With an immensely successful triple-pronged career in music, comedy and the movies, Bette Midler has more than earned the sobriquet of The Divine Miss. Born and raised in Hawaii, the young Bette grew up in a predominantly Asian area and found herself in a minority of white children at Radford High School. She hid her natural shyness through her love of singing and the ebullient personality that would go on to characterise her career. After graduation she attended the University of Hawaii where she studied drama and also held down a factory job and a secretarial position in a local radio station. She made her screen debut as an extra in the 1966 Julie Andrews movie Hawaii before relocating to New York to pursue her dreams. Following minor parts in various off-Broadway productions she joined the cast of the successful Broadway musical Fiddler On The Roof and while initially in the chorus, in 1967 she climbed a few rungs and won the important role of Tzeitel, which she played for the next three years. Midler also began singing at Budd Friedman's late-night Improvisation Club where she met fellow struggling performer Billy Crystal (they would eventually work together on the 2012 movie Parental Guidance), and with Friedman acting as her manager she secured television appearances on the David Frost show, the Merv Griffin show and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Performing at Manhattan's Continental Baths, a popular gay meeting place, she was able to express her outrageous personality with exotic costumes informed by the golden age of Hollywood and a repertoire that included standards as well as modern rock songs. Her piano accompanist was also a young nascent singer/songwriter called Barry Manilow, and with him as her musical director she played a hugely popular ten-night engagement at New York's Downstairs At The Upstairs nightclub.
After starring in the Seattle Opera Company's stage adaptation of Pete Townshend's rock opera Tommy (playing both the Acid Queen and Mrs Walker with a quick set change) she recorded her impressive 1972 debut album The Divine Miss M which featured Manilow on piano as well as sharing the producer role with the legendary Ahmet Ertegun and Joel Dorn. The record was a huge success, with platinum sales and a chart placing of No 9 it also yielded three hit singles, the most notable of which was her Top 10 interpretation of the Andrews Sisters 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy'. Her self-titled second album was released the following year and produced by Manilow and Arif Mardin it became another huge seller and peaked at No 6 in the USA. Subsequent records Songs For The New Depression (1976) and Broken Blossom (1977) found Midler working with some of America's finest musicians and session players including Todd Rundgren, Luther Vandross, the Brecker Brothers, Eric Weissberg, Steve Gadd, Rick Derringer, Russ Kunkel, Lee Ritenour, Leland Sklar, Brenda Russell, Jim Keltner and Steve Porcaro with Bob Dylan and Tom Waits making guest appearances. Now established as a hugely successful recording artist, an outrageously popular nightclub singer, a concert attraction who could sell-out venues such as Carnegie Hall and an Emmy award winner for her 1977 debut television special Ol' Red Hair Is Back; there was only one major field left for her to conquer.
Making her debut in 1979's The Rose, a musical film inspired by the life of Janis Joplin, Midler proved that she was an actress of no small talent and her performance was nominated for an Oscar and won two Golden Globes, while the title track became a Top 3 single in the USA. Although the soundtrack was a massive hit, her next two solo releases Thighs And Whispers (1979) and No Frills (1983) were less successful and her subsequent dramatic movie role in Jinxed (1982) proved too prophetic. Midler's well-publicised arguments with both her co-star Ken Wahl and director Don Siegel lead the Hollywood establishment to close ranks and both her movie and her recording career stalled for several years. After suffering a nervous breakdown she took part in the 1985 USA For Africa charity single 'We Are The World' and appeared on the Philadelphia contribution to Live Aid. She finally made her movie comeback in the 1986 comedy Down And Out In Beverley Hills that marked the start of a run of similar films including Ruthless People (1986), Outrageous Fortune (1987) and Big Business (1988) as well as supplying voice acting for the Disney animated musical Oliver & Company (1988). Having formed her own All Girls Productions, her career was revitalised by her starring role in the 1988 comedy drama Beaches which featured several songs including 'The Wind Beneath My Wings' which topped the US charts, reached No 5 in the UK and won Grammy Awards for both Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year. Midler also released her first non-soundtrack album in seven years with 1990's Some People's Lives which became one of the biggest successes of her career reaching No 6 in the USA, No 5 in the UK and achieving worldwide sales in excess of seven million copies. The record also yielded the international hit single 'From A Distance', which garnered her, another Grammy for Song Of The Year and a No 2 slot on the American charts. Subsequent records and movies may have not scaled the heights of her most successful works but releases including Bette Of Roses (1995), Bette (2000) and Bette Midler Sings The Rosemary Clooney Songbook (2003) illustrate what a skilled interpreter of songs she remains, while movies such as For The Boys (1991) and The First Wives Club (1996) boosted her awards tally.
A true American icon, the much-loved Bette Midler has enjoyed enormous success in every area of her career; she has starred in a handful of truly great movies, released a number of enduring albums and singles and has entertained hundreds of thousands of concert goers with her singing and often ribald humour. There are few personalities so all-encompassing who have operated in such diverse areas of the performing arts that The Divine Miss M is a certified superstar.
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