• Golden Globe Awards

Bette Midler, 1991 on War – Out of the Archives

Bette Midler won one of her four Golden Globes out of eight nominations in 1992 as Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for the movie For the Boys. directed by Mark Rydell costarring James Caan.  She talked to journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press in 1991 about performers entertaining the troops during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. In 2022 the actress/singer reprised her role as one of the three witches in Hocus Pocus 2, the sequel to Hocus Pocus (1993), with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimi.
Midler denied that the character of Eddie Sparks played by James Caan was based on Bob Hope, famous for entertaining the troops for 50 years from 1941 to 1991:  “The movie was inspired by the work that everybody did. When I was a kid, I was so anti-war that I couldn’t really understand how anybody could participate in any kind of propping up of the soldiers, I thought it was so immoral; but as I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered that the people who fight the wars are really just children and they need all the propping up they can get to keep from falling apart totally as human beings.  And that put a different slant on it for me, so when I did my research and watched other performers, I had a completely different point of view. This movie is about everybody really, not just one person, although Bob Hope certainly has done a tremendous amount in his lifetime.”
The actress, who was also a producer on For the Boys, wanted to make a statement against all wars: “I thought the idea behind the movie, which is an anti-war idea, was a very important one, I’ve always stood by it and I’ve always believed that.  So it’s very gratifying to finally get to see it translated up there on the screen, have lots of people look at it and understand it, because it’s something that people don’t think about very much nowadays.  While we were making the picture, we were at war in the Persian Gulf and people who were naysaying against that war in Kuwait were pretty much squashed by the excitement of winning so handily.  But I don’t really feel that way, I have a different set of values. Yes, it was all very exciting, but the bottom line in the long run was that not very much was accomplished, except for a complete environmental disaster.  I come from a generation that always questions, so for me it was very important to make this movie, because it hearkened back to the beliefs that I’ve had ever since I was very young growing up in the sixties.”
Midler said that she was not just fascinated by recreating the 1940s on screen, but by covering other decades as well. “It’s not just one era, it was several different eras. We started in the forties and we worked up through the fifties in television, the McCarthy era and the Korean War, then we got through the Vietnam War and the polarization of the nation.  I lived through so much of it and I was fascinated by the changes that came so quickly and so permanently.  What I remember growing up in the forties and fifties was that there was so much politeness, and suddenly in the sixties there was no more politeness, there was a complete breakdown in civility and people questioned all kinds of authority.  I was fascinated by the way people changed and I was interested in following one generation through all those changes, seeing what they had lived through all that and what they felt about humanity as a group. And the two characters represent two different points of view, very strongly, but I thought that the idea of having an over-view for the first time was very interesting.”
When asked if she wanted to honor her parents’ generation who lived through World War II with this film, Midler replied: “Yes, I was interested in what happened to them, in the way they took their changes, but I’m also interested in my own generation.  I’m interested in the way people move in a whole big mass from emotion to emotion, from crisis to crisis and how they change. My parents’ generation was a real spirited one and they lived through a lot, they lived through the Depression, which had a real effect on everybody that I’ve ever met who lived through it; they never forgot it, it made an indelible impression on them, and the Second World War did too. And I was interested in what happened after that, who were they and what did they really think they were, because a lot of the stuff that happened to them was very hard to take. I’m living through really vast changes myself, my generation is, and I find that really fascinating too, with the aspects of aging and a tremendous amount of speed. The way things have picked up seems to accelerate every year, and I was curious to see how people dealt with it.”
As a singer and a producer, Midler was intrigued by the idea of covering various eras and musical genres through the decades: “I’ll tell you, it’s a very expensive proposition to make musicals. When we made this picture, one of the things that we were interested in showing was the way music changed.  We wanted to have a whole lot of popular music, not just one kind of popular music. It appears to be a forties musical because of the way it was marketed, but it’s not a forties musical. It has some forties songs, it has songs from the fifties, from the white bread era, it has rock and roll, it has a lot of different kinds of music and all completely listenable.  But it’s a very expensive thing to do, so that’s the first risk you take, because if you can’t make clear to an audience what it is that you’re trying to do, it goes right over their head and then you’re stuck with the bill; so that’s a big commercial risk.”
As a new mother, Midler revealed that she was bringing up her child in an old-fashioned way: “I sound so corny when I talk about my daughter that it really embarrasses me, but I do very average things; I live as though it was 1952, before anybody got a television set.  We garden, we bake, we sew, we read, we do things that don’t have anything to do with any kind of technology, because I want to give her a real good childhood. I want her to be a child, I don’t want her to be a little miniature adult in Spandex and a bra; she’s only five and the tendency in this town is and in this country is to make little grown-ups out of kids. But I want her to be a real child, so I tend to play old-time games, we sing and play the piano. I know it sounds a little Victorian, but I can’t help it. I feel like it’s the only way to combat all this ugliness out there, so I try to protect her from it and make life a little simpler for her.”