Barry Manilow: Vegas Crowds Hated Bette Midler in 1972

Las Vegas Real Estate Review
Barry Manilow on the cusp of overtaking Elvis’ record
by John Katsilometes
September 20, 2023

Bette Midler Barry Manilow

Even now, Barry Manilow recalls his first appearance in Las Vegas.

It didn’t go well.

“It was horrible,” he says in a phone chat.

Manilow was Bette Midler’s conductor, piano player and arranger in the early days of both entertainers’ careers. Midler was a favorite of Johnny Carson, who headlined at the Sahara’s Congo Room from 1964 to 1980, during breaks from “The Tonight Show.” Carson invited Midler to open for him during a run in 1972.

“She was doing so well, the word of mouth was so great, she was a wonderful talent and funny, so she opened for him,” Manilow recalls. “And she died there. They just hated her. They were offended by her dirty jokes, they didn’t know what song she was singing, they didn’t understand what she looked like. Then Johnny would come out and tell them how wonderful she was.”

But unlike “Copacabana,” this tale ends happily. Crowds actually liked Manilow’s role in the show. He launched his solo career soon after and achieved worldwide success with the top-selling “Mandy.” The 80-year-old Manilow is now on the cusp of overtaking Elvis’ mark for performances at Westgate’s International Theater with 637.

He is celebrating with performances through the weekend, beginning Thursday. In passing the King’s mark at the venue, Manilow is benefiting the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center, Manilow Music Project, Musicians on Call, Three Square, Victoria’s Voice and Youth Villages.

Johnny Kats: As you’re talking about Elvis, we all know of course his first appearance in Vegas didn’t go great either, opening for Shecky Greene at the New Frontier (in April 1956).

Barry Manilow: No kidding. He didn’t go over well. He was known to be sexy, wiggling his hips, and I guess they didn’t like that.

He was doing his act for a dinner show audience, with the hips.

Like I say, I did not have that problem. I was Mr. Clean, I was not offensive, and they were just fine with me.

This position you have in relation to Elvis’ career in Las Vegas, how does that feel? He is still such an icon here.

What he did was so far away from what I do that I really don’t even consider us in competition. He was an inventor of a style of music. You’ve got to give him credit for that. And I was an inventor of my kind of music, with the big ballads and the big backbeats. That’s the only thing we have in common. I just admired his fame and his talent.

It seems there is no end to your contract at Westgate. Are you planning to extend into next year?

I’m not a part of that discussion. If Garry (Kief, Manilow’s manager and husband) says that David Siegel, who owns Westgate, wants me to sign a contract and be George Burns and stay until I’m 100.

Oh, my. Job security, to say the least.

But, listen, we’re all very happy. We’re sold out night after night. The audiences are just great. There’s no reason not to keep playing at the Westgate.

Whether it’s gonna be that … but you know, listen, we’re all happy, very happy. We’re sold out night after night after night. And the audiences are just great. And it’s great. And there’s no reason to not keep playing at the Westgate.

You think you’ll finish your career in Las Vegas?

Maybe, maybe. But I don’t even think like that, like, “Where do I want to be the last hurrah?” I really haven’t even thought about it.

You’ve covered Elvis before. Planning anything special for this weekend?

Yeah, yeah, I looked up my catalog because I never listen to my own stuff. I’ve got four beauties that he did that I rearranged for myself, and we’re going to do a few of those.

“If I Can Dream” was one, right?


So, what other ones are you going to come with?

You don’t want me to give it away! (Laughs)

I’m curious! Are you going to do all four? A sample from the four?

We’ve rehearsed all four. I don’t know whether I’ll do all four. But my band knows, and I know, what we’ll play. We’ll see what happens.

Well, I will be there. You can’t miss me. I’ll be the one with the glow stick.

And I’ll be the one singing “Hound Dog.”

Hold on! Hold on! I didn’t have Manilow singing ‘Hound Dog’ on my bingo card.

Ha, ha, ha! I’m serious! Watch for ‘Hound Dog!’

OK, OK. I wouldn’t put it past you.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at Contact him at Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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