Bette Midler Reaches Stepford City Limits
by Tony Phillips
A town with “no crime, no poverty and no pushing” is
probably the last place on earth one would expect to find Bette Midler. After all, the Divine Miss M probably
sprang from the womb pushing. But
on June 11, push comes to shove as The Stepford Wives, this summer’s blackest comedy, hits the big screen in an updated
version also starring Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Glenn Close Faith Hill,
Jon Lovitz and Roger Bart. Midler’s latest creation, bitter self-help author Bobbie
Markowitz, comes crashing into the creepy hamlet of Stepford direct from Manhattan’s Upper West Side. She’s in the throes of a Custard-like stand to save
her crumbling marriage, but soon finds herself surrounded by “women that look
like deranged flight attendants” more likely to balance her niche feminist
tomes on their heads than on their night tables. Soon, her circle grows to include Nicole Kidman’s exiled TV
producer Joanna Eberhart and
the newest wrinkle to this classic 70s fable, Stepford’s first gay couple. And that’s when
these outsiders begin to suspect there’s more to Stepford’s perfect wives than just impeccable manners and crisp party dresses. Things are about to get a whole lot
darker in this carefully planned corner of Connecticut.
So you’ve worked with The Stepford Wives scribe Paul Rudnick before?
Yes, First Wives Club.
And Isn’t She Great, which I just rented the other day
before I knew I was going interview you. I have to tell you, I loved it.
I know. It’s a
lot of fun.
So from Love Machine author Jackie Susann to I Love
You, But Please Die author Bobbie Markowitz. Tell me about that transition.
Well, Bobbie is a loud-mouthed person. The Stepford Wives is so heightened. It’s a
big, broad comedy so I can’t really give you a serious answer about it, but
she’s the author of niche marketing, self-help female books. She’s searching for spirituality and
some kind of serenity and peace of mind, all the usual clichés. But she’s very outspoken and rather
noisy — the squeaky wheel — very much from the Upper West Side and doesn’t really
care about what she looks like. She’s interested in the life of the mind and big ideas. And she’s also married to someone she
can’t stand. Only
because they’ve obviously grown apart. He’s a real, ‘hey fella’
backslapper and she’s more interested in ideas. So it’s the end of their marriage. This is their last attempt to make things work so they move
to a place where the stresses are going to be much fewer than the Upper West
Side. They find themselves in Stepford and she notices right away that there’s something
wrong. So does Joanna, Nicole
Kidman’s character. There’s
something wrong here. What is
this? This is so odd. They all move up there together and set
out to discover what’s really going on in Stepford.
Speaking of Nicole Kidman, you’ve got Hawaii in common
with your co-star in The Stepford Wives.
Yeah, you know what, she was born there. Isn’t that hilarious?
I know, but she didn’t last as long as you on the big
No, but I had a nice chat with her father about the time
when they were there. They
overlapped me. She’s much younger
than I am.
So your daughter is
named for Sophie Tucker, but what about Alohilani?
Well, that’s my daughter’s name too. That means bright sky in Hawaiian.
That’s so nice.
Yeah, I was hoping for bright skies.
But we digress; back to Stepford…I’ve
heard there’s a gay couple in Stepford these
days. Do you think Paul Rudnick
might have written gay marriage’s first cautionary tale?
I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what he meant. Roger Bart and his partner are in the
same boat that all the straight couples are in. Which is that one person feels that the other person doesn’t
fit in and is not making a serious enough effort to be “normal” like everyone
else. It doesn’t matter what the
situation of your gender is, in the Stepford world,
someone is not happy with the humanity of their partne — their partner’s warts,
let’s say — they want them to be perfect. And they want that in the worst possible way and they do anything to get
exactly what they want. These
days, with so much technology all around us, I don’t think it’s that far away. With people choosing the sex of their
child, which is unconscionable, it’s really dangerous to destroy the balance of
really dangerous. But there
are so many things that we’ve done already, we certainly seem well on our way.
So what is really
It’s a real adventure, it’s got tremendous special effects,
and it’s a big, huge production. It’s very entertaining, but it’s also got some strong ideas underpinning
it about relationships and what people will do in order to make one section of
the population happy: the way you have to destroy your soul in order to pass
and fit in.
I was just reading about this chip that will help stroke
victims talk again. It’s a noble
effort, but hello, they’re implanting a chip into someone’s head!
How can a computer chip work with flesh?
That’s your department, Bobbie.
It’s very scary. We were talking the other day about people
who want to live forever. And if
people live forever, what’s it going to do for the children? You can’t expect children to support
people who are going to live forever. It’s so strange.
And as Bobbie, you’re in the role Paula Prentiss created.
I am in the Paula Prentiss part, but I’m not nearly as chic
as Paula Prentiss. I’m really kind
of frumpy. And I think my husband
wants me not to be a frump. There’s a point in a person’s life when they decide which way to go, or
maybe they don’t decide. They just
say, ‘Ah, to hell with it’ and they just live. And that’s wonderful. You know, everyone shouldn’t have to go to the gym and bleach their hair
or wax their legs. And men, too. People shouldn’t have to unless they’re interested. For some people that’s a big,
all-consuming interest and some people’s minds are more
lively or they’re gardeners or that doesn’t interest them, but they
shouldn’t be taken to task. Lately, the last ten or fifteen years have been only about the surface
and nothing about ideas. It’s
scary when people pass as intelligent, you can see what happens. They look right, but they’re really not
Were you a big fan of
this movie before you took this part?
I didn’t really know it. In fact, when I got the part was the first time I saw
it. I know it from it being in the
culture. And isn’t that
fantastic? That this title The Stepford Wives could come into the culture and everyone
knows what it means. But I hadn’t
seen the movie. It was the 70s and
I guess I had other things to do. But when I saw it, I thought it was really kind of moving, because first
of all it was a big thriller. It
wasn’t a comedy at all. It was
very, very dark and in its day it was considered quite extreme. It was the beginning of the women’s
movement and I guess it was a cautionary tale. This is what happens if you don’t mind your P’s & Q’s.
You didn’t see the original version of The Stepford Wives because you had other things to do. What?
Well, I had a lot of friends, but they’re all gone now. So I miss a lot of them. No anecdotes. But Barry! Barry still survives. We
went through those wars together and so we still get together and have a couple
of drinks and a couple of laughs, but almost everyone else is gone. Memories dim. We had a lot of fun. It’s a shame that people don’t have the
kind of fun that we had anymore...
So I think this film is going to be the treat of the
Well, that’s what it’s intended to be and I think people
need that right now.
What’s next? I’ve heard you’re bringing your tour back to New York.
Well, I’m thinking about going back out on the road because
I had a great time. I want to go
to Europe and I want to go Australia and I want to go to Japan. I haven’t been to Europe in 20-years
with a show, so I would really like to go and the Far East beckons. I had such a great time on this last
tour. I learned to bowl and things
like that. We’re a light-hearted
group. We’re really trying our
Well, keep up the good work. And break a leg with The Stepford Wives.