Bette Midler joins Miley Cyrus, Joan Jett and Sammy Hagar as a mentor on NBC's 11th season of THE VOICE. That new season starts September 19th. When the news broke, a couple of my young friends responded, "Really?" I declared an affirmative "Yes" as a response. I have a feeling that my younger friends -- early 40s and under -- know the Bette Midler of movies like BEACHES and her 1980s recordings of "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "From A Distance."
This redhead was one energetic entertainer sure to rise to stardom. She had the 70s rock vibe but the soul of an old show biz trouper. She sang with Bing Crosby and with Bob Dylan. In concert, she could belt out a rock tune like nobody's business, have you doubled over with laughter at her bawdy X-rated jokes and then break your heart with a rendition of John Prine's "Hello In There." She was naughty, lovable and, above all, talented giving you an evening of "tit and wit." Her devoted gay audience grew to include what we called "mainstream" fans.
I've seen contemporary acts in concert, at The Grammys and other music shows. Few can match or top those early Bette Midler shows. She combined spectacle with smarts. You could not be stupid at her shows and get her hysterically funny references that ranged from pop culture and current show biz gossip to classic films such as CITIZEN KANE and the classic poetry of England's John Milton. A perfect example of this is the 2-record live recording of her Cleveland concert, BETTE MIDLER: LIVE AT LAST.
In future film roles, when her stardom had been secured, Midler wouldn't often be as raw and vulnerable. She'd occasionally be like a comedy writer Bruce Vilanch version of a character played by Bette Midler the star. There would be touches of Bette "business" winking at you. Think of BEACHES or her STELLA DALLAS remake, 1990's STELLA . In 1979, a new talent named Bette Midler totally and bravely gave herself over to the character called The Rose. And the results were fascinating to see.
The Best Actress Oscar went to Sally Field, the favorite, for NORMA RAE. By then a Hollywood veteran, Field had been the star of two 1960s youth market ABC sitcoms and then was pretty much regarded as fluff by snobbish Hollywood. She reinvented herself to tremendous critical acclaim in the dramatic 1976 NBC mini-series SYBIL as a schizophrenic young woman abused in childhood and now battling a multiple personalities disorder. Later, the NORMA RAE film role brought her just about every major entertainment prize short of the Soul Train Music Award. She'd won Hollywood's respect along with her first Oscar.
If Sally Field hadn't won, the Oscar should've gone to Bette Midler for THE ROSE. Yes, today's young pop/rock vocalists hoping to be discovered can learn a thing or two about singing -- and about acting -- from The Divine Miss M.
Look for Bette Midler on NBC's THE VOICE come September. In spring of 2017, she'll be back on Broadway in a revival of the musical comedy classic, HELLO, DOLLY!
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