Oprah Talks to Bette Midler
Oprah: How did the Divine Miss M come about?
Bette: When I moved to New York City in 1965, I wanted to be in theater. I was following my Ethel Barrymore dream. But I was too young to be Ethel. So I started downtown in experimental theater—while onstage, people would take off their clothes, smoke dope, get drunk, throw food at one another. I just fell into a group of performers, and I absorbed a lot of their behavior. But I had always been divine. From the time I was in the sixth grade I had been saying, "Oh, darling, that's divine!" I'd seen so many movies where they said things like that. But, truly, my family was poor. Until I was 17, my allowance was 25 cents a week.
Oprah: That is poor, but at least you had an allowance! I was poor, too, but to be mundane and poor is the curse of life!
Bette: Yes. A lot of people have no access to beauty. When I was growing up, my mother had only a few pretty things to look at.
Oprah: What were they?
Bette: I'll cry if I tell the story—and I don't want to cry.
Oprah: Okay, but nobody but me will see you.
Bette: Well, my mother was a great needlewoman. She could embroider and crochet like the dickens—she used to make doilies—and whatever she made by hand was truly beautiful. She also had my grandmother's trousseau. Her sister had sent it to her in 1958, but she never unpacked the crate. After my mother died, I opened it, and everything my grandmother had made for her marriage was in there: her sheets, her towels, her napkins....
Oprah: Do you still have any of it?
Bette: I have all of it. But I don't use it; I just hold it.
Oprah: It's nice that you have it. Back then, a few doilies and napkins were all that a lot of women had. In the little house where I grew up, the pillowcases my grandmother embroidered were the only things of beauty.
Bette: That's why the library was so important to me. Through books and pho-tographs, I saw a world that was not my own—and I realized that there was another world. That's why I'm concerned about education, because it helps our children see other worlds. Education is my next big thing. When music and art were taken out of the schools, I went berserk!
Oprah: It's like removing the soul from a society.
Bette: That's what kills me. All these children go out into the world without knowing that there is anything other than what they have. Of course, children do look at TV, but what does it give them? Not much—and I'm making your show the exception.