Bette Midler

Active - 1966 - 2022  |   Born - Dec 1, 1945 in Honolulu, Hawaii, United States  |   Genres - Comedy, Comedy Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Gloriously flamboyant American entertainer Bette Midler was born in Honolulu, HI, to the only Jewish family in the neighborhood. After dropping out of a drama class at the University of Hawaii, she took a tiny role in the 1966 film Hawaii, playing a seasick boat passenger (though it's hard to see her when viewing the film). Training for a dancing career in New York, Midler made the casting rounds for several months before finally winning a chorus role, and then the featured part of Tzeitel, in the long-running Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof.

It helps to do something well that no one else does, and Midler found her forte by singing at the Continental Baths, a gay hangout in New York. Most bath house performers were painfully bad, but Midler established herself by combining genuine talent with the tackiness expected of her. As the "Divine Miss M," Midler did an act consisting of campy (and dirty) specialty numbers; dead-on imitations of such earlier performers as the Andrews Sisters and Libby Holman; and the most outrageously revealing costumes this side of Bob Mackie. Soon she outgrew the bath houses and went on to nightclub and recording-artist fame, earning a Grammy Award in 1973. After several years of sell-out tours, Midler re-entered films as the star of The Rose, a 1979 film à clef loosely based upon the life and times of Janis Joplin. The film was a success, but it failed to establish Midler as a dramatic actress; audiences, particularly gay fans, still preferred the Divine Miss M.

Jinxed (1982), Midler's next film, lived up to its name with well-publicized production squabbles between Midler, the director, producers, and a few of her co-stars. Following the film's failure, Midler wasn't seen onscreen until she signed a contract with Disney in 1986. Establishing a new film identity as a character comedienne, Midler sparkled in Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), and was even better as a loudmouthed kidnap victim in Ruthless People (1987). Using her restored film stature, Midler set up her own production company and produced Beaches (1988), a pals-through-the-years saga that proved to be a four-hankie audience favorite. Once again attempting to establish herself as a tragedian, Midler starred in Stella (1989), a poorly-received remake of 1937's Stella Dallas. For the Boys (1992), offered Midler in tons of old-age makeup as a Martha Raye-style USO star (Raye responded to this "tribute" by suing the studio). The subsequent Scenes From a Mall (1991), which paired Midler with Woody Allen, and witchcraft fantasy Hocus Pocus (1993) also failed to truly showcase her talents. She rebounded somewhat in 1995 with a role in the wildly acclaimed Get Shorty, and had even greater success the following year co-starring with Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn in The First Wives Club. In 1999, Midler played herself in two films: the TV mockumentary Jackie's Back and Get Bruce!, a big-screen documentary about legendary comic writer Bruce Vilanch.

In addition to her film work, Midler still performs live concerts to sold-out crowds and continues to release albums, including Bathouse Bette, a tribute to her early singing days. In 1993, she scored an enormous success in a superb TV adaptation of the Broadway musical Gypsy. And, in 2000, Midler extended her talents to television, starring as herself in the aptly-named sitcom Bette. Though she would only appear in a handful of films over the next decade, Midler remained quite active on stage and television, even earning an Emmy nomination for Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On in 2011.

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  • Was the senior-class president in high school.
  • Appeared on Broadway in Fiddler on the Roof for three years, playing the part of eldest daughter Tzeitel.
  • Her sister Judith was killed by a taxi while visiting New York to see Bette perform on Broadway.
  • Developed her stage persona, the Divine Miss M, while performing at the Continental Baths, a gay men's bathhouse in New York City, with Barry Manilow accompanying her on piano.
  • Started the New York Restoration Project in 1995, working to restore parks, community gardens and other public spaces in New York City.
  • In 2000-01, starred in a short-lived CBS sitcom based on her life.
  • Premiered her Las Vegas show, The Showgirl Must Go On, in February of 2008 at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace; it ran for two years.