BetteBack October 11, 1978: On Her Way To Australia (1978 World Tour)

The Australian Women’s Weekly
On Her Way To Australia
Wednesday 11 October 1978


She may specialize in low-rent

humour, but what it’s brought Bette Midler is high-rent success. Early on a Sunday evening she’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 anybody’s guess. While she’s not

too worried about England and Austra- lia (“I’m an Anglophile ”“ if nothing else, the British have probably the greatest sense of humour of any nation in the world,” she says earnestly) Midler admits Europe may be a different kettle of fish.

“Oh well,” she shrugs, refusing to fret about it. “What can they do to me? Oslo? What can I say. We’ll only be there one night. What can they do in one night ”¦ lynch me? I’ll be gone by the time they figure out what to do with me.” Then a heartening thought occurs. “And I can’t i read the reviews, so what do I care?”

She’s actually less blase than she sounds. Her main worry, Midler admits, is that “in a lot of these places they don’t speak English and so much of my humour is language. But I’m looking forward to it. I just hope I don’t get constipated.”

That’s Midler. Ever different. Most Americans going overseas worry about the opposite condition.

To attempt to interview “The Divine Miss M” as she’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 thick and fast.

“Are Australians not proud of ocker humour?” she quizzes. “Are the ockers like our hard-hats? Who doesn’t like it? lt sounds to me like it’s the conservatives who object.”

Midler smiles, lt’s more like a some what evil leer. She’s a satirist and she cheerfully admits: “Everybody gets it. I take a shot at everybody .. . every town I go through.” Such “shots” are a dual effort. While Midler writes a lot of her own material, she also collaborates with a writer who travels with her.

“We pick it up as we go along,” she says, adding that she’s particularly interested in slang.

“I’m entranced by it. Some Austra- lians were over here the other day ”“ 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 ”˜hooroo digger.’ Apparently the stuff they were telling me was real low-rent. He said never call anybody an ocker.”

Miss M is obviously both intrigued and puzzled. “I suspect it’s some kind of class thing,” she says. “But from what I know of Australians, their humour is brilliant. I’m looking forward so much to that part of the tour. So much of what I do is low-rent humour.”

One thing about Miss M ”“ if she doesn’t like something, she’s not shy about letting you know. Never one to mince words, she’s as amused at herself as she is at the rest of the world.

“I think of myself as a sort of tacky grand-dame,” she says. “I was calling people ”˜dah-ling’ when I was in the sixth grade.

“I don’t know where I got it from. I must have seen too many movies or Noel Coward plays. The ”˜Divine Miss M’ routine was a trademark for me in the beginning. In ”˜The Women’ there was a wonderful character called The Con tessa who’s very arch, very grand and very loud. She always says ”˜l’amour, l’amour,’ and she runs off with a sing ing cowboy. That’s where the ”˜Divine Miss M’ thing came from.”

Bette Midler herself came from humble beginnings. Her 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 Bette’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 ”“ the sooner, the better.

In the mid-’60s Bette won a small role in the movie “Hawaii,” playing a mis sionary’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.

“lt was 1966 and very hard to get a job in the legitimate theatre,” she recalls. “Music was very big then and I saw there was a lot more excitement in the music world, so I crossed over. I’ve always been a speaker and a clown.”

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 “cult” 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 “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” a crazed romp about college life in the ’60s.

Except for a three-girl back-up group,

Miss M’s is a one-woman show ”“ a fast-paced, dancing, singing, wise- cracking two hour marathon that leaves its audience breathless, wondering where she gets her energy.

“I was always a speedy little person,” says the 155-centimetre-tall carrot top. “I get it from my mother. She works at the highest level of energy. Sometimes it is tiring. But that’s OK, I don’t mind.”

Though she’s detoured through music and comedy, Midler has never lost sight of the ultimate aim ”“ 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 “The Rose” 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.

“She’s a rock’n’roll character. There’s really not that much difference between one rock’n’roller and another.

lt’s the last eight days of the girl’s life. So it’s quite serious ”“ veddy heavy in fact.”

Although she intones the “veddy heavy” with a mock Mayfair accent, that doesn’t mean Midler can’t be serious.

“lt’s not hard for me to take things seriously,” she says. “How I am depends on how I wake up. I think I’m schizo and I have vitamin deficiencies. Chemically, my body isn’t balanced properly so some days I’m very serious and sometimes I’m quite giddy. But I guess, on the whole, you could say I’m quite serious. I like to read, I like to study and I love to learn.”

After all, Midler points out, many of our most beloved clowns are not so comical in person. “I’ve met Lucille Ball, who is absolutely my favourite, she’s what I want to be as an actress ”“ and she’s very serious.”

Not that Midler doesn’t love to laugh. She laughs a lot at other comedians provided, of course, they’re funny. Her favourite kind of humour is British.

“The Monty Python group ”“ they’re just staggering, they’re so wonderful,” she says a little wistfully. “But I love all comedy. I’m a real fan of slapstick, of language comedy. As long as a comedian gets there, I don’t really care what they do.”

Though she’s single, 32 and making it big all on her own, Midler doesn’t claim to be a feminist. Hopes, indeed, that the subject won’t come up. “Because I don’t know very much about it.”

Audiences aren’t to blame, she says, if women are not always successful as stand-up comics.

lt’s the girls ”“ actually getting up on stage and doing it, it’s not the audience acceptance or resistance.

“A lot of girls just don’t like it. lt’s a very hard life being a stand-up comic 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 ”“ you have to be very pushy, you have to work like a dog. lt’s a very rough life, but if you’re committed to it, it can be rewarding.”


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.

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