The Australian Womenâ€™s Weekly
On Her Way To Australia
Wednesday 11 October 1978
She may specialize in low-rent
humour, but what itâ€™s brought Bette Midler is high-rent success. Early on a Sunday evening sheâ€™s curled up on a plump sofa in a Beverly Hills mansion rented from actor Richard Chamberlain, discussing her first tour abroad, lt will take her to England, Europe and, finally,
The zany singer-comedienne has been a head-liner in the US since 1972, but what the wide world has in store for Iher is anybodyâ€™s guess. While sheâ€™s not
too worried about England and Austra- lia (â€œIâ€™m an Anglophile â€“ if nothing else, the British have probably the greatest sense of humour of any nation in the world,â€ she says earnestly) Midler admits Europe may be a different kettleÂ of fish.
â€œOh well,â€ she shrugs, refusing to fret about it. â€œWhat can they do to me? Oslo? What can I say. Weâ€™ll only be there one night. What can they do in one night â€¦ lynch me? Iâ€™ll be gone by the time they figure out what to do with me.â€ Then a heartening thought occurs. â€œAnd I canâ€™t i read the reviews, so what do I care?â€
Sheâ€™s actually less blase than she sounds. Her main worry, Midler admits, is that â€œin a lot of these places they donâ€™t speak English and so much of my humour is language. But Iâ€™m looking forward to it. I just hope I donâ€™t get constipated.â€
Thatâ€™s Midler. Ever different. Most Americans going overseas worry about the opposite condition.
To attempt to interview â€œThe Divine Miss Mâ€ as sheâ€™s affectionately known, is to be interviewed in return. Having heard of ocker humour, Norman Gun ston and Paul Hogan, her curiosity is boundless. The questions come thickÂ and fast.
â€œAre Australians not proud of ocker humour?â€ she quizzes. â€œAre the ockersÂ like our hard-hats? Who doesnâ€™t like it? lt sounds to me like itâ€™s the conservatives who object.â€
Midler smiles, ltâ€™s more like a some what evil leer. Sheâ€™s a satirist and she cheerfully admits: â€œEverybody gets it. I take a shot at everybody .. . every town I go through.â€ Such â€œshotsâ€ are a dual effort. While Midler writes a lot of her own material, she also collaborates with a writer who travels with her.
â€œWe pick it up as we go along,â€ she says, adding that sheâ€™s particularly interested in slang.
â€œIâ€™m entranced by it. Some Austra- lians were over here the other day â€“ two girls who were very funny and loose and one man.who was rigid and uptight. The fellow got angry when the girls started telling me to say things like â€˜hooroo digger.â€™ Apparently the stuff they were telling me was real low-rent. He said never call anybody an ocker.â€
Miss M is obviously both intrigued and puzzled. â€œI suspect itâ€™s some kind of class thing,â€ she says. â€œBut from what I know of Australians, their humour is brilliant. Iâ€™m looking forward so much to that part of the tour. So much of what I do is low-rent humour.â€
One thing about Miss M â€“ if she doesnâ€™t like something, sheâ€™s not shy about letting you know. Never one to mince words, sheâ€™s as amused at herself as she is at the rest of the world.
â€œI think of myself as a sort of tacky grand-dame,â€ she says. â€œI was calling people â€˜dah-lingâ€™ when I was in the sixth grade.
â€œI donâ€™t know where I got it from. I must have seen too many movies or Noel Coward plays. The â€˜Divine Miss Mâ€™ routine was a trademark for me in the beginning. In â€˜The Womenâ€™ there was a wonderful character called The Con tessa whoâ€™s very arch, very grand and very loud. She always says â€˜lâ€™amour,Â lâ€™amour,â€™ and sheÂ runs off with a sing ing cowboy. Thatâ€™s where the â€˜Divine Miss Mâ€™ thing cameÂ from.â€
Bette Midler herself came from humble beginnings. HerÂ father, a house-painter, moved his family of four children from New Jersey to Hawaii when she was a toddler, in search of a languid existence. They lived in a mostly Filipino neighbourhood, a life-style that apparently contributed to young Betteâ€™s ambitions. Her mother had named her afterBette Davis, so she decided to be an actress. In the islands, the first step towards such a big ambition is to leave â€“ the sooner, the better.
In the mid-â€™60s Bette won a small role in the movie â€œHawaii,â€ playing a mis sionaryâ€™s wife. When the location was transferred to Los Angeles for shooting of final scenes, she had her ticket out. With the $350 a week she earned on the film, Bette took herself straight to New York and tried to find work on Broadway.
â€œlt was 1966 and very hard to get a job in the legitimate theatre,â€ she recalls. â€œMusic was very big then and I saw there was a lot more excitement in the music world, so I crossed over. Iâ€™ve always been a speaker and a clown.â€
The gold records and 10 week sellout
performances on Broadway came later, lt was no overnight success. But Midler soon developed a following, became a sort of â€œcultâ€ figure.
For nearly two years Midler has been living with actor Pete Rigert, who recently made a name for himself with the role of Boone in â€œNational Lampoonâ€™s Animal House,â€ a crazed romp about college life in the â€™60s.
Except for a three-girl back-up group,
Miss Mâ€™s is a one-woman show â€“ a fast-paced, dancing, singing, wise- cracking two hour marathon that leaves its audience breathless, wondering where she gets her energy.
â€œI was always a speedy little person,â€ says the 155-centimetre-tall carrot top. â€œI get it from my mother. She works at the highest level of energy. Sometimes it is tiring. But thatâ€™s OK, I donâ€™t mind.â€
Though sheâ€™s detoured through music and comedy, Midler has never lost sight of the ultimate aim â€“ to make it as an actress, Hollywood style.
She may choose to live in New York, but Los Angeles and the big screen beckon. Her first major effort in that direction is the title role in â€œThe Roseâ€ for Twentieth Century Fox, due for release early next year.
Although widely touted as being based on the life of the late rock singer Janis Joplin, Midler says Rose is a composite character.
â€œSheâ€™s a rockâ€™nâ€™roll character. Thereâ€™s really not that much difference between one rockâ€™nâ€™roller and another.
ltâ€™s the last eight days of the girlâ€™s life. SoÂ itâ€™s quite serious â€“ veddy heavy in fact.â€
Although she intones the â€œveddy heavyâ€ with a mock Mayfair accent, thatÂ doesnâ€™t mean Midler canâ€™t be serious.
â€œltâ€™s not hard for me to take things seriously,â€ she says. â€œHow I am depends on how I wake up. I think Iâ€™m schizo and I have vitamin deficiencies. Chemically, my body isnâ€™t balanced properly so some days Iâ€™m very serious and sometimes Iâ€™m quite giddy. But I guess, on the whole, you could say Iâ€™m quite serious. I like to read, I like to study and I love to learn.â€
After all, Midler points out, many of our most beloved clowns are not so comical in person. â€œIâ€™ve met Lucille Ball, who is absolutely my favourite, sheâ€™sÂ what I want to be as an actress â€“ andÂ sheâ€™s very serious.â€
Not that Midler doesnâ€™t love to laugh. She laughs a lot at other comedians provided, of course, theyâ€™re funny. Her favourite kind of humour is British.
â€œThe Monty Python group â€“ theyâ€™re just staggering, theyâ€™re so wonderful,â€ she says a little wistfully. â€œBut I love all comedy. Iâ€™m a real fan of slapstick, of language comedy. As long as a comedian gets there, I donâ€™t really care what they do.â€
Though sheâ€™s single, 32 and making it big all on her own, Midler doesnâ€™t claim to be a feminist. Hopes, indeed, that the subject wonâ€™t come up. â€œBecause I donâ€™t know very much about it.â€
Audiences arenâ€™t to blame, she says, if women are not always successful as stand-up comics.
ltâ€™s the girls â€“ actually getting up on stage and doing it, itâ€™s not the audience acceptance or resistance.
â€œA lot of girls just donâ€™t like it. ltâ€™s a very hard life being a stand-up comicÂ and most women are not built for it. Most women are just not strong enough, physically or mentally, lt takes a terrible toll out of you â€“ you have to be very pushy, you have to work like a dog. ltâ€™s a very rough life, but if youâ€™re committed to it, it can be rewarding.â€
â€“ SUE RHODES
Midler will be at the State Theatre, Sydney from October 26-30; the Palais, Melbourne, on November 2-3; Perth, November 8; Adelaide, November 11 and Brisbane, November 13.