The Divine Miss M
Now, the Divine Miss M is packing up her feathers, fans and sequins and heading to Las Vegas! She is taking the stage for almost 200 live performances of her new show, The Showgirl Must Go On at Caesar's Palace. "I had never seen the theater, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into," she says. Once she arrived, Bette says she thought it was gorgeous—and tiny! "After 15,000 people a night, 4,500 seems quite intimate," she says.
As a special treat, Bette takes The Oprah Show on a backstage tour of rehearsals. It's clear from the start that her Vegas show will have the over-the-top grandeur her fans love. The costumes are no exception—Bette and her dancers practice a song in which they will all be wearing mermaid-like fishtails.
"I think America's going to think we're fairly peculiar," Bette says. "We try to do as many strange and wonderful things in these costumes as we possibly can. People do somersaults in them, they do flips, they do back flips, we do synchronized swimming, we dive, we break dance."
Like many people, Bette had a list of what she wanted to accomplish in her lifetime—but she is realistic about it. "You know, you have that list your whole life and you're always like, 'One of these days, I'm going to take that French class.' You never do. You pick as much up as you can as you go along."
One "to do" that has remained on Bette's list is going back to college. Bette says she quit after a year and a half when she felt she may have been in over her head. Instead, Bette decided to continue to excel in the one thing she knew she was meant to do—perform.
Sophie says she studied in China for a semester and hopes to go back to teach or work with a non-governmental organization after she graduates. "I just sort of want to take a year to do something that I'm not going to do as a career and just sort of have some good life experience, enjoy myself, get to know China a little better," she says.
Even with a successful parent in the business, Sophie says she was never attracted to the bright lights of Hollywood—which was a relief to Bette! "She was, like, 'If you ever go into the movie business, I'll never speak to you again,'" Sophie jokes.
Still, Sophie is very excited that her mom will be headlining in Las Vegas. "It will be great to live in a new city, a new town. See what Vegas is all about. See what the fantastic city has to offer, so I'm excited, definitely."
Sophie sums up the films she was allowed to watch as anything made before the year 1950. "I was only allowed to watch silent movies and musicals," she says. Bette's rule even extended to her own movies, like The Rose. "The language was too strong," Bette says. "There was stuff in it I didn't want her to know about. She was too young."
Sophie says she did eventually see the movie once she was old enough. "I think sometime in high school I watched it, and I thought it was amazing," Sophie says.
If Bette was this strict about movies, Oprah wants to know: What about dating? "Don't bring it up," Bette jokes.
Growing up, Bette says her parents had similar rules. "I had been brought up fairly strictly and I thought I turned out OK," Bette says.
Bette and her husband, Martin von Haselberg, have been married since 1984, and Bette says they make a conscious effort to keep their relationship strong. "He taught me flexibility; he taught me a certain kind of generosity of spirit that I actually did not have before I met him," Bette says. "I was a really selfish girl when I met him. I was 38 years old. I had lived a whole life, two whole lives, and I was very, very self-involved because I'd had this [career] that I was doing and I was devoted to."
Sophie thinks one of the best decisions her parents made was moving the family out of Los Angeles. "I think moving to New York was actually one of the best things that ever happened to me because I cannot imagine having been raised in L.A. for the rest of my life," she says. "I think I'd be a really different person."
Bette also has the dress from the phone booth scene in The Rose and the little black-and-white number she wore on her first world tour. "When the designer came with a dalmatian fabric, I said, 'What are you trying to say about me?'" Bette jokes.
When Bette was nominated for an Oscar® for her performance in The Rose, she says she wore a beautiful kimono—but as a cover-up. "I think I had ordered a dress and it came in and I didn't like it, so I wound up putting a kimono over an old dress," she says. Although in recent years the Oscar dress has become almost as talked about as the award itself, Bette says back then it was no big deal. "In those days, you just threw something on and you went, you know?"
The last dress Bette pulls out from her wardrobe rack, a black dress with a "XOXO" detail, is very special to her—it's the dress she wore on Johnny Carson's next-to-last show. "That was one of the greatest nights of my life," she says.
Bette says she's happy to see a major movement to protect the environment and credits much of it to Al Gore. "I love Al Gore," she says. "I have to say I'm mad about Al Gore. He really has done everyone such a service by bringing this to everyone's attention by making this part of the zeitgeist. Making it part of the everyday common conversation that people have. It's really, really important."
For longtime Bette Midler fan Luzanne Otte, Bette's passion for the environment has had quite an influence. Luzanne is pursuing a career in environmental ethics! "I'm in law school right now and got my master's at Harvard and undergraduate at USC, and [I'm] hoping to make a difference, thanks to you."
"Caesar's Palace will never be the same," Bette says. "And to all those who have accused me of being tacky, too much and over the top—you ain't seen nothing yet."