Bette Midler : 5-tuple Threat

By Russ:

A compact but dynamite and very talented 5-tuple threat: an American singer, songwriter, actress, author, and comedian with a career spanning over half a century. She has won four Golden Globe Awards, three Grammy Awards, three Primetime Emmy Awards, and a Tony Award.  

Beyond singing, acting or writing, Bette Midler might be best known for her dynamic energy, comedic wit, and campy humour.

Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus

Bette Midler


born December 1, 1945


VIDEOS:

1979 / The Rose

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1979 / Stay With Me Baby / cover song used in her movie “The Rose”

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1982 / Wind Beneath My Wings / 9-11 Memorial Yankee Stadium

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1987 / From A Distance

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1988 / Under The Boardwalk

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Bette Midler was born in Honolulu, to one of the few Jewish families in a mostly Asian neighborhood. Her mother, Ruth (née Schindel), was a seamstress and housewife, and her father, Fred Midler, an authoritarian figure, worked at a Navy base in Hawaii as a painter. Both parents were born in New Jersey. 

Her mother, being enthralled with showbusiness, named their daughter after actress Bette Davis but while the veteran actress Davis pronounced her first name as two syllables, Midler prefers to use just one – “bet”. 

She was raised in Aiea, Hawaii and attended Radford High School, in Honolulu. As early indications of her character, Bette was voted “Most Talkative” in the 1961 school Hoss Election, and “Most Dramatic” in her senior year (class of 1963). 

Bette Midler high school photo

Midler dreamt of being a star and majored in drama at the University of Hawaii at Manoa but left after three semesters. 

1965–1971: Beginnings and early theatre work  

At age 19 in 1965 she moved to New York City, living in a dingy apartment right on Broadway. She studied acting with Lee Strassberg, father of “Method Acting”. This involved training and rehearsal techniques that seek to encourage sincere and emotionally expressive performances. 
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. From 1966 to 1969, she played the role of the older sister Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway.

Her robust delivery of song and performance caught lots of attention.


Cabaret circuit – Gay Bar scene

Ansonia Hotel

Midler began singing in the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse in the Ansonia Hotel, in the summer of 1970 where she portrayed, with outrageous raunch, a flamboyant diva. She epitomized lively, audacious and dynamic camp. She became very supportive of the gay community and they absolutely loved her.

It was during her time at the Continental Baths that she built up a core following. 

In 1971 Midler starred in the very first professional production of the Who’s rock opera Tommy, with director Richard Pearlman and the Seattle Opera. It was during the run of Tommy that Midler first appeared on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show.

During this time, she met and became close to her piano accompanist, Barry Manilow, who she got to arrange, musically direct and co-produce her first album in 1972, The Divine Miss M.

Barry Manilow and Bette Midler at The Continental Baths  

Her Debut Album

The Devine Miss M

The Divine Miss M was Midler’s debut studio album, released in December 1972 on the Atlantic Records label.  It reached Billboard’s Top 10 and became a million-selling Platinum-certified album, earning Midler the 1973 Grammy Award for Best New Artist. The title of the album refers to her famous stage persona. The album includes several songs that since have become repertoire standards, such as “Do You Want to Dance?“, “Chapel of Love“, “Hello In There“, “Friends” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy“.   

Do You Want To Dance

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Chapel Of Love

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Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy

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 “Bugle Boy” became a successful rock cover of the classic swing tune originally introduced and popularized in 1941 by the Andrews Sisters, to whom Midler has repeatedly referred as her idols and inspiration, as far back as her first appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Midler told Carson in an interview that she always wanted to move like the sisters, and Patty Andrews remembered: “When I first heard the introduction on the radio, I thought it was our old record. When Bette opened at the Amphitheater in Los Angeles, Maxene and I went backstage to see her. Her first words were, ‘What else did you record?’” During another Midler concert, Maxene went on stage and presented her with an honorary bugle. Bette recorded other Andrews Sisters hits, including “In the Mood” and “Lullaby of Broadway“.

Midler’s self-titled follow-up album Bette Midler was released at the end of 1973

​The album reached Billboard’s Top 10 and eventually sold close to a million copies in the United States alone. It was co-produced again by Barry Manilow and by Arif Mardin.

Tracks include Midler’s interpretations of  “Skylark”, Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill’s “Surabaya Johnny”, Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” and Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” as well as a Phil Spector medley.  

Skylark / Johnny Mercer / Hoagy Carmichael

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I Shall Be Released / Bob Dylan song

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In The Mood / Glenn Miller

Midler later returned to recording with the 1976 and 1977 albums, Songs for the New Depression and Broken Blossom. In 1974, she received a Special Tony Award for her contribution to Broadway, with Clams on the Half Shell Revue playing at the Minskoff Theater. 

From 1975–1978, she also provided the voice of Woody the Spoon on the PBS educational series Vegetable Soup. In 1977, Midler’s first television special, whose title, Ol’ Red Hair is Back, was a takeoff on Frank Sinatra’s Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back, premiered, featuring guest stars Dustin Hoffman and Emmett Kelly. It went on to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Special — Comedy-Variety or Music.

Then in 1979 Midler went on to become a character actress in Hollywood. She made her first motion picture in 1979, starring in the 1960s-era Rock and Roll tragedy The Rose, as a drug-addicted female rock star that she modeled after Janis Joplin.

Midler at the premiere of her feature-film starring debut, The Rose, in 1979

Her performance in The Rose earned Midler a nomination for Academy Award for Best Actress, a role for which she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress (Comedy or Musical). 

The film’s acclaimed soundtrack album sold over two million copies in the United States alone, earning a Double Platinum certification. The single version of the title song, “The Rose“, held the No. 1 position on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart for five consecutive weeks and reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100. It earned Midler her first Gold single and won the Grammy award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.

Soon afterward, she began a world concert tour, with one of her shows in Pasadena being filmed and released as the concert film Divine Madness (1980).

1981–1989: “Wind Beneath My Wings”, Beaches, and chart comeback

Photo: Rob Bogaert – 1981, in Amsterdam promoting the film Divine Madness (1980) 

Midler worked on the troubled comedy project Jinxed! in 1981. However, during production, there was friction with co-star Ken Wahl and the film’s director, Don Siegel. Released in 1982, the film was a major flop. Midler did not appear in any other films until 1986; however, she was an early choice for Miss Hannigan in the 1982 film Annie

During those four years, she concentrated on her music career and in 1983, released the album No Frills, produced by Chuck Plotkin, who was best known for his work with Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. 

The album included three single releases: the ballad “All I Need to Know“, a cover of Detroit native Marshall Crenshaw’s “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time“—which Midler fell in love with after flipping his 45 of “Someday Someway“, and Midler’s take on the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden“. 

Beast Of Burden

She also released an all-comedy album (with a few songs tied into the comedy) called Mud Will Be Flung Tonight in 1985.

Midler performed on USA for Africa’s 1985 fund-raising single “We Are the World“, and participated at the Live Aid event at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Also in 1985, she signed a multi-picture deal with the Walt Disney Studios, where she starred in a string of successful films produced by the studio’s newly formed Touchstone Pictures division. She also produced them through her production banner, All Girl Productions with producing partner Bonnie Bruckheimer.

In 1986 Midler was subsequently cast by director Paul Mazursky in Down and Out in Beverly Hills, beginning a successful comedic acting career with co-star Nick Nulty. She followed that role with several more Touchstone comedies, Ruthless People (1986), Outrageous Fortune (1987), and Big Business (1988). Later in 1988, Midler lent her voice to the animated character Georgette, a snobbish poodle, in Disney’s Oliver & Company,

The film Beaches was one of Midler’s own productions,  co-starring Barbara Hershey. 

​The accompanying soundtrack remains Midler’s all-time biggest selling disc, reaching No. 2 on Billboard‘s album chart and with U.S. sales of four million copies. It featured her biggest hit, “Wind Beneath My Wings“, which went to No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot 100, achieved Platinum status, and 1989 she won a Grammy for Record of the Year – at the 1990 telecast.

Midler backstage at the Grammy Awards in February 1990

Some People’s Lives is the seventh studio album by Bette Midler, released on the Atlantic Records label in 1990.  

Midler’s cover of the Julie Gold song “From a Distance” topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts and achieved platinum status in the US.

She co-starred with Woody Allen in the 1991 film Scenes from a Mall, for Paul Mazursky. In the film, Allen’s character reveals to his author wife Deborah, played by Midler, after years of a happy marriage, that he has had an affair, resulting in her request for divorce. The movie performed poorly, and received a mixed reception by critics. Midler fared somewhat better with her other 1991 project For the Boys, on which she reteamed with The Rose director Mark Rydell. A historical musical drama, it tells the story of 1940s actress and singer Dixie Leonard, played by Midler, who teams up with Eddie Sparks, a famous performer to entertain American troops. While the film received a mixed reception from critics, Midler earned rave reviews for her portrayal. 

The following year she was awarded her second Golden Globe and received her second Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

Midler turned down the lead role in the musical comedy Sister Act in 1992, which instead went to Whoopi Goldberg.

Midler won an Emmy Award in 1992 for her performance on the penultimate episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in May 1992, during which she sang an emotion-laden “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” to Johnny Carson. 

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Also that night, Midler began singing “Here’s That Rainy Day“, Carson’s favorite song; Carson joined in a few lyrics later.

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In 1993, she starred with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as Winifred Sanderson, the head witch of the Sanderson Sisters, in the Walt Disney comedy fantasy film, Hocus Pocus.

Released to initially mixed reviews, the film became a comedy production very popular around Halloween and has achieved cult status over the years.

In the late 1990s, during the release of her album Bathhouse Betty, Midler commented on her time performing there, “Despite the way things turned out [with the AIDS crisis], I’m still proud of those days. I feel like I was at the forefront of the gay liberation movement, and I hope I did my part to help it move forward. So, I kind of wear the label of ‘Bathhouse Betty’ with pride.

Other highlights

  • 1996 – biggest blockbuster making 100 million dollars with The First Wives Club with Goldie Hawn and Dianne Keaton. 
  • Starting in 2000 she moved to TV with her “Bette” sitcom
  • 2007 Caesars Palace headliner
  • 2017 Back to Broadway for revival of Hello Dolly

Bette Midler on Getting Vaccinated, Her Vegas Wedding & Johnny Carson Audition

44 minute Recap

 

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One response to “Bette Midler : 5-tuple Threat

  1. Russ: Very completely reported. Throughout her career I greatly admired her performances–even wanted to be her. You have caught her essence in every way. Bette always makes me smile, makes my toes tap. Very well don, Russ.

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