Author: LESLIE MARSHALL
PERCHED AT THE EDGE OF THE PACIFIC OCEAN, BETTE MIDLER'S LAGUNA BEACH HOUSE CALLS
TO MIND HER NATIVE HAWAII. FOR HER, IT IS SIMPLY DIVINE
Midler appears to be afloat upon the Pacific Ocean on a blue-and-white upholstered
chaise. Directly behind her, the sun is setting in a blaze of glorious color,
silhouetting a distant island along the horizon. The scent of eucalyptus wafts
by on the late afternoon breeze, exotic and soothing. The perfect, purposeless
mantra of the surf fills the air.
this fabulous?" sighs Midler, as she sips at a tumbler of red wine. "Yes.
Twenty years from now I'll be back on some island somewhere in the South Pacific.
Absolutely. I'm going
home." For just a moment as Midler lies here---in
an apple-green suede jacket and blue jeans, her Jack Russell terrier, Puddles,
curled up at her feet, seemingly en route to her island via
scene has a surreal quality that suggests a campy stage version of the poem "The
Owl and the Pussycat."
reality, of course, the divine Miss Midler--accomplished cabaret singer, dancer,
stand-up comedian, actress, producer, recording artist, author, activist and mother--is
simply relaxing in front of the open windows of the master bedroom in her Laguna
Beach, California, home. She appears to be adrift because this rambling, light-filled
house is poised like a barnacle on the side of the high sea cliffs, cantilevered
over the pounding main. And while it may seem perplexing to find Midler--the exuberant
star of comedies like The First Wives Club and Ruthless People, the world-renowned
entertainer whose entire 30-year career has been a spectacle of explosive humor
and attitude--in such peaceful repose, the serenity that surrounds her is temporary.
In the six months since the smash hit First Wives Club, Midler has starred in
That Old Feeling, to be released in April, and in a 10-city concert tour and an
HBO special (Diva Las Vegas). Soon she will return to Los Angeles for the next
wave of work. But not before she gets a quick Pacific fix.
love this house. I bought it in 1988, when I was shooting the death scene from
Beaches at Crystal Cove, five miles up the coast. I wanted something that would
remind me of home," says the Hawaiian-born and -raised Midler as she takes
in a big snootful of sea air. The five-bedroom structure, with three levels of
terraces and a fanciful turret that houses a circular stairway leading right down
to the sea, was built in 1928 and has been designated a historic landmark. For
years Midler and her husband, artist Martin von Haselburg, and their daughter,
Sophie (now 10), lived in nearby Los Angeles and came to the house almost every
weekend and in summers. After the earthquake of 1994, the family moved to New
York City, so visits are more sporadic now. "But this is the first place
we think of when we come back," says Midler. "It's a real home. The
house wakes up very quickly.
always wanted a Hawaiian beach bungalow, which is a very specific style,"
continues Midler. "It's a wooden-frame house, and very unpretentious. No
carpets. No thick shag rugs. It's a house where you can track sand in and don't
have to worry--just sweep up. When I saw this house, I knew exactly what I wanted
to do with it." Which was almost nothing. Once the house was hers, Midler
consulted decorator Jarrett Hedborg, who had helped her with her Los Angeles home.
They decided to bleach the wood floors, whitewash the dark wood beams in the cathedral-ceiling
living room, add one bathroom and renovate another. Period. "This is a bare-bones
house," says Midler. "There is no screening room, no pool. All it has
is beautiful sky and sea and the island across the way and the sun and the moon.
That's all I care about."
those who judge Midler by her professional persona only, her South Pacific background
may come as a
surprise; they're more likely to guess Brooklyn as her hometown. Indeed, it is
paradoxical--the nice Jewish girl who grew up in Hawaii, the brash urban wit with
the sugar-cane roots. Midler is the first to admit that she is "a walking
dichotomy. It's an odd combination, but I feel very lucky to have my island upbringing,"
she says. "My parents were eccentric. They left New Jersey and moved to Hawaii
in the thirties, when no one would ever think of doing that. They never went back."
Midler's father was a housepainter who worked for the Navy; her mother, a housewife
who struggled to create an orderly life for her husband and four children.
a kid I didn't really have a home--we lived in an apartment, but there wasn't
anything beautiful to look at," Midler remembers. "Not one thing. As
a result I think I have a very strong need to see beautiful, to have beautiful
things around me. My older sister had the need worse than I have it, but she died
very young." As she alludes to a sister who was struck and killed by a car
in 1968, something seemingly impossible--temporary speechlessness--overcomes Midler.
There are other pockets of sadness. Both of Midler's parents have died, leaving
her with two siblings--another sister, and a brother, who is brain-damaged. "I
thank my parents, publicly and privately, every day. They were extremely down-to-earth
people. They were fabulous," says Midler.
the Laguna house seems to act as a kind of canvas for all Midler's family memories--light
and dark--as well as the passion for beauty that resonates within her. Much of
the house's glory is courtesy of Mother Nature, for the view from every room is
from-here-to-eternity beautiful. But the artful touch of Mother Midler is visible
everywhere as well. Stencils of marlins and pineapples surround the living-room
fireplace, and the big blue dining-room table is painted with palm trees, sailboats,
marlin, pineapples, grass huts and hula dancers. Midler commissioned friend and
artist Nancy Kintisch (who also stenciled the fireplace and dining-room table)
to create a huge tile mosaic of a woman hula dancing above the word Aloha, on
a hallway floor leading to a guest suite.
Manhattan-Tropicana aura is not the only contradiction Midler's personality presents.
Her manner, for instance, is both saucy and shy. And although she is a full-blown
star of television and film, for her own entertainment she turns to books. She
has some serious reading in tow today--Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian
and Jocelyn Fujii's Under the Hula Moon--but poking out of her canvas bag are
two tabloids, the Star and the National Enquirer. ("I was bored!" she
yelps defensively.) As wild and risque as Midler can be as a performer--after
all, this is a woman who played the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse and nightclub
in New York City--she seems surprisingly conservative and even prudish as a mother.
"Yeah, I have TV rules," she says. "Here's my TV rule: NO TV."
Midler's physical look is unusual; big-bosomed with slender, shapely legs, she
gives the appearance of being both full-bodied and petite at the same time. "Oh,
it's a struggle," moans Midler when she talks about dressing this body. "The
combination of big bosom and big arms can make you look very wide. But I have
an eye for what suits me. I exercise a lot--six days a week--and I love it. I
run on the treadmill and I lift weights."
the most surprising thing to emerge as Midler talks is that this extraordinary
superstar has a passion for ordinary family life. She is an intensely devoted
mother and wife. "Sophie is the greatest thing that ever happened to me,"
Midler says of her daughter and only child. Hus-band Martin rates a rave as well.
"He's a totally, completely involved father. I'm so lucky. He's very wise,
and he's a real rascal with Sophie. He taught her German, all this wild stuff.
The two of them speak German together, and I'm like, you taught my child that
is also the family cook. "My husband can cook anything," says Midler.
"Sophie and I are only handmaidens, the scullery maids to the maestro. We
wash, we scrub, and we peel. Sometimes we are allowed to chop. Occasionally there
is a request that I make my great potato salad--my mother's old recipe."
The three of them eat dinner together every night at home in New York. "And
we cook our dinner," says Midler, narrowing her eyes to a tough-guy squint.
"We don't order in." Midler, who is a dedicated environmentalist and
the founder of a street- and park-cleaning group called the New York Restoration
Project, even takes the time to compost in the city. It all sounds so wholesome
and--so cozy. "You could kill yourself, it's so cozy," says Midler with
a quiet smile.
sun has nearly dropped below the horizon outside Midler's bedroom window. If von
Haselburg were here, this would be the Bloody Mary hour. They would be sitting
with Sophie on the terrace below, watching the sun set behind San Clemente Island
and anticipating what treat chef von Haselburg had cooked up for dinner. Afterward
there would be kitchen cleanup, followed by a video or perhaps a family game of
Scrabble or Monopoly. Then reading, and to bed.
miss them so much," sighs Midler, who has been in rehearsal on the West Coast
for almost three weeks. "But I'm making my plans. Being away this long has
upset me. In the future, when I work I'd like to work near my family.
other thing I'd like to do is stop," Midler adds. "I'm trying to think
ahead. I don't want to go on so long
that I'm so decrepit that I fall off the stage. Which is what happens. You're
blinded by the light and suddenly--boom--there you are in the pit. I want to see
my daughter grow. I want to watch my husband--cook," she says with a laugh.
But can there be any challenges left for Midler? "To get through a college
chemistry class would probably be a challenge," she suggests. "To learn
my multiplication tables--that's a good place to start.
love making pictures, but I feel that I've done a lot. I've done a whole lot,"
adds Midler. "Creativity is good for the soul, and work is a process of self-definition,
of finding out who you are. But once you find out--" Midler pauses for a
second as the sun drops out of sight. "You can lie down," she finishes,
with a triumphant smile. "I have a strong nesting instinct. But after I had
my daughter I was a maniac. I was living the Martha Stewart life."
love arts and crafts--just love 'em. When someone says to me, 'I had it made,'
that's the living end."
felt that if I had a serene and beautiful home, my life would be serene and beautiful.
It's not really true--but it helps."
MARSHALL, FEATURES: BETTE PERCHED AT THE EDGE OF THE PACIFIC OCEAN, BETTE MIDLER'S
LAGUNA BEACH HOUSE CALLS TO MIND HER NATIVE HAWAII. FOR HER, IT IS SIMPLY DIVINE.
, In Style, 03-01-1997, pp 128+.