In Print

Books and Articles
 

 

"W" Magazine
Author: MARSHALL HEYMAN
Date: May 2004


Mister D: Thanks to Macaire for TYPING this article out for me!!! Who could ask for more?!

Another cool thing is that this interview took place the same night I met Bette. I was freaking out when I read this. I think I actually met the camera man for this picture...who knows? And I surely met the Doctor Divine that Ms. Midler loves so...

MIDLER AMERICA
A Hit CD, a smash tour and a new movieÖeverythingís coming up roses for the Divine Miss M.

Any member of the Hollywood elite not on hand at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles tonight - Oscar night - is most likely glued to a plasma-screen TV at home. But not Bette Midler. The artist usually known as the Divine Miss M is at the Office Depot Center in Sunrise, Florida, the home of the Florida Panthers, clad in a mermaid suit and zipping around the stage in a motorized wheel chair as her alter ego, Delores de Lago. Itís all part of Midlerís Coney Island-themed Kiss My Brass tour, in which she enters from the rafters on the back of a carousel horse, bawdily jokes that the generic name for Viagra should be "Mycoxafloppin," performs "Keep on Rockin" in front of a projection of her classic performance in 1979ís The Rose, and belts out "Wind Beneath My Wings," from Beaches, for the gazillionth time. And while starlets and moguls throng the Oscar after-parties, an exhausted, post-performance Midler sits in the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Miami at 1am, wearing a turquoise hoodie, a furry Kangol cap and pigtails, and nibbling on a chicken Caesar.

"They asked me if I wanted to work on Oscar night," she says. "First I thought, Whoís going to come? And then I thought, They have Tivo." Though she has her first major movie role in four years - as the best friend of Nicole Kidmanís character in a remake of The Stepford Wives - for all intents and purposes, Midler, 58, has extricated herself from the Hollywood scene. She lives in New York City with her husband of nearly 20 years, Martin von Haselberg, a commodities broker-turned performance artist, and their college-bound daughter, and devotes much of her time to the New York Restoration Project, a group that revitalizes Manhattan parks, which she founded in 1995. Not only does she barely make movies, she barely even sees them. "I canít waste my two hours," she says. "You used to go to the movies three or four times a week and you knew every one was going to be a masterpiece. None of us ever thought it would end, but it ended."

Instead, Midler reads prodigiously. She carries "bags and bags of books" with her on tour, everything from Francoise Saganís Bonjour Tristesse, which she bought used on Amazon.com (F---ing A!" she shouts. "Two bucks, are you kidding me?") to Philip Pullmanís His Dark Materials, a series of young adult novels. "I couldnít wait to get off the stage to read them." she says. "Sheís always reading anything she can get her hands on," says Kidman, "and has an opinion about everything." Midlerís biggest obsession right now is the South Beach Diet. Sheís beside herself that Arthur Agatston M.D.,, the bookís author, came to that eveningís show. "He love me!" she exclaims. "Heís divine. He gave me his new cookbook and autographed it!" She needs to maintain her fighting weight for when opportunity comes knocking, because if thereís one thing Midler knows, itís how to surf the crests and hollows of success in the entertainment business. Despite a string of unmemorable misfires (Drowning Mona and Isnít She Great among them) and her eponymous sitcom, which rapidly tanked on CBS, Midlerís career is on an upswing. After feuding with Barry Manilow, the accompanist with whom she got her start in the bathhouses of New York, she re-teamed with him for the recent album, Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook, which scored a Grammy nomination.

The Kiss My Brass tour has been her most lucrative yet, in some cases grossing more than a million dollars an evening. And then thereís Stepford. "I was glad to have a job," Midler says of her return to the big screen. "But a career isnít just one thing. Iíve made records, dome concerts, Iíve done pictures, Iíve done a little television - and I have to say, itís a good thing, because otherwise I probably wouldnít have lasted as long as I have." It doesnít hurt that Midler is admirably sanguine about her failures. "What are you going to do?" she muses. "Pretend it didnít happen? Itís like the elephant in the room. They know you made a boo-boo, theyíre just waiting to see what youíre going to say about it," And indeed, in her stage show, Midler apologizes for her mistakes, albeit all in the name of getting a laugh. A short film has Judge Judy sentencing her to hell for her terrible sitcom, "not to mention that Jackie Susann movie." Afterward, Midler comes out in a devil costume to sing Brenda Leeís "Iím Sorry." In the hotel lobby, as Midler sips from a glass of Evian, she speaks more seriously about the ill-fated sitcom saying she "would never do it again." "Iíve never done anything that hard in my life," she explains. The pace was simply too grueling. "If itís not funny on Monday, youíre in trouble because Fridayís going to come before you blink your eye and thereís just no time to fix it. I was in over my head. I was afraid to butt heads and scream and carry on and have s--t fits and I probably should have."

As tough as touring with a live show can be, she adds, "itís like duck soup compared to being on a sitcom." When Bette premiered, Midler said that, "movies are over for me." But once television was no longer an option, well, she had to earn a paycheck somewhere. So, when Joan Cusack dropped out of The Stepford Wives, Midler was called in to fill her shoes. Despite tales of tumult on the set - it was reported that Midler didnít get along with costars Glenn Close and Christopher Walken, and that the shoot went eight weeks over - Midler speaks positively about the experience, particularly about working with Kidman.

"Nicole is adorable," she says. "Sheís hilarious and a broadís broad, and you know, loves her wine." "Did she say that?" asks Kidman, with a laugh. "That I was always asking for wine? She didnít sell me out did she?" Kidman admits to hosting an Australian wine tasting for the cast, and raves about the glorious dinner party at Midlerís house with Walken and Close, as well as the on-set sing-alongs with Faith Hill. "Weíve got the same sense of dry humor," Kidman says of Midler. "But I suppose most people have the same sense of humor she does. Thatís kind of what sheís famous for, on top of everything else." Notwithstanding the recent good fortune, Midler isnít expecting the movie offers to come pouring in, let alone a resurgence like she had in the late Eighties. (in 1987 her box office success landed her on the cover of Time.) "I donít count on anything," she says. "I thought after The Rose I would get jobs, but I didnít. And after The First Wives Club, all the girls [costars Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton] were so sure that it was the beginning. I knew it would never happen.

"I was disappointed that I never got a really great dramatic role," she continues, "but what can you do?" Besides, sheís grounded enough to know there are more important things in life to worry about. The recent death of First Wives Club author Olivia Goldsmith during a facelift was a sobering moment. "All she wanted was to have a double chin removed," Midler notes with disbelief, "and she died! What can you say?" So Midler focuses on what makes her happy: her philanthropic work and the stage shows. "Iíve achieved what it was I set out to do, which was to move people, to give them a transcendent experience," she says. "Either with a good voice or a bad voice, with good jokes or bad jokes, a great set or a s--ty set." Screenwriter Paul Rudnick, who wrote Stepford Wives, considers her concerts incomparable transporting.

"There are about three people at any given time in world history who can hold an arena all by themselves and make it seem exuberant and personal," he says. "Who else is an event just by showing up?" "Itís hard work," Midler maintains. "Getting into a gown and walking down a red carpet is one thing, but there are the sleepless nights, the early mornings, the makeup and hair. Whoever makes it and manages to stay alive and not fall under the spell of their own press or, you know, drugs, you have to give them credit."

But the efforts have their rewards. Midler describes performing with a kind of spiritual reverence and even grows misty-eyed about the emotional connection she can make with an audience. "When Iím up there, sometimes I feel as if Iím looking into the face of God," she says. "There are times when you utterly forget yourself, and those moments are so great. Because theyíre not the only ones who get moved - I get moved too."