Author: Tom Shales
Television Needs Is More Bette Midler Specials
television needs is - well, there are so many things. How about
another Bette Midler special? Midler really is overdue. She has
a two-special contract with NBC, the first one was seen in 1977,
and she hasn't started work on the second one even yet.
was a contract for two specials, but at my whim, you know, at my
leisure," says Midler, "so I never got around to doing
that second show. I'd like to do one before the year is out. I'd
like to do SOMETHING before the year is out."
is between TV specials and between movies, but she is not between
records (her new one is called "No Frills") and certainly
not between books, since she is currently on a ten-city tour to
trumpet "The Saga of Baby Divine," an ingenuous verse
fable she wrote over the past two years. And so Midler is appearing
on local talk shows around the country, and the "Today"
show, too, but she's just talking, not singing and dancing. Television
needs some: singing and dancing, some: momentary relief from the:
screaming tires and the cackling laugh tracks. ' Midler's first
special was: a hoot, a howl, and a delight, and it won an I Emmy.
She opened the show emerging from a giant clam and singing "Oklahoma!"
with a troupe of Polynesians, remember? She remembers. "I was'
chubby," she says. The special was called "01' Red Hair
is Back." . Now, 01' Red Hair is blonde, but otherwise unchanged
- at 5' 1, still charming, disarming, sassY, brassy, and happily
crazy after all these years.
a visit here, she kept jumping up: from the sofa in her hotel suite
to run into the bathroom and try on one of her new hats, "I
think every lady author should wear a hat," she lectures, "It's
a mark of distinction," Most of the hats look teleported in
from the '40s or '50s and most have veils, "I'm dying to start
a trend," she says. "Deep veiling,"
no keeping this game gal in one place for very long, Her TV appearances
are always full of surprises.
On a local Washington talk show, she advised against taking vitamins
on an empty stomach because when she does that, she said, "I
get the runs." And she sparkled brightly a couple of years
ago when Barbara Walters came to call with her shopping bag full
of nosey questions. At one point Midler told Walters, "Get
out of my house," but she was only
enjoyed doing her show," says Midler. "She leans in, you
know. She's always leaning in. It was fun. I kind a like her. At
least she doesn't intimidate me. I think she's pretty kind. She
doesn't really go for the throat. And she never made me cry, which
some of them have. Rona Barrett always used to love to watch me
mess up. I miss Rona - sort of. I don't think she realized how funny
she was. But she always used to talk about my home life ,and I always
used to break into tears."
Midler has to be homogenized a little for television, as most things
do, her earthy brashness is unmistakable. The musical-variety special
on TV, meanwhile, has fallen into terrible times in recent years;
what few still exist are usually the result of some sharpy agent's
clever contract arrangements with a network. Though she can't sing
or dance, Cheryl Ladd gets a musical special because somebody made
a smart deal for her. Midler says she hopes to leave Hollywood and
move back to New York because the heavy smog from the deal-makers'
cigars is beginning to choke ber.
don't have what it takes any more, and they're all in, you know,
the deal-making business," she groans. "It has nothing
to do with the product itself. They throw that stuff out in the
marketplace, most of them, and just pray."
sooner Bette Midler comes bouncing back to television, the better.