Bette Midler (born December 1, 1945) is an American singer, actress and comedian, also known (by her informal stage name) as The Divine Miss M. She has starred in live-action films such as Ruthless People and Hocus Pocus, as well as featuring in animated films such as Oliver & Company and Fantasia 2000.
Midler was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is the daughter of seamstress/housewife Ruth (née Schindel) and house painter Fred Midler, who worked at a Navy base in Hawaii. Her parents were from Paterson, New Jersey and moved to Honolulu before Midler was born. She was named after the actress Bette Davis, though Davis pronounced her first name in two syllables, and Midler uses one, /ˈbɛt/. Midler’s family was one of the few Jewish families in a mostly Asian neighborhood. She was raised in Aiea and attended Radford High School in Honolulu. She was voted in Hoss Election 1961 “Most Talkative” and in her Senior Year (Class of 1963) “Most Dramatic”. She majored in drama at the University of Hawaii (though she only attended for three semesters) and earned money in the film Hawaii (released in 1966) as an extra, playing a seasick passenger named Mrs David Buff in the film.
Midler married Martin Von Haselberg on December 16, 1984, roughly 6 weeks after meeting him for the first time. Their daughter Sophie was born on November 14, 1986.
In the summer of 1965, Midler relocated to New York City, using the money from having worked as an extra in the film Hawaii. She landed her first professional onstage role in Tom Eyen‘s Off-Off-Broadway plays in 1965, Miss Nefertiti Regrets and Cinderella Revisited, a children’s play by day and an adult show by night. From 1966 to 1969, she played the role of Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway; tragically, during this period, her sister Judith, visiting New York to see her perform, was killed by a taxi cab.
In the summer of 1970, Midler began singing in the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse in the city, where she became close to her piano accompanist, Barry Manilow. He later produced her first album, 1972’s The Divine Miss M. It was during her time at the Continental Baths that she built up a core following. In the late 1990s, during the release of her album Bathhouse Betty, Midler commented on her time performing there:
- “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.”
In 1971, Midler starred in the first professional production of The Who‘s rock opera Tommy with director Richard Pearlman and the Seattle Opera. It was during the run of Tommy that Midler was asked to appear on The Tonight Show. She proved to be so popular that her career immediately skyrocketed. Midler released her debut album The Divine Miss M on Atlantic Records in December 1972. It streaked into Billboard’s Top 10 and became a million-selling Platinum-certified album, making her a star in the process and earning Midler the 1973 Grammy Award for Best New Artist. It featured three hit singles with “Do You Want To Dance?“, “Friends“, and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” which became Bette’s first #1 Adult Contemporary hit. Bette’s self titled follow-up album was released at the end of 1973. It also zoomed into Billboard’s Top 10 and eventually sold close to a million copies in the United States alone. Midler returned to recording with the 1976 and 1977 albums, Songs for the New Depression and Broken Blossom, which confirmed her position as one of the most diversified and versatile talents in the industry.
Bette and the “Delores and the DeLago sisters” performing ” Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” live in Las Vegas.
In 1975, she received a Special Tony Award for her contribution to Broadway with Clams on the Half Shell Revue playing at the Minskoff Theater. From 1975–1978, she also provided the voice of Woody the Spoon on the PBS educational series Vegetable Soup.
In 1977, Midler’s first television special, Ol’ Red Hair is Back, premiered, featuring guest stars Dustin Hoffman and Emmett Kelly. It went on to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Special – Comedy-Variety or Music.
In 1979, Midler made her first motion picture, starring in the 1960s-era rock and roll tragedy The Rose, as a drug-addicted rock star modeled after Janis Joplin. That year she also released her fifth studio album; Thighs and Whispers. Midler’s first foray into disco was a commercial and critical failure and went on to be her all-time lowest charting album, peaking at #65 on the Billboard album chart. Soon afterward she left to go on a world concert tour, with one of the shows (in Pasadena) being filmed and released as the concert film Divine Madness. Also in 1980, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Rose, for which she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress (Comedy or Musical). The film’s acclaimed soundtrack album sold over two million copies in the United States alone, earning a Double Platinum certification. The single version of the song held the #1 position on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart for five consecutive weeks and reached #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100. It earned Midler her first Gold single and won the Grammy award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.
“New York New York”
In 1981, Midler worked on the troubled project Jinxed! It was a comedy, but during its production, she did not get along with her co-star (Ken Wahl) or the film’s director (veteran Don Siegel). Released in 1982, the film was a major flop. Midler would appear in no other films till 1986, and during those four years, she concentrated on her music career. In 1983 she released the album No Frills, produced by Chuck Plotkin, best known for his work with Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. The album included three single releases: the ballad “All I Need To Know“, a cover of Detroit native Marshall Crenshaw‘s “My Favorite Waste of Time” – which Midler fell in love with after flipping his 45 of “Someday Someway” – and Midler’s take on the Rolling Stones cover “Beast of Burden“. The rock and New Wave album went on to become Midler’s third lowest charting album in the US, yet surprisingly went on to become her highest selling album to date in Continental Europe and Scandinavia, as well as West Germany.
Here’s Bette Midler singing “Chattanooga Choo Choo” from one of her very early Tonight Show appearances starring Johnny Carson. She also sings “Red” from her 1977 album Broken Blossom.
Features Barry Manilow.
In 1985, she was a performer on USA for Africa‘s fund-raising single “We Are the World,” and participated at the ‘Live Aid‘ event at JFK stadium in Philadelphia. Also in 1985, she signed a multi-picture deal with Touchstone Pictures. She was subsequently cast by director Paul Mazursky in Down and Out in Beverly Hills, beginning a successful comedic acting career. She followed that with Ruthless People (1986), Outrageous Fortune (1987), and Big Business (1988). She scored a hit with the 1988 tearjerker Beaches, co-starring Barbara Hershey. The accompanying soundtrack remains Bette’s all-time biggest selling disc, reaching #2 on Billboard’s album chart and with US sales of four million copies. It featured her biggest hit, “Wind Beneath My Wings“, which went to #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, achieved Platinum status, and won Midler her third Grammy Award – for Record of the Year – at the 1990 telecast.
Midler lent her voice to the animated character Georgette, a snobbish poodle, in Disney’s Oliver & Company (1989). In 1990, she co-starred with Woody Allen in Scenes from a Mall, again for Mazursky. Also in 1990 Bette’s “From A Distance” was another chart-topping Platinum single for her. She earned another Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for 1991’s For the Boys, co-starring with James Caan and directed by Mark Rydell, who had also directed The Rose. For the latter she was awarded another Golden Globe for Best Actress (Comedy or Musical). She reportedly turned down the lead role in 1992’s Sister Act, which instead went to Whoopi Goldberg.
“In The Mood”
Other films include Stella (1990), Hocus Pocus (1993), The First Wives Club (1996), and The Stepford Wives (2004). Her television work includes an Emmy-nominated version of the stage musical Gypsy and a guest appearance as herself in Fran Drescher‘s The Nanny.
Midler won an Emmy Award in 1992 for her memorable performance on the next-to-last episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in May 1992; during which she sang an emotion-laden “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” to Johnny Carson. Another memorable event occurred that night, Midler began singing “Here’s That Rainy Day“, Carson’s favorite song. Carson then joined a few lyrics later, and a piano soon after. She appeared on Seinfeld in the episode “The Understudy,” which was the season finale of that show’s sixth season in 1995.
“Lullaby of Broadway”
Her 1997 HBO special Diva Las Vegas earned her a third Emmy Award, for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Music Program.
In 1995 & 1999, she reached #1 on the US Dance Charts with remixes of her hits “To Deserve You” on Atlantic and “I’m Beautiful” on Warner Brothers Records.
“Soph” in Las Vegas
Midler has guest-starred in various sitcoms over the years, including The Simpsons in the episode “Krusty Gets Kancelled” (she is first seen traversing a highway picking up trash when she is approached by Bart and Lisa with a request for Midler to appear on a show to revive Krusty‘s dying career). She also appeared on The Nanny in the aptly titled episode “You Bette Your Life”. In 2000, Midler starred in her own sitcom, Bette. Airing on CBS, initial ratings were high but soon declined and the show did not last a full season, being cancelled in early 2001. During the show’s short lifespan, Bette’s daughter (played by Lindsay Lohan in the pilot, then by Marina Malota starting with the third episode) and her husband were recast (Robert Hays succeeded Kevin Dunn in the final episode aired). The show was also reportedly rocked by backstage turmoil.
Also in 2001, Bette or Bust, a book chronicling Midler’s “Divine Miss Millennium Tour”, was released.
“Miss Otis Regrets”
Midler has won three Grammy Awards. Her rendition of the 1990 “From a Distance” also earned a Grammy award (for the song’s composer Julie Gold), and became her longest running #1 – six consecutive weeks – on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. It also reached #2 Pop and was another Platinum-selling single for Bette. When the American Film Institute announced “The 100 Years of the Greatest Songs” on June 22, 2004, two of Midler’s recordings were selected by the board: “Wind Beneath My Wings” (#44) and “The Rose” (#83). However, after years of erratic record sales, Midler was dropped from the Warner Brothers label in 2001, after nearly three decades with Warner Music Group.
“The Glory of Love”
After a reported long-standing feud with Barry Manilow, the two joined forces for the first time in years in 2003 to record Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook. Of the project, Manilow said he’d had a dream that he was recording with Midler again, so he called her up with the idea and she agreed that it was due time to work together again. Now signed to Columbia Records, the album was an instant success, being certified gold in only a few weeks. One of the Clooney Songbook selections, “This Ole House,” became Midler’s first Christian radio single shipped by Rick Hendrix and his positive music movement. The album was nominated for a Grammy the following year.
Bette Midler, Cher and Elton John
In 2003–2004, Midler toured the U.S. in her new show, Kiss My Brass, to sell-out audiences. In early 2005, an Australian tour, Kiss My Brass Down Under, was equally successful. Midler joined forces again with Manilow for another tribute album, Bette Midler Sings the Peggy Lee Songbook. Released in October 2005, the album sold 55,000 copies the first week of release and returned Midler to the Top 10.
In 2006, a new Christmas album Cool Yule was released by Midler featuring the title song (written by Steve Allen) and a duet with Johnny Mathis of “Winter Wonderland/Let It Snow“. Midler next starred in the 2007 film Then She Found Me, directed by Helen Hunt and starring Hunt, Matthew Broderick and Colin Firth, and appeared on the American Idol season 6 finale, singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” live at the Kodak Theatre.
Yankee Stadium for 9/11
On December 6, 2007, Midler’s album Cool Yule received a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
Midler has a Vegas show titled “Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On” at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. The show comprised The Staggering Harlettes, twenty female dancers and a thirteen piece band. Midler was reportedly paid $40 million per year for her 200 shows. The show debuted on February 20, 2008 and played its final performance on January 31, 2010 after a two year run.
With Wynonna Judd, “The Rose”
A new “best of” album, Jackpot: The Best Bette, was released in 2008 and reached #66 on the U.S. charts, and #6 in the U.K., where it was certified Platinum.
December 2009 saw Bette Midler appear on the British Royal Variety Performance in front of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. She performed “In My Life” and “Wind Beneath My Wings” (also known as “Hero”) as the closing act.
More recently, Midler reportedly confirmed that she will be releasing a new album of love songs entitled Leavin’ Las Vegas sometime in 2010. In October 2009, at her annual Halloween Ball, she spoke about the track saying that it would be a track accompanied by a ukelele, written and composed for her by Julie Gold, who had also contributed “From A Distance” to Midler’s repertoire. The title was derived from the only song Bette knew as a young singer.
On her new album, Bette has recorded a duet with her old friend Barry Manilow called “The Show Must Begin”, as well as duets with Richard Marx, newcomer Estelle and the legendary Gladys Knight on the track “I Can Freak 2”. Gladys joined Bette on stage in Las Vegas for her last show in 2010, where they talked about their duet.
Her new album has been delayed and pushed back because she has parted ways with her record label.
Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, IMDB.com, bettemidler.com