M i d l e r A m e r i c a
- A hit CD, a smash tour and a new movie . . .
- everything's 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.
- The artist usually known as the Divine 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 wheelchair as her alter ego,
- It's all part of Midler's Coney Island themed 'Kiss My Brass'
- tour, in which she enters from 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 1979's '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 1 a.m.,
- 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, Who's going to come? And
- then I thought, They have Tivo."
Though she has her first role in four years ~ as the best friend of Nicole Kidman's character in a remake of 'The Stepford Wives' ~ for all intents and purposes, Midler, has extricated herself from the Hollywood scene. She lives in New York City with her husband of nearly twenty years, Martin von Hasselberg, 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 can't 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 Sagan's 'Bonjour Tristesse,' which she bought on Amazon.com ("Fucking A!" she shouts. "Two bucks, are you kidding me?) To Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials,' a series of young adult novels. "I couldn't wait to get off the stage to read them."
- "She's always reading anything she can get her hands on,"
- says Kidman, "and has an opinion about everything."
- Midler's biggest obsession right now is the 'South Beach
- Diet.' She's beside herself that Arthur Agatston M.D., the
- book's author, came to the evening's show. "He loves me!"
- she exclaims. "He's divine. He gave me his new cookbook
- She needs to maintain her fighting weight for when opportunity
- comes knocking, because if there's one thing Midler knows,
- it's how to surf the crests and hollows of success in the
- entertainment business. Despite a string of unmemorable
- misfires ( "Drowning Mona" and "Isn't She Great" ) and
- her eponymous sitcom, which rapidly tanked on CBS, Midler's
- 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 reteamed 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 there's "Stepford."
- "I was glad to have a job," Midler says of her return to the
- big screen. "But a career isn't just one thing. I've made
- records, done concerts, I've done pictures, I've done a little
- television ~ and I have to say, it's a good thing, because
- otherwise I probably wouldn't have lasted as long as I have."
- It doesn't hurt that Midler is admirably sanguine about her
- failures. "What are you going to do?" she muses. "Pretend
- it didn't happen? It's like the elephant in the room. They
- know you made a boo-boo, they're just waiting to see
- what you're 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 Lee's
- In the hotel lobby, as Midler sips from a glass of Evian, she
- speaks more seriously about the ill-fated TV series, saying
- she "would never do it again."
- "I've never done anything that hard in my life," she explains.
- The pace was simply too grueling. "If it's not funny on Monday,
- you're in trouble because Friday's going to come before you
- blink your eye and there's 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 shit fits, so I didn't and I probably should have."
- "As tough as touring with a live show can be, she adds, "it's
- like duck soup compared to being on a sitcom."
- When 'Bette' premiered, Midler said that "movies are over
- for me 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 didn't get along with
- 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. "She's hilarious and a
- broad's broad, and, you know, loves her wine."
- "Did she say that?" asks Kidman, with a laugh. "That I was
- always asking for wine? She didn't sell me out, did she?"
- Kidman admits to hosting an Australian wine tasting for
- the cast, and raves about the glorious dinner party at
- Midler's house with with Walken and Close, as as the on-set
- sing-alongs with Faith Hill. "We've got the same dry sense
- of humor," Kidman says of Midler. "But I suppose most
- people have the same sense of humor she does. That's
- kind of what she's famous for, on top of everything else."
- Notwithstanding the recent good fortune, Midler isn't
- expecting the movie offers to come pouring in, let alone
- a resurgence like she had in the late Eighties. "I don't
- count on anything," she says. "I thought after 'The Rose'
- I would get jobs, but I didn't. And after 'The First Wives
- Club,' all the girls 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, she's 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. "I've 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
- Screenwriter Paul Rudnick, who wrote "Stepford Wives"
- considers her concerts incomparably 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
- "It's 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
- a kind of spiritual reverence and even grows misty-eyed
- about the emotional connection she can make with an
- audience. "When I'm up there, sometimes I feel as if I'm
- looking into the face of God," she says. "There are times
- when you utterly forget yourself, and those moments are
- so great. Because they're not the only ones that get
- moved ~ I get moved too."