Looking For Wider Audience
Bette Midler Tired Of Old Image
August 23, 1977
“They all have their acts,” she said.
“They’ve all chosen their heroes. OneÂ came in as Dennis Weaver, another asÂ Columbo, one was Kojakâ€”and there wasÂ even a team who arrived as Car 54.”
Bette’s “act,” during our entire luncheon meeting, would be as the AllÂ Together, Straight As an Arrow, AllAmerican Girl.
The Divine Miss Mâ€”the Tacky Lady ofÂ High Camp and The Ribald Jokesâ€”wasÂ nowhere to be seen. Bette had left herÂ celebrated alter ego on the shelf, and wasÂ anxious to display the “Real BetteÂ Midler.”
She’s grown tired of stories which paintÂ her as the product of an unhappyÂ childhood, victim of emotionalÂ upheavals. She’d like to start seeing articles portray her in a more upbeat light.
“The public must be tired of readingÂ that I’m terrified of this, terrified of that,”Â she said. “I can see it now…I’m old andÂ someone asks someone else what myÂ career had been like, and the answer is, ‘ItÂ was one long terror.”’
Actually, life has grown progressivelyÂ less terrifying for the 31-year-old,Â Honolulu-born performer as she’s madeÂ her late 60’s rise from Greenwich VillageÂ singer and performer at Manhattan’s Continental Baths (where she quickly becameÂ a cult heroine among the establishment’sÂ gay crowd) to a Super Star attractionÂ who’s the holder of a Grammy and a Tony,Â and three gold records…whose first cross country concert tour resulted in a $3-
million box office take. And who will beÂ showcased on her first network televisionÂ show on NBC this fall.
“Success has made me more secure. IÂ don’t fall into such deep depressionsÂ anymore. Now the things that depress meÂ involve frustrations over the things I consider injustices toward others…AnitaÂ 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 backÂ from a face devoid of makeup, sheÂ reminded one of the Insecure Kid NextÂ Door. Without her Miss Divine poseâ€”theÂ gaudy platform heels, the exaggeratedÂ imperious stage facadeâ€”she seemed terribly vulnerable.
Her looks, her extraordinary talent,Â have earned her the label of a “YoungÂ Barbra Streisand”â€” tag she doesn’t appreciate.
“First of all,” she explained, “it makesÂ me feel bad for her. I know I’d feel badly ifÂ I were Barbraâ€”because everyone likes toÂ think they’re unique. I also know that noÂ one likes to think someone is tugging atÂ their coattails, pushing against them on the ladder. It can be very irritating.”
She knows, she explained, becauseÂ Bette Midler ‘spinoffs’ have alreadyÂ started popping up, “and the only thingÂ you can do is be gracious. And put yourÂ pointed instruments out of Â sightâ€”or youÂ might be tempted to use them.”
She has been using her energies in recent months to move into a spot where herÂ unique talents will reach an ever widerÂ audience…recording an album of “whiteÂ girl trashy music,” preparing her for herÂ first major European concert tour. AndÂ preparing the NBC special which will introduce her exquisite, exhausting versatility to millions.
Her network debut was supposed toÂ have come about last year on ABC, butÂ those plans fell apart, according to Bette,Â “Because they put too many restraints onÂ meâ€”from the number of guest performers, to the type of guest performers.Â They were insisting I surround myselfÂ with people from other TV shows.”
What Ms. Midler wanted was a one woman show, but she’s had to compromise on that.Â “I’m still an unknown to many, andÂ even NBC didn’t want to gamble by having me on alone for a full hour. But theyÂ have allowed me to limit my guestÂ starsâ€”and have let me select the guestÂ stars I wanted.”
She has cleaned up her act for the smallÂ screen, though she resents that she’s hadÂ to, feels “a hatred over the fact that people in a position of power can make judgments on what millions watch.” But,Â having to work within that system, she’sÂ written a show “that’s much cleaner thanÂ my stage act, not so raunchy that peopleÂ will be offendedâ€”but not so clean thatÂ viewers won’t be able to see I can be pretty mischievous when given half aÂ chance.”
There’s a good chance that by the timeÂ the special is aired, Bette Midler couldÂ have become the wife of Peter Riegert.Â She and the New York stage actor haveÂ been sharing life for several months, andÂ she made the point before our parting, “IÂ think I’ve finally met the man I want toÂ marry. There have been other menÂ before, but usually it was a ‘Oh, please
love me’ sort of relationshipâ€”which is aÂ bore. Peter and I have something good goingâ€”the sort of thing that people used toÂ tell me about, which I could never understand.”