Bette Midler: Simply Divine

There is only one word to describe Bette Midler: Divine. She is the bold and brassy, fragile and flamboyant, gleeful and glorious star of stage, screen, and television. And in my opinion there is no one that compares to her. She is a one of a kind individual with this enormous amount of talent. From the little insecure Jewish girl who grew up in Hawaii to star of sold out performances at Madison Square Garden. Bette Midler is someone who makes everyone feel nothing is wrong. Her climb to the top is remarkable and that is why she is my idol.

Bette Midler was born December 1st, 1945 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The third child of Fred and Ruth Midler. She was named for Bette Davis (her mother thought the last “e” was silent) and her family was the only white Jewish family in an all Japanese, Samoan, and Chinese neighborhood. Growing up, her family was very poor. Her father was a house painter in the navy and her mother stayed home and watched her 3 daughers. Bette never received the attention she needed from her father and it seemed like he was never there. When Bette was 6 years old, her mother had another child, Danny, who was mentally handicapped and that made the relationship between her and her father even more distant. When Bette was 11 years old she realized exactly what she wanted to do. She entered herself in a school talent contest and she sang “Lullaby of Broadway”. She won the 1st prize of 2 dollars and from then on knew she wanted to be a performer because she loved the response form her audience. Then her chance to become a star came when Bette was about 18 years old. The filming for the movie “Hawaii” came to Bette’s homeland and they were looking for extras to be in the film. Bette naturally did all she could to try and get cast, and sure enough she did! With the $1000 she was paid from that experience, she bought a one way ticket to New York City and never looked back.

Bette came to New York City in 1967 and had very little money to do anything. She quickly found herself a job working part time as a go-go dancer and part time in the library at Columbia University. With the money she was making from these small jobs she paid for acting and singing lessons while renting a small old apartment with a mattress that would make everyone’s back stiff and eating hamburgers every night. She dreaded going to her place so she would often walk around New York City all day and find little clubs to sing in and hope someone would discover her. She went through hell working in the clubs though. As soon as she would walk out from behind stage people would laugh and makes jokes because she was this little, not so glamorous, big nosed, person, and people couldn’t believe she was going to entertain them. Well, I must say, by the end of every performance, she left her audience with their mouths hanging open and maybe even with tears in there eyes. But the big-time record executives didn’t want anything to do with her because of the way she looked, and that always made her very sad. In 1968, Bette landed herself a part in the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof” and she was ecstatic when she got that job. She played that role for about a year until a tragedy happened and she knew she could never go back. One night in 1968 Bette’s oldest sister Judy flew in from Hawaii to come and see Bette perform and try to find work in New York as a movie writer. Well as Judy was on her way to see Bette she was struck by a speeding taxi and ended up pinned against a wall. She went just as fast as it takes to snap your fingers. Bette was called to identify the body, and it was her duty to call her family back in Hawaii and tell them the horrible news. It was the worst day of Bette’s life. After that, right before she did her show, there was always some kind of fear she had, where she thought something might happen. So she quit the cast of Fiddler because of the memories and couldn’t find work for 2 years. Until one day she walked into a club and after that her life changed forever.

Bette landed a job working at the “Continental Baths” in 1970. A place where gay men went to have a little fun. They loved her! Her shows were outrageous and comedic and she mostly sang ballads and torch songs. Bette soon became the talk of the town and everyone (mostly gay men, and woman) came to see what all the talk was at the Baths. After working there for about 5 months, Bud Friedman became her first manager and she started working at “The Improvisation” as well. People loved her. Then one night in 1971 as she was working at the Baths, Ahmet Ertegun, president of Atlantic records, catched her act and asked her to be apart of Atlantic records. She was of course thrilled!

Right after Bette was signed to Atlantic records she started immediately working on her first album. Also, ironically, Barry Manilow became her musical director and produced her first 2 albums. After her first album was released in November of 1972 she immediately became a hit. She won 2 Grammy’s that year for “Best New Artist” and “Best Album of the year”. She was on her way to superstardom. And at first, she was enjoying every second of it! But after her 3rd album was released around 1975 critics wrote terrible things about Bette. She took it very personal and left the business for a few years. She just needed a break. But when she returned she came back bigger and better then ever. She put together her show “Clams on the Half-Shell Revue” which sold out in every city and won Bette a special Tony award. Her shows were always the best and nobody is better than Bette on stage, in concert, under the lights, before an audience. It remains the purest and most elusive quality that Bette has, and it will probably always be that way. She toured the country for nearly 4 years with a few months in-between each tour for a break. She worked others hard, but she worked herself hardest. Each show showcased her dynamic talent and by the time 1979 rolled around she was ready for her first love again: Acting. She was cast in the “The Rose”, a production that would make Bette a bone fid movie star.

After Bette portrayed a Janis Joplin like character in the film “The Rose” (which won her 2 Golden Globes, an Oscar nomination and a Grammy for her hit song, “The Rose”) she was not only seen in the music industry as a first class singer, but she was now a first class movie star as well. But unfortunately that same year, before the film was released, Bette’s mother Ruth died from Breast cancer. A woman who so loved the movies and was thrilled with the success of her daughter never got to see Bette become a movie star. That really did break Bette’s heart. After the death of her mother, Bette began to sink again. After “The Rose” she did a picture called “Jinxed” which left her in a 6 month depression. She argued with the director and her co-star, Ken Wahl. She felt they were using there male egos against her. She was even slapped by her director, Don Seigel. And that was just filming; after the film was released hardly anyone said one good thing about it. It left Bette to drink and she fell apart. Until one night she walked into a bar and was introduced to a man that would change her life for the better.

His name was Martin Von Haselberg. A German born commodities trader and performance artist. After only 8 weeks of dating Bette and Martin were married in a little chapel in Las Vegas at 2 in the morning. After that point, her life would have a stable figure in it to never let her sink to the bottom any more. For about a year she couldn’t find work in Hollywood until Martin told her to be funny. She took his advice and it was probably the best thing that could have happened to her career. She starred in such movies as, “Down and Out in Beverly Hills”, “Ruthless People”, “Big Business”, “Outrageous Fortune” and “Beaches”. By the time 1988 rolled around Bette was said to be the highest paid actress in Hollywood. Everything she touched seemed to turn to gold. Then 2 weeks before her 41st birthday Bette gave birth to her first child, Sophie Frederica Alohilani von Haselberg. Now that’s a long name! But also that year she lost her father while she was Pregnant. After years and years of fighting she and her father finally came to peace and he actually told her he was proud of her. Which was very rare considering her father never saw one of her live shows, or one of her films. But finally Bette was actually feeling comfortable with her life. She had a loving husband and the daughter she had always dreamed of.

As Bette grew older she became much more involved with the importance of what life really ment. Her career was suddenly not her top priority anymore. She was more worried about how her daughter would get to school and who was making the dinner. When she moved to New York City she formed the New York Restoration Project which raises money to restore, maintain, and clean-up trashed parks in New York City. Bette has also become a fierce leader in the fight against AIDS because of all her friends who were taken because of the disease. Bette is someone in whom you would find qualities you find in a great friend: honesty, trustworthiness, and innate goodness. Bette has a heart and soul of gold. Her true personality echoes through her laughter and song. Her humanity and compassion seep through everything, even the risqué routines. I believe that is why everyone loves her so much…because she is human. After more then 30 years of show business one can only wonder what will be next for this Divine Diva. But I hope she won’t be going anywhere for awhile!