Monday, April 17, 2017

THE ROSE and NORMA RAE on Broadway

I've written before that folks who only think of Bette Mider as the funny lady in DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS and BEACHES and as the singer who warbled "Wind Beneath My Wings" in a music video that we played plenty on VH1 back in the day really need to see her galvanizing performance as a hot rock star on the brink of burning out in THE ROSE.  Ever since its release, it's been written that the character was based on Janis Joplin.  But I read an interview in which Midler said she used more Jim Morrison of The Doors to create her character.  Bette Midler had scored big on the record charts, in concert dates and in fabulous appearances on network variety shows.  She was of the 1970s, a vocalist who could belt 'em like an Old School diva and a bawdy, lovable comedienne who could have you in stitches with her, as she called it, "tit and wit."  But even we hardcore Midler fans were not fully prepared for the dramatic grit she gave us as THE ROSE.  She was raw and revealing and every inch a rock star whose joys and pains came out in her music.  They came out with such heartbreaking intensity that the rock star will become a rock legend.
The dramatic power of the brassy, funny redhead we'd seen onstage, heard on hit records and watched break up Johnny Carson with laughter on The TONIGHT Show with her songs and stories was a total surprise.


Bette Midler was in the Best Actress Oscar nominee category for her electric and memorable dramatic film debut in 1979's THE ROSE.  This performance still holds up.  And her rendition of "Stay With Me"...Lord have mercy!  Her character, Rose, is a High Priestess of Pain doing that number. Liquor and drugs cannot numb her heartache.
Yes, Bette was in the Best Actress Oscar category -- and so was Sally Field for NORMA RAE.  After warm, charming work on two ABC sitcoms -- GIDGET and THE FLYING NUN -- Sally Field had become a joke in Hollywood.  She dug her heels in, studied hard and astonished critics with her lead performance as a young schizophrenic in the 1976 TV mini-series SYBIL.  Playing that young woman with multiple personalities was a difficult and highly sought-after role.  Initially some critics scoffed at the casting choice of Sally Field as Sybil -- until it aired.  It was a hit with critics and in the ratings.  Field still had to prove herself in Hollywood.  Jane Fonda, Jill Clayburgh and Tuesday Weld were three of the actresses who turned down the role of NORMA RAE.  Sally Field took the role and won just about every entertainment prize short of a BET Soul Train Music Award for playing NORMA RAE.  She also won the Oscar.

When AMERICAN IDOL hit TV, we really got to see that we were in an era in which young people wanted to get on the red carpet as soon as possible.  In an interview on West Coast NPR station, veteran actor Bruce Dern mentioned that young talent today should takes risks and be more interested in doing the work than going to the parties.  Instant fame and success are fine...but what you also should want is durability.  You want a career that lasts.

I was in New York City this month for a few days of physically and emotionally draining non-show biz work.  When I was done, I took a walk over to the theater district.  Bette Midler is one of the hottest tickets in town.  Her revival of HELLO, DOLLY! is in previews and will soon have its official opening night this week.  I took this photo.
Right up the block on the same street from Bette's show at the Shubert, Sally Field stars as the clinging mother in a revival of the Tennessee Williams drama, THE GLASS MENAGERIE, at the Belasco Theatre on West 44th Street.

THE ROSE and NORMA RAE.  The stars of those two 1979 films were contenders in the Best Actress Oscar race.  Today, there are stars in Broadway shows on the same street.  Now THAT'S durability, the result of hard work...and extraordinary talent.

I'd love to see both Broadway shows.





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