When I was in high school, my first big job was working at a brand new movie theater. One of the first movies we had was The Rose, starring Bette Midler. I saw that movie dozens of times, and I was mesmerized by Midler's amazing performance. (PS- she should have won the Oscar that year- she wuz robbed!)
Her next project was a world tour, which she had never done. She chronicled the tour in a book, A View From A Broad, published in 1984 and I still have my copy. Simon and Schuster is reissuing the book, now in hardcover, and Ms. Midler celebrated this with a conversation with comedian Judy Gold at Barnes & Noble Union Square in New York City, her adopted home.
The crowd was large, and many of us waiting almost seven hours to see the woman known as the Divine Miss M. When she took her seat at 7pm, she began by saying that she was happy to be in a bookstore, "one of her favorite places". (This is true, she has spotted many times in the Barnes & Noble in my neighborhood.)
Gold asked her if anything surprised her about this book, and Midler replied that she was "surprised by how funny it was." She was also surprised by how she "kept the worst parts of myself out" of the book. Written when she was just 35 years old, it is a snapshot of a younger, more hopeful Midler.
|Judy Gold and Bette Midler|
Moving on, Gold asked Midler the one question she dreads- "How was it working in the bathhouses?", which is a running gag in the book, with different headlines describing the demise of Midler, all with the same the subline- "Started Career At Continental Baths".
Midler got a job on Broadway at the age of 22, working first in the chorus, then as the eldest daughter in Fiddler on the Roof. She said that the first year it was OK, the second year she began going on other auditions and by the third year, she was asking "Who do you f(expletive deleted) to get out of here?" The audience roared.
From there, she put together a cabaret act and took it on the road, singing old classics. She opened for Ella Fitzgerald, and at Mr. Kelly's in Chicago, she opened for "the meanest man in show business, Mort Sahl."
She was on the stage at the Lake Geneva Nightclub the night George Carlin became hip, taking off his tie and becoming the comic we all remember him to be. (He brought plastic vomit onstage and was fired.) The rest is comic history.
She got an offer to work at the Continental Bathhouse, and since the money was better than Fiddler, she took it.
Gold asked Midler about the characters in her stage shows, and Midler said that since she wasn't the best singer, she needed to be entertaining. When pressed, she said that mermaid Dolores Del Lago, the Toast of Chicago has a special place in her heart because she was pompous and a bit of a jerk. (I like Sophie Tucker best.)
They talked costumes, and Midler spoke of her mother who sewed her children's clothes. From this came Midler's profound respect for her costume designers and the builders of the costumes who had to "figure out how to keep these tits up!" (More uproarious laughter from the crowd.)
|Bette Midler signing books- love the hat!|
Midler says everyone was very somber and sad and she and her Harlettes come out in their showgirl costumes and "we're all tits and ass" and they performed for 30 minutes and rushed off the stage and out the door, mortified. I guess no good deed goes unpunished.
Things became a little serious as Midler talked about how a side trip to Thailand during her first world tour made her reconsider her thoughts on war. It is a beautiful story in the book, and she also said that as she ages, she finds her views on government, social engineering, poverty, education and inequality have evolved.
Her love of New York City was discussed, and she got the most applause at the mention of her foundation, New York Restoration Project, which plants trees (one million is their goal) and cleans up parks and public areas and creates gardens. When they say that one person can't make a difference, you can point to Ms. Midler and her determination to clean up our city to refute that. She is a good citizen.
At the age of 68, Midler looks fabulous. She has killer legs, and she boasts that she "has the most beautiful body, it can do anything, I can turn into a pretzel. I honor my body, it's my temple. Now go f(expletive deleted) yourself!" (More laughter- this crowd loves the bawdy Ms. Midler.)
Although she wanted to be a rocker, Midler admits she will be remembered most for her ballads, such as "From a Distance" and "Wind Beneath My Wings". Some of her personal favorites are "Shiver Me Timbers", "Hello In There" and "Some People's Lives".
She ended her 45 minute talk saying "It's nice to be with book lovers in a New York City crowd!". We all concurred.
Ms. Midler signed books and CDs, and when it was my turn, I told her we had met last year in Luke's Lobster and that I saw her in her one woman Broadway show, I'll Eat You Last, and loved her performance. She looked at me and said very sincerely "Thank you so much for that- that's means so much to me."
It was worth the seven hour wait.