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The Religious Affiliation of Singer, Actress, Comedian
Bette Midler was raised in a home with a strong Jewish identity. As an adult she has also clearly expressed a sense of Jewish self-identity, and regularly refers to herself as Jewish.
After achieving enormous success in as a recording artist, Broadway star, television star, and film star, Bette stated that happiness that comes from such success is fleeting, and not what is most important in life. She said (Mair, page 254): "The thing that's satisfying is your relationship with your God, your planet, your family, your friends and how you see beauty and how you see the world. You come down from that perch a little and give that up."
From: George Mair, Bette: An Intimate Biography of Bette Midler, Birch Lane Press/Carol Publishing Group: Secaucus, NJ (1995), page 6:
Chesty and Ruth Midler [Bette Midler's parents] left New Jersey for Hawaii and settled in Aiea... a suburb of Honolulu.
Mair, page 7:
...It was there, on December 1, 1945, that Bette Midler was born...
Bette and her sisters were among few white children in the school and the neighborhood. Her neighbors and classmates were mostly Hawaiians, Samoans, Chinese, Japanese and lots of rough and tough Filipinos...
Mair, page 8:
Two of [Bette Midler's] close friends were Jane Nakamura... and Judy Tokumara... in Mrs. Tyau's second-grade class. Jane said that, while Bette was the only haole [white person] in the class, "I never considered her any different [from the rest of us]." In fact, Judy added, most of the class hadn't a clue as to Bette's religion: "We never knew what Jewish was." As for Bette's later talk of all the Samoans in the neighborhood, "She always mentions Samoans," Judy said, "There weren't that many. We had a lot of Filipinos and Japanese, not too many Chinese."
Beyond that, both Jane and Judy didn't understand Bette's allusions to her unhappy childhood, because that's not how they remember her. "She was always a happy person..."
She [Bette Middler's mother when Bette was growing up] didn't like Aiea [her home town in Hawaii] because as one of the few Jewish women in an alien Asian culture, she felt forsaken. However, her loud and overbearing husband insisted their life was wonderful and the envy of everyone back home in Paterson [New Jersey]...
Mair, page 12:
Bette felt like an outsider. She said, "At the time I really hated it--I was an alien, a foreigner even though I was born there. I remember children being so cruel. You don't forget these things." Adapting to survive, Bette tried to deny she was Caucasian, passing herself off as Portuguese, which was more acceptable than being a haole.
As a father and a husband, Fred [Bette Midler's father] would not allow any "bad" girls in his home and, to that end, tried to control the behavior of his daughters. As teenagers, the three daughters had their own ideas, which did not mesh with Fred's concept of the cloistered and demure life he wanted them to lead.
Bette Midler's family apparently had a fairly strong Jewish identity while she was growing up. Mair, page 13:
In elementary school she [Bette Midler] found out that she wasn't pretty, she wasn't nonwhite, and she wasn't Christian. All of that counted against her, and she took a lot of grief from her classmates. "I was miserable," she said. "I guess it was because I looked like I do."
Mair, page 18:
Bette withdrew into her own private world of make-believe. Given her mother's enthusiasm over the lives show business people led [in fact, Bette was named after Bette Davis, although her name was always pronounced differently], Bette's make-believe drew her into performing, even in the first grade, where she won a prize for singing "Silent Night." Even this prize was the source of a problem for Bette because she was afraid to tell her parents that she had won it for singing a Christian carol. She knew her father would not be pleased, and it was a harbinger of the future that Bette's first stage recognition would be something that would have offended her father.
Bette remembers what it was like during those Christmas holidays. "We didn't have a Christmas tree, which would have made us normal in the eyes of the neighbors. They were all Christians and they had Christmas trees which they decorated to death. No matter how poor a family was, they would scrape together money and give their children the most wonderful Christmases"
When Bette moved on to high school, her life changed. "The school I went to was just like any high school anywhere--like a high school in Brooklyn or Cleveland--we had rock and roll, sock hops, American Bandstand, the same as everywhere else. The only thing different was that all the kids were Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Samoan, and all the girls hated me because I had such big boobs."
In high school Bette received only a quarter per week for allowance. A friend of hers invited her to go shoplifting with her. From: Mair, page 19:
"...But I didn't really like it. It was too terrifying. It hurt my nerves. I stopped and I've never stolen anything since. I would never, ever think of it. After my girlfriend and I took this makeup--lipsticks and hair dye--from the mall, we were on our way home with our little bags. It was pouring rain, we were in the middle of a hurricane, and my girlfriend I got down on our knees and said, 'God, if you don't kill us in this hurricane we swear we will never do this again.' We didn't die and we never did it again. I keep my vows."
Mair, pages 36-37:
[In New York City] The auditions and the temporary jobs--all part of the routine for aspiring actors--continued for months... the one show she kept auditioning for was the hottest ticket on Broadway at the time, Fiddler on the Roof, which had captivated audiences since its opening in 1964, two years earlier. Fiddler periodically put out open calls to replace cast members, and Bette showed up every time a call went out. She had the guts to keep trying out for the show even though the vacillation of the casting people drove her bonkers.
Mair, pages 40-41:
First, they thought this woman from Hawaii looked too Jewish, which raised an interesting question, since the musical is about Jews living in nineteenth-century Russia. To confirm that point and confound the confusion, the casting people then decided that Bette didn't look Jewish enough. Finally, after eight months of auditioning, Bette got a temporary spot in the chorus; she was twenty-one and ecstatic. It was 1966 and she made it to the Broadway stage.
Depressed when she was let go a little later because the chorus assignment was only an interim replacement, she went back to temporary jobs and the audition circuit, but then heard the role of the oldest daughter in Fiddler, Tzeitel, was available and called immediately for an audition appointment. She obviously knew the production and that gave her an advantage. Even better, she had been the understudy for Tzeitel's role during the time she had been in the chorus. However, before Bette showed for the audition, the casting director called her with a lesson about politics in the theater.
Bette recalled, "When the part opened up, Jerry Robbins [the musical's director] had to see all the girls up for it, but the lady who was casting didn't want me to have the job. She called me up two hours before the audition and said I didn't have a prayer. But if I didn't go in, she said, I could have the chorus job back."
Young as she was, Bette had become street-smart. She wondered to herself why the casting director felt she had to bribe her with the chorus job if the woman was telling the truth that she didn't have a chance of getting the Tzeitel role. Instantly, Bette knew something was fishy and said she was going to do the audition anyhow and hung up. She did and got the part.
In fact, the casting director had a friend in mind for the part and wanted to keep Bette away from the audition because she was too right for the role. It was a valuable lesson learned for Bette, but she probably didn't think much about it at the time, because now she was in an important feature role on Broadway--not bad for a little twenty-two-year-old from Hawaii who had only been in town two years!
The experience with singing God Bless the Child had a dramatic effect on how Bette viewed herself, but a career change and everything else was pushed out other mind in 1968, when she was twenty-three, because of what happened to her older sister Judy.
Bette Midler's career got its jumpstart when she accepted a job as a singer and entertainer in a "Turkish bath," a sort of spa for where gay men would use saunas and spas, and where they also met to have anonymous and promiscuous sexual encounters with. The club included a stage area where gay men, many of them wearing only towels, would watch Bette Midler perform. The audience and the performer developed something of a symbiotic relationship. She put on an incredible show unlike anything they had seen at the establishment, and they were wildly enthusiastic about her. Eventually, this Turkish bath where Bette performed became the "in" destination among New York City sophisticates. Women and non-GLBT, straight couples began attending, until some nights they made up the majority of the audience. Mair, pages 48-49:
Judy had followed her lead and fled Hawaii for a new life on the Mainland, going to San Francisco to work in film with the goal of becoming a filmmaker. At Bette's suggestion, Judy had come to New York to visit Bette while she was in her last year performing in Fiddler. Bette felt so comfortable and secure with her sister living nearby that, after appearing in Fiddler for a total of three years, she decided she would quit and pursue her solo acting career.
Then everything in Bette's life stopped suddenly and tragically. Judy had been walking on a Manhattan street on her way to meet Bette when a car came rocketing backward out of an underground garage and slammed her against a wall. The impact was unbelievably cruel and smashed the young woman's body almost to a pulp. The police called Bette from information in Judy's purse for the tragic task of making a positive I.D. other sister.
That trauma was followed by another when she called Hawaii and told her parents. In Honolulu her other sister, Susan, answered the phone, listened, and wordlessly gave the phone to her father. She recalled, "Bette spoke to him first and then it was passed around to all of us. It was a nightmare. I don't think my mother ever got over it."
Fred, Ruth, and Susan flew to New York for the funeral, joined by others from the Midler family in New Jersey. Marta Heflin, Bette's good friend from Fiddler, sat shivah -- a traditional seven-day Jewish mourning period after the funeral of a close relative -- with Bette. It is etched in Marta's memory how Bette, who loved Judy deeply, was so strong and in control during this tragic time.
"It was very interesting how she dealt with it," Marta said, "She didn't fall apart. She was the one keeping the family together, emotionally."
Certainly everyone was devastated by the tragedy, perhaps even more so because of the randomness of Judy's death and the freak nature of how she was killed and the gruesome result.
"It was very bad losing Judy," Fred Midler said later. "As I understand it, an auto came out of one of those indoor garages and smashed her right up against the wall. Mutilated her completely. The funeral directors wouldn't even permit us to view the body."
For most of the rest of 1968, Bette remained in a depression adjusting to the death of Judy. Her friend Marta was the one who helped her move on with her life. By this time, Marta was singing the lead in an Off-Broadway rock musical that was trying to attract the same audience that made Hair a smash. It was a Peter Link/ C. C. Courtney production called Salvation. When Marta got a chance to do her role with the Los Angeles company that was playing Salvation, she convinced the director, Paul Aaron, to substitute Bette for her.
Aaron described what happened at the audition. "She came in, walked down the aisle toward me and threw herself in my lap and said, 'Well, you may have seen a lot of girls before me, but you ain't never seen one the same as me.' And then she proceeded to absolutely blow me away. I thought, this is so special, so terrific, this makes me laugh, this is sexy and raunchy and wonderful. I wanted to hire her, so I had to tailor the role around her. With Marta, it was always the sex of the virgin. With Bette it was the sex of the vamp -- the whole Mae West, Sophie Tucker thing she later became famous for."
She got the role, of course, and left Fiddler vs. 1969 to take it. It was the kind of new opportunity and chance at growth that she wanted. She was twenty-four.
What had originally been slated as a two-month stint for Bette was extended again and again and ended up lasting twenty-eight months, with some performances elsewhere in between. But the Baths launched her singing career in a way that would resound over and over for her. "My career took off when I sang at the Continental Baths in New York. Those tubs became the showplace of the nation."
Bette Midler's career singing in the Continental Baths generated so much buzz that she was invited to appear on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, where a bemused Johnny interviewed her about where she performed, and quipped, "They don't have anything like that at my health club. All we have is a guy with a trained duck" (Mair, page 49). From: Mair, page 50:
Bette had... re-created herself as she had once managed to do in school in Hawaii, as one of her biographers, Mark Bego... wrote: "She would prance around on stage in platform shoes with a towel wrapped turbanlike around he head, pretending she was Carmen Miranda on speed. Bette Midler was discovering herself and her audience was discovering her ability to make them laugh at her crazy behavior and eclectic song choices. Just like she had done years before in grammar school, Bette was learning to bury her feelings of insecurity and unattractiveness in the laughter of others."
Her reputation spread like wildfire in the trendy New York gay community, which is always fascinated by what's new and what's in, and Bette Midler was both of those to her audience and, in some respects, to herself. "I was an ugly, fat little Jewish girl who had problems," she said. "I was miserable. I kept trying to be like everyone else, but on me nothing worked. One day I just decided to be myself. So I became this freak who sings in the tubs."
...After those first weeks of bonding at the Baths, the touchstone between her and her audience became the song she used to close her show, "I Shall Be Released," by Bob Dylan. It is a song of freedom, of rescue from oppression and bias. It is a song of great relevance for dominated women, for tyrannized minorities, for gay men who are trying to cope with their lives. It was a song of such poignancy that her audience listened to in rapt, tear-streaming silence and, when she came to the final note, leapt to their feet cheering. This explains why she became their Divine Miss M and why those gay fans spread the word throughout the entertainment and media community of Manhattan about this shining, crazy, randy entertainer who made you laugh and cry and yell.
On subsequent appearances on The Tonight Show--she made a total of seven during the next two years--Bette and Carson would banter back and forth, often double-entendres, that would send the audience into hysterics. Once she got into her hobby of raising houseplants and noted that she had a Venus flytrap: "I don't have any flies, so I gave it bacon. It spit it out! A Jewish Venus flytrap, I suppose."
Mair, pages 96-98:
Now an impulsive moment in Canada that had occurred when she was on tour in 1971 was about to ambush [Bette Midler's] career. A filmmaker who called himself, variously, Peter Alexander McWilliams, Peter Alexander, and Peter McWilliams convinced her to do a twelve-minute appearance in his sixteen-millimeter film satire of religion entitled A Story Too Often Told or The Greatest Story Overtold, which seemed to ridicule Jesus Christ and Christianity. Alexander/McWilliams sniffed big profits the minute Bette Midler became famous. It provided him with an opportunity to exploit the star's appearance, as others had when Hedy Lamarr swam nude in an early film... Midler was vulnerable and could be accused of being prejudiced, anti-Christian, and blasphemous, all of which would offend record buyers and concertgoers.
About Bette Midler's Clams on the Half Shell Revue, the Broadway show starring Bette Midler which began its run in April 1975. From: Mair, pages 104-105:
To exploit Midler's new stardom, Alexander/McWilliams needed to show the film commercially, and that meant borrowing forty thousand dollars to transfer the sixteen-millimeter movie onto the thirty-five-millimeter film used in movie house projectors. He did so and cast around for a place to exhibit it. His film suddenly surfaced in New York -- the stronghold of Bette's public support -- at the Festival Theater under a new title, The Divine Miss M, designed to capitalize on the Midler appearance. The advertisement promoting the film declared that the movie was made "in the tradition of Lenny Bruce and Woody Alien," and that it would open May 24 at the Festival Theater, Fifty-seventh Street and Fifth Avenue. Promoted as the world premiere of Bette Midler's film debut, the movie was hyped as "a religious satire -- MORE THAN A MOVIE -- It's a happening."
Bette was in France and not immediately aware of what was happening, but Russo was in New York. He instantly counterattacked by flooding the media with press releases and public statements attacking the exploitative nature of the film and the moral motives of the promoters. He worked behind the scenes to undercut the film's showing and made those connected with it contemplate
the cost of taking on an important star like Bette. Russo believed his aggressive and quick action saved Bette's career. For a Jewish woman performer to have offended Christian audiences by blaspheming Jesus Christ may have hurt Bette beyond rescue, but happily, because of Russo, it didn't happen that way.
Russo attacked on every front he could think of: legal, financial, and public relations. Legally he marshaled the lawyers to go into court and get an injunction. Alexander not only advertised in the newspapers, he ran radio ads on stations that played Midler records. Financially, Russo was in touch with Alexander to see if a deal could be made to squash the showing. And when the opening occurred, Russo personally picketed the theater wearing a sandwich board. As Russo recalls the incident:
Peter McWilliams had made this movie -- he's now a famous author. He made this thing, then tried to open it up on Fifty-sixth Street as her [Bette's] first feature film. They had full-page ads claiming it was her first feature. It was lies and she was hardly even in the movie.
Aaron won a little on several fronts. The legal action resulted in toning down the ads so that they didn't make the film sound like a Midler extravaganza, and the picketing choked off box-office sales. The film slunk out of town with little damage to the Midler reputation.
She was in France with her boyfriend, Gautier, which made me miserable because I was in love with her. Anyway, I made a sandwich board and went to the theater at eight in the morning because the first show was at noon. I hired a couple of other people to join me. Basically, the sandwich board said, "I'm Aaron Russo, Bette's manager, and this picture was made many years ago. Bette doesn't want you to see it and she's hardly even in it. Don't waste your money." I stood out there for six days in the rain. It was totally out of devotion. I felt it was my duty. She was my artist and I wanted to protect her.
What was really funny was business associates who would pass by -- because it was on Fifty-seventh Street, pretty busy street, and they'd look and almost be past me when they'd hear my voice and say, "Aaron, is that you?"
Four years later Peter McWilliams would write The Personal Computer Book, which became a runaway bestseller in the early 1980s, and he founded Prelude Press, a very successful self-publishing operation. Still, he continued to get involved in controversy, with the most notorious being his involvement and dedication to John-Roger, a former Rosemead (California) high school teacher who founded the Church of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness.
In 1978 McWilliams attended a personal growth seminar where he was introduced to John-Roger. Ten years later McWilliams was depressed about a friend who died from a rare form of tuberculosis and was scared he might have the disease. He turned to John-Roger, who promised to keep McWilliams alive and healthy if McWilliams would list John-Roger as coauthor of all the books he wrote and published and give him half of the profits.
"As amazing as it sounds," McWilliams said, "he actually had me believing he had power over life and death, health and illness. Realizing I actually believed all this stuff is humiliating."
It was so humiliating that McWilliams stopped paying the money to John-Roger, who is now suing him for $400,000. John-Roger is more recently noted for his connection with biographer Arianna Stassinopolous Huffington, the wife of California Senate candidate Michael Huffington. McWilliams's most recent book is Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society (1994).
When Clams opened, it surpassed the expectation of Bette, Russo, the cast, the audience, and the critics. It was impossible to find anyone who did not love the show and adore Bette for her versatile talent. Bette was caught up in her own excitement of a production that she relished, "the most mind-bogglingly, stupendous production ever conceived and built around one poor small five-foot-one-and-a-half-inch Jewish girl from Honolulu. All of a sudden I'm a whole industry. People run, they fetch, they cary, they nail, they paint, they sew... Do you know what this is? It's a celebration of the sexual rites of a New Yorker!"
Mair, page 106:
The first act ended with a dramatic illusion created by bringing down one of the far-upstage curtains to reveal the New York skyline with the Empire State Building prominently displayed in the foreground, as seen in the classic picture showing King Kong clinging to the tower. The Harlette's were downstage singing "Optimistic Voices" from The Wizard of Oz and slipping in lines from "Lullaby of Broadway." In front of this eclectic extravaganza, a huge mechanical device made to look like King Kong's giant hand swung forward with the prostrate Bette sprawled in a nightgown and high-heeled slippers dangling over the edge. It appeared that Bette was asleep, but then, suddenly waking, she exclaimed, "Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein!" (he was Fanny Brice's boyfriend in Funny Girl) and immediately swung into a pounding rendition of "Lullaby of Broadway" with the full support of the Harlettes. It left the audience weak with laughter and an emotional high...
About Bette Midler's 1976 HBO special, from: Mair, page 117:
In the show [Bette Midler's Clams on the Half Shell Revue], Bette was not only the nutty Fay Wray [the Mormon actress whose best known role was as the screaming starlet in King Kong] dealing with King Kong, a swinging Joan of Arc, a satire of Barbra, Liz, Tiny Tim, Mae West, Tiny Turner, Sophie Tucker, Janis Joplin, and Don Rickles, but she turned into a takeoff of Bette herself. One of her choice pieces was the sketch about her upcoming porno movie, which was a spoof of Emmanuelle, a real semiporno production in the art theaters during that era. Bette called hers Temple Emmanuelle and told the audience it was about a Jewish girl who was always on the make. All of this offbeat humorous material was accompanied with the renditions of Billie Holiday's poignant blues. The revue ended with a full-voiced production of Bette and a gospel choir, the Michael Powell Ensemble, singing "Gone at Last."
This was followed by another comedy routine, in which she said she was going to do a sequel to the erotic movie Emmanuelle, called Temple Emmanuelle, in which there was a lot of kissing of mezuzahs (a tube containing a household blessing that many Jews attach to the front door of their home). She also noted that in her film, a woman had an unspeakable liaison with a kreplach (a turnover or dough pocket with chopped chicken liver or other fillings served in soup).
About Bette Midler's 1978 NBC television special Ol' Red Head Is Back. From: Mair, page 126:
She next went into a play on the word kreplach, saying it was a person who lived in a small Baltic country and that, occasionally, a kreplach escaped to the West.
The executives at NBC watching from the control booth were terrified she would [use unairable vulgar language] on air... She cleaned up the act, toning down the langauge... Still, the sexual overtones were there, thus maintaining the Midler flavor. She urged the Harlettes to try staying vertical at least until the first commercial, and when she ended up her rendition of "In the Mood" lying on her back on the floor, she slyly commented to the camera, "My favorite position. How does Marie Osmond do it?" [This was a reference to the famous, clean-living Latter-day Saint singer and television star.]
Mair, page 128:
The only major medium left for her to conquer [after her NBC television special] was films, and she had had only two experiences in that medium, the bit part in Hawaii that indirectly launched her career in New York and the disastrous cheapo satire of Jesus Christ [The Thorn (also known as The Divine Mr. J.), directed by Peter McWilliams, a.k.a. Peter Alexander] that almost torpedoed her career in New York.
Mair, pages 176-178:
Bette and [offbeat performance artist] Harry Kipper first met in 1982, but neither was attracted to the other. In fact, at the time, he had no idea who Bette Middler was. When they met again while going to clubs in Los Angeles in 1984, it was instant chemistry and they saw each other full-time for two months. He proposed to her on Saturday night, she said yes, and soon after they were driving from her Los Angeles home to Las Vegas. It was Sunday morning at two A.M. when they got there, but the marriage license bureau in Vegas is open twenty-four hours a day, and they soon had the license and drove to Caesar's Palace. After they checked in, they changed clothes and went out in search of an all-night wedding chapel. They selected the Candlelight Wedding Chapel, where, to a tape of Juliet of the Spirits, a minister who moonlighted as an Elvis impersonator joined the two lovers as man and wife, Mrs. and Mrs. Martin von Haselberg, on December 16, 1984. ["Harry Kipper" was von Haselberg's stage name.]
Bette said she nightly expressed gratitude to God (or whoever) for her marriage, apparently in a 1986 interview, from: Mair, page 179:
"The Elvis impersonator was an accident," Bette later told her friends. "We wanted to get married quickly, and Vegas sounded like a good place to do it. We didn't know he was an Elvis impersonator till the end of the ceremony when he handed us his single. It was the Chapel of Twilight or something. We had fun. We got all dressed up... The long drive to Vegas had been a lot of laughs. But the long drive back from Vegas was kind of quiet. We were fairly shaken. We went there on a lark, but now it was going to be real."
The Midler career, idling in neutral in 1984 after the disaster of her 1982 movie Jinxed, was essentially shut down for the next several months while the newlyweds got to know each other and consummated their marriage. harry, for example, didn't know Bette had been born in Hawaii and had never seen any of her movies or stage productions and was only barely acquainted with her albums...
When one reporter asked Bette why she was rarely seen in public during this time, she responded, "Why go out? The only reason you go out is to find someone to bring home."
One of the most sensitive issues the two had to face was their respective ethnic origins, since Harry was German and Bette Jewish and very uncomfortable with the whole Nazi experience. She had even been nervous about touring in Germany.
"I have to say it was a trouble spot," Bette said after the wedding. "Harry has shown great restraint and patience when I've talked to him about it. He says all Germans don't hate Jews and he does insist upon it. I'm still not comfortable being in Germany. . . . The truth is that even if we were married forever, I don't think he could change my mind about it. But I don't resent him because of his nationality. He is an individual first and the citizen of a country last."
"Since I got married [in 1984], I say every night, 'Thank you' to God or whoever it is who's listening up there. The word blessing: I never paid much attention to i, but I've been so happy the last year, in a way I didn't think was humanly possible."
Mair, page 218:
Bette was in two movies in 1990, John Erman's Stella and Paul Mazursky's Scenes From a Mall. Scenes From a Mall was a curious movie in many ways and, gratefully, it disappeared from movie screens all around America faster than ice cream at a kids' party. The subject was not one that most audiences appreciated since it centered around domestic discord in a Jewish couple's marriage with much of it filmed in what was supposed to be a multilevel mall in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in West Los Angeles' Fairfax District called The Beverly Center.
Bette Midler stated that while she still has many gay (GLBT) fans, much of that segment of her audience is now dead because they died from AIDS. Mair, page 248:
Only the exteriors were shot there, however, since Woody Allen hates Los Angeles and refused to spend more than a few days there making the film. All the interior shots were done, to accommodate Mr. Allen's Angelesophobia, at a mall in Connecticut. Bette said she loved working with Woody. Woody has been silent on whether or not he loved working with Bette, but the film was not a success for many reasons. It is about domestic discord which most people have enough of at home and aren't willing to pay $7.50 to see on the big screen; it was very Jewish, which has a limited audience in most parts of America; and, it was awkwardly done in spots.
Bette did not need the tour to prove that she was a star. And at forty-seven, she had achieved a lot in her lifetime. Personally, she was fulfilled, with a wonderful, but eccentric, husband; he daughter, the headstrong Sophie; and a wonderful Beverly Hills home. She did the tour because she felt "out of touch with my audience. I mean, who is my audience these days? A lot of the old fans from the [early days] are gone from AIDS. But then a lot of the really young girls who loved Beaches are going to see the show out of curiosity." Moreover, Bette was a performer, and audiences are her life and her energy source. She needed to draw power from their presence and interaction.
Bette Midler had a lucrative five-picture deal with Disney, but she wouldn't do every project they pitched to her, including Sister Act, which she feared would make fun of Catholicism. In hindsight, most Catholics do not find Sister Act to be offensive at all. It celebrates Catholic nuns more than makes fun of them, but Bette Midler's caution is understandable given her previous experience. From: Mair, pages 267-267:
Sister Act was a good example of the kind of pictures Disney wanted Bette to do that Bette didn't want to do. The plot involves a woman who is witness to some mob activity and becomes a murder target to keep her from testifying in court. Because of some corrupt cops who keep revealing her hiding places, a police detective places her in a convent where she pretends to be a nun and, while there, revitalizes the moribund institution. Disney executives thought this idea was a riot and perfect for Bette. On the other hand, Bette didn't like the script and was nervous about making fun of Catholicism after the Divine Miss J [Peter McWilliams/Peter Alexander's film The Thorn, a.k.a. The Divine Mr. J.] incident in New York when Russo had come to her rescue. She thought, "Does a Jewish pop singer really want to make of the Catholic Church?" So she backed away from it, and it went to Whoopi Goldberg.
Mair, page 232:
Bette doesn't make many public appearances anymore because she has concentrated her life on her home and family, with her career being mostly in movies. "I really have decided that the outside world doesn't have a lot to offer. You have to make your own heaven in your own home. How many after-hours bards can you go to? How many vodka gimlets can you drink?"
Mair, page 254:
Married seven years by this time, Bette and Harry admitted to some rough times adjusting to marriage in the early years because of different upbringings and different personalities. She is a yeller like her father, and Harry is quiet like his father. She felt she had married the best person she knew who wanted to marry her.
For seven critical years in Bette Middle's career, following her early successes at the Continental Baths and the small-club circuit in the 1970s, Aaron Russo came into he life and took charge of making her a star. It was standard fare in the stories told about the two that Bette demanded that Russo make her a "legend." Bette said later that the stories weren't quite on the mark:
I didn't tell him to make me a legend. I said I wanted to be one. I said I didn't want to be nothing. What's the point of being in something that you love so much and only being a cipher in it? I wanted to be a phenomenon... I was into it. He really wanted to do the same thing because success is a game. It's a big game. It's like everybody's playing to win. And everybody wants to be a winner. So you're constantly jockeying for position. And constantly looking for a way to get ahead of the other person. Until you grow up enough to know it's not really very satisfying.
The thing that's satisfying is your relationship with your God, your planet, your family, your friends and how you see beauty and how you see the world. You come down from that perch a little and give that up. You can't eat your newspaper clippings. And you can't take your newspaper clippings to bed. It's really not that satisfying.
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