Divine Bette Midler (June 28, 2005)
Stars: Bette Midler, Toni
Basil, Barry Manilow, Bruce Vilanch, Danny DeVito, Marc Shaiman,
Marta Heflin, Martin Von Hasselberg, and many more!
Writer: John Scheinfeld
Consultant: Darrell Redmond! :-)
Director: John Scheinfeld
by Steve Warren
The pre-Stonewall generation had Judy Garland; the soundtrack
of Stonewallers’ lives starred Bette Midler, the first mainstream
performer to acknowledge the role of openly gay men in jumpstarting
Bette got the deluxe treatment last year on A&E’s Biography
with a two-hour show ( under 90 minutes without commercials )
which is now getting a commercial release as The Divine Bette
extras include full versions of some of the musical numbers excerpted
on the show and expanded interviews from which sound bites were
‘70s come back to life in footage shot during “The Divine Miss
M’s” appearances at New York’s Continental Baths and her relevant
raunchiness is captured, even if a few words were bleeped for
marrying her “Kraut,” Martin von Hasselberg, in 1984, Midler has
toned down her act somewhat, becoming a respectable wife and mother.
Her biggest hits have been sappy ballads, “The Wind Beneath My
Wings” and “From a Distance,” and her activism has focused on
environmental efforts like literally cleaning up New York. She’s
made more bad movies ( Isn’t She Great, Hocus Pocus ) than good
ones ( The First Wives Club, Ruthless People ) .
other words, post-Stonewall gays might well wonder why they should
care about this aging diva. The Divine Bette Midler could hardly
answer that question better if it had been made for exclusively
gay audiences. Many of the friends and associates who join Midler
in commenting on her life are openly gay: Bruce Vilanch, Marc
Shaiman, Craig Zadan, Jann Wenner. And then there’s Barry Manilow
the familiar Biography format is followed, Bette’s is more upbeat
than most. There are the requisite down times—deaths in the family,
career lulls—but these are treated more as asides than focal points
as the show moves from one career high to another.
story begins with Bette’s birth on Dec. 1, 1945, in Honolulu.
As a girl she experiences some discrimination as the only Jewish
girl in her school ( “I was very studious because that’s all there
was to do—if you didn’t surf” ) but she combats it by becoming
class clown. With the money she makes working as an extra in the
movie Hawaii she heads for New York. ( Vilanch: “She didn’t blossom
until she came to New York and met a lot of gay guys ... .” )
spends three years in Fiddler on the Roof, moving from the chorus
to a major role, and does some progressive shows off-Broadway,
including playing a nymphomaniac in the rock musical Salvation.
1970s is the key decade for Midler, from developing her act at
the baths ( with Manilow on piano ) through her Oscar-nominated
movie debut in The Rose. She gets a contract with Atlantic Records,
although it takes a year and some false starts before they can
capture her personality; and she starts touring with shows that
aren’t mere concerts but a mixture of torchy ballads, outrageous
humor, lavish production numbers and styles and techniques resurrected
from vaudeville and burlesque.
Bette had recently completed her successful Kiss My Brass tour,
this show was timed to promote her remake of The Stepford Wives
and ends with that as if it was going to be a significant achievement
of the most distinctive and versatile performers of the 20th century,
Bette Midler was also one of the most beloved of at least one
generation of gays. The Divine Bette Midler is a welcome reminder
of the greatness and the sheer fun she brought us.
DVD: Divine Bette Midler Review
By Chris S. Witwer
01 July 2005
was in a used book store in the nineties when I first came across
James Spada’s awesome photo-filled book, The Divine
Bette Midler. The Spada book includes images from Bette’s entire
career - photos of Bette in the bath houses, pictures of her
with a very young and unknown Barry Manilow, scenes from The
Rose, images of the Harlettes, childhood photos, and one phenomenal
shot of Miss M at one of the earliest Gay Liberation Rallies.
book is an absolute treasure, and I haven’t let it go even as
I’ve sold all of my possessions – twice - to move cross country.
It’s THE Midler must-have.
it was. Now, THE Midler must-have is Shout! Factory’s DVD production
by the same name: The Divine Bette Midler. The DVD includes most
of the same photos as the original book, and much of the same
history, though much more in depth.
anyone who’s ever wanted to meet Bette in person, or to get close
to her onstage, or to go back in time to live (or re-live) her
bathhouse performances, this DVD is for you. It’s a biography,
not a concert - though performance footage is sprinkled throughout,
including bathhouse footage (see the extras on the DVD); coverage
of her most memorable appearances with Johnny Carson on the Tonight
Show; and personal photos of Bette from childhood to marriage
Divine Bette Midler DVD includes recent, late-career interviews
with Barry Manilow, Bette’s husband Martin von Haselberg, writer
Bruce Vilanch, Danny DeVito, Glenn Close, and the famed former
Atlantic Records’ head Ahmet Ertegun.
interview describes his musical start as Bette’s piano player
in the New York bath house shows and how difficult it was to even
consider the “scratchings” she gave him to be readable music.
He goes on to describe playing Carnegie Hall with her, comparing
her entrance onstage that night to the arrival of a hurricane.
DVD contains footage of more than 17 musical performances including
‘One More For The Road’ on Johnny Carson’s final Tonight Show
appearance, ‘Do You Wanna Dance?’, ‘From A Distance’, bath house
jokes, mermaid costumes, those unforgettable choreographer wheelchairs,
and the even more unforgettable Harlettes.
footage from The Divine Miss M’s remarkable career includes special
moments from her Kiss My Brass tour, updated photos of Bette and
her beautiful daughter, and a tremendously tear-jerking piece
about her performance in NYC after 9/11, singing ‘Wind Beneath
My Wings’ to the people of New York. You have to see it to believe
it - that a song could be so perfect for a performer, a city,
and a time - it’s emotional, it’s magical, and it’s beautiful.
Divine Bette Midler originally aired on A&E Biography in 2004.
Bonuses features include one-of-a-kind deleted scenes and expanded
interviews. The program looks and sounds like an A&E special
- professional and well-produced, but unfortunately lacking much
footage of Bette’s early gay rights activism.
Midler has been a loudly supportive voice since the gay rights
movement learned to speak, and she deserves our undying adoration
and appreciation for that alone. But then, of course, we love
her for everything else she’s been, and everything she is.
is, in a word - divine. So is The Divine Bette Midler DVD.