Bette Midler | Gay Iconography

Gay Iconography: Bette's Divine Legacy

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 12.02.02 PM

Summer is camp season, and there are few people campier than the Divine Miss M herself, Bette Midler. (Seriously, who else could possibly do Mae West justice?)

Nearly a half-century since she arrived in New York City, Midler is still entertaining audiences on stages and screens, large and small. Her big voice and bawdy humor have made her a legendary performer, but her larger-than-life persona and roots in the gay community have endeared her to LGBT audiences for years. With Bette, it’s not all just attributed to her show-stopping numbers and over-the-top costumes. She got her start playing in a gay New York City bathhouse.

That doesn’t mean she’s always been in the gay community’s good graces. She ran afoul of LGBT advocates when she gave a less-than-supportive response to Larry King over the issue of same-sex marriage in an interview in 2003:

“I don't think it really hurts anybody. I think … gay men, they like to -- you know, they like to move around. … That's part of the fun of being a gay man. So if they're married, does that mean they're not going to cheat, they're only going to be with one…”

Like other public figures, her views seemed to evolve over time when in 2009 she told the Associated Press “I'm all in favor of gay marriage. I think it's fabulous.” 

From the bathhouse to the big screen, treat yourself to a few beloved Bette numbers, AFTER THE JUMP


Midler got her start singing at New York City’s Continental Baths in 1970. She once told an interviewer, "Despite the way things turned out [with the AIDS crisis], I'm still proud of those days [when I got my start singing at the gay bathhouses]. I feel like I was at the forefront of the gay liberation movement, and I hope I did my part to help it move forward. So, I kind of wear the label of 'Bathhouse Betty' with pride."


Her first film, The Rose, earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress (Comedy/Musical) as well as an Academy Award nomination.


Beaches (in which Midler co-starred with Barbara Hershey) not only left filmgoers drenched in their own tears, but it also launched one of Midler’s most enduring hits, "Wind Beneath My Wings." The soaring ballad (pun absolutely intended) reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and nabbed Midler her third Grammy Award. (This clip includes spoilers, in case you somehow haven't seen the movie.)


There will always be a little Bette in television history. She was famously Johnny Carson’s final guest on The Tonight Show. Watch her serenade the late-night legend in the Emmy-winning clip above. (She was also recognized for her small-screen work with another Golden Globe for her TV-movie portrayal of Mama Rose in Gypsy.)


A whole new generation fell in love with Bette for her portrayal of Winifred Sanderson in the classic Halloween flick Hocus Pocus, with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy. Midler told Katie Couric it was one of her favorites. Three years later, she was part of another trio with Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn in The First Wives Club.

We only scratched the surface on Bette’s career. Tell us your favorite Midler moment in the comments!

Feed This post's comment feed


  1. My first Bette Midler concert was at the Painters Mill Dinner Theater outside Baltimore. About 500 people in the audience. That was 1976 I think.

    The last time I saw her perform was at Staples Center in Los Angeles, which has a capacity of 20,000 and it was crowded and she added a 3rd concert while performing there.

    I've always been a big fan, despite her comment about same sex marriage in 2003. She's a huge LGBT advocate. Huge. Huger than huge. About as huge as huge can be.

    Posted by: the other Ken | Jun 28, 2014 4:30:23 PM

  2. Saw her Kiss My Brass tour about 10 years ago and it was one of the best shows I've ever seen. Phenomenal staging and production. Her talent has only improved with age and her energy is unbelievable. She's one of the greatest comic performers of our time (seriously, can nobody find some decent comic movie scripts that equal her talents?) What really shines through though is that she's a decent and admirable person with a great outlook on life. I can't believe that show wasn't released on DVD. You can find a few clips on YouTube.

    Posted by: stranded | Jun 28, 2014 4:44:17 PM

  3. The Bette Midler character she created is terrific but doesn't really exist. In real life, she's a surprisingly dowdy and prudish person. Not homophobic. But realize in public she is just playing a character.

    Posted by: Andy | Jun 28, 2014 4:45:55 PM

  4. 1993. Radio City Music Hall. She looked GOOD.

    Posted by: evan_la | Jun 28, 2014 4:48:52 PM

  5. Seriously, no "Friends"

    Gay card should be revoked!

    This was a huge "gay anthem" in the late 70's and became tragically relevant in the early days of the AIDS crisis.

    Posted by: QJ201 | Jun 28, 2014 4:54:36 PM

  6. She's just about the money everybody else...

    Posted by: styler | Jun 28, 2014 5:02:14 PM

  7. I'll take the good with the bad, I loved her in the 70s and I love her now. She's on our side, no matter how lopsided it comes out sometimes. But, IMO, she's strictly for baby-boomers, I don't think the younger crowd can relate to her style of humor.

    Posted by: johnny | Jun 28, 2014 5:48:50 PM

  8. (Indicating her boobs): I'll show you a couple of Golden Globes!

    Posted by: Pervy McPerv | Jun 28, 2014 6:05:40 PM

  9. While the Carson farewell was nice, my favourite Bette moment was when she performed 'Fat As I Am' on the Tonight Show. It showed she doesn't take herself too seriously.

    Posted by: Scar2 | Jun 28, 2014 6:33:02 PM

  10. September 1973, the Universal Amphitheatre at Universal Studios, Los Angeles: Saw Bette from the back row with my first lover. And I was hooked! The lover is gone, but Bette has been a big part of my life for over 40 years.

    Posted by: Martin | Jun 28, 2014 6:39:15 PM

  11. She's not prudish it's simply that "The Divine Miss M" character she created is far more "knowing" than Bette herself.

    My boyfriend Bill knew her from WAY back in the day when she was just trying to get started. She's not "pretty" or "sexy" in any conventional way, but he said when he walked down the street with her straight men would go wild, cause she bounced along with such vim and vigor it was impossible to ignore.

    Bill was in the room when she got the call about the Baths. He was going with Bette's then boyfriend. When she put down the phone she turned to the two of them mystified by the idea of performing at the Baths. They fell apart laughing and then calmly explained to her exactly what the Baths were.

    Needless to say the rest is history. She's a great entertainer.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jun 28, 2014 6:56:59 PM

  12. Nope

    Posted by: Mike | Jun 28, 2014 7:04:47 PM

  13. She's been dead to me since the Larry King interview.

    Posted by: Merv | Jun 28, 2014 7:17:13 PM

  14. In the later 70s,she used to show her tits at the end of the show on New Year's Eve -- I saw her at the Zeigfeld in NYC and (I think) at the Ahmanson in LA, as well at some AIDS charity things.
    It ought to be mentioned that her career was made when she debuted on the Tonight Show, singing "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", with a bouncing ball onscreen following the lyrics -- in a loose halter dress that sent her boobs all over the room. That was the only time I saw that showed stopped dead with applause for a new act.

    Posted by: Bob K | Jun 28, 2014 8:16:05 PM

  15. She's been dead to me since the Larry King interview.

    Posted by: Merv | Jun 28, 2014 7:17:13 PM

    Me to Merv, She turned on us like many many
    others so she could "fit" in.

    Posted by: BrokebackBob | Jun 28, 2014 8:27:50 PM

  16. At 68 years of age, Bette Midler is a senior citizen and doesn't quite have the grasp on gay issues that one would think she would. She certainly is entertaining, but somewhat conservative in real life and just a tad out of it. Her gay icon status has slipped.

    Posted by: David From Canada | Jun 28, 2014 9:59:59 PM

  17. There is no doubt she is a gay icon, but I am 50 years old and always have felt she was just a little bit before my coming of age. I enjoy watching her but I am not *into* her. (Although I don't feel the same way about Cher...Always was and still am intrigued by her.) Sure Bette's comments on Larry King revealed her to be a bit more provincial than we thought, but it is probably time to move on.

    Posted by: Angela Channing | Jun 28, 2014 10:19:35 PM

  18. I spent two weeks with her on a holiday in a very remote location. She and her husband were traveling with a well known gay couple, and there were only four other people including me at this place. She's definitely not the Divine Miss M character during her downtime, which frankly would have driven me crazy in this situation. Instead she was just very nice, a bit shy at first, and utterly at ease with my partner and I and her gay traveling companions.

    Posted by: Brian1 | Jun 28, 2014 10:53:25 PM

  19. Disgusting woman. Makes vast sums of money off of us, but has never lifted a finger on any issue. Never donated a dime to marriage equality, ENDA, repeal of DADT. Nothing. Not even during the Prop 8 fight, when many celebs were donating, did she give a cent. She rarely even mentions us and when she does, as in the LK interview, it is to treat us like entertaining cartoon characters.

    Can't imagine why anyone would see this person as a friend of gays let alone an icon.

    Posted by: Pete | Jun 28, 2014 11:05:39 PM

  20. I Shall Be Released at the Continental Baths

    Posted by: Jon | Jun 29, 2014 1:31:31 AM

  21. Is it true she's a Republican? I heard somewhere she's quite chummy with Victoria Jackson, who looks like her, eerily ebough.

    Posted by: Manny Espinola | Jun 29, 2014 1:36:41 AM

  22. We saw Bette probably 40 years ago outside Frankfurt, Germany when she was on tour. We'd seen several BIG name (Vegas type) stars just before & she topped them all. Great Entertainer who had the entire audience in the palm of her hand from the get go! I love her.

    Posted by: James | Jun 29, 2014 5:24:02 AM

  23. I've been a devout fan ever since I was 8 and now in my early 30s I love her even more. There isn't a performer alive that can match her ability. A true original...who by the way is very liberal and extremely supportive of the gay community.

    Posted by: Dean | Jun 29, 2014 12:46:32 PM

  24. @Manny Espinola: No, it is not true that Bette Midler is a Republican. If you do a quick Google search for "Is Bette Midler a Democrat or a Republican," you would easily see how much she loathes the GOP, as well as some of her more controversial statements.

    Bette Midler and Victoria Jackson do look alike, but put the two in the same room and soon Midler would be wiping the floor with Jackson's mush of a brain.

    Posted by: MichaelJ | Jun 29, 2014 1:28:26 PM

  25. I've particularly admired Bette for her work in restoring NYC's parks, which she began when she moved back to the city. Her immediate focus was working to improve a park in a very un-gentrified part of Washington Heights, and not one of the major parks where her she would get a lot of attention for her efforts. (Compare Midler's efforts to Diana Ross's donation to build a Central Park playground named after her, so all the affluent Upper West Side kids and their nannies would know her name.)

    Posted by: MichaelJ | Jun 29, 2014 1:43:19 PM

  26. 1 2 »

Post a comment


« «FOX News' Ben Carson Slated to Keynote For Hate Group (Again)« «