Author: Mark Brown
Does It Bette-r
know, these little girls come along with their multi-octave voices
and their fancy producers and their music-executive husbands and
their little miniskirts and have the nerve--the unmitigated gall--to
call themselves "divas."
can I say? I have nothing to say," shrugs Bette Midler. "Let
them all call themselves divas. I just don't care."
Never Talk ToStrangers" (with Tom Waits) "You're My FavoriteWaste
Of Time" "I'm Beautiful" Now that's a diva attitude.
Then again, the Divine One earned hers, whereas these pretenders
try to aspire to a status that they just haven't earned yet.
Midler, perhaps, can give them a lesson in earning it. Amazingly,
after four Grammys, four Golden Globes, two Emmys, and two shots
at the Oscar, Midler feels that, well, she could have tried a little
harder. She's known for her music, and she's picked some great pieces
to cover, including little-known songs by Bruce Springsteen, Tom
Waits, Marshall Crenshaw, and more. But still...
I kinda annoy myself," she admits, dead serious. "Sometimes
I wish I had played it a different way. I sorta wish I had...oh,
I don't know. It just feels like it's very diverse. I don't have
that much success in records. My records have always been very,
very, very spotty."
she's skipped all over the map, she doesn't feel like she's had
that one great album that would seal her place in history as a musician.
It's a weird take on her music, because she hasn't had mere songs--she's
had tunes like "The Rose" and "Wind Beneath My Wings"
that have become anthems and personal touchstones for some fans.
But she has a point; because of her
image, her good taste in music gets ignored.
afraid it does. But it's okay. It's all right. You can't control
everything. I have a lot on my plate," she says, sounding like
she's trying to convince herself. "And I've been in every bin
there is to be in.
yes, I've had the hits. But I haven't sold records like a lot of
these women, like Madonna, for instance.
Or half a dozen others--now Celine Dion and those girls," she
continues. "I just don't make those kinds of records. I can't
say I didn't have any interest; I love music and I love to sell
records. Who doesn't love to sell records? But I've always sung
what I've always sung. The few times I've put my toe in different
kinds of music, I've been kinda slapped down for it. So I don't
know. It's very strange. My last record [Bathhouse Betty] went gold
and it was very similar to the kind of record I used to do when
I started out. It was all over the place."
"all over the place" is as good a description as any for
a career that includes everything from bathhouse gigs with Barry
Manilow to neurotic comedies with Woody Allen to New York club credibility
with Tom Waits.
know what? I'm probably the last of the entertainers," Midler
muses. "I'm the last one who sings and dances and tells jokes
all in one show. So I shouldn't crab. It's what I chose to do and
it's what I enjoy doing. If people choose to put me in one place
as opposed to another, so be it. I've never really codified it.
I never really said what it was because I never really knew what
it was. It was just me. And I'm here all by myself."
And for such a bawdy, bigger-than-life persona, she's the first
to admit she's actually a little bit boring. She's never had the
big comeback album/ film/ special because she's never really gone
away or flopped. She's never needed a comeback. "I've always
worked. My tolerance for boredom is very low," she says. "Why?
Are you suggesting I step down?"
VH1's attempt to dig a little dirt turned up nothing. "They
did a Behind The Music on me and I was very embarrassed that there
was very little scandal," she quips. "There was no scandal.
The worst thing was that I had a bad review. People were laughing
interests rotate--a movie, then an album, then a tour, then an HBO
special...then it starts all over again. "It's really what
comes up, it's what's in the pipeline. I don't have a manager; I
haven't had a manager for 20 years. I think if I did have a manager
it would be a little more coherent. But because I fly by the seat
of my pants, it has that feeling to it. It's a little messy. It's
sloppy but it's well-meaning; what can I say?"
it's not all by choice. "The truth is that movie scripts are
really hard to come by," Midler continues. "When you do
get them, often they're troubled; they need a lot of work. That's
a part of my career where I'm really treading water because it's
so hard; there's so little out there for women my age."
a minute; wasn't the success of The First Wives Club supposed to
open up Hollywood to older women again? "Huh!" Midler
snorts, back in full diva mode. "People love to jump to conclusions.
I've been at it so long that I've never jumped to any conclusion.
One hit does not make a trend. It was funny because as big a hit
as that was, the town was determined to say it was a fluke. And
that's what they decided they were gonna say, that's what they said,
and that's how they behaved."
all this talk of an impending sequel is...
Midler answers. "Sherry Lansing has been trying for years.
It's not happening."
all her "no movies" talk, Midler stars in plenty of them.
Her latest, Isn't She Great?, hits the theaters on Super Bowl weekend.
It's a biography of Valley Of The Dolls writer Jacqueline Susann,
with Midler in the starring role.
co-star] Stockard Channing pretty much steals the show," Midler
says humbly. "I liked it; I think it's one of the best scripts
I've ever read. I was surprised they didn't put it out at Labor
Day, but they were determined to put it out on this date. It's someplace
for the ladies to go on Super
seems almost a schizophrenic existence: Midler disappears for months
or years on end, quietly working on projects such as the New York
Restoration Project, her initiative to clean up parks. And it's
not just vanity work--she actually gets out there and raises funds
to clean the parks. More surprisingly, she actually gets out there
and cleans 'em herself. "It's a real time-sink. That's what
I do when I'm not doing this. When you don't see me being public,
I'm trying to raise funds to pick up garbage and that sort of thing."
then every few years, it's suddenly all Bette, all the time. "Oh
my God, is it really? Isn't that funny,
because I don't really feel like that," she declares. "I
don't read the papers or the interviews or any of it. I just go
along. I have no idea what the ripple effect of it is."
if you missed the Divine Miss Millennium Tour, it may be a long,
long time before you get another chance. "This is a long time
without my family, and I don't think I'm gonna go much longer. And
I don't think I'm gonna do it again," Midler reveals. "I'd
like to be around for those teenage years. I hear they're pretty
after her Isn't She Great? publicity chores are out of the way,
Midler's going underground again. But she never stays away for very
long. "I've never had a problem with work. I'm always happy
to go into it, and I'm always happy when it's over. I'm always happy
to start and always happy to finish," she says. "I've
been at it a long time and have always had those reserves. I've
always known how it's done and always had wonderful people to help
me. If I have even a germ of an idea, I know that I have enough
staff and help to get it on its feet and get it out and have it
be interesting, even if not utterly and completely successful. It's
always at least interesting."
like a true diva.