As someone born in the late ’80s, I first began to know and love Better Midler (known around the world as “The Divine Miss M”) as my favorite wicked witch, Winifred Sanderson, in the Walt Disney cult classic Hocus Pocus. She and her sisters would quickly become embedded in my heart as I played the Halloween favorite on repeat, in season and out. This awe-inspiring leading lady has a career spanning five decades, releasing everything from classic rock to pop classics — material that has become near and dear to the hearts of all generations.
Hocus Pocus was MY first exposure to Midler, though her work in the entertainment industry began decades earlier. Midler became the preeminent showgirl working in theater, television, feature films, and as a multi-platinum selling solo artist. She has accumulated 3 Grammy Awards, 4 Golden Globe Awards, 3 Emmy Awards, and 2 Tony Awards, with multiple Academy Award nominations, leaving her just one category win away from the famed EGOT status. I have loved Midler’s multi-genre contributions more and more as I have aged, and I have also embraced her immense personality — we share the high school title of “most talkative” as a trait.
Bette’s The Divine Miss M was her first solo album, produced by rising star and lounge lizard, Barry Manilow. He started out as her piano accompanist and would go on to collaborate on future albums like her self-titled follow-up album in 1973 — an album which made it to Billboard’s Top 10. The Divine Miss M, featuring singles “Do You Wanna Dance?” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” was released by Atlantic Records in 1972 and resulted in Midler’s first Grammy win in 1973. She would continue to sing her way into our hearts over the course of 25 albums, the most recent of which being It’s The Girls in 2014. It’s The Girls has become a personal favorite of mine. Midler has sold over 30 million records worldwide, a good portion of them being soundtracks for films she starred in herself.
Midler began her film career in the 1960’s inspired rock and roll film The Rose. The film’s soundtrack earned a double-platinum certification, and also won Midler her first Golden Globe for Best Actress. If you’ve seen this movie you’ve seen her at her best and most vulnerable. The soundtrack for the movie is also a personal favorite in my vinyl collection — and one of the most worn — with vocals emoting some of the deepest intensity that is out of this world. Another treasured soundtrack is for the Bette Midler/Barbara Hershey tearjerker Beaches. Featuring her best-selling track, “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Beaches moved my soul in the same way that The Rose did. It’s reality, it’s moving, it’s timeless.
Midler continued with her hugely successful film career, acting consistently from the 1970s with The Rose, through the 2000s. 1997 found Midler starring with Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn in the ultra-feminist feature The First Wives Club, where there is a feature performance of the trio singing the Lesley Gore ballad, “You Don’t Own Me.” Their rendition of this song became something my best friend and I would try to imitate for years. The film would also go on to win the Women In Film Crystal Award, which honors outstanding women who have expanded the role of women in the entertainment industry.
The bottom line, though, when it comes to Bette Midler it comes down to funny, whacky, passion and talent combined with an ability to laugh at herself and to get others laughing with her. Her work outside the entertainment industry is strong too, with her being one of the original participants in the “adopt-a-highway” charity in California, as well as founding her own New York Restoration Project in 1995. She also performs with the USO to honor the military for all of their work, and was a participant in the USA For Africa production of “We Are The World” in 1985. Midler has given my generation, and generations before and after mine, so much to love and look up to. She’s been with me since my childhood and I will forever treasure her presence. To “the Divine Miss M,” here’s looking at you!