Bette Midler (born December 1, 1945) is an American singer, actress and comedienne, also known to her fans as The Divine Miss M. She is named after the actress Bette Davis although Davis pronounced her first name in two syllables, and Midler uses one. During her career, she has won four Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award, and has been nominated for two Academy Awards. She is currently scheduled to succeed Celine Dion as the headliner at Caesars Palace, beginning February 20, 2008.
Midler was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and raised in nearby Aiea. She attended Radford High School in Honolulu. She is of Jewish descent. Her aspirations were clearly defined from the outset, and she majored in drama at the University of Hawaii, and earned money in the film Hawaii (released in 1966) as an extra, playing a seasick passenger.
In 1965, she relocated to New York City after using the money she got for playing an extra, and 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; during this period her sister Judith, visiting New York to see her perform, was killed by a taxi cab.
In 1970, Midler began singing the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse in the city, where she became close to her piano accompanist, Barry Manilow, who produced her first major album, The Divine Miss M in 1973.
Despite the way things turned out [with the AIDS crisis], I'm still proud of those days [singing at gay bathhouses]. 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 1974, she received a Special Tony Award for her contribution to Broadway for her Clams on the Half Shell Revue at the Palace Theater. In 1979 she played the title role of a 1960s drug-addicted rock star, modeled after Janis Joplin, in The Rose, for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
For the period of 1975–1978, she provided the voice of Woody the Spoon on the PBS educational series Vegetable Soup.
Her manager and boyfriend for a significant period was Aaron Russo.
Midler married Martin von Haselberg (Harry Kipper of her opening act the Kipper Kids) on December 16, 1984 in a chapel in Las Vegas. They had a daughter, Sophie Frederica Alohilani von Haselberg, on November 14, 1986.
In 1985, she was a performer on USA for Africa's fund-raising single We Are the World and participated at the 'Live Aid' event at JFK stadium in Philadelphia.
In 1986, she signed a contract with Touchstone Pictures, director Paul Mazursky cast her in Down and Out in Beverly Hills, beginning a successful comedic acting career. She appeared in other popular late-1980s comedies including Ruthless People, Outrageous Fortune, and Big Business. In 1988, she starred in the film drama Beaches. She also contributed her voice to the animated character Georgette, a snobbish poodle, in Disney's Oliver & Company that same year.
She has won four Grammy Awards including the 1973 Best New Artist and the prestigious Record of the Year in 1989 for the # 1 hit "Wind Beneath My Wings", the theme from Beaches. Her rendition of the 1990 "From a Distance" also earned her a Grammy and is another of her most popular songs.
When the American Film Institute announced "The 100 years of the Greatest Songs" on June 22, 2004, two of her hits were selected by the board: "Wind Beneath My Wings" (#44) and "The Rose" (#83).
Other films include Scenes from a Mall, For the Boys (for which she was again nominated for an Academy Award), Hocus Pocus, The First Wives Club, and The Stepford Wives. Her television work includes an Emmy-nominated version of the stage musical Gypsy.
Midler won an Emmy Award in 1992 for her memorable performance on the penultimate episode of The Tonight Show in May of that year, during which she sang an emotion-laden "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)" to Johnny Carson. There was speculation later that there was a falling out between Midler and the only other guest on the show, Robin Williams. It was perceived that Midler had stolen the limelight from Williams. However, the rumors of a feud between them have been denied by both Williams and Midler, and they have since appeared together on several other talk shows, including The Rosie O'Donnell Show in 2003. After her Tonight Show appearance, Midler told USA Today, "It was a great night. Robin and I had a fabulous time, and we'll never forget it."
She had her own short-lived CBS sitcom Bette (2000–2001). Although the initial ratings were high, numbers soon declined and in the show's short lifespan her 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 reportedly rocked by backstage turmoil, and did not last a full season. Also in 2001, Bette or Bust, a book chronicling Midler's Divine Miss Millennium Tour was released. After years of declining sales, Bette was officially dropped from Warner Brothers in 2001.
After a long-standing feud with Barry Manilow, the two joined forces for the first time in twenty years in 2003 to record "Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook." Of the project, Barry said he had a dream that he was recording with Bette again, so he called her up with the idea and she agreed that it was due time to work together again. They got Columbia Records on board and the album was an instant success, going gold in only a few short weeks. The album was one of her best-selling albums in 20 years, and was nominated for a Grammy the following year.
In 2003–2004 Midler toured her new show Kiss My Brass to sell-out crowds around the United States. In early 2005, Kiss My Brass was equally successful in Australia. After the success of her last album, Columbia Records considered releasing a live album, but it never came to pass. Instead, Bette joined forces again with Barry 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 and debuted at #10.
Midler has guest-starred on The Simpsons in the episode "Krusty Gets Kancelled". Midler 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. She appeared on Seinfeld in the episode "The Understudy," which was the season finale of that show's sixth season. She also appeared on The Nanny in the aptly titled episode "You Bette Your Life".
In 2006, a new Christmas album Cool Yule was released by Midler featuring the title song (written by Steve Allen) and a duet with Johnny Mathis of "Winter Wonderland/Let It Snow." She also began filming on Then She Found Me to be directed by Helen Hunt and starring Hunt, Matthew Broderick and Colin Firth.
In 2007, she appeared on the American Idol Season 6 finale, singing "The Wind Beneath My Wings" live at the Kodak Theatre.
In 1995, Midler founded the New York Restoration Project, 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 five-acre 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. The NYRP has been around for almost 11 years now, making New York a better and cleaner place.