Divine Miss M’s Talent Won Out
November 10, 1977
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Apparently having survived her reign as the Queen of Camp, Bette Midler is getting the chance to prove what some folks have long suspected — the Divine Miss M is more than a busty crazy who can be tacky with flash.
Bette got a good ride out of the camp wave a few years ago, putting us on with better-than-the-original versions of the Andrews Sisters‘ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and the Shangri-Las‘ “Leader of the Pack.” She was a caricature artist, poking wry fun at nostalgia and giving us good music at the same time.
But the handle “Last of the Trashy Ladies” is anything but a ticket to superstardom. There are some lady singers who’d slug you if you suggested their act was tacky. And when the camp craze passed, where would that leave the lady who sang its anthems?
The Divine Miss M seemed in danger of becoming a female Tiny Tim. But Bette Midler had an ace up her sleeve. nderneath the craziness — her discovery while singing in New York’s gay Continental baths, her bawdy dress and stage antics — the lady had talent. She was a singer-actress who took advantage of a quirk in the evolution of popular music to establish herself as a solid entertainment personality.
And now, with camp gone, Bette Midler’s still here, and with a brand new career in front of her.
She has taped a Thanksgiving special for CBS and another special for CBS to be aired in December. She’s just finished another album and has finally completed a movie deal, with 20th Century-Fox.
Faced with the new rush of exposure, she says, her first order of business was reduce her extravagant dimensions.
“Slimming down for the great public, you know,” she said one day recently, striking a Greta Garbo pose. “They don’t like them roBUST.”
“Besides,” she added flatly, “I looked like a house. I didn’t care for the way I looked. I couldn’t get into any of my clothes, plus I saw what I looked like on the Great Tube. It was terrifying!”
“I finally had enough. I lost 15 or 20 pounds.”
A svelte Miss M says she’s ready to return to her first love, acting.
“Acting is what I’ve always done,” she says. “I started in the theater. I thought I would be a great dramatic actress. I was 16 when I started and I always expected to be some kind of leading lady. But when I got to New York, I tell you, leading ladies don’t look like me, they’re not built like me. It was kind of hard to get those jobs because there were
established people to contend with.”
But Barbra Streisand changed the look of the American Leading Lady, and it is another Barbra Streisand that folks are looking for in Bette Midler. Her upcoming film — “The working title is ‘Rose’” — is not altogether unlike Miss Streisand’s last epic, “A Star is Born.”
“It’s a strong story about a rock’ ‘n’ roll singer,” says Bette. “It’s got a lot of music in it, a lot of rock ‘n’ roll music. It’s pretty strong stuff.”
And after the movie, Bette’s got her eyes on faraway horizons.
“I might end up In opera, who knows? I think I’d like to do some version of ‘Salome’ (Strauss’ one act opera), a rock ‘n’ roll version of ‘Salome.’ I saw a real serious version of it the other day on some cheezy channel (‘You know, the ones you have to fiddle with the channel to get’).
“It was sensational. This woman, this Salome, she was great. She had the head of John the Baptist on a plate, flinging it about. It was amazing!”
A more likely project for the new Miss M is a musical comedy In the old MGM style.
“It’s what I really want to do,” she says. “I really want to do a technicolor musical comedy — a great-big, old-fashioned musical comedy. The kind they don’t seem to know how to make any more.
“I see them on TV and I go to the theaters that still show them. They drive me mad … they’re so full of light and color and sound and people acting happy.”
As for her association with camp, she says, “it didn’t hurt me. I don’t think anything can hurt you, except maybe being a Communist.”
And the funny lady image? “I’ll keep that,” Bette says. “I think it’s Important. I love to laugh, I need it. If I don’t laugh at least once a day, I’m a dead chicken.”
“It’s good for people to laugh at themselves and laugh at what’s going on around them. Otherwise, you might Just as well throw in the big cookie.”