was wrong on that one! It goes without saying that Whoopi Goldberg did an amazing job playing a lounge singer who has to hide out from hitmen in a convent while pretending to be a nun, but there’s no doubt Midler would have also nailed the role.
As for another job she opted not to take on, Midler admitted, “I also didn’t do Misery and Kathy Bates won an Oscar for it.” Indeed, Bates took home an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and plenty of other honors for her role in the movie based on Stephen King’s 1987 novel of the same name. And what was the third film? Chicago! Apparently, the outlet noted, “She was rumored to have been offered any role she liked,” but still said no.
Bette Midler released a ‘Baby Divine’ book for kids
Back in 1983, Bette Midler released a children’s book called The Saga of Baby Divine. According to singer-actress’ story’s blurb, this “fable recounts the birth of Baby Divine, an extraordinary sprite with a vocabulary of one word only — ‘More’ — who sets out to find a heavenly land of love and laughter.”
According to People, “Written in the form of an epic poem, it is about a little girl — born wearing high heels — [who] is taken under the wings of three ladies, Lily, Tillie, and Joyce, who are a combination of the Three Wise Men, the Andrews Sisters, and the William Morris Agency.” Are you still following? If so, then you’ll be interested to know that these three women “turn exhibitionistic Baby Divine on to showbiz, and a more or less lovable little monster is created.”
A seemingly semi-autobiographical (if fantastical … and age-appropriate?) version of Midler’s own life, this is likely the perfect book for the fabulous infant in your life.
This star has made some impressive real estate moves
Bette Midler surely makes an enviable amount of money from her movies, music, and various creative endeavors. However, this is one celebrity who also knows how to play the long-term — and, in her case, lucrative — real estate game.
In 2019, Midler put her New York City penthouse up for sale for $50 million. The “airy triplex” located on Fifth Avenue was the star’s “longtime family home on the Upper East Side,” according to The New York Times. Spanning “around 7,000 square feet … that’s not even counting the additional 3,000 square feet of outdoor space” that boasts “lush landscaped gardens, complete with composter and shed, and sweeping vistas of the Central Park reservoir and Midtown skyline.”
While it was an undeniably impressive move on Midler’s part to take advantage of her NYC home’s worth by putting it on the market, she apparently wasn’t done making high-priced real estate deals. In March 2020, the star sold land that she owned in Hawaii “for 12 times what she paid” for it, per the Los Angeles Times. The Honolulu-born performer bought the “parcel of land on the north shore of the Hawaiian island of Kauai for” $150,000 back in 1986, and she “sold it for $1.85 million.”
Bette Midler can ‘barely add,’ but she’s worth a fortune
Bette Midler may be a (very!) wealthy woman these days, but the exact opposite used to be true. The star opened up to The Guardian about her previous financial situation in 2014, saying, “Fame and money were partly what drove me to leave Hawaii for New York to become a singer when I was 19. When you are poor — and we were really poor — it’s human nature to want to better yourself.”
Despite that, Midler also explained that her parents “were horrified” when she told them that she “wanted to go into show business.” She recalled that while her “mother thought it was fantastic,” she was also “afraid” for her daughter. On the other hand, Midler said, “My father loved me, but until the day he died he thought it was a total waste of time and that I should have been a teacher or a nurse.”
We doubt there are many teachers or nurses out there who have $250 million, which is what Midler is banking thanks to her music, movies, and more, according to Celebrity Net Worth. And yet, despite Midler’s undeniably impressive financial success, she admitted, “I can barely add and I’ve never been able to do my own taxes. It’s a good thing I’ve been blessed with this fantastic will to go forward, even when I hit the skids.”