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Bette Midler

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Also Known As: Bette Davis Midler Died:
Born: December 1, 1945 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Honolulu, Hawaii, USA Profession: singer, actor, producer, go-go dancer, glove saleswoman, cannery worker in a pineapple factory, typist


Bette Midler built a successful stage, screen and recording career on the basis of her self-styled "Divine Miss M" character - a sassy, hip-wagging classic "broad" archetype. She was quick with the comebacks, took no guff and had a tendency to burst into tunes from the Great American Songbook. Her initial stage fame and string of nostalgia-tinged hit albums in the 1970s eventually led to big screen success, with dramas like the pseudo Janis Joplin biopic "The Rose" (1980) and three-hankie chick flick "Beaches" (1990). She also lent appropriately outrageous variations of Miss M to comedies including "Ruthless People" (1986), "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" (1986) and "The First Wives Club" (1996). In an era where stage, screen and recording crossover success was rare, only Liza Minnelli rivaled Midler when it came to endless concert tour schedules and triumph in all genres. More than 30 years into her career, the entertainer was still scoring hits with such albums as 1998's Bathhouse Betty and the televised special of her acclaimed Caesar's Palace act "Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On" (HBO, 2010). As a film star, live performer and winner of Grammy, Emmy and Golden Globe awards, Midler was an...

Bette Midler built a successful stage, screen and recording career on the basis of her self-styled "Divine Miss M" character - a sassy, hip-wagging classic "broad" archetype. She was quick with the comebacks, took no guff and had a tendency to burst into tunes from the Great American Songbook. Her initial stage fame and string of nostalgia-tinged hit albums in the 1970s eventually led to big screen success, with dramas like the pseudo Janis Joplin biopic "The Rose" (1980) and three-hankie chick flick "Beaches" (1990). She also lent appropriately outrageous variations of Miss M to comedies including "Ruthless People" (1986), "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" (1986) and "The First Wives Club" (1996). In an era where stage, screen and recording crossover success was rare, only Liza Minnelli rivaled Midler when it came to endless concert tour schedules and triumph in all genres. More than 30 years into her career, the entertainer was still scoring hits with such albums as 1998's Bathhouse Betty and the televised special of her acclaimed Caesar's Palace act "Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On" (HBO, 2010). As a film star, live performer and winner of Grammy, Emmy and Golden Globe awards, Midler was an entertainment icon of the highest order.

The Divine Miss M was born on Dec. 1, 1945 to a seamstress mother and housepainter father from Paterson, NJ. The couple had moved to Hawaii just prior to Midler's birth, where her father landed a job at a Navy yard. The transplanted Jewish East Coasters were a bit of an oddity in the rural South Pacific sugar cane fields, but Midler developed a quick wit to combat her outsider status, winding up as a well-liked class clown and notorious performer. Along with two other girls, she formed a vocal trio that played school events and eventually began to book gigs entertaining at adult venues. As soon as the senior class president and valedictorian accepted her diploma in 1963, she headed right into the entertainment field, putting in a year in the Drama Department at the University of Hawaii before landing a small role in the film adaptation of James Michener's "Hawaii" (1966).

Midler spent her first big paycheck on a move to New York City, where, after a short stint as a go-go dancer, she went to an open call for a national tour of "Fiddler on the Roof" and ended up in the Broadway cast, taking over the part of Tzeitel in February 1967 and staying with the role for three years. After a run as The Acid Queen in a Seattle Opera Association production of "Tommy," Midler returned to New York, determined to focus on her singing career. After rave club reviews which took note of her powerful pipes, she was booked on all the top variety TV shows of the day. She took a 16-week engagement that electrified the towel-clad gay clientele of the Continental Baths, where Barry Manilow backed her on piano. It was at that time that the larger-than-life persona of 'The Divine Miss M' - and along with it, a loyal gay following - was born.

Atlantic Records signed Midler to a record deal and released her debut album, The Divine Miss M, in 1972. The bawdy, red-haired performer with the wide, toothy smile built her career on being outrageous, but also balanced the camp by interspersing a few tears for the human spirit amidst the sequins and fringes. Musically, her early work "nailed the nostalgia thing" with Andrews Sisters takeoffs - i.e. "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" - and 1960s girl group numbers, as well as including blues and show tunes in her broad musical spectrum. The album went gold and won her the Grammy for Best New Artist. Midler developed a larger version of her earlier cabaret revue and performed "Clams on the Halfshell" at the Palace Theater, earning a Special Tony Award in 1974. On a complete roll, she spent the next three years on national and international concert tours, wowing the gays and the straights who poured in to worship Ms. Divine.

Unfortunately, sales dropped off sharply for her third LP, Songs for the New Depression (1976), but she retained a loyal concert following and picked up her first Emmy as the star of "Bette Midler: Ol' Red Hair Is Back" (NBC, 1977). She made her first impact as a film actress in Mark Rydell's "The Rose" (1978), earning a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a high-strung, burned-out singer loosely based on Janis Joplin. The soundtrack LP went platinum in 1980, aided by the Top Ten title song which became a bona fide smash single. A Midler concert film and soundtrack entitled "Divine Madness" came out later that year, as did her first book, A View from a Broad, a humorous memoir of her first world tour. Midler was at the top of her game, but bad advice from her agent led her to take a screen role in the aptly named comedy "Jinxed!" (1982). She suffered greatly, warring with co-star Ken Wahl and director Don Siegel and ultimately serving as scapegoat when the picture flopped. The film's failure followed her firing of her back-up singers the Harlettes, who successfully sued and later won a $2 million judgment. The twin debacles helped bring on a nervous breakdown, which kept her off the screen for four years, though she remained busy with concert work and TV specials.

Midler bounced back with a formidable focus on big screen comedies throughout the 1980s. Signed by Disney in 1986, she proved herself a deft, aggressive comedienne in a skein of profitable films, beginning with the bright satire "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" (1986) and continuing through the enjoyable if forgettable "Outrageous Fortune" (1987) and "Big Business" (1988), in which she and Lily Tomlin each played identical twins. Probably the best of her movies during this period was the clever black comedy "Ruthless People" (1986), which hilariously paired her with Danny DeVito as a thoroughly despicable couple. She formed her own production company, All Girl Productions, and made her first foray into producing with the moderately successful "Beaches" (1988), co-starring alongside Barbara Hershey as a charismatic New York cabaret performer in a tale of the lifelong bond between girlfriends. Bette also performed the film's theme, "The Wind Beneath My Wings," which became her first No. 1 hit, won a Grammy, and along with "The Rose," became one of her two definitive numbers.

The studio, sensing it was on to something, cast her in two old-fashioned follow-up tearjerkers, but Jeffery Katzenberg's wrong-headed passion for "Stella" (1990) earned Premiere magazine's kiss of death: "A must to avoid." She fared somewhat better in Rydell's "For the Boys" (1992) as a World War II USO performer, a seemingly natural fit for Midler, based on her earlier success with the Andrews Sisters' material. The picture revealed a flair for drama not really tapped since "The Rose" and earned Midler a second Best Actress Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win, but audiences avoided the big-budget musical like the plague. She next teamed with Woody Allen to portray a married couple for Paul Mazursky's "Scenes from a Mall" (1991), but it did not come close to Midler's earlier comedic success. Her outlandish appearance as a long-deceased witch in Disney's "Hocus Pocus" (1993), suggesting a return to the zany fare that made Midler a bankable movie star seven years earlier, could not save the ghoulish, effects-laden bomb that was deemed a discredit to Disney "family entertainment" by film critic Leonard Maltin.

The year 1993 marked Midler's overdue return to live concert performances with "Experience the Divine," which was capped by a record-breaking 30-night stand at New York's Radio City Music Hall. That same year, she gave a tour-de-force performance as Mama Rose in a TV remake of the musical classic "Gypsy" (CBS), which earned her a second Golden Globe Award. Midler returned to big screen comedy full-force when teaming with Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn in Hugh Wilson's "The First Wives' Club" (1996), a film about women whose husbands have left them for younger beauties which - thanks to the collective star power of the threesome - became one of the surprise hits of the season. She also starred with Dennis Farina in "That Old Feeling" (1997), about a divorced couple whose romantic yearnings are rekindled at their daughter's wedding, as well as returned to the mic to earn an Emmy for "Bette Midler - Diva Las Vegas" (HBO, 1997). She garnered another Emmy nomination for her guest turn as a secretary in the final episode of the long-running CBS series "Murphy Brown" (CBS, 1988-1998) in 1998, before kicking off the international "Divine Miss Millennium" tour the following year, welcoming in 2000 with a New Year's Eve performance at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

After a pair of box office failures with the Jacqueline Susann biopic "Isn't She Great?" (2000) and the pallid comedy "Drowning Mona" (2000), Midler agreed to headline a sitcom in an effort to revive her acting career. In "Bette" (CBS, 2000-01), she played a variation of herself - a showbiz veteran juggling the demands of career, marriage and motherhood. Despite initially positive reviews, ratings were so-so and negative gossip about behind-the-scenes problems plagued the series' image. After dabbling in the executive producer role when she helped bring "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" (2002) to the big screen, Midler reunited with former collaborator Barry Manilow to record Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook for Columbia Records. The album was a bit of a surprise hit and went gold, in addition to earning the pair a Grammy nod.

Midler spent the following year-plus back on the road with her "Kiss My Brass" concert tour and made a return to theaters in 2004 with her role as Bobbie Markowitz, a Jewish writer and recovering alcoholic in the remake of the cult classic "The Stepford Wives." Midler and Manilow recreated their previous album success with 2005's Bette Midler Sings the Peggy Lee Songbook and Midler returned to the studio in 2006 to record Cool Yule, a Grammy-nominated album of pop holiday classics. Helen Hunt lured Midler back to the big screen to star as her biological mother in Hunt's pet project, the comedic drama "Then She Found Me" (2008). That same year, the 62-year-old powerhouse began a two-year run of "Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On" at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

Midler appeared in theaters for a second time that year in an updating of George Cukor's 1950s melodrama "The Women" (2008) co-starring with Meg Ryan, Annette Bening and Eva Mendes. Unfortunately, despite the star power of its all-female cast, the reinvention of "The Women" did little to improve upon the original and quickly disappeared from screens. Midler took part in a far more successful, if artistically less ambitious project two years later when she voiced the eponymous feline super villain in the family action-comedy "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" (2010). Recognized for doing what she did best, "Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On" (HBO, 2010) picked up an Emmy nomination the following year and the 2010 album Memories of You found Midler waxing nostalgic with a compilation of her lesser known standards. Beginning in 2011, Midler uncharacteristically stayed behinds the scenes as one of the producers on the Broadways production of the musical "Priscilla: Queen of the Desert" and went on to win the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

By Susan Clarke


Filmographyclose complete filmography


CAST: (feature film)

 Casting By (2013)
 The Women (2008)
 Stepford Wives, The (2004) Bobbie Markowitz
 What Women Want (2000)

Milestones close milestones

Portrayed Mama Rose in the CBS TV remake of the stage musical "Gypsy"
Co-starred in the comedy-mystery "Drowning Mona" opposite Danny De Vito
Headlined the Emmy winning HBO special "Bette Midler in Concert: Diva Las Vegas"
Performed "Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On" at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas
Appeared in off-Broadway musical "Salvation"
Appeared on Broadway in "Bette! Divine Madness"
Moved to New York City; worked as a go-go dancer in a Union City, NJ club
Played Rip Torn's lounge-singer wife in "Jinxed!"; reportedly clashed with co-star Ken Wahl and director Don Siegal
Voiced title character, a villainous Sphynx cat in "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore," the sequel to 2001 family film "Cats & Dogs"
Made hilarious uncredited appearance in "Get Shorty"
Signed a two-year deal to headline at Las Vegas' Caesar Palace, replacing Celine Dion
Starred in her own short-lived CBS sitcom "Bette"
TV producing debut, the HBO concert "Bette Midler: Art or Bust"
With co-star Dennis Farina, played two middle-aged former spouses who rekindle their romance in "That Old Feeling"
Made concert film of her Broadway show "Divine Madness"
Performed in the Who's rock opera "Tommy" with the Seattle Opera Company
Played the title role of a 1960s drug-addicted rock star, modeled after Janis Joplin, in Mark Rydell's "The Rose"; received first Best Actress Academy Award nomination
Provided the voice of Woody the Spoon on the PBS educational series "Vegetable Soup"
Received Grammy nomination for <i>Bette Midler Sings the Peggy Lee Songbook</i>, again produced by Manilow
Toured her new show "Kiss My Brass" to sell-out crowds in the U.S.
Co-starred with Billy Crystal in family comedy "Parental Guidance"
Cast in dramedy "Freak Show"
Began appearing at NYC's Continental Bathhouse with accompanist Barry Manilow
Made film debut in a bit part as a missionary's wife in "Hawaii"
Formed production company All Girl Productions with Bonnie Bruckheimer-Martell and Margaret Jennings South
Produced first feature "Beaches"; also co-starred as singer CC Bloom and performed theme song "Wind Beneath My Wings"
Re-teamed with director Mark Rydell to play a USO entertainer in "For the Boys"; also produced; received second Best Actress Academy Award nomination
Saluted a retiring Johnny Carson on the final episode of "The Tonight Show" (NBC), during which she sang "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)"; won an Emmy for the appearance
Signed contract with Atlantic Records
Starred in the Frank Oz remake of Bryan Forbes' 1975 cult classic "The Stepford Wives"
Continued her comeback with comic leads in "Ruthless People" (1986), "Outrageous Fortune" (1987), and "Big Business" (1988)
First No. 1 hit on the pop charts, "The Wind Beneath My Wings" (from "Beaches" soundtrack)
Made New York stage debut in "Miss Nefertiti Regrets"
Starred in "Then She Found Me," directed by Helen Hunt
Teamed with Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton for the hit comedy "The First Wives Club"
Answered open call for a national company of "Fiddler on the Roof"; hired for the chorus of the Broadway production; took over the role of Tzeitel in February 1967 and remained in role for three years
Earned an Emmy nomination for her guest appearance on the final episode of "Murphy Brown" (CBS)
Performed her first concert tour in ten years "Experience the Divine"; set a record-breaking 30-night stand at NYC's Radio City Music Hall
Released first major album <i>The Divine Miss M</i>, produced by Barry Manilow
Returned to films after a four-year absence to star in the popular comedy "Down and Out in Beverly Hills"
Teamed with Barry Manilow after a long-standing feud to record <i>Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook</i>
Made directorial debut with HBO special based on her Vegas act "Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On"
Returned to Broadway after more than 30 years, portraying Hollywood super agent Sue Mengers in "I'll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers"
Known for such albums as "Experience The Divine" and "Beaches"
Popular songs include "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "From A Distance".
Released <i>It's the Girls!</i>, a collection of covers of popular all-girl groups hailing from the 1930s to the 1990s
Portrayed Dolly in Broadway revival of "Hello, Dolly!", earning her second Tony Award


Herbert Berghof Studio: New York, New York -
Radford High School: Honolulu, Hawaii - 1963
University of Hawaii: Honolulu, Hawaii - 1965


Midler was named after Bette Davis.

In addition to her musical albums, Midler has also recorded a comedy album, "Mud Will be Flung Tonight".

"I wouldn't say I invented tack, but I definitely brought it to its present high popularity." --Midler, quoted in "Halliwell's Filmgoers Companion", 9th edition.

"Underneath all this drag I'm really a librarian, you know." --Midler, quoted in "Halliwell's Filmgoer's Companion", 9th edition.

From the April 4, 1997 Daily News review of "That Old Feeling": "Bette Midler gives that same old we've grown accustomed to--that of the eye-rolling, hip-wagging, over-the-top diva with the acid tongue."

Midler described her onstage persona thus: "Basically, what I was doing was a character that has always had a place in show business, and that's the Broad. People always love a broad--someone with a sense of humor, someone with a fairly wicked tongue, someone who can belt out a song, someone who takes no guff. When I came up, there wasn't anyone like that. The last one, I'd have to say, was Sophie Tucker." --Bette Midler in Entertainment Weekly, December 20, 1991.

"She (the 'Divine Miss M') never went anywhere. She's just a character. That's the only character that I ever made up by myself ... I was in New York, I saw these people, I looked at these movies, I said, 'This is what I want to be.' And that's what I became ... But then I didn't want to get stuck in it, like ... John Belushi ... I didn't want the character to run my life. I wanted to be able to go somewhere quiet, be by myself and have a life ... I never exactly put it in those words, but I really wanted to be who I always was. I mean, I didn't think that anybody would buy what I had to say whan I was just myself, because really I'm kind of a bore. But that character, there was nothing boring about her. She was lively, she had red hair, she wore dresses cut down to there, everybody loves that. Who wouldn't want to be that? But that wasn't what I was ... Not for a second. But I put it out and people were charmed by it." --Midler to Movieline, c. December 1991.

About her role in the Gay Liberation Movement: "Parts of it I'm proud of. And parts of it I'm deeply mortified by. The idea that what came of it turned out to be so grim ... one of the saddest parts of my life. The idea that so many people got sick and died. It's one of the most awful things I have to live with.

"I don't think it was divine retribution. It was insane behavior. It was completely out-to-lunch behavior. There was so much drug use and promis..., promis..., how do you say that word?" ("Promiscuity.") "That word. There was so much of that. I mean, you weren't there. I was there. Nobody said, 'Hey, wait a second. Hold on here. Hold it! Hold it! Hold it!' It was terrible. I haven't got anybody left. I haven't got a single soul left from those days. All gone. I'll tell you something. If I could take it back, I would. If I could change it ... if I could go back and reverse everything, I would. It wasn't worth it." --Midler to BuzzWeekly, April 4-10, 1997.

" ... I say girl because I love to annoy people. I love the word Girl. Gal is pretty great, too. I hate that whole 'Don't call us girls anymore' thing. You know what? Call me anything. Call me sweetheart. no, actually, I hate that--it's patronizing. But I don't just want to be called a woman. It sounds like someone with a mustache.

"I'm very ambivalent [about feminism]. On the one hand, I completely understand the impulse behind it, and on the other, I think there's been a lot of damage done. I really resent political correctness and the idea that women who stay at home and raise their kids are worthless. I think that society as a whole hsas suffered and taken a terrible beating because of it. People can say that's traditional and spit at me all they want. You reach a certain age and your judgment is clearer." --Midler to Rolling Stone, November 13, 1997.

Received the AIDS Project's Commitment fo Life Award (1991)

I went on Johnny Carson. He asked me what I was doing, and I said, I work in a bathhouse. I sing in a bathhouse. And I think people were stunned, and I think gay people were -- they sat up and said, Oh, my God."---Midler talking about working in a gay bathhouse early in her career to Larry King CNN November 26, 2003

"We're in a business that manufactures dreams ... and we're all in on it. This is a free country. You can't sit and say, 'So-and-so is a bad person for, you know, getting a chin implant.' You can't do that."---Midler on the pressure for woman to look perfect to June 15, 2004

Companions close complete companion listing

Aaron Russo. Manager. Managed her early career.
Martin Von Haselberg. Performance artist, former commodities trader. Married in December 1984; born c. 1949; met at Los Angeles club Roxy in 1981; was member of the avant-garde performance duo the Kipper Kids; studied at the director's program at the AFI; German by birth, raised in Argentina after family fled the Nazis, educated in England.

Family close complete family listing

Fred Midler. Housepainter. Died in the late 1980s; painted for the Navy while family was in Hawaii; taught his mentally-challenged son to read and write "by hammering and screaming at him until he got it right".
Ruth Midler. Died in the late 1980s.
Susan Midler. Mental-health administrator. Older.
Judith Midler. Older; killed by a car while going to meet sister after a performance of "Fiddler on the Roof" in 1968; debut album dedicated to her.
Daniel Midler. Younger; born mentally impaired.
Sophie Frederica Alohilani Von Haselberg. Born c. 1987.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Bette Midler"
"A View From a Broad"
"The Saga of Baby Divine"
"The Divine Bette Midler"
"Bette Midler: Outrageously Divine"
"Bette Midler"
"Bette: An Intimate Biography of Bette Midler"

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