Today is the birthday of Bette Midler (b. 1945). The Divine Miss M. was (and remains) way ahead of the curve on this post-modern retro show biz thing…and, in a subtle way, very influential. In fact (as I mention in No Applause) more than most of the so-called New Vaudevillians of the 70s and 80s she is a true New Vaudevillian, given that the biggest stars of vaudeville were all singing comedians.
I first knew her name in 1979, with her smash hit Janis Joplin–inspired movie musical The Rose. But in retrospect I learn that I’d known her work much longer than that. In 1972, she had a top 10 hit with a cover of the Andrew Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (which they’d introduced in the Abbott and Costello film Buck Privates). The radio stations played Midler’s cover constantly, and because my mother was very much of that era (she was 15 when the original version came out), we were made very much aware of the tune (i.e., when the song came on, she turned up the volume and started dancing. I’m not saying it wasn’t mortifying).
Here is Midler performing the song with her Harlettes.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc