Category Archives: The Divine Miss M

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Audio Only: Podcast With Adam Scull – The Divine Miss M

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Photo: Bette Midler – The Divine Miss M – Art

Bette Midler - The Divine Miss M - Art
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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Photo: Bette Midler is The Divine Miss M

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Divine Miss M has a suggestion for us…

The Democratic Underground
The Divine Miss M has a suggestion for us
December 20, 2018

Bette Midler call Donald Trump

Bette Midler?@BetteMidler

Trump’s 2020 campaign has set up a hotline, asking people to call in and thank Trump for being the greatest president in history. The number is 1-800-684-3043, if you want to call and tell him EXACTLY how grateful you are!

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Saturday, December 1, 2018

Have A Divine Day – It’s Bette Midler’s Birthday, Ya’ll – Yehaw!

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Stevie Nicks, Bette Midler reissue classics in expanded form

Miami Herald Stevie Nicks, Bette Midler reissue classics in expanded form BY HOWARD COHEN OCTOBER 28, 2016 12:09 PM getready album BETTE DELUXE ▪ Stevie Nicks, “Bella Donna (Deluxe)”, “The Wild Heart (Deluxe).” Stevie Nicks’ first two solo albums are remastered and expanded with demos and outtakes. “Bella Donna,” a No. 1 album in 1981, becomes a three-disc package, with a live disc from a short tour, highlighted by the 1981 outtake, “Gold and Braid” and a scorching cover of Tom Petty’s “I Need to Know.” The outtakes include “Blue Lamp,” from the “Heavy Metal” soundtrack and “Sleeping Angel” from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Also, a previously unreleased version of the non-LP track, “The Dealer,” and the title track’s demo. “The Wild Heart” adds a second disc that includes a raw session outtake of the title track and “Violet and Blue” from the “Against All Odds” soundtrack. Also, unreleased versions of “All the Beautiful Worlds” and “Dial the Number” and the “Stand Back” single’s B-side, “Garbo.” ▪ Bette Midler, “The Divine Miss M Deluxe.” Expanded two-disc reissue of her classic 1972 debut includes demos (including a cover of Eagles’ “Saturday Night”), singles mixes and outtakes like the amusing “Marihuana.” What makes Midler’s first album such a remarkable achievement, beyond the top-shelf musicianship from jazz and rock pros and a pre-fame Barry Manilow’s arrangements and production, are her expressive vocals. Midler can be brassy and campy on ’60s girl group covers like “Chapel of Love” but in her prime, here, no one could match her emotional connection to good material. Every bit the actress, Midler inhabits her cover of “Superstar” so intimately — especially an alternate version on disc two — listeners almost feel as if they are intruding on something so personal it feels intrusive. But that’s an experience with the Divine that is to be cherished. Midler, who would earn Grammy’s Best New Artist award and an Album of the Year nomination for this recording, was never better in the studio.

  • American Cinematheque Awards 1987
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  • BetteBack May 11, 1991: Diverse music fills everydey lives
  • BetteBack December 5, 1973: Bette Midler: PALACE, N.Y.
  • The 20 amazing Bette Midler facts you can share with your mates at the SSE Hydro
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    Thursday, September 15, 2016

    Bette Midler Reveals How She Got Her Nickname with Release of Deluxe Edition of ‘The Divine Miss M’

    Extra Bette Midler Reveals How She Got Her Nickname with Release of Deluxe Edition of ‘The Divine Miss M’ September 13, 2016 1200 Superstar Bette Midler is set to release the deluxe edition of her iconic 1972 album “The Divine Miss M” on Oct. 21. The 2-CD set includes the remastered album, plus a bonus disc of singles, outtakes and demos and liner notes written by Bette herself. In the liner notes, Bette reveals how she earned her divine nickname. “I began being called The Divine Miss M around 1969, when I made my first appearance at the Continental Baths, a gay bath house located in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel, at Broadway and 74th Street in New York. My best friend, Bill Hennessy, a hairdresser I met on ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ called me that for years. It was my first night at the Baths, and before I went on, the owner, Steven Ostrow, stuck his head into the dressing room and asked how I wanted to be introduced. I said, ‘Just tell them I’m divine!’ And that’s how it started.” The album hits store shelves Oct. 21, but will also be available for digital download the same day, and is currently available for pre-order via Amazon. Bette Midler Re-Issuing Remastered ‘The Divine Miss M,’ Mentoring on ‘The Voice’ Criterion Collection: A Winning Bette In ‘The ‘Rose’ Rare Footage Captures Bette Midler’s 1971 Farewell Performance At NYC Gay Bathhouse Bette Midler Talks Hawaii, The Jewish Experience, Broadway, And Movies

    Bette Midler is ‘chanelling the 70s’ in stunning new ad campaign | BootLeg Betty ...  Read More

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    Sunday, August 7, 2016

    What “The Divine Miss M” Re-Issue Could Look Like (One Man’s View)

    THE SECOND DISC Reissue Theory: Bette Midler, “The Divine Miss M” JUNE 23, 2011 BY JOE MARCHESE 6 COMMENTS 51098lL52ZL._SS500_ Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we take a look at notable albums and the reissues they may someday see. Long before “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “From a Distance,” Bette Midler was blazing a path like few others before or since with her blend of outrageous comedy, musical invention and pure showmanship. Yet despite a treasure trove of unreleased material, Midler’s platinum debut, The Divine Miss M, has never been expanded on CD. What might such a reissue be like? “One bathhouse. We played one bathhouse….No, it was only ever that one bathhouse.” So responded Barry Manilow earlier this month to Vanity Fair when queried whether he was nostalgic for the bathhouses he played in the early days of the 1970s as Bette Midler’s musical director. But Manilow’s stint playing for Midler at New York’s Continental Baths has entered into show biz lore, as it launched not one, but two, superstar careers that endure to the present day. As Manilow explained, “[The Continental Baths] had a cabaret stage, and they hired me as the house piano player. They asked me, ‘Hey, do you want to play piano here full-time?’ And I was like ‘Sure, why not?’ I played with all of the acts that came through, all the singers. Bette was the best of them…so I stayed with her…She was fucking brilliant. I mean it. You never saw anything like it. It topped anything Lady Gaga is doing today. And she did it without any stage tricks or fancy effects. It was just Bette and me and a drummer.” And while Manilow may sound hyperbolic, many reports at the time confirm his recollections. Bette Midler was, and is, unquestionably an original. Midler had played her first engagement at the Baths in August 1970, after she had already begun courting much larger stages with appearances on The David Frost Show, The Merv Griffin Show, and the biggest talk show of them all, Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. The girl from Hawaii who had played a lengthy run as Tzeitel in Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof and then a stint in the off-Broadway rock musical Salvation had her eyes on mainstream success. She was an instant smash with Carson on her first appearance of August 12, 1970; she began at the Baths two nights later and returned to the Tonight Show and its smitten host on August 31. Barry Manilow came into her life in late 1970 or early 1971; though exact dates are fuzzy, he became Midler’s musical director by the time of the September 1971 stand at New York’s Downstairs at the Upstairs cabaret. Though she had become the toast of New York and television with her boisterous, outrageous stage antics and wild reworkings of old standards, novelties and rock and roll tunes, Midler naturally desired to become a recording star. A 1969 demo session including her then-trademark take on Harry Akst and Grant Clark’s 1929 “Am I Blue?” was shopped around but hadn’t led anywhere. Perhaps her bawdy persona and eclectic repertoire simply couldn’t be contained on vinyl? That all changed with the release of 1972’s The Divine Miss M on the Atlantic label. Though it received a remastered edition in 1995 and last month was reissued as an audiophile LP from Mobile Fidelity, the album has never been expanded on CD. Yet there a number of riches that still remain in the Atlantic vaults that paint a fuller picture of the hungry young performer, equal parts singer, actress and performance artist. Today’s Reissue Theory imagines a 2-CD expanded edition of Midler’s eclectic, electric debut. Hit the jump for a story involving Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, music legend Ahmet Ertegun, Philly soul architect Thom Bell, jazz guru Joel Dorn, Brill Building stalwart Doc Pomus, and of course, Barry Manilow and Bette Midler! Doc Pomus had always been a stickler for authenticity. The longtime bluesman and writer of “Save the Last Dance for Me” and “This Magic Moment” had little use for popular music in the mid-1960s. But according to Pomus’ biographer Alex Halberstadt, he listened to his friend John Leslie McFarland when the eccentric composer recommended he hear one Bette Midler. “It’s the same old shit,” McFarland reportedly moaned, “except for this white chick named Midler. She’s gonna be a big fucking star.” Pomus and McFarland were spellbound by Midler’s act, and before long, Doc was begging his old pal Ahmet Ertegun to take in a performance by Midler. When Ertegun at first demurred, Pomus turned Joel Dorn onto her talent. Meanwhile, Pomus had signed an agreement with Midler to become her musical director. Here’s where accounts differ, but one thing is clear. By the time the dust settled, Ertegun had signed Midler to Atlantic Records with Dorn producing, and Doc Pomus was out of the picture. Little did Dorn know that he would soon follow the legendary songwriter out the door. Sessions began on January 17, 1972 for the album that would become The Divine Miss M. Miss M was joined by Manilow on piano, guitar great David Spinozza, jazz bassist and CTI mainstay Ron Carter, plus Ray Lucas on drums and Ralph MacDonald on percussion. When it came to assembling material, Dorn was able to draw on a vast collection of roughly 50 songs Midler was already performing regularly. These ranged from Phil Spector hits (“Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Uptown”) to rockers (“Down on Me,” “Honky Tonk Women”) and standards (“That Lucky Old Sun,” “Ten Cents a Dance.”) Midler wasn’t about to be pigeonholed into one genre. Virtually everything about The Divine Miss M would be unexpected, most especially its choice of cover versions. Despite her brassy persona, the album would be surprisingly intimate. Most radical was Midler’s reworking of Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Want to Dance?” The Beach Boys had already recorded a high-energy cover version in 1965, but Midler slowed the song to a sensual, seductive crawl, breathily intoning each lyric. Manilow arranged the rhythm track, and in the final crowning touch, Thom Bell (on the verge of a major breakthrough himself with Atlantic’s newly-signed Spinners) was brought in to write horn and string arrangements for the song. With Cissy Houston among those adding background vocals, Midler’s sumptuous, sultry “Do You Want to Dance?” became the first track on the album and a calling card for the singer. Then there was “Friends.” Buzzy Linhart first recorded the song, co-written with Moogy Klingman of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, for his 1971 album The Time to Live is Now. Linhart took his song at a slow tempo, accompanied by the Ten Wheel Drive rhythm section. Dorn’s production of the song that would become Midler’s theme was spare, with Bette making off-the-cuff comments, speaking some of the lyrics and generally having a good time. It wound up opening the second side of The Divine Miss M, but the story of “Friends” wasn’t quite over yet. Between January and April, Midler and Dorn recorded an entire album’s worth of material, much of it from contemporary songwriters: Leon Russell’s “Superstar,” Joni Mitchell’s “For Free,” Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” John Prine’s “Hello in There,” and Alex Harvey and Larry Collins’ “Delta Dawn.” Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman’s “Teenager in Love,” an audience-participation staple of Midler’s live show at the time, was committed to tape along with an unusual version of the Andrews Sisters classic “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” Unlike the dramatic re-arrangement of “Do You Want to Dance?,” “Boogie Woogie” hewed closely to the original version, with Midler doing triple duty as Patty, Maxene and LaVerne and Atlantic “house arranger” Arif Mardin’s horns as brassy as the singer herself. Yet by April’s end, Midler wasn’t fully satisfied with the material recorded. Neither was Ahmet Ertegun, the venerable head of Atlantic. Manilow passed a bootleg recording of Midler’s Carnegie Hall concert he had arranged to Ertegun. Biographer George Mair quotes Manilow: “Ahmet Ertegun heard it and said, ‘Yes, that’s what missing from the album. Can you fix it?’ And I said I’d try. We went back to the recording studio and ended up rewriting nine songs. The album came out half produced by me and half by Joel Dorn.” Manilow returned to the studio, in the producer’s chair alongside Ertegun and Geoffrey Haslam. Dorn’s productions for “Do You Want to Dance?,” “Am I Blue,” “Friends,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Hello In There” were left untouched. Midler’s reading of John Prine’s heartbreakingly bleak song remains one of her finest performances. Manilow and a new rhythm section (Michael Federal, Dickie Frank and Kevin Ellman, also of Utopia) re-recorded “Superstar,” “Chapel of Love,” “Delta Dawn” and Jeff Kent’s “Daytime Hustler.” Other songs were discarded. “Leader of the Pack” was brought into the sessions. Most notable was a second version of “Friends.” Manilow knew Midler’s strengths, and his arrangement of “Friends” hit the sweet spot. He joined in on harmony vocals along with his friend Melissa Manchester, and the song builds to a crescendo in a way it never does on the Dorn version. Though more polished than her original, Midler still showed her playful side on the effervescent track. In an odd but effective move, both recordings were included on The Divine Miss M, and the second was released as a single. “Friends” remains a Midler classic, and its co-writer Buzzy Linhart has reflected that his universal song about the simplest of ideas (“You’ve got to have friends!”) took on a new meaning after the AIDS epidemic (“I had some friends but they’re gone/Someone came and took them away”) especially when sung by Midler, providing relief to those who had lost loved ones to the disease. The Divine Miss M was finally released in November 1972, reaching No. 9 on the Billboard album chart and eventually going platinum. It spawned three consecutive hits, “Do You Want to Dance?,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Friends.” Robert Christgau of Rolling Stone reflected years later that “three ‘oldies’ and two ‘standards’ interspersed with five contemporary titles – conceptually, it seems pretty normal, a cover album Cyndi Lauper or Bryan Adams might try. But in 1972 The Divine Miss M was an outrageous assertion of taste.” Jon Landau, writing at the time for the magazine, felt that the album “proves Miss M to be one hell of a talent,” correctly pointing out that “Midler sings too much rock to be considered a cabaret singer and too much pop to be considered a rock singer. She doesn’t write them, but she sure can pick them.” Midler had brought the various strains of her personality together on the LP, with some critics pointing out that she had successfully incorporated elements of both a gay sensibility and a feminist one. But above all, The Divine Miss M is a triumph of good taste in songwriting and performance. That’s a bit ironic, however; her raunchy, flamboyant stage act exults in bad taste, by Miss M’s own admission! Our Expanded Edition includes the original The Divine Miss M LP as Disc One, appended by the single mixes of “Do You Want to Dance?,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Friends.” For our second disc, we round up the still-unreleased material produced by Joel Dorn in the early days of the album sessions. Two of the Dorn-produced songs, “Old Cape Cod” and “Marahuana,” were recycled for Midler’s third LP, Songs for the New Depression. (Through album producer Moogy Klingman, Todd Rundgren contributed guitars and backing vocals to the 1976 LP which also featured a duet between Midler and Bob Dylan on Dylan’s own “Buckets of Rain.” While it has to be heard to be believed, it’s been said that Dylan reportedly wished to duet instead on a new version of “Friends.” Wiser heads prevailed.) We’ve included the original mixes here. As was common in those days, the Quadraphonic mix of The Divine Miss M featured alternate instrumentation and vocals, and different edits than its stereo counterpart. We’ve included the two most notably different songs from the quad mix, “Delta Dawn” and “Do You Want to Dance?” although the entire quad mix deserves to be released on DVD form as part of Rhino’s Quadradisc series! (Are you reading, Rhinos?) We’ve also included “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” in its stereo single mix. Lastly, we’ve included four of the early Dorn recordings that were supplanted by Manilow’s later versions for the final album. Riding the success of the album, Manilow returned to co-produce (with Arif Mardin) Midler’s self-titled follow-up, which was released one year and one week after The Divine Miss M. Bette Midler followed the same formula as its predecessor but Manilow smoothed out the questions of the singer’s identity by placing the torch songs on the first side and the boisterous, campy material on the second. Though the album reached No. 6, lead-off single “In the Mood” failed to hit, despite echoes of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” Bette Midler, too, could potentially be expanded by the addition of 15+ known outtakes. By the time of the release of Bette Midler, Barry Manilow was already off and running with his own recording career, even covering “Friends” on his own self-titled debut for Arista. After “Mandy” and October 1974’s Barry Manilow II, though, he no longer needed to play piano to pay the bills. He and Midler didn’t reunite professionally until 1988. That was the year of Oliver and Company, an animated feature from Walt Disney Pictures with Bette as the voice of pampered poodle Georgette. Manilow was called on to contribute a song, and “Perfect Isn’t Easy” marked his reunion with The Divine Miss M. In 2003, they reteamed once more for their first full-length project together in thirty years. Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook was a surprise hit, and so it was followed in 2005 by a similar set devoted to Peggy Lee. Rumors abounded of a Laura Nyro tribute, but nothing has materialized. (This project would seemingly be the most fitting; Midler included Nyro songs in her early stage acts, and the writer of “Stoney End” and “Wedding Bell Blues” remains one of the biggest influences on Manilow’s style, especially in his formative years.) Manilow has drawn on his early experiences on the road to fame for his new LP 15 Minutes. Without further ado, we present our hypothetical expanded edition of The Divine Miss M! Let the divine madness begin. Bette Midler, The Divine Miss M: Expanded Edition (Atlantic LP 7238, 1972 – reissued Rhino/Atlantic, 2011) Disc 1: The Original Album – Plus Singles Do You Want to Dance? Superstar Chapel of Love Daytime Hustler Am I Blue Friends Hello in There Leader of the Pack Delta Dawn Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy Friends Do You Want to Dance? (Single Version) (Atlantic single 2928, 1973) Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (Stereo Single Version) (Atlantic single 2964, 1973) Friends (Single Version) (Atlantic single 2980, 1973) Disc 2: Outtakes and More For Free He Was Too Good to Me Empty Bed Blues My Freedom and I I Shall Be Released Teenager in Love Old Cape Cod (Original Joel Dorn Mix) Marahuana (Original Joel Dorn Mix) Do You Want to Dance (Longer Quad Mix) Delta Dawn (Longer Quad Mix) Chapel of Love (Early Take – Recorded 1/17 & 18, 1972) Daytime Hustler (Early Take – Recorded 1/17 & 18, 1972) Delta Dawn (Early Take – Recorded 4/12/72 – Strings Version) Superstar (Early Take – Recorded 1/19/72) Tracks 1-8, 11-14 previously unreleased Tracks 9-10 released on Atlantic QD-7238, 1972
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    Tuesday, August 2, 2016

    Good News Dept: The Divine Miss M Re-Issue

    Good News Dept: The re-issue of Bette Midler‘s The Divine Miss M CD should be available some time in October. I’ve been told there will be “lots of bonus tracks on deluxe version of release.” So you heard it here first. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint. I can’t believe it. The first time we’re actually going to get some real bonus material. Also the theme of the Hulaween event has been set: it’s “Witches ball at the haunted hotel” Hope that helps with all the happy Hulaweeners! Bette Midler: Bootleg Betty's photo.
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    Friday, July 8, 2016

    BetteBack December 17, 1973: Newsweek – Here Comes Bette!

    Newsweek Here Comes Bette! December 17, 1973 By Charles Michener download When I’m out there, I work. If people are paying money, they’re entitled to see an artist work his buns off. I want to do something beautiful that will last forever. Maybe I’ll never do it, and maybe everyone will laugh at me and say, “She’s just a fool.” But I don’t think I am. It was a Fool’s entrance in the oldest, best sense. Suddenly, at the end of the long shaft of spotlight, Bette Midler was there-skittering across the stage of New York’s fabled Palace Theatre to the band’s fanfare and the huge applause, a tiny, spectacularly busty dress-up of a girl wearing a low-cut, shimmery taxi-dancer dress hiked up on one thigh, an orchid in her frizzed-up, fire-red hair, teetering scarlet platform shoes and a smile as big as a half-moon. As the applause died down, she grabbed the mike, her smile turned serious, and in the sudden hush she sang in a small, breathy voice: “And I am all alone / There is no one here beside me / And my problems have all gone / There is no one to describe me …” Pause . . . then whoosh! She unclipped the mike from its stand, her arms began waving like those of a child just learning to dance, her feet started skittering again, the band picked up the beat and out came a big, wrap-around voice with the refrain, “You gotta have frieeeeeends …” – the words that have become Bette Midler’s rallying cry to a whole new kind of popular-music audience. Rally them she did – with an all-embracing sweep that is probably broader than that of any singer since Streisand. Straight and gay; aboveground and underground; unisex and due-sex; Middle American and radic-lib; chic and frumpy; escapees from apartments for singles and escapees from retirement homes – they had all turned out last week for the Broadway opening of the one performer on today’s scene they could all share with equal enthusiasm. They were not disappointed. Tearing from one end of the stage to the other like a frantic hostess trying to make everyone feel welcome, she proceeded to relocate her listeners in a musical landscape that spanned 40 years of American popular song. From the late ’20s came “Am I Blue?” confided smokily without a trace of condescension or apology. From “the fabulous ’40s” came a show-stopping “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, her most recent hit single, with Bette and her trio of girls, the Harlettes, proving that they could instrumentalize their voices with the best of the seat singers. From the late ’50s and early ’60s a “Philadelphia medley” of “Uptown and “Da Doo Run Run” propelled Bette across the stage in a frenzy of strutting, scampering and shimmying that brought back the pseudo-toughness of “American Bandstand” at its most exhibitionistic. Of more recent vintage was the Helen Reddy hit, “Delta Dawn,” which Bette first turned into a mournful white country lament and then retransformed into a hand-clapping black gospel. And in special honor of her surroundings, she dressed up her version of “Lullaby of Broadway” by sashaying down the instep of a giant shoe-a silver sling-pump. When Bette wasn’t singing, she was talking – in a patter that ranged from outrageous jokes a la Lenny Bruce (“If Dick Nixon would only do to Pat what he’s done to the country …”) to the kind of palaver delivered from the limp-wristed, hip-out stance that has earned her the sobriquet “The Divine Miss M“: “Whose idea was it to play this dump?… Well, are you ready for low-rent retro rock and roll? . . . I want you aaaall to know from the outset that we really busted our buns on this next one” (wiggling her own). Burlesque? Parody? Camp? Yes – but only on the surface. For whether’ in song or patter, what galvanized the audience’s tumultuous cheers and laughter was Bette’s ability to reveal an unmistakable vulnerability, a heart-stopping innocence that has been the not-so-secret weapon of every great entertainer from Fanny Brice to Judy Garland to Janis Joplin. It’s safe to say that not even Garland’s legendary appearances in the great old house ever aroused so much anticipation as Bette Midler’s Palace debut. Scheduled as the climax of a triumphant four-month, 35-city tour that has grossed some $3 million, Bette-at-the-Palace racked up the biggest one-day sale in the history of Broadway (8148,000) when tickets for the three-week engagement went on sale in mid-October. And in recent weeks, the Midler mania was further fueled by the release of Bette’s second album for Atlantic Records – which, by the end of last week, was on the verge of attaining “gold record” status by raking in sales of $1 million. In this age of pseudo-phenomena, Bette Midler is the genuine article – and a surprising one at that. For there is nothing exotic, glamorous or “crazy” about the 5-foot-l, 28-year-old young woman who, when asked offstage about her success, says simply: “I’m taking my vitamins, I’m getting ten hours of sleep, and I’m trying not to take it all too seriously. But if the show’s not perfect, I disintegrate.” Few performers since the Beatles have been so heralded as the harbinger of a new era”- or analyzed so seriously by the media. In March, the normally sober National Observer called her, in a feature that top-headlined the front page, “probably the brightest, hottest superstar to rise above the pop-music horizon in the ’70s.” In August, Ms. magazine put her on the cover and asked a number of commentators (from artist-playwright Rosalyn Drexler to Yoke One) to answer the question: “Why Bette Midler?’ Why indeed? Is she brilliantly exploiting the nostalgic craze for old songs, old movies, old chic-with dashes of contemporary irony and funkiness thrown in? Is she, like Alice Cooper, Elton John and David Bowie, capitalizing on the trend toward sheer spectacle in rock? Does her parodistic bawdiness feed our lingering hunger for the risqué – as opposed to the pornographic? Is her affectionate, welcome-all style an antidote to the angry, divisive music of the ’60s? The answer is yes – to all the questions. How else could she have launched herself three years ago by performing regularly on both Johnny Carson’s ‘”Tonight Show” and in the place where she found her first fans – a Manhattan Turkish bath for homosexuals? At the Continental Baths I was playing to people who are always on the outside looking in. To create the semblance of someone like that can be wonderful. And so I created the character of The Divine Miss M. She’s lust a fantasy, but she’s useful at showing people what that outsider’s perspective is. It was lust something I felt, something live happening on that stage,” recalls Stephen Ostrow, the proprietor of the Continental Baths, of his first encounter some three years ago with Bette at the Improvisation, a New York night spot that gives aspiring talents a chance to show their stuff. In those days, Bette was only a slight cut above the thousands of other stage-struck girls in New York, waiting for a break. After a stint in the chorus of “Fiddler on the Roof,” she had been elevated to the role of Tevye’s eldest daughter and in her off hours had taken up singing in small showcase clubs. Though it hardly looked like much of a break, she accepted Ostrow’s offer of $50 a night to come to his steamy establishment on weekends and entertain his towel-clad, all-male clientele. Enter The Divine Miss M. “She first tried out ‘Miss M’ on me,” recalls talent manager William Hennessey who was Bette’s hairdresser in “Fiddle;” and has since traveled with her as a gag writer. “She had another friend then,” says Hennessey, “a dancer named Ben Gillespie, who was a ’30s and ’40s freak, and the three of us used to hang around all the old-movie houses in New York. Afterward Bette would do take-offs of people like Charlotte Greenwood, Martha Raye and Joan Davis.” Egged on by the boys in the baths (“the tubs,” as Bette called the place), Miss M soon became “divine” – a frizzle – haired burlesque of a little-girl / woman who had rummaged through some dusty theatrical trunk and come up with Spring-o-lator shoes, a black-lace corset and gold lame pedal pushers; who had unearthed a stack of old sheet music and warped 45s, and refurbished such dubious classics as the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack” so that they seemed at once hilariously dated yet as fresh and catchy as if they were new; who called anything she didn’t like “the pits,” and described herself as “trash with flash” and “the last of the truly tacky women.” “It’s easy to say her appeal to homosexuals had a drag-queen aspect,” says Hennessey, “but more basically, they saw her as a non-threatening, breast-feeding mother.” Says Ostrow: “She was always insecure about her background, her lack of musical training, her appearance, the fact that she was Jewish. Without those insecurities, the energy, the talent wouldn’t have been the same.” Whatever it was, Bette quickly became the reigning cult figure of New York’s restless underground – a cult that went aboveground when she moved to supper clubs like Downstairs at the Upstairs and the Bitter End, and then expanded into a national following when she began appearing regularly on the “Tonight Show. I was dying to make it big. You know why? Because I wanted to be somebody else. I didn’t know who. Edith Piaf perhaps, I don’t know. Well, it was so much bull … The more of stardom I see, the sillier it gets. To Johnny Carson, Bette Midler wasn’t merely a bizarre freak show from the underground, buy a major talent with antecedents in the mainstream. “When I first saw her on the show,” he says, “I saw a quality that reminded me very much of Streisand. Bette really grabbed the audience. There was an empathy, a rapport that was hard to equal.” Since the medium inhibited and confined her during the musical numbers, she achieved her greatest rapport during her rapid-fire chatter with Carson between songs. On her most recent appearance, she talked with Carson about a subject that had been very much on her mind of late – her childhood in, of all places, Honolulu, where she had just the week before made her first homecoming as a star.

    CARSON: Last time you were there, you were picking pineapples, you said. BETTE: NO, putting them in cans. There’s a great difference. CARSON: Of course. BETTE: it was a remarkable adventure returning home … CARSON: Your parents were there [at her two concerts]? BETTE: NO, one parent was there. My mother came, but my father, oh, he just said, “Oh, I just can’t.” He’s read some things about me, you know, and he’s very conservative. He likes Lawrence Welk. He doesn’t like too much cleavage. In fact, every time I went over there to dinner, he made me safety-pin my dress together … O God, my mother got a charge, though. She kept screaming, “Faaaabulous, faaaabulous” . . . I used to have a lot of trouble when I was living there, you know. ‘Cause I was a Jewish girl growing up in a Samoan neighborhood . . . I left . . . and, you know, the old story about “I’11 show them” . . . I really felt that way and I had a lot of anger built up in me from those years . . . ...  Read More

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