Lily Tomlin: Reminiscing On Bette Midler And Lucille Ball

Life Lessons from Lily Tomlin
By Interview
June 1, 2021

Bette, Lucy, and Lily

Chasen’s restaurant in Los Angeles, May 29th 1987

“Bette [Midler] and I had dinner with Lucy [Lucille Ball]. Lucy is unbelievable. She told this whole story about how she had to have an emergency root canal the morning she had to fly to New York, and how she didn’t want to take painkillers, so the doctor told her to just take some cognac and swish it around in her mouth. Of course, she does this whole thing at dinner, about settling down in the seat on the airplane and ordering a double cognac, and sitting there and swishing it in her mouth—just like Lucy—then looking to spit it out and there’s no place to spit it, so she swallows it. Well, she does that about ten times. It was just wonderful. Of course, she never called afterward…”

Lily Tomlin & Bette Midler in “Big Business”

“I got [Bette Midler] laughing one day. I was so proud of myself because she just had to sit down on the floor. We got onto this whole thing about the Midler Institute of Mugging. I’d bee working internally and trying to evolve something, and she’d say, ‘Come on, lighten up. Every scene can’t be an Academy Award winner.’ She was getting into all this—you know how she does it—that big jaw, her eyes, everything. Those classic mugs. So I started practicing to see if I could mug as well as she could. That’s how the Midler Institute for Mugging was founded. We started developing courses; at the end, I was doing, like, postgraduate work with the founding light. One day I had a scene where I was eating peanut butter on a celery stalk. This course was ‘Working with Sticky Substances.’ She had great courses—’Upstaging Your Co-Star’ was an important one. The last day she gave me a big graduation plaque.”

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