Sunday, June 25, 2017

BetteBack January 30, 2000: Susann’s success a great filmgoing treat

The Boston Herald
January 30, 2000 | Schaefer, Stephen

ISN'T SHE GREAT, Bette Midler, 2000, (c)MCA

ISN’T SHE GREAT, Bette Midler, 2000, (c)MCA

It’s easy to be dismissive of the writing of Jacqueline Susann. Easy and, well, probably called for.

But the “Valley of the Dolls” author’s impact on the entertainment industry is not so easily dismissed. In some ways, she changed the way entertainment product – from books to films – is sold to the public.

Isn’t She Great,” a new film featuring Bette Midler as Susann, initially presents her as glamorous but unfulfilled. As the film begins, she is a woman undaunted by her life of continual failure – as a playwright, actress, quiz-show panelist and product demonstrator. She remains determined, despite the odds, to become famous.

This comic fable, which co-stars Nathan Lane as Susann’s husband and publicist Irving Mansfield, skimps on many of the harsh facts of Susann’s life, but it is on target with regards to her achingly real, fully focused need to be a star.

And she became one, with the publication in 1967 of the irresistibly lurid “Valley of the Dolls.” The book spawned a hit Hollywood film, an ’80s miniseries remake, a ’90s off-Broadway hit starring a drag performer, and it is reportedly to be remade yet again for TV.

By the time she died of breast cancer in 1974, Susann had helped pave the way for not just the blockbuster novel – printing a million copies, supported by a nationwide advertising blitz coordinated with key TV and print appearances – but the blockbuster movie era ushered in by the mass-release of Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws.”

Hollywood couldn’t help but admire the way Susann was transformed into a “name” author, the name becoming even more important than the individual book title. She was critic-proof the way Danielle Steel or Tom Clancy are today. Like Martha Stewart, Susann, had she lived, likely would have expanded the “brand” to include a lot more than books.

Susann’s first book, a humorous non-fiction account of life with her black poodle called “Every Night Josephine,” became a bestseller entirely due to her personal push. With Mansfield in tow, the duo drove around the country to bookstores, making notes on the names, birthdays, anniversaries of the sales people that would serve her well three years later with “Valley of the Dolls.”

“Susann did stuff no self-respecting author would do at the time,” said Nathan Lane, citing a scene in the movie where she brings coffee and doughnuts to Teamsters who are loading her books at a store. “This was unheard of, people showing up bringing coffee to Teamsters! And it made a difference.

“Publishers would tremble when Jackie and Irving would call,” Lane continued. “They knew they’d be making a lot of demands. But they changed the way books were sold. They made her into this celebrity author, which hadn’t been done before. “There was something admirable about them, how determined and focused they were.”

Susann and Mansfield knew that it was “buzz” and not reviews that sold a book. They were among the first to realize that TV and the talk shows were instrumental in creating “buzz” in that pre-Internet era. They designed their covers specifically so that they would appear clearly on TV.

Nothing she did had a greater impact than “Valley of the Dolls.” Based on what Susann saw and, more important, heard over the cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at showbiz parties, “Valley of the Dolls” told of the trials and tribulations of a trio of comely young women hoping, like Susann herself, to find happiness by becoming famous.

Susann took the tragic story of Judy Garland, a talented young singer who became addicted to amphetamines and sleeping pills – called “dolls” in Susann terminology – and renamed her Neely O’Hara. She took the tragedy of Carole Landis, a 1940s sex symbol who committed suicide, and Marilyn Monroe, who was also thought to have killed herself, and fashioned Jennifer, a blond actress who has a mastectomy and commits suicide with her beloved “dolls.”

The book’s most talked-about scene became the 1968 film version’s definitive moment, shown in all its campy glory in “Isn’t She Great”: legendary Broadway singing star Helen Lawson meets pill-popping Neely in a ladies room and after they tussle, Neely rips Helen’s wig off (to reveal an all-white head of hair) and flushes it down the toilet. Lawson, dignity intact, wraps her head in her shawl and grandly makes her exit.

“How accurate is Jackie Susann’s take on show business?” Lane wondered aloud. “Obviously it’s a part of it. Somewhere, someone is tearing off a wig and popping a pill. How else can you survive this insanity? She’s captured something.

“Obviously, her experience as an actress – and I use the term loosely – informed her writing. Helen is based on Ethel Merman.”

Amanda Peet, who plays Susann’s assistant on her book tours in the movie, told Lane her reaction to reading “Valley of the Dolls”: “It’s like you’re overhearing gossip in the ladies room.”

Susann grew up star-struck. Like Midler‘s movie suggests, she tried many careers and failed miserably in all of them before becoming a best-selling novelist in the ’60s. Her legacy may not be her oeuvre of four books but the way she brought the hard sell and the personal touch into book publishing – and transformed the industry in the process.

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“When my guts tell me to go, I go. I wanted to go last year (2002) but I wasn’t strong enough. . . .

“When my guts tell me to go, I go. I wanted to go last year (2002) but I wasn’t strong enough. . . . I was pretty tired last year: 9/11 took a big toll on everybody. We were doing lots and lots of benefits, lots of memorials. It was going on and on for a long time, a very sad time. I feel a little bit better now, so here we are.” (Detroit Free Press, Jan 4, 2004)

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BetteBack December 21, 1974: What is happening with Bette Midler these days? When can we see her in person again?

Dunkirk Evening Observer
December 21, 1974

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Q: What is happening with Bette Midler these days? When can we see her in person again?— B.P., Prove, Utah.

A: “The Divine Miss M.” who hasn’t done any concerts since her smash engagement at the Palace Theatre in New York City, is preparing a new concert tour for the first of the year. She has created a new show and character called “Delores Holopena and the Clams on the Halfshell Revue” and hopes to repeat her sellout nationwide tour of 1973.

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“You have to hang on to your health,” says Midler, who turned 58 on Dec. 1.

“You have to hang on to your health,” says Midler, who turned 58 on Dec. 1. “You have to hang on to your wind, so you have to run on the treadmill.” It all boils down to this: “When you go on the road, you’re going into retreat for as long as the tour lasts. Otherwise you don’t make it. “Basically, you live like a monk.” (Detroit Free Press, Jan 4, 2004)

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2015 – Gift Of Love Promo – Bette Midler

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This is a scrapbook site devoted to Bette Midler. Absolutely no profits are being made from the posting of this work. It is presented here for educational and historical reasons only. If, however, you are the owner of this work and would like it removed from this website, please contact me and I will comply as soon as I get the message. Thank you for your time and patience. No disrespect intended. Just a huge admirer and collector of all things Bette Midler. You can contact me at: misterd@bootlegbetty.com

 

“Hello, Dolly!” Surges with Bette Midler – Donna Murphy Combo

New York Show Tickets
Hello, Dolly!” Surges with Bette MidlerDonna Murphy Combo
POSTED ON JUNE 23, 2017 BY JENNIFER R JONES

2017-06-22_2-22-24

In the week ending June 18, 2017, Hello, Dolly!, which has already been performing stupendously at the box office, reached new heights in its first 8-performance week of the run.  The reason is that Donna Murphy (The People in the Picture, Lovemusik, Wonderful Town) stepped into the role of Dolly Levi on Tuesday night performances, giving Bette Midler the night off, and also upping the show’s production schedule to the usual eight performances, while it had previously been thriving with just seven.  This past week, the weekly gross was $2,297,057, which is an increase of $275,031 from the week before, and which is less than $50,000 below the heights achieved by the unbelievable Hamilton this past week.  With a top ticket price of $748, the average paid admission for Hello, Dolly! was $196.23, and the audience was filled up to 101.5% of capacity.  The weekly gross represented 125.5% of its gross potential, beating Hamilton by a large margin, as that show brought in just 115.6% of gross potential, while Wicked brought in 110.1% of gross potential.  While Bette Midler was already a very hot ticket, adding Donna Murphy to the mix just once a week proves that she is only adding fuel to the fire, and Hello, Dolly! may outlive Bette Midler after all.

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

BetteBack January 28, 2000: Performances Save ‘Great’

The Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, OH)
January 28, 2000

isnt-she-great-2000-bette-midler-isg-014-bkgf60

Early on in ”Isn’t She Great,” the perpetually struggling Jacqueline Susann – apparently the most incurable showbiz wannabe since Lucy Ricardo – gets a pep talk from her best girlfriend.

Keep at it, the woman advises. Send out those headshots, go out for those auditions, and one day you’re bound to make it. After all, she points out, ”Talent isn’t everything.”

She’s right about that. Just look at ”Isn’t She Great.”

A long-delayed biography of the kitschy author of ”Valley of the Dolls,” ”Isn’t She Great” is bursting with talent, particularly of the bitchy kind. Bette Midler plays Susann, and Stockard Channing plays her best friend. Nathan Lane is Irv, Susann’s devoted press-agent husband, and David Hyde Pierce is a prissy, disapproving book editor. If the cast were any campier, the theaters would have to provide patrons with marabou mules.

That might be a good idea, actually, because at times ”Isn’t She Great” resembles nothing so much as a drag act. The ever-more-divine Miss M. poses in her Pucci pantsuits; Ms. Channing flings sarcastic one-liners like a roadshow refugee from ”Mame.”

Some of this is very funny – how could it not be, given these people and a script by Paul Rudnick (”In & Out”)? – but a lot of it feels as tired as a Tallulah Bankhead impression.

Perhaps that’s because all this material – the Irv-and-Jackie love story, the endless publicity tours, the brave cancer battles – was already mined for ”Scandalous Me,” a 1998 TV movie that starred Michelle Lee. Still, even without that template, many of these lines are awfully familiar. Sometimes you can say Rudnick’s punch lines even before his characters do.

”You don’t think it’s too vulgar, too over the top?” asks Ms. Susann, sweeping into the room in a jungle print.

”No,” her advisers assure.

”Then maybe I should change.” answers.

Pa-DUM-bum.

Even with the predictable rimshots and occasionally timeworn dialogue, every performer here shines. Ms. Midler is delightfully brassy as Ms. Susann. Lane is as close to adorable as a pudgy middle-aged guy can get. And no film that gives John Cleese even a small part can be all bad.

Still, ”Isn’t She Great” often seems as confused and scattershot as the career of its director, Andrew Bergman, who once made ”The Freshman” and last made ”Striptease.” Just when you think it’s a comedy, the film inserts mawkish scenes of the couple’s autistic son, or Ms. Susann talking to God. (”It’s me, Jackie.”) Just when you think it’s a drama, it lurches into its drag act.

And just when you thought this was a biography – well, don’t. Universal seems to be carving out a strange fudging-the-facts niche for itself (its last two movie bios were ”The Hurricane” and ”Man on the Moon”);and, once again, this picture features a great performance surrounded by some highly fictionalized trappings. (To begin with, Ms. Susann had a publisher and another published book long before she even began ”Valley.”)

But even worse – and this is criminal in a bio of a trash maven like Ms. Susann – the movie ignores all the juiciest gossip. Want to finally see the real-life basis for the starlets in ”Valley,” or the nasty hero of ”The Love Machine”? Sorry, kiddo. Eager for the real dirt on Ms. Susann’s close ”friendship” with Ethel Merman? Forget it, sweetie.

It’s enough to make you cry in your banana daiquiri. Don’t they know how to sell a hot little story like this anymore? Honestly, you can bet Jackie Susann would have known how to do it. And dear devoted Irv would have been right next to her at every theater, giving away those souvenir marabou mules.

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I consider myself a New Yorker.

I consider myself a New Yorker. I’ve had a lot of good times in New York, and I’ve had a lot of success. I’ve put a lot of effort into the city, and I really love it, but I was born and brought up in Hawaii. I go there at least a couple of times a year, and I still feel like a Hawaiian. You know, you’re always happiest in your childhood home. My heart is there. That’s where I’m comfortable. (New York Post, Jan 2, 2004)

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Bette Midler – From A Distance – Experience The Divine – 1993

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BetteBack December 6, 1974: Is the Divine Miss M (Bette Midler) going to have her ABC Special soon?

Burlington Daily Times News
December 6, 1974

bette-midler-korvettes-1977c2a9

Is the Divine Miss M (Bette Midler) going to have her ABC Special soon?

NO. Bette Midler put her price too high, and her Special fell through.

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This is a scrapbook site devoted to Bette Midler. Absolutely no profits are being made from the posting of this work. It is presented here for educational and historical reasons only. If, however, you are the owner of this work and would like it removed from this website, please contact me and I will comply as soon as I get the message. Thank you for your time and patience. No disrespect intended. Just a huge admirer and collector of all things Bette Midler. You can contact me at: misterd@bootlegbetty.com