December 1, 1945– Bette Midler:
“I always try to balance the light with the heavy – a few tears of human spirit in with the sequins and the fringes.”
It was the theatrical event of the 21st century to have Bette Midler starring as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!, along with David Hyde Pierce as Horace Vandergelder. Midler’s run as Dolly began on March 15 at the Shubert Theatre an ends January 14.
The production is produced by openly gay Scott Rudin, directed by Jerry Zaks (not gay) and choreographed by Warren Carlyle (gay). David Hyde Pierce (gayer than gay) is Horace Vandergelder. This glorious revival also features Kate Baldwin, Tony Award-winner Gavin Creel (gloriously gay), Taylor Trensch, and Beanie Feldstein. Lovely Donna Murphy plays the role of Dolly at Tuesday evening performances and Midler’s holiday dates. Broadway icon Bernadette Peters will take over Dolly on January 20, with Victor Garber (gay) as her Vandergelder. This production of Hello, Dolly! was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, and won four, including one for Midler. Midler also won the Outer-Critics Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, Drama League Award, and she is nominated for a 2018 Grammy Award!
This revival of the classic musical brought in more than $9,000,000 at the box office in the first 24 hours of ticket sales, a Broadway record.
“I’m like vodka. Ageless. Odorless. And tasteless.”
I have seen Midler live on stage more than any other artist. The first time was in Boston in the autumn of 1972, and the last time was in Portland in 2006. I was there for the great concerts of the 1970s and 1980s: The Divine Miss M, Clams On The Half Shell Revue, Divine Madness and De Tour. Midler’s is probably the best live act of all time. She has helped me get through the confused late teens, the druggie years, the slutty era, the married man decades, Boston, NYC, LA, Las Vegas, Seattle and Portland.
Midler incorporates the Gay Icon traits of those who came before her: Mae West’s bawdy wit, Judy Garland’s powerhouse pipes, Bette Davis’ acid tongue, plus Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli’s chutzpah. How gay is her appeal? Well, at the start of her career in the 1960s, Midler played the role of Tzeitel in Fiddler On The Roof on Broadway for three years and then performed at a gay bathhouse with Barry Manilow at the piano, for heaven’s sake.
“The extreme characters you used to see in the Village in the 1970s, you just don’t see them anymore, and I really do miss them because there was a feeling I used to get that people were expressing themselves in the most elaborate of ways. Now the gay community has gone mainstream. It’s sort of ordinary now, and a little bit of the specialness has rubbed away.”
“It used to be the love that dare not speak its name and now it’s the love that won’t shut the fuck up. I’m happy to see how far it’s come and to see the community be more at peace with itself and I want to say, more homogenized. Even being considered a Gay Icon, which was something that used to be whispered and bandied about, has become sort of mainstream, and that’s a good thing.”
Midler has long been one of the ultimate icons and a friend to the gays. As “Bathhouse Betty”, Midler was thrown into the absolute adoration of gay men. Midler:
“Despite the way things turned out with the AIDS crisis, I’m still proud of those days. I feel like I was at the forefront of the Gay Liberation movement, and I hope I did my part to help it move forward. So, I kind of wear the label of ‘Bathhouse Betty’’with pride.”
I didn’t want to lose her when she seemed to stumble with her sentiments on Marriage Equality. A decade ago, Midler took some heat from LGBTQ fans after Larry King asked her what she thought about same-sex marriage. Midler’s reply:
“As soon as I’m gay I’m going to get married. What do you want me to say? I haven’t done enough research or reading on it to have an informed opinion.”
I thought: “Bette, why do you have to research the love between two people who want to be together forever? Please do not forsake me.”
Like the Obamas and both the Clintons, but not our unfortunate current first family, Midler has evolved on this issue. In 2011, she came around with:
“I watch the news from time to time. To tell you the truth, I’m not on the front lines, I’m in the zone. But I’m all in favor of gay marriage. I think it’s fabulous.”
Midler now says that her concerns are for all Human Rights around the globe:
“I’ve had no problem raising my voice and will continue to do so. Sometimes you get kicked in the face for it, but some people are always looking for someone to come down hard on. I say fuck ’em, because if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
“Just look at the treatment of LGBTQ people and women around the world. I just think it’s ghastly what happens. There’s a gigantic threat there from all sorts of religions and I’m greatly concerned when I hear of things like women getting stoned because they looked sideways at some guy or gays being killed because of who they are. It’s just repulsive.”
Midler is the perfect Gay Icon for our Rock ‘N’ Roll, after-the-sexual revolution, post-Gay Liberation 1970s, after-the-activism of 1980s gay person. She certainly captures our current dreadful politically correct era with her classic quip:
“Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke!”
Midler even has advice for aspiring drag artists wanting to pay homage to her, suggesting:
“Start with a really good pair of shoes and a serious undergarment. If your panties fall down all around your feet, step out of them and keep on singing.”
In a career that has spanned five decades, Midler has won five Grammy Awards, four Golden Globes, four Emmys, two Tony Awards, and two Academy Award nominations. For me, her best film role was an astonishingly powerful debut in The Rose (1979). She never seemed to top that film performance, although I do really appreciate the funny work during her fruitful Disney period: Down And Out In Beverly Hills (1986), Ruthless People (1986), Outrageous Fortune(1987), and Big Business (1988), when Midler was the studio’s number one star and the planet’s funniest woman.
I have a complete Midler music collection: 15 studio albums, five soundtrack albums, one Broadway cast album, five live albums, a spoken word album, and six greatest hits compilations. I particularly enjoyed her recent albums, including It’s The Girls! (2014), a collection of tunes made famous by the great girl groups, with a heart wrenching, stripped-down version of 1990s R&B legends TLC‘s Waterfalls, one of my favorites of all Midler’s tracks.
“Oh, how I did love TLC, and Waterfalls was just a song I fell in love with the first time I heard it. To me it was always this terrible little tragedy, and I’ve always thought that because the beat was so captivating and the rap was so captivating that people didn’t really hear the misery in the lyrics behind the beat. So I’ve always wanted to do it as a ballad so that people could really hear the lyrics and the message behind them. I’ve carried that one around in my back pocket for years.”
in 2015, she released Bette Midler: A Gift Of Love, a collection of remixes, and at at nearly 70-years-old, Midler toured worldwide in The Divine Intervention Tour. I had to pass on seeing this one, with ticket prices at $400, plus the fact that I am so old that I can’t go for two hours without having to pee, even if Midler can.
“Some people rescue dogs. Some rescue cats. I rescue old songs. I have rescued more oldies than Viagra.”
My favorite Midler moment of all time was her serenading Johnny Carson with One For My Baby in the last minutes of his final farewell on The Tonight Show, where she had been a frequent and favorite guest.
Midler is an urban garden advocate. She founded the New York Restoration Project in 1995. NYRP is a non-profit organization with the goal of revitalizing neglected neighborhood parks in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods of NYC. She and her group have had stunning success.
Midler gives really good tweets on her very active Twitter account. How about this one about you-know-who:
Murderous dictator Duterte serenaded Trump with a Filipino love song.
Vlad, somebody’s tryin’ to steal your man!
— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler)
Up next: Freak Show, a film directed by Trudie Styler and based on the novel of the same name by World Of Wonder’s James St. James. The film also stars Abigail Breslin and Laverne Cox. It opens the same day she ends her Hello, Dolly! run.