Quantcast

"Camp" Feed

An Appreciation of Bette Midler

 

Bette midler 1970s

 

Although I wouldn't call myself a devout fan, there's a soft spot in my heart for Bette Midler, a powerhouse of talent whose music, movies and TV appearances I've long enjoyed.  (Truth be told, I was also never a rabid fan of Judy, Marilyn, Liza, Barbra or Cher).  I wasn't yet living in New York during her Continental Baths years, never saw her perform live in concert, nor did I see The Rose or Beaches, but over a career that's spanned five decades I've had my share of exposure to her prolific creative output.  I'm happy she's had such a successful and enduring career (some might even refer to it as "divine").  Now, with her triumphant starring role in the Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly!, this seems a perfect time to salute her through my memories.

 

Bette midler hello dolly
In "Hello, Dolly!"

 

FAVORITE SONGS

My playlist is comprised of songs that were released between 1972-1977 and 1988-1992.  But nothing after 2000.

  • Friends (1972, The Divine Miss M) - Listening to it now, I find the line, "I had some friends but they're gone, someone came and took them away," chilling, since 10 years after the album was released this verse would hit home for many of us as the ravages of AIDS began decimating the gay community.  

 

Bette midler - divine miss m
Her first album

 

  • Do You Want to Dance? (1972, The Divine Miss M) - This was Bette's first song to enter the Billboard Hot 40.  I bought it as a single.  In the late 1980s Bette sued the Ford Motor Co. when it used a singer with a voice very similar to hers in a TV commercial.  A district court ruled against her but an appeals court overturned that decision.
  • Twisted (1973, Bette Midler) - A brassy cover of a song first released in 1952, the following year it was one of the tracks on Joni Mitchell's album Court and Spark.
  • I Shall be Released and Higher and Higher (1973, Bette Midler) - Both start out quietly, then build to a roar.
  • Strangers in the Night (Songs from the New Depression, 1976) - Remake of Frank Sinatra's classic, but with more pizazz.
  • Old Cape Cod (Songs from the New Depression, 1976) - A cover of a song from the late '50s which Patti Page made famous.  When I'd walk at night in Provincetown on a moonlit night I'd have Bette's version playing in my head.

 

Provincetown - captain jacks wharf
Captain Jack's Wharf in Provincetown, a place I stayed a number of times when I vacationed in P-town.

 

  • Tragedy (Songs from the New Depression, 1976) - Not to be confused with the Bee Gees disco hit by the same name, this is beautiful, plaintive song.
  • Yellow Beach Umbrella (Broken Blossom, 1977) - This one always makes me think of the Club Baths, where I first heard this tune.  And it was perfect in that setting with lyrics that suggested anonymous encounters, such as "and nobody there will ever know me well", "gonna be a mystery to everyone", and "nobody there will ever find out who I am".  The song was previously recorded by Perry Como, Andy Williams and Three Dog Night, which I found very peculiar because the song has such a female vibe to it.

 

Bette_Midler_-_Broken_Blossom

  • The Wind Beneath My Wings (1988) - Schmaltzy as hell but I always loved it, and I liked its beautiful music video as well.  It was Bette's only chart topper.  Three years before she made it an overplayed smash I bought a 12-inch dance version by a group called Menage

 

Bette midler - the wind beneath my wings
Performing the song at the 2014 Academy Awards

 

  • Miss Otis Regrets (1990, Some People's Lives) - Written by Cole Porter in 1934, Bette revisits the genre that was her trademark early in her career.
  • From A Distance (1991) - Brings back memories of the first Gulf War.  It peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
  • Stuff Like That There and Billy-A-Dick (1991) - From the movie For the Boys, both songs were written during WWII, bringing Bette back to her roots when she was identified with tunes like the Andrew Sisters' Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Glenn Miller's In the Mood.

 

Bette midler - for the boys
"For the Boys"
  • Ukulele Lady (1998, Bathhouse Betty) - A perfect, quirky with a retro feel to it that is vintage Bette.
  • In These Shoes? (2000, Bette) - This is a cover of a song by the late Kirsty MacColl from her 1996 album.

 

MOVIES I'VE SEEN

She's appeared in more than two dozen movies but I've only seen a handful: Big Business (1988, with Lily Tomlin); Ruthless People (1986, with Danny DeVito); Down & Out in Beverly Hills (1986, with Richard Dreyfus); Outrageous Fortune (1987, with Shelly Long) and For the Boys (1991, with James Caan).

 

Bette midler - down and out in beverly hills
"Down & Out in Beverly Hills"

 

TV SHOWS, MAGAZINES, ETC.

She guest-starred on Cher's CBS special (Feb. 12, 1975) along with Elton John.  This was one of the pop culture highlights of my senior year in high school.

 

Bette midler - 1975 cher special

 

In People Magazine's June 30, 1975 cover story, there was a photo of Bette planting flowers in front of her brownstone on Barrow St. (the block off Seventh Ave. South).  I live near this street and think of this photo every time I walk on that block.

 

Bette midler - people magazine

 

A great Vanity Fair cover as well as an amusing photo spread inside the issue (Dec. 1991).

 

Bette midler - vanity fair

Midler_vf

Bette midler - vanity fair mowing lawn

 

Serenaded Johnny Carson (May 21, 1992).  Perhaps the highlight of Johnny Carson's last week hosting the Tonight Show was Bette hopping on his desk and singing You Made Me Watch You.  This affection was sincere since Carson launched her career when she appeared on his show for the first time in the summer of 1970 (however, her first national exposure was earlier that year on the much less popular David Frost Show). 

 

Bette midler - johnny carson

 

Starred in the TV version of the musical Gypsy (Dec. 12, 1993).  It took 10 years of cajoling before the show's late creator, Arthur Laurents, agreed to allow the  project to go forward.  The telecast was the fourth most popular show of the week and it won Bette a Golden Globe (but no Emmy).  Sadly, the movie's director, Emile Ardolino, died from AIDS complications the week before the movie was telecast.

 

Bette midler - mama rose in gypsy

 

Appeared in an episode of Seinfeld (May 18, 1995).  Playing herself, she's injured after Jerry slides into her at a charity softball game (his girlfriend is Bette's understudy in a musical called Rochelle, Rochelle).  While recuperating in the hospital Kramer decides to take care of her, and presents here with a tiny likeness of herself made out of macaroni ("macaroni Midler").

 

Bette midler - seinfeld

 

Her love of nature and the people of New York City was the impetus behind the New York Restoration Project, a non-profit that Bette founded in July 1995.  It has championed neglected community parks throughout the City, restoring them through clean-ups and the planting of trees and greenery.

 

Bette midler - new york restoration project

 

Starred in a CBS sitcom in 2000-01 titled Bette.  (In the pilot episode her daughter was played by 13-year-old Lindsay Lohan.)  Unfortunately, this show was not a hit, and it's since been used as a prime example of how a big name doesn't necessarily mean a show will be a success with viewers.

 

Bette midler - cbs sitcom

 

During the 2011 holiday season Bette was featured in a commercial for the Honda Acura as an over-the-top Christmas caroler.

 

Bette midler - honda ad

 

Finally, the Caricatures ...

Bette_midler_risko
Artist: Robert Risko

 

Bette midler - al hirschfeld caricature
Artist: Al Hirschfeld

 

Bette midler - david coles caricature
Artist: David Coles

 

And if the 22 images in this post leave you wanting more, try the 2000+ images on this Pinterest page devoted to the Divine Miss M.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save


The Andrews Sisters & My First Stirrings of "Camp"

Andrew.sistersWhen I was around the age of 14 or 15 I saw a TV commercial for a compilation of the Andrews Sisters' greatest hits and I was captivated by Patty, Maxene and LaVerne.  Their harmony, their look, their pep!  My favorite song of theirs was Hold Tight.  And Bette Midler had a top-10 hit in 1973 with her cover of their WWII classic Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (from her first album The Divine Miss M).  I also came to embrace other songs from the 40s, such as Hut Sut Song, Three Little Fishies and Elmer's Tune.  At the time I had no inkling about being gay (that would come a few years later), but my nascent gay sensibility was beginning to blossom.

 

Candyman.christina.aguilera Fast forward to the 21st century where in 2004 I was tickled by the inclusion of the Andrews Sisters' version of Winter Wonderland in the movie The Polar Express.  Then a few years later Christina Aguilera paid homage to them with her music video for Candy Man and its uptempo Big Band-like beat and military motif. 

 

Andrew.sisters.whatsmylineHere are links to two marvelous You Tube clips.  The first, from 1959, is an appearance by the Andrews Sisters on What's My Line?.  The second clip, from 1966, has them in a sing-off with the Supremes, performing each others' hits on Sammy Davis Jr.'s short-lived variety show.  

 

Madonna_trueblueWhen I became aware of the Andrews Sisters' music, part of its appeal was how old fashioned it was.  Today, however, when I look back at the popular music from 25-30 years ago by Madonna, Culture Club,  George Michael, or the Eurythmics, their songs don't seem like "oldies" at all - "classic" is more appropriate.  Ah, how different the world appears looking through the eyes of youth and the eyes of the AARP set!


What Makes the Yuletide Gay?

20131216_125933 What's not to love about Christmas, especially if you're a gay man?  Tinsel, ribbons and Garland - specifically, Judy's 1963 Christmas show!  And when we watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer who didn't feel a connection with Herbie the Elf and the toys found on the Island of Misfit Toys?  Then there's the beloved Christmas carol, Deck the Halls.  Not only does it have the fabulous line, "Don we now our gay apparel", but a chorus of "fa la la la la, la la la la" to boot!  Besides that song, we also embrace Christmas music in general, especially if it's sung by the Carpenters or Julie Andrews.  And who can forget the Salsoul Orchestra's classic Christmas Jollies album?

 

Wrapping_xmas_presentHowever, I must admit there is one aspect of Christmas I don't embrace, and that is wrapping presents.  Although I love beautiful wrapping paper, I've never developed a flair for transforming a package into a work of art - and I have no patience whatsoever when it comes to ribbons and bows.  (I'm more of a brown paper packages tied up with string kind of guy.)  I guess when they were handing out the Martha Stewart gene I must have been in the line for liking baseball.  But let's not dwell on "bah humbug".  Rather, with dreams of sugar plums dancing in my head, here's a ZeitGAYst toast to the Christmas season ....

 

 

  • From the movie White Christmas (not to be confused with Holiday Inn), the wonderful number "Sisters" was performed by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen and then, hilariously, by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye ...

 

Sisters_holidayinn

Sisters_bing_danny

 

  • A "Glee"-ful Christmas.  And who can forget Kurt and Blake's spicy duet of Baby It's Cold Outside from the show's 2010 Christmas episode?

 

Christmas_glee

 

  • Here's some gay apparel ...

 

Banana.republic_xmas

Xmas_banrepublic

 

  • Tzabaco was one of a number of catalogs in the early to mid 1990s that was targeted to gay and lesbian shoppers (Shocking Gray was another).  Alas, it didn't survive more than a few years. 

 

GayCatalog_Tzabaco

XmasCatalog

 

  • Hats and underwear count as apparel ... 

 

Tumblr_ldwifw7mbL1qc0um2o1_500

20131216_125456-1

Tumblr_ldq8owZo7S1qdaw5vo1_500
20131216_125952

 

  • With names like Dancer & Prancer, can two of Santa's reindeer be anything but gay?

 

Dancer_prancer 

 

  • Although not a movie, per se, about Christmas, a key scene early in John Waters' Female Trouble takes place on Christmas morning when rebellious high school student Dawn Davenport (played by Divine) goes ballistic on her parents when she doesn't get the "Cha-Cha heels" she so covets.

 

Divine_chacha_heels 

 

  • And finally, holiday cards from dear, dear friends ... 

 

20131218_082131-1

20131218_082147-1

GayXmasCard

 

May all of your Christmases be pink ...

 

Here are a few other posts I've written with a Christmas theme:

Jingle Bells or Jingle Balls?

Bette Midler Stars in Holiday Commercial for Honda

Martha Stewart's First Christmas Special

Christmas Ads That Spread Holiday Cheer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


"Valley of the Dolls" - A Delightful, Trashy Mess of a Movie - And a Classic

 

Neely_helenlawson_fight

 

Valley of the Dolls was a huge best seller when the novel was published in 1966.  And it was an equally popular, although critically panned, movie that was released just before Christmas in 1967.  After adjusting for ticket price inflation, the $44 million it made at the box office (making it the 6th highest grossing movie of the year) is the equivalent of $300 million today.  Despite the date of its release, it would never be considered a holiday classic, but it's a beloved camp classic of many gay men.  (Perhaps the various Housewives iterations on Bravo were inspired by this movie? )

 

The movie tells the cautionary tale about the sordid underbelly of show business - Broadway as well as Hollywood.  Neely O'Hara, portrayed by Patty Duke, is "discovered", rapidly ascends to stardom, gets hooked on booze and pills, and then is discarded.  Judy Garland was the original choice to play the bigger than life Broadway star, Helen Lawson.  (However, it was Neely O'Hara's character whose professional life mirrored Judy's in terms of pills and liquor).  20 years after VOD was released I was introduced to the movie by my boss, who was gay.

 

Valleyofdolls_neely2

 

In keeping with the attitude toward gays in the 1960s, the portrayal of homosexuals in Dolls was not a positive one.  They were dismissively referred to as "fags".  Today, more than 50 years later, this portrayal is  somewhat amusing and instructive of how attitudes have changed. 

 

Bitchy_fags_valleyofdolls

 

There are so many wonderfully awful scenes to relish.  For example, Neely being discovered at a telethon; a montage of Neely's typical crazy day as she rises to stardom; the song "Come Live With Me"; Helen singing "I'll Plant a Tree" in front of Calder-like mobile (pictured); Neely and Helen's confrontation in the lounge at a restaurant; Neely grasping for her "dolls".

 

Helen.lawson_tree

 

Here are a dozen of my favorite lines:

  • This IS an exciting business! (An agent's assistant while watching from the side of the stage during Neely's breakout performance at a telethon)
  • The only hit that comes out of a Helen Lawson show is Helen Lawson, and that's ME, baby, remember?  (Helen Lawson, after demanding Neely be fired because she was taking attention from her.)
  • I'll plant my own tree and I'll make it grow ..." (Helen Lawson singing her show stopper, "I'll Plant My Tree)
  • I'll go out the way I came in. (Helen Lawson, in the ladies' lounge at a restaurant, after Neely pulled off her wig and flushed it down the toilet.)
  • I'm not the butler, Neely. (Neely O'Hara's husband) You're not the breadwinner either (Neely's snarky reply).
  • Mother, I know I don't have any talent, and I know all I have is a body, and I am doing my bust exercises. (Sharon Tate's character, Jennifer, on the phone with her disparaging mother)

 

Sharon_tate_vod

 

  • I have to get up at five o'clock in the morning and SPARKLE, Neely, SPARKLE! (Neely)
  • I wouldn't pay any attention to that. You know how bitchy fags can be!
  • Ted Casablanca is NOT a fag... and I`m the dame who can prove it.  (Neely)
  • Don`t worry, sweetheart. If the show folds I can always get you a part as understudy for my grandmother. (Neely to Helen)
  • They drummed you right outta Hollywood! So ya come crawlin` back to Broadway. Well, Broadway doesnt go for booze and dope! (Helen to Neely)
  • Now you get outta my way, I got a guy waitin` for me. (Helen)  That`s a switch from the fags you're usually stuck with! (Neely) Helen Lawson: At least I never had to MARRY one! (Helen)

 

There are camp classics that are fine movies such as All About Eve and The Women, then there are the trashy classics such as Show Girls, Mommie Dearest, and then there is ... Valley of the Dolls

 

In the fall of 1996 there was an off-Broadway production of Dolls that played at Village in the Square in Greenwich Village (Bleecker St.), starring Jackie Beat as Helen.  It was a parody which seemed odd considering it was already laughable in its original release.  I saw it twice.  

 


"Pines '79" - Revisiting a Play Depicting Carefree Days Before AIDS

 

Pines79

 

Recently, my friend Andy loaned me a paperback he bought on Amazon titled Pines '79.  Actually, it's a bound script and stage notes from the off-Broadway play that opened at Actor's Playhouse in the West Village in 1981.  Set in the Pines, it takes place over four weekends during the summer of 1979.  The comedy's main characters are five gay men sharing one house and an older, straight female friend who lives in another.  It touches upon drugs, disco, sex, relationships, fear of intimacy and the freedom found on Fire Island.  Lightweight and angst free, it's light years away from the self-loathing tone of Boys in the Band.

 

The_sandpiper_disco_fireisland

 

Prominent play is given to the Meat Rack, the Sandpiper disco (pictured, above), disco naps and "Beach '79" - the first dance party held on the beach, featuring 16-year-old France Joli.  There's no deep talk about politics, just decadence.  Disco songs such as Ring My Bell, the Village People's Fire Island and Don't You Want My Love are featured.  Unfortunately, the last act devolves into slapstick with the appearance of an oafish hustler and a clingy trick.  

 

Because Pines '79 is such a period piece it would probably be of interest only to those who experienced this way of life.  It would have been interesting if sequels were staged that followed the housemates over subsequent summers.  I wonder if any of the characters would have survived the onset of AIDS?  Alas, the playwright Terry Miller (not to be confused with Dan Savage's husband, who has the same name) succumbed in 1995 at the age of 47.  Miller also authored the book Greenwich Village and How it Got That Way, which was published in 1990.

 

Terrymiller

 

 

 


Krystle & Alexis Engage in Nasty Catfight on "Dynasty" (April 13, 1983)

Krystle_and_alexisHeterosexual males have had plenty of memorable heavyweight boxing matches throughout the years to get their blood boiling, e.g., Ali v. Frasier and Patterson v. Johansson to name just a few.  But on the night of April 13, 1983, we gays got our "fight of the century" when Dynasty's Krystle and Alexis went at it with each other and ended up flailing about in a lily pond on the Carrington estate.  When Krystle's husband Blake pulls her out of the pond he has these choice words for her:

 

"No matter what the provocation is, I will NOT have my wife acting this way.  A common brawl in a lily pond - with HER!  You look like a couple of female mud wrestlers!"  (To view this clip doubleclick here.)  

 

This was just one of a number of nasty altercations between Krystle and Alexis during Dynasty's nine seasons, but it is perhaps the most cherished of them all.  Drag queens especially love to re-enact it during the summer months.  This brings to mind another classic catfight that involved water - the scene from Valley of the Dolls in which Neely O'Hara (played by Patty Duke) pulls off Helen Lawson's wig (played by Susan Hayward) during a fight in the lounge of a fine restaurant's ladies room and then triumphantly tosses it into the toilet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Village People Appear on the Cover of "Rolling Stone" (April 12, 1979)

Village_people_rolling_stone A few months after rocker Rod Stewart succumbed to the Disco Fever sweeping the nation in 1979 with his disco smash Do Ya Think I'm Sexy? (four weeks at #1), the world of rock capitulated further when Rolling Stone put the Village People on the cover of its April 19 issue (it hit newsstands today).  The magazine had earlier cover stories on the Bee Gees in 1977 (posing in their famous white disco suits) and Donna Summer in 1978, but the Village People cover was an indication of how gay culture was being slowly absorbed into mainstream America.  Soon their song YMCA would be played at wedding receptions and performed by ground crews at baseball games.  And a commercial for Old El Paso salsa from the early 1990s was set to the song Macho Man.

 

Old el paso salsa commercial

 

Unlike most novelty groups, the Village People managed to chart three songs in the top 20 of Billboard's Hot 100: YMCA went to #2; In the Navy peaked at #3; and Macho Man topped out at #14.   

 

Disco_demolition_night However, the Rolling Stone cover may have been the straw that broke the camel's back as a backlash against disco music soon began - culminating in the infamous "Disco Demolition Night" riot at Chicago's Comiskey Park in July.  But 30+ years later the mention of the Village People is still likely to put a smile on most faces.   

 

Other ZeitGAYst posts about the Village People:

Coming Out with the Help of the Village People

The Village People Appear on American Bandstand

Creator of the Village People Dies of AIDS

Glenn Hughes, Village People's "Leatherman" Dies


The Village People's "Leatherman" Dies (March 4, 2001)

Glenn_Hughes_(Village_People)in_memoriam Glenn Hughes, the Village People's furry-chested, handlebar-mustached leatherman died on March 4, 2001 from lung cancer at the age of 50.  The other five members of the original group are still alive and range in age from 55 to 65.  (The group's creator, Jacques Morali, died in 1991.)  The video clip below of Hughes is from the Village People's awful 1980 movie Can't Stop the Music:

 

    

 

Brian_wilson_sfgiants2 I thought about Hughes when watching the 2010 World Series because Giants relief pitcher, Brian Wilson, reminded me of him - except he doesn't have a hairy chest or naturally black hair (Wilson dyes it to give him an intimidating look).

 

 

 

 

 


A Gay Laff Riot - Funny, Campy Postcards

If you're undecided about whether someone is gay, show them the following cards and if they don't crack a smile, you have your answer.

 

When I moved to New York in 1979 there was a card store on Christopher St. called Greetings and it was chockablock with campy, irreverent cards.  This one here was one of the best.  34 years later it still makes me chortle with delight.

 

ExpressiveLips

 

40 years after the publication of Erica Jong's Fear of Flying ...

 

Stewardess_Boy

 

This scene from a classic episode of I Love Lucy is from a book of pre-paid postcards issued by the US Postal Service a few years ago that honored personalities of classic TV.

 

LucyEthel_stamp 

 

How true ...

 

Shoes_change_life

 

It seemed somehow fitting that I found this postcard discarded on a sidewalk.

 

Barbie_Rehab

 

Leave it to drag performer Mimi Imfurst to tackle such a controversial role ...

 

Anne_Frankenstein

 

Any postcard with Joan Crawford on it (or Faye Dunaway as Joan) is guaranteed to elicit a smile from any card-carrying homosexual.

 

Joan_Crawford

 

This card came out shortly after the word "metrosexual" entered the lexicon at the the turn of the 21st century.

 

Metrosexua

 

His donning of gay apparel should have been her tip off (this was a Christmas card) ...

 

GayXmasCard 

 

From The New Yorker, for the benefit of its BDSM readership.

 

NewYorkerCartoon

 

Ads from the 1930s and 1940s are a goldmine for campy re-interpretation ...

 

Gay_In_Cotton_Print    

 

As Peggy Lee might ask, "Is that all there is to a muscle hunk?"  And I'm sure we all have our own stories of disappointment ...

 

LittleDick

 

After taking her first draw from one of those "funny" cigarettes, her Midwestern virtue went out the window.  Thus began the Bohemian adventures of a ...

 

GreenwichVillage_Girl

 

 No doubt fueled by a vodka stinger ...

 

Zero_to_bitch

 

Another classic from my favorite card store (RIP).  The flip side of this card identifies the dog walker as "Miss Dish".

 

MissDish 

 

If you liked this, you may also enjoy a post in a similar vein:  What Tickles a Gay Man's Funny Bone.


Nancy Sinatra Tops the Charts with "These Boots Are Made for Walking" (February 20, 1966)

Nancy_sinatra_bootsFrank Sinatra's daughter Nancy had one of the biggest hits of 1966 with Boots, an early song about female empowerment.  (Two years earlier Lesley Gore had come out with a similarly-themed song, You Don't Own Me.)  It went to #1 the week of February 20.  However, it wasn't until twenty years later that the song became part of the "Camp Hall of Fame" when cable network VH-1 uncovered a primitive video for the song that had been produced for video jukeboxes. 

 

I was 8 years old at the time the song was popular and remember thinking that the song was pretty dreadful.  Now I've grown to like it, thanks largely to the video with Nancy and her bevy of young vixens with their teased That Girl flips and go-go boots.  And who can forget the call to action at the song's end - "Are you ready boots? ... start walkin!".   

 

 

 

A year later Nancy and her dad had an even bigger hit with the song Something Stupid, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks.  It was very popular despite the creepiness factor of father and daughter singing about romantic love.