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Author: Letta Tayler
Date: 09-22

Who Nose What Bette's Up to Next

BETTE MIDLER is throwing a "Hulaween" gala Oct. 30 at the Waldorf Astoria to raise money for her pet project, cleaning up New York City parks. If Midler has her way, raffle prizes for the event, whose slogan is "this town needs a lift," will include a rhinoplasty, a tummy tuck and some liposuction.

"Is that a stroke of genius?" Midler asks with a cackle worthy of Phyllis Diller. "Imagine if I can get really good surgeons to say, `Yes, I'll donate you a nose job.' "

Midler pauses in mid-gloat. "Oh my God, imagine if something goes wrong - what if they sue me?" The cackle becomes a roar. "It's my fault!"

Trashy, flashy humor has always been a cornerstone of Midler's style, but it's been missing from her last two albums of weepy, adult contemporary ballads.

Enter "Bathhouse Betty," the Divine Miss M's first new record in three years (and her first release on Warner Bros.), in which her campy, over-the-top style returns to the fore.

"I wanted to do the splash-out, to not be so one-dimensional,"

Midler, now a Manhattanite, said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles, where Warner Bros. was holding her record promo blitz. "This album has moments of great vulgarity, but also moments of great yearning."

Yes, there are few triple hankie jobs to satisfy fans of Midler's sugary hits like "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "From a Distance": The opening track is the sorrowful "Song of Bernadette," by Leonard Cohen, and the soaring "My One True Friend" is on the sound track of the new
Meryl Streep film, "One True Thing."

But most of the album evokes the Midler whose nutty hula dances and Andrews Sisters takeoffs made her the toast of the Continental Baths, A gay spa on the Upper West Side where she became a sensation in the early '70s.

Midler tips her hat to her Baths days with the album's title, "Bathhouse Betty," which came to her most unexpectedly.

"We had a home in Laguna Beach for a while and one night I was alone there and heard someone outside the door shouting, `Bathhouse Betty! Bathhouse Betty! Come out!' " Midler recalled. "It was a drunken fan.

I was terrified. I thought, `Oh my God, I don't have the alarm on, I'm going to be trapped and mutilated here,' and I started screaming, `Go away! Go away!' and I ran to the phone and called my broker and said, `Sell this house!' "

She also called police, but in the meantime the fan took off.

"He left me a very pretty bouquet," Midler purred.

Midler collected some songs for the album in a similar fashion.

"This one came to me through my hairdresser," she volunteered of the show-stopper, a remake of the 1994 Uncanny Alliance club hit "I'm Beautiful."

An ode to accepting who you are, whoever that may be, "I'm Beautiful" is a turbo-charged funk tune over which Midler raps (yes, raps): "I simply believe with all my heart, I'm beautiful, I'm beautiful, I'm beautiful, damn it!"

"Too wack, too smart, too fast, too fine, too loud, too tough, too too divine!" a backup group chimes behind her.

The Divine Miss M, now 53, said the song serves as a riposte to the kids who ignored her during her difficult childhood in a predominantly Samoan neighborhood of Honolulu. "I was always being being left out, always being the last one to be chosen," she recalled.

Another reminder of her Hawaii days is the inane hula number, "Ukelele Lady." A smoking version of the Big Maybelle song "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show," featuring zoot-suited hepcats Royal Crown Revue, adds young blood to the mix. So does "The Boxer," a song by Ben Folds (of the innovative piano-led rock trio Ben Folds Five) which Midler said reminds her of "a two-minute, hard-boiled movie."

As for movies, Midler just finished a comedy slated for release Next year titled "Isn't She Great," in which she plays pulp fiction writer Jacqueline Susann. "It's a riot. She was really bigger than life, She was like the last gasp of a certain kind of show-biz moll," Midler said with another cackle.

Midler, whose film appearances range from her Oscar-nominated lead in "The Rose," loosely based on the life of Janis Joplin, to the Disney comedy "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" to the appropriately titled flop "Jinxed," prefers music to movies because "you have a lot more control." To get more of that, she's started her own film production company, All Girls Productions, which has bought the rights to, among other things, a script called "Avon Ladies of the Amazon" (the imagination reels) in which she hopes to cast Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn.

Amid these projects, she maintains cozy domesticity with her husband, Martin von Haselberg - a commodities trader cum filmmaker whom she let shoot her video for "My One True Friend," even though he's banned her from their kitchen because she makes "too big a mess" - and their 11-year-old daughter, Sophie.

"She's got a mouth on her. She's scary," Midler exclaimed with material pride. "She makes the faces and she has all the attitudes. But if you really press her, she has a heart of gold."

Kind of like Bathhouse Betty.

Letta Tayler, Who Nose What Bette's Up to Next. , Newsday, 09-22-98