Nationality: American. Born: Honolulu, Hawaii (some sources say Paterson, New Jersey), 1 December 1945. Education: Attended the University of Hawaii; studied acting at the Berghof Studio. Family: Married Martin von Haselberg, 1984, daughter: Sophie. Career:
Hawaii (George Roy Hill) (as passenger)
Goodbye, Columbus (Peerce) (bit part)
The Divine Mr. J (Alexander—filmed record of 1969 off-Broadway musical Salvation ) (as the Virgin Mary)
The Rose (Rydell) (as Rose)
Divine Madness! (Ritchie—filmed record of a concert)
Jinxed! (Siegel) (as Bonita Friml)
Down and Out in Beverly Hills (Mazursky) (as Barbara Whiteman); Ruthless People (Abrahams) (as Barbara Stone)
Outrageous Fortune (Hiller) (as Sandy Brozinsky)
Big Business (Abrahams) (as Sadie Ratliff/Sadie Shelton); Oliver & Company (Scribner—animation) (as voice of Georgette); Beaches (Garry Marshall) (as C. C. Bloom, + co-mus, co-pr)
Stella (Erman) (as Stella Claire)
For the Boys (Rydell) (as Dixie Leonard, + co-pr); Scenes from a Mall (Mazursky) (as Deborah Fifer)
Hocus Pocus (Ortega) (as Winifred Sanderson); Gypsy (Ardolino—for TV) (as Rose Hovick); Earth and the American Dream (Couturie—doc) (voice only)
Get Shorty (Sonnenfeld) (as Doris)
The First Wives Club (Hogan)
Bette Midler in Concert: Diva Las Vegas (Callner) (as herself + ex pr); That Old Feeling (Carl Reiner) (as Lilly Leonard)
Isn't She Great (Bergman) (as Jacqueline Susann); Get Bruce (Kuehn) (as herself); Jackie's Back (Robert Townsend) (as herself)
What Women Want (Nancy Meyers)
A View from a Broad , New York, 1980.
The Saga of Baby Divine , New York, 1983.
Interview in Interview (New York), no. 11, 1974.
Interview in American Film (Washington, D.C), September 1978.
Interview in Films Illustrated (London), March 1981.
Interview in Photoplay (London), February 1982.
Interview in Hollywood Reporter , 50th Anniversary Issue, 1986.
Interview in Radio Times (London), 1 June 1991.
Interview in Radio Times (London), 9 December 1995.
Interview in Premier (New York), September 1996.
Spada, James, The Divine Bette Midler , New York, 1984.
Bego, Mark, Bette Midler, Outrageously Divine: An Unauthorized Biography , New York, 1987.
Collins, Ace, Bette Midler , New York, 1989.
Mair, George, Bette: An Intimate Biography of Bette Midler , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1995.
Waldman, Allison J., The Bette Midler Scrapbook , 1997.
Current Biography 1973 , New York, 1973.
Films and Filming (London), February 1980.
Time Out (London), 9 September 1987.
Worrell, Denise, in Icons: Intimate Portraits , New York, 1989.
Revue du Cinéma (Paris), February 1989.
"Bette Midler," in Film Dope (London), January 1990.
Holden, Stephen, "The Two Sides of Bette Midler, Mushy and Divine," in New York Times , 16 July 1995.
* * *
Bette Midler represents one of the best examples of a movie star during the sharply focused business mentality of the "New Hollywood" of the 1980s. Developing a persona based on eight previous years of hit records and sold-out concerts, Midler became one of the major film stars of the late 1980s (in 1986 and 1988 she ranked as the top female box-office attraction).
Before entering the film industry, Midler established a devout following focused on her singing and an outrageous personality modeled after Mae West, Sophie Tucker, and Rosalind Russell. Known as "The Divine Miss M," she projected an image of brassy vulgarity, aggressive humor, and bawdy sexuality. Not surprisingly, her film debut as The Rose (constructed as a "fictionalized biography" of Janis Joplin) emphasized these traits. Besides showcasing her well-known talents as a singer/comedienne, the film also demonstrated she could act; she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. After the ironically titled Jinxed! nearly ended her film career, Midler signed an exclusive contract with Disney (Touchstone Pictures) in 1985. While working for Disney, Midler achieved her greatest success, mostly because she also began to modify her image. Her first six Touchstone films tamed and contained her earlier over-the-top persona to fit the Disney mold and appeal to a wider audience. Midler's characters begin as vulgar, abrasive, and egocentric, but end, after contact with characters exhibiting opposing qualities, as genteel, ingratiating, and cooperative. In Down and Out in Beverly Hills she plays a crass, nouveau riche housewife struggling with sexual frigidity. Once "cured" by a homeless man, she softens and contributes to the fight against social inequality. In Ruthless People she starts as an unattractive, ostentatious, spoiled, and loudmouthed heiress whose contact with working-class kidnappers reveals generosity, beauty, and self-assured independence. In Outrageous Fortune , her vulgarity and overt sexuality become refined and romantic after a series of adventures with an upper-class actress. This interplay between opposites receives its fullest expression in Big Business . Midler plays identical twins separated at birth: one a demure daydreamer and the other a ruthless business executive. Each adopts qualities of the other to produce two well-balanced individuals.
Big Business also signaled Midler's move away from comedy and into melodrama. Both Beaches and Stella functioned as "Women's Films," using a strong, well-known star to address notions of friendship, romance, children, work, self-sacrifice, and death. The synthesis of contradictory personality traits remains however. In Beaches , an independent, extroverted celebrityhood turns into a mature sense of private responsibility when her best friend dies and she adopts the orphaned daughter. The film also featured Midler's No. 1 Grammy award winning song ("The Wind beneath My Wings") reinforcing her legacy as a singer. In Stella (the third film adaptation of Olive Higgins Prouty's Stella Dallas ), Midler arranges for her daughter's upward social mobility by sacrificing their relationship. These two films, with their emphasis on romance, work, and children, occurred soon after the birth of her daughter. To make the point even clearer, Midler also played "Mother Earth" on an Earth Day 1990 television special.
This maternal inflection of her star image manifests itself in her most recent films. In Hocus Pocus , she parodies herself as a witch who must sacrifice children for her own immortality. In Gypsy (a remake of the Rosalind Russell film), she plays the ultimate stage mother whose obsessive nature nearly alienates her daughter; the songs are also tailor-made for Midler's typical performance style. For the Boys is perhaps the most revealing of her recent films. Produced by her own company (All Girls Productions), the film combines ribald humor, song and dance, and maternal melodrama. Tracing 50 years in the life of a very popular entertainer and her relationship to her husband, son, and partner, the film highlights and synthesizes every facet of Midler's stardom (and resulted in her second Oscar nomination for Best Actress).
Midler continues to record music, tour, write, and star in films and television specials (her farewell song to Johnny Carson, "Dear Mr. Carson," was the highlight of Carson's televised retirement and won her an Emmy). This ability to successfully perform in a number of interrelated media should secure her stardom in the even more business-oriented Hollywood of the twenty-first century.
—Greg S. Faller