• Golden Globe Awards

Tomorrow’s Stars Yesterday: Bette Midler, 1980

Between 1948 and 1983 Golden Globes were awarded in a special category of “New Star of the Year” conceived to recognize young actors making a mark in their early roles. In this series, the HFPA’s Phil Berk highlights those that would follow their auspicious starts with distinguished careers.
Bette Midler won the Golden Globe New Star of the Year award in 1980. It was for her very first film. She’s been a star ever since and, despite usurping Bette Davis’s first name, she has always been The Divine Miss M.
Growing up in a traditional Jewish household in Hawaii – of all places – she learned to fend for herself. As she told the HFPA: “I grew up with all kinds of people, all colors, nationalities. We would always ask, ‘What are you? What’s your nationality? Chinese, Hawaiian, Portuguese, Filipino?’ They were all mixed up. I grew up not thinking about race until I returned to the States – and I never actually recovered from that.” 
After clawing her way to get noticed – she played one of Tevya’s daughters in a Broadway run of Fiddler on the Roof – she made her mark as a singer, and finally Hollywood beckoned, which was always her goal: to become a movie star. For The Roseshe was named New Star of the Year and won a second Golden Globe as Best Actress in a musical or comedy. Even though her follow-up movie Jinxed was a bomb, she went on to carve out a 40-year career, embracing both comedic and dramatic roles, and now in her seventies, she is as vibrant as ever.
After Jinxed she had a hard time getting cast and waited four years for the right role, in Paul Mazursky’s Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Both she and the film were nominated for Golden Globes. Her costars were no less than Nick Nolte and Richard Dreyfuss. The public welcomed her back, and she began a successful five-year collaboration with the new Walt Disney Studio, then run by Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Ruthless People, Outrageous Fortune, Big Business were all hit movies that earned her at least one Golden Globe nomination as Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. Then she attempted a dramatic role playing opposite Barbara Hershey in Garry Marshall’s Beaches and the public loved it, especially the theme song Wind Beneath My Wings which became her signature anthem, winning the Grammy as Best Song of the Year.
Her follow up dramatic role, recreating Barbara Stanwyck’s classic performance in Stella Dallas was a total failure, and her penultimate Disney film Scenes from a Mall, reuniting her with Mazursky and this time with Woody Allen, met with resistance at the box office, and she sought refuge at her The Rose studio. Working with a new director and a new costar the result was For the BoysHocus Pocus, which, after Disney cut an hour of its running time, became another commercial disappointment.
As she later told the HFPA, “On Hocus Pocus, we all worked terribly hard. It was physically demanding. We worked six months solid, we contributed an enormous amount. Granted we were well paid, but we went way beyond what we were asked to do. Everyone was crazy about what we did, but in the end, it was given short-shrift, cut to 90 minutes. They cut out all that work because they thought nobody would sit longer than 90 minutes. I thought it was unfair, and I was angry.”
Bette may have had the last laugh because, after losing money for the studio on its initial run, over the years the film has become a cult favorite and is currently being remade as a sequel with Adam Shankman directing the entire original cast.
After that, despite earning a Golden Globe nomination for playing GypsyThe First Wives Club in which she shared the screen with Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton. Its success prompted That Old Feeling with Dennis Farina, Drowning Man with Danny DeVitoIsn’t She Great with Nathan Lane, none of them particularly great. She did a TV Series, Bette, which lasted one season, and she had one last hurrah Parental Guidance with Billy Crystal, at which point she turned to her home turf: appearing in front of a live audience. She did that triumphantly at Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas, and if you missed her in The Showgirl Must Go On, you missed one of the greatest shows Vegas ever offered.
She had an even bigger success six years later when she played the title role in the Broadway revival of Hello Dolly. The show was a triumph, the number one ticket, and ended up winning every Tony it was up for including one for Bette.  
After an eight-year absence from the big screen she was asked to play Bella Abzug in Julie Taymor’s The Glorias and then Ryan Murphy resuscitated her career by providing her with one of her best roles in The Politician.
Still going strong today, she is The Divine Miss M.