Bette Midler: An Overview

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Bette Midler
By Staff
March 20, 2024

Bette Midler Matrix Awards Winner 1998

Bette Midler

American singer, actress, activist, and comedienne Bette Midler (1945) became known as The Divine Miss M. In her career spanning nearly half a century, she has won multiple film awards and sold more than 30 million albums worldwide. Her most successful songs include ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ (1972), ‘The Rose’ (1980), ‘From a Distance’ (1990), and the number-one hit in the USA, ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’ (1989).

Dutch promotion card by WEA Records. Bette Midler in The Rose (1979).

The Rose

American postcard by Fotofolio, no. F514. Photo: Greg Gorman. Caption: Bette Midler, Los Angeles, 1990. Proceeds from the sale of this card benefit the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Bette Midler Some Peoples Lives

American postcard by Fotofolio, NY, NY., no. 2319. Photo: Annie Leibovitz. Caption: Bette Midler, New York City, 1979. Proceeds from the sale of this card were donated to AIDS organizations.

Bette Midler Rolling Stone Cover Annie Leibowitz

Bathhouse Betty

Bette Midler was born in 1945 in Honolulu, Hawaii, where her family was one of the few Jewish families in a mostly Asian neighborhood. Her parents, Fred Midler, a painter, and Ruth Midler (Schindel), a seamstress, named her after film star Bette Davis. The last syllable of her first name is unpronounced because her mother thought that was how Davis pronounced her name. Her sisters, Susan and Judy, are named after Susan Hayward and Judy Garland.

Midler was already interested in singing as a teenager. She studied drama at the University of Hawaii and her first film role was as an extra in Hawaii (George Roy Hill, 1966) as a seasick passenger. Midler was also hired for a small speaking role in the film and went to Los Angeles to film these scenes in a studio. Her scenes were cut from the final film. In 1966, she moved to New York, using money from her film work.

Midler studied theatre at HB Studio under Uta Hagen. She landed her first professional onstage role in Tom Eyen‘s off-off-Broadway plays in 1965, ‘Miss Nefertiti Regrets’ and ‘Cinderella Revisited’, a children’s play by day and an adult show by night. In the late 1960s, Midler appeared in the musicals ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ (1966-1970) and ‘Salvation’ (1969) on Broadway. While Bette played Tzeitel in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, her sister Judy visited New York City to see her perform and was tragically struck by a taxi and killed. Midler’s career as a singer began in 1970 when she began performing in the Continental Baths, a local gay bathhouse in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel in New York. There she managed to build up a core following, nicknamed ‘Bathhouse Betty’, and befriended Barry Manilow, who accompanied her on the piano. Midler established herself as an interpreter of mainly songs from the 1940s, including ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, first performed by the Andrews SistersSophie Tucker was also a major influence on her. Her performances quickly became insider tips on the New York scene.

In 1971, Midler starred in the first professional production of the Who‘s rock opera ‘Tommy’, with director Richard Pearlman and the Seattle Opera. The 1970s were characterized by successful albums and unusual stage programs that made her an enfant terrible of American show business. Barry Manilow produced her first album, ‘The Divine Miss M’, (1972) based on a stage show of the same name and for which she received her first golden record. 1973, she was honored with the Grammy Award for Best New Artist. Her self-titled follow-up album was released at the end of 1973. Again, the album was co-produced by Manilow. After some minor film work, her starring film debut was as a drug-addicted rock musician in the drama The Rose (Mark Rydell, 1979), loosely based on the life of Janis Joplin. She received two Golden Globes and an Oscar nomination for her sensitive performance, and the film’s title song, which she sang, became a top ten hit in the United States.

In 1980, the concert film Divine Madness (Michael Ritchie, 1980) was released, featuring Midler’s stand-up comedy routines and 16 songs. In the same year, Midler successfully published the book ‘A View from a Broad’, which became a bestseller. After the flop of the comedy Jinxed (Don Siegel, 1982) in which she had a problematic collaboration with the director and her co-star Ken Wahl, her career as a film actress already seemed to end. However, four years later, she got a role opposite Richard Dreyfuss and Nick Nolte in the hilarious comedy Down and Out in Beverly Hills (Paul Mazursky, 1986). The hit film was based on the French play ‘Boudu sauvé des eaux’ (1919) by René Fauchois. The play was already filmed successfully by Jean Renoir as Boudu sauvé des eaux (1932). Midler’s next role as a kidnap victim in the black comedy Ruthless People (David Zucker, Jim Abrahams en Jerry Zucker, 1986) with Danny DeVito as her scoundrel husband was another big hit. It was the start of a successful career in film comedies.

American postcard by Coral-Lee, Rancho Cordova, CA, no. Personality # 70, 1981, no. SC17643. Photo: Douglas Kirkland / Contact.

Bette Midler The Rose

American promotion card by Warner Bros. Records Inc. for the album ‘Bathhouse Betty’ (1998). Photo: Diego Uchitel. Caption: It’s her world. You’re just soaking in it.

Bette Midler Bathhouse Betty


During the 1980s and 1990s, Bette Midler starred in comedies such as Outrageous Fortune (Arthur Hiller, 1987), Big Business (Jim Abrahams, 1988) with Lily Tomlin as sets of identical twins mismatched at birth, and Scene from a Mall (Paul Mazursky, 1991) with Woody Allen. She also continued to record albums and expanded her repertoire to include pop, rock, musicals, jazz, chanson, and disco.

In 1989, the single ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ from the soundtrack of the tear-jerker Beaches (Garry Marshall, 1988) with Barbara Hershey reached number one in the US charts and was named Single of the Year at the 1990 Grammy Awards. The following year, Midler received another Grammy for her version of ‘From a Distance’. She received an Oscar nomination for her role in the WWII drama For the Boys (Mark Rydell, 1991) with James Caan. She also appeared in the comedies Hocus Pocus (Kenny Ortega, 1993), which achieved cult status over the years, and The First Wives Club (Hugh Wilson, 1996), in which she made a dynamic trio with Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn. The First Wives Club grossed over $100 million at the box office and was her biggest hit.

On television, she had supporting roles in The SimpsonsSeinfeld, and The Nanny, where she played herself. She also had her sitcom Bette (2000-2001), where she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. Following a reported long-standing feud with Barry Manilow, the two joined forces after many years in 2003 to record ‘Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook’. The album was instantly successful and was nominated for a Grammy the following year. Throughout 2003 and 2004, Midler toured the United States in her show, ‘Kiss My Brass’, to sell-out audiences.

The glossy remake The Stepford Wives (Frank Oz, 2004) with Nicole Kidman was a disappointment. Midler joined forces again with Manilow for another tribute album, ‘Bette Midler Sings the Peggy Lee Songbook’ (2005). It was again a hit and nominated for a Grammy Award. In 2008, Midler signed a contract with Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for a residency, ‘Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On’, which ended in 2010. In 2010, Midler voiced the character Kitty Galore in the animated film Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (Brad Peyton, 2010) with Chris O’Donnell. The film was a success, grossing $112 million worldwide. Midler was one of the producers of the Broadway production of the musical ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’, which opened in February 2011.

From March 2017 to January 2018, Midler was seen for the first time in a leading role on Broadway in a revival of the musical ‘Hello, Dolly!’. She received several awards for her performance, including the Tony Award in 2017. In 2019, she popped up in the final episodes of the first season of The Politician, where she played the campaign manager, Hadassah Gold. She was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for this guest role. In the second season, her role was upgraded to a lead role. In the cinema, she appeared again as Winnie Sanderson in Hocus Pocus 2 (Anne Fletcher, 2022) with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy and the comedy-drama Sitting in Bars with Cake (Trish Sie, 2023). Since 1984, Bette Midler has been married to the actor Martin von Haselberg, and they have a daughter, Sophie von Haselberg (1986). Besides selling 15 million albums worldwide, Bette Midler won four Grammy awards, four Golden Globes, one Tony Award, and three Emmy Awards.

American postcard by Fotofolio, N.Y., N.Y., no. GG7. Photo: Greg Gorman. Caption: Bette Midler, Los Angeles, 1984. Proceeds from the sale of this card are to The American Foundation for Aids Research.

Art or Bust

French postcard by Lost Films for the re-issue in 2015 of The Rose. Photo: Vilmos Zsigmond / 20th Century Fox / Lost Films Distribution. Bette Midler in The Rose (Mark Rydell, 1979).

The Rose

Sources: Wikipedia (DutchGerman and English) and IMDb.

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