Looking For Wider Audience
Bette Midler Tired Of Old Image
August 23, 1977
Bette Midler was describing the police who had come to her rented Hollywood Hills home following a recent attempted break-in by a prowler.
“They all have their acts,” she said.
“They’ve all chosen their heroes. One came in as Dennis Weaver, another as Columbo, one was Kojak—and there was even a team who arrived as Car 54.”
Bette’s “act,” during our entire luncheon meeting, would be as the All Together, Straight As an Arrow, AllAmerican Girl.
The Divine Miss M—the Tacky Lady of High Camp and The Ribald Jokes—was nowhere to be seen. Bette had left her celebrated alter ego on the shelf, and was anxious to display the “Real Bette Midler.”
She’s grown tired of stories which paint her as the product of an unhappy childhood, victim of emotional upheavals. She’d like to start seeing articles portray her in a more upbeat light.
“The public must be tired of reading that I’m terrified of this, terrified of that,” she said. “I can see it now…I’m old and someone asks someone else what my career had been like, and the answer is, ‘It was one long terror.”’
Actually, life has grown progressively less terrifying for the 31-year-old, Honolulu-born performer as she’s made her late 60’s rise from Greenwich Village singer and performer at Manhattan’s Continental Baths (where she quickly became a cult heroine among the establishment’s gay crowd) to a Super Star attraction who’s the holder of a Grammy and a Tony, and three gold records…whose first cross country concert tour resulted in a $3-
million box office take. And who will be showcased on her first network television show on NBC this fall.
“Success has made me more secure. I don’t fall into such deep depressions anymore. Now the things that depress me involve frustrations over the things I consider injustices toward others…Anita Bryant’s anti-gay stand… the antiabortion laws. It fustrates me when people’s freedoms are restricted.
Dressed in slacks and a man’s longsleeved shirt, her orange hair pulled back from a face devoid of makeup, she reminded one of the Insecure Kid Next Door. Without her Miss Divine pose—the gaudy platform heels, the exaggerated imperious stage facade—she seemed terribly vulnerable.
Her looks, her extraordinary talent, have earned her the label of a “Young Barbra Streisand”— tag she doesn’t appreciate.
“First of all,” she explained, “it makes me feel bad for her. I know I’d feel badly if I were Barbra—because everyone likes to think they’re unique. I also know that no one likes to think someone is tugging at their coattails, pushing against them on the ladder. It can be very irritating.”
She knows, she explained, because Bette Midler ‘spinoffs’ have already started popping up, “and the only thing you can do is be gracious. And put your pointed instruments out of sight—or you might be tempted to use them.”
She has been using her energies in recent months to move into a spot where her unique talents will reach an ever wider audience…recording an album of “white girl trashy music,” preparing her for her first major European concert tour. And preparing the NBC special which will introduce her exquisite, exhausting versatility to millions.
Her network debut was supposed to have come about last year on ABC, but those plans fell apart, according to Bette, “Because they put too many restraints on me—from the number of guest performers, to the type of guest performers. They were insisting I surround myself with people from other TV shows.”
What Ms. Midler wanted was a one woman show, but she’s had to compromise on that. “I’m still an unknown to many, and even NBC didn’t want to gamble by having me on alone for a full hour. But they have allowed me to limit my guest stars—and have let me select the guest stars I wanted.”
She has cleaned up her act for the small screen, though she resents that she’s had to, feels “a hatred over the fact that people in a position of power can make judgments on what millions watch.” But, having to work within that system, she’s written a show “that’s much cleaner than my stage act, not so raunchy that people will be offended—but not so clean that viewers won’t be able to see I can be pretty mischievous when given half a chance.”
There’s a good chance that by the time the special is aired, Bette Midler could have become the wife of Peter Riegert. She and the New York stage actor have been sharing life for several months, and she made the point before our parting, “I think I’ve finally met the man I want to marry. There have been other men before, but usually it was a ‘Oh, please
love me’ sort of relationship—which is a bore. Peter and I have something good going—the sort of thing that people used to tell me about, which I could never understand.”