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.
But not Bette Midler!

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, 
Delores de Lago.  

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
and autographed it!"
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
"I'm sorry."

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
set or a shitty set."
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
just by showing up?"
"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."



Hit Counter