Bette Midler is a big-voiced singer and big-boobed actress with a wild stage presence. She's said that her persona as "the Divine Miss M" is basically "a character that has always had a place in show business, and that's the Broad. People always love a broad -- someone with a sense of humor, someone with a fairly wicked tongue, someone who can belt out a song, someone who takes no guff. When I came up, there wasn't anyone like that."
She was born and raised in Honolulu, where the Midlers were the only Jewish family in a mostly-Samoan neighborhood. Her first job was working at a pineapple cannery, but Midler wanted to be a performer. She reportedly worked as an extra in James Michener's Hawaii, when it was filmed there in 1965.
Shortly thereafter, Midler moved to New York, with hopes of becoming a Broadway star. She was the second actress to play Zero Mostel's daughter Tzeitel in the first Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, but it wasn't a star-making role. According to some reports, she also had a brief recurring role in the soap opera Edge of Night in the late 1960s.
If her work as an extra in Hawaii doesn't count, Midler's film debut came as the Virgin Mary in The Greatest Story Ever Overtold, a satire of Christianity made in 1971, and renamed The Divine Mr. J a few years later, to capitalize on Midler's by-then-growing fame. She also lent her voice to a very low-budget musical comedy called Scarecrow in a Garden of Cucumbers, starring legendary female impersonator Holly "Walk on the Wild Side" Woodlawn.
Midler sang in the gay bathhouses of New York, with her pianist and pal Barry Manilow, long before he was famous. These campy shows became the basis for her Divine Madness revue on Broadway.
She was introduced to a national audience on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in 1970, and she made dozens of appearances on Tonight over the next twenty-odd years. She sang Carson a teary farewell on his second-to-last show, in 1992.
Her first major album, The Divine Miss M, was produced by Manilow, and won her the Grammy as Best New Artist of 1974. Manilow also produced her latest album, a collection of Rosemary Clooney standards.
Since the early '70s, she's been an unstoppable star of campy concerts, delightful cable specials, and major motion pictures.
The Rose, a thinly fictionalized biography of Janis Joplin, was her first real movie, and got her nominated for an Oscar. Her other films include Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Ruthless People, Outrageous Fortune, Beaches, The First Wives Club, and The Stepford Wives. On TV, she won accolades as Gypsy.
As a singer, her biggest hits include "Do You Wanna Dance?," "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," "The Rose," "Wind Beneath My Wings," "Beast of Burden," "From a Distance," and the song she closes every show with, "Ya Gotta Have Friends."
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