Today, Bette Midler is a three-time Grammy, Tony, and Emmy award winner and a two-time Oscar nominee for The Rose and For the Boys. Whether cracking a crude joke, singing a tear-jerking ballad, or bringing people to their feet with an upbeat ‘50s number, she has entertained audiences for decades.
Before Madonna and Lady Gaga, there was Bette Midler. She took to the stage in a mermaid outfit and a wheelchair as the aspiring (yet talent-lacking) performer Delores Delago. Midler had and still has a showbiz shtick. She is a “diva” in the proper performance sense of the word — someone whose concerts are not merely an hour and a half of singing but an hour and a half of variety show-esque displays. She can and will do anything to entertain.
From her comfort with sexual jokes to her over-the-top performance nature, she remains a culturally transformative icon. She also remains a pivotal ally to the LGBTQ community. She has spoken to advance LGBTQ rights since her career beginning. Not to mention, she got her start singing in gay bathhouses in the 1970s with Barry Manilow on piano.
Bette Midler wears the ‘label of bathhouse Betty with pride’
As the Advocate notes, quoting the now-defunct Houston Voice, Midler is proud of her musical beginnings. She shared:
“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.”
Midler even released an album titled Bathhouse Betty in 1998
Midler even released an album in 1988 titled Bathhouse Betty, honoring her origin and the community that helped lift the singer/actor/comedian/author to stardom. The album features songs like “Lullaby in Blue,” “Songs of Bernadette,” “I’m Hip,” and more.
At the baths, Midler became known as the Divine Miss M. From bathhouses to Vegas, she remains the funny Bette fans love and adore, and the Divine songstress that keeps them coming back for more (though she’ll tell you it’s her “pretty legs and great big knockers”).
Midler recently presented at the 2020 Glaad Media Awards, and a few years back, she presented Pink with RHC’s Ally for Equality Award, introducing the “Sober” sing with humor and admiration, while commending her fellow musician for her contributions to the LGBTQ community.
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