Bette Midler (born December 1, 1945) is an American singer, actress, and comedian, also known by her informal stage name, The Divine Miss M. She became famous as a cabaret and concert headliner, and went on to star in successful and acclaimed films such as The Rose, Ruthless People, Beaches, and For The Boys. During her more than forty-year career, Midler has been nominated for two Academy Awards, and won three Grammy Awards, four Golden Globes, three Emmy Awards, and a special Tony Award. She has sold over 30 million albums worldwide. Her voice type is categorized as deep mezzo soprano.
Midler was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. Her parents moved from Paterson, New Jersey to Honolulu before she was born, and hers was one of the few Jewish families in a mostly Asian neighborhood. Her mother, Ruth (née Schindel), was a seamstress and housewife, and her father, Fred Midler, worked at a Navy base in Hawaii as a painter. She was named after actress Bette Davis, though Davis pronounced her first name in two syllables, and Midler uses one, /ˈbɛt/. She was raised in Aiea and attended Radford High School, in Honolulu. She was voted "Most Talkative" in the 1961 school Hoss Election, and in her Senior Year (Class of 1963), "Most Dramatic". Midler majored in drama at the University of Hawaii, but left after three semesters. She earned money in the 1966 film Hawaii as an extra, playing an uncredited seasick passenger named Miss David Buff.
Midler married Martin von Haselberg on December 16, 1984, about six weeks after their first meeting. Their daughter, Sophie Frederica Alohilani Von Haselberg, was born on November 14, 1986.
In the summer of 1965, Midler relocated to New York City, using the money from her work 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. After Fiddler, she joined the original cast of Salvation in 1969.
In the summer of 1970, Midler began singing in the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse in the city. During this time, she became close to her piano accompanist, Barry Manilow, who produced her first album in 1972, 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 first appeared on The Tonight Show.
1972–1980: The Divine Miss M and success
Midler released her debut album, The Divine Miss M, on Atlantic Records, in December 1972. It reached Billboard's Top 10 and became a million-selling Platinum-certified album, 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 Midler's first No. 1 Adult Contemporary hit. "Bugle Boy" became a very successful rock cover of the classic swing tune originally introduced and popularized in 1941 by the famous Andrews Sisters, of whom Midler has repeatedly referenced as her idols and inspiration, as far back as her first appearances on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. Midler told Carson in an interview that she always wanted to move like the sisters, and Patty Andrews once remembered, "When I first heard the introduction on the radio, I thought it was our old record. When Bette opened at the Amphitheater in Los Angeles, Maxene and I went backstage to see her. Her first words were, 'What else did you record?'" During another one of Midler's concerts, Maxene went on stage and presented her with an honorary bugle. Bette recorded other Andrews Sisters hits, including "In the Mood" and "Lullaby of Broadway."
Her self-titled follow-up album was released at the end of 1973. It reached 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.
Midler at the premiere of The Rose, 1979
In 1974, 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 No. 65 on the Billboard album chart. Soon afterward, she began a world concert tour, with one of her shows in Pasadena being filmed and released as the concert film Divine Madness (1980).
In 1979, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Rose, a role 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 No. 1 position on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart for five consecutive weeks and reached No. 3 on Billboard's Hot 100. It earned Midler her first Gold single and won the Grammy award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.
1981–89: Wind Beneath My Wings and Beaches
In 1981, Midler worked on the troubled comedy project Jinxed!. However, during production, there was friction with co-star Ken Wahl and the film's director, Don Siegel. Released in 1982, the film was a major flop. Midler did not appear in any other films until 1986. During those four years, she concentrated on her music career and in 1983, released the album No Frills, produced by Chuck Plotkin, who was 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 "You're 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 became Midler's third lowest charting album in the U.S.
Midler performed on USA for Africa's 1985 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 role with Ruthless People (1986), Outrageous Fortune (1987), and Big Business (1988). Later in 1988, Midler lent her voice to the animated character Georgette, a snobbish poodle, in Disney's Oliver & Company, and had a hit with the tearjerker Beaches, co-starring Barbara Hershey. The accompanying soundtrack remains Midler's all-time biggest selling disc, reaching No. 2 on Billboard's album chart and with U.S. sales of four million copies. It featured her biggest hit, "Wind Beneath My Wings", which went to No. 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 in Los Angeles, 1990
In 1990, Midler's single "From A Distance" topped the charts and achieved platinum status. The next year, Midler co-starred with Woody Allen in Scenes from a Mall, again for Mazursky. She earned another Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for 1991's For the Boys, directed by Mark Rydell, who also directed The Rose. For the latter, she was awarded another Golden Globe for Best Actress (Comedy or Musical). She turned down the lead role in 1992's Sister Act, which instead went to Whoopi Goldberg. In 1993, she starred with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy in the movie, Hocus Pocus, as Winifred "Winnie" Sanderson, the head witch of the Sanderson Sisters.
Midler's other films include Stella (1990), 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. In 1997, Midler, along with her co-stars from The First Wives Club, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton, was a recipient of the Women in Film Crystal Award, which honors "outstanding women who, through their endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry".
Midler won an Emmy Award in 1992 for her 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. That night, Midler began singing "Here's That Rainy Day", Carson's favorite song; Carson joined in a few lyrics later. She appeared on Seinfeld in the episode "The Understudy", which was the season finale of that show's sixth season in 1995.
Her 1997 HBO special Diva Las Vegas earned her a third Emmy Award, for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Music Program.
In 1995 and 1999, she reached the top of the US Dance Charts with remixes of her hits "To Deserve You" on Atlantic and "I'm Beautiful" on Warner Brothers Records. "To Deserve You" reached No. 2 and "I'm Beautiful" reached No. 1.
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). 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.
Midler has won three Grammy Awards., Best New Artist, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "The Rose" and Record of the Year for "Wind Beneath My Wings". Two of her recordings, "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "From a Distance" won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year. "From a Distance" became her longest running No. 1 – six consecutive weeks – on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart. 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" (No. 44) and "The Rose" (No. 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.
After a reported long-standing feud with Barry Manilow, the two joined forces after many 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. Manilow duetted with Midler on the song "(I'd Like to Get You on a) Slow Boat to China", after a little dialogue between the two artists at the start of the track. 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.
In 2003–04, 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, returned Midler to the Top 10, and was nominated for a Grammy Award.
In 2006, Midler released a new Christmas album, Cool Yule, featuring the title song (written by Steve Allen) and a duet of "Winter Wonderland"/"Let It Snow" with Johnny Mathis. Midler 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.
On December 6, 2007, Midler's album Cool Yule received a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
Midler had a Vegas show entitled Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. The show comprised The Staggering Harlettes, 20 female dancers called The Caesar Salad Girls and a 13-piece band. The show debuted on February 20, 2008, and played its final performance on January 31, 2010, after a two-year run. The show was nominated for an Emmy for outstanding variety,music or comedy special in 2011.
A new "best of" album, Jackpot: The Best Bette, was released in 2008 and reached No. 66 on the U.S. charts, and No. 6 in the UK, where it was certified Platinum for sales of over 300,000 copies.
In June 2009, Midler appeared on the Bravo TV show My Life on the D-List with Kathy Griffin. In December 2009, Midler appeared in the Royal Variety Performance, an annual British charity event attended by Queen Elizabeth II. She performed "In My Life" and "Wind Beneath My Wings" as the closing act.
In 2010, Midler voiced the character Kitty Galore in the animated film Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. The film was a modest success, grossing $112 million worldwide. In November 2010, Midler released Memories of You, another compilation of lesser known tracks from her catalog. She promoted the album to her UK fans on Daybreak and The Graham Norton Show, on the latter of which she also performed "Dreamland" from For the Boys.
Midler is one of the producers of the Broadway production of the musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert which opened in February 2011.
Midler will be co-starring alongside Billy Crystal in the movie Parental Guidance due to be released in 2012. Midler also auctioned her outfits and achievements from her 40-year career in November 2011 in order to raise money for the New York Restoration Project.
Midler has an estimated net worth of $175 million.
In June 2012, she is slated to receive the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award at the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York in recognition of her having "captivated the world" with her "stylish presentation and unmistakable voice".
In 1995, Midler founded the New York Restoration Project (NYRP), a non-profit organization with the goal of revitalizing neglected neighborhood parks in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods of New York City. These include Highbridge Park, Fort Washington Park, and Fort Tryon Park in upper Manhattan and Roberto Clemente State Park and Bridge Park in the Bronx.
In 1999, the city planned to auction 114 community gardens for commercial development. Midler led a coalition of greening organizations to save them. NYRP took ownership of 60 of the most neglected plots. Today, Midler and her organization work with local volunteers and community groups to ensure that these gardens are kept safe, clean and vibrant. In 2003, Midler opened Swindler Cove Park, a new 5-acre (20,000 m2) public park on the Harlem River shore featuring specially designed educational facilities and the Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse, the first community rowing facility to be built on the Harlem River in more than 100 years. The organization offers free in-school and after-school environmental education programming to students from high-poverty Title I schools.