CNBC
updated 6/30/2006 4:11:42 PM ET 2006-06-30T20:11:42

MICHAEL EISNER:
Well Bette, I am thrilled that you're here on my show, mainly because you saved my career once. (LAUGHTER) And I'm looking forward-- to again. Actually, and then we'll start talking about it-- when I went to Disney in '84-- the first person that called me was an agent saying, "You've been trying to be in business with Bette Midler for 20 years. How would you like to do Down and Out in Beverly Hills? I came to Disney. It was the first movie that Disney made under Touchstone in the new era, first R-rated movie that Disney had ever made of that actress who had been involved in many-- projects, some of which were controversial. And that and five movies later kind of turned the momentum of a dormant Disney around. So, I wanted to talk about that and all the rest of it. But going to Disney for you after having done, you know, Clams on the Half Shell, and working in New York. Was that strange?

BETTE MIDLER:
I was very-- I was terrified. And I couldn't understand what they would see-- why they wanted me. I'm thinking-- because I'd grown up with, you know, Bambi and-- and Cinderella. And I-- I was terrified-- I was so--

MICHAEL EISNER:
You are Cinderella.

BETTE MIDLER:
Well, thank you very much-- I was-- I was stunned that they would want me. And I-- I couldn't figure out what was going on over at the studio, that they would suddenly make this big turn from family viewing--

MICHAEL EISNER:
Please.

BETTE MIDLER:
--for-- excuse me, you-- well "they" meaning "them."

MICHAEL EISNER:
Them. I read the scripts. And actually, it was the first Desperate Housewife we ever read. And you playing a Beverly Hills, quasi-desperate housewife--

BETTE MIDLER:
Yes.

MICHAEL EISNER:
--with Nick Nolte, directed by Paul Mazursky--

BETTE MIDLER:
Yes.

MICHAEL EISNER:
--sounded fantastic.

BETTE MIDLER:
Well, it came at just the right time for me, because I had had-- big success with The Rose. And-- I never got another job. I never got another phone call. The studio eventually called me back and said, "Well, we'll make a-- we'll do--" this was during the time of Jinxed, my second picture. I lost my manager-- or excuse me, I excused my manager.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Aaron Russo?

BETTE MIDLER:
I left my manager, the famous Aaron Russo, who was a real-- I-- I have to say, a real light n my life. He was a very exciting person to-- to be in business with.

MICHAEL EISNER:
He recently ran for Governor--

BETTE MIDLER:
He--

MICHAEL EISNER:
--of Nevada.

BETTE MIDLER:
--yes. He was-- he's a fearless kinda guy.

MICHAEL EISNER:
He's got a documentary out-- about to come out, about how you don't have to pay your axes.

BETTE MIDLER:
(LAUGHS) That sounds right.

MICHAEL EISNER:
I've seen it.

BETTE MIDLER:
I've been in-- I was in a lot of-- very exciting police chases with him.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Do you know he's very--

BETTE MIDLER:
Those were great days.

MICHAEL EISNER:
--you know he'd say he was gonna kill me?

BETTE MIDLER:
I-- you know, I-- I heard rumblings of that. What's that story?

MICHAEL EISNER:
We go back about 30 years or 20 years. When I was in New York at ABC, a man comes into my office and says-- "There's a woman singing in the bathhouses in New York who ABC has to make a deal with." I-- he said, "Will you have a meeting?" I said, "Great." What I didn't know was the manager of this up-and-coming actress, Bette Midler, and I shouldn't be talking here, but now (LAUGHTER) you are interviewing me, but whatever.

So, I had a-- I had an apartment for rent in a building I owned. And Aaron Russo came and saw it. And I rented it to him. And that night, I lay in bed with my wife, 'cause I asked him as he left what he did for a living, and he said he managed rock groups. And my wife and I discussed it and we decided it was a mistake. And I called him the next day and I said to him, "Mr. Russo, I've decided against it. I can't do it."

He said, "Please. I beg you, let me come back again." He had this beautiful little blonde wife who was so sweet. And they came back. And they loved the wood-burning fireplace. And I rented it to him again. That night I went back to bed with my wife. We discussed (LAUGHTER) that he-- that he had rock groups. We said it was a mistake. I called him the next day and said, "I'm sorry, I can't do it."

And he said, obviously kidding, "I'm gonna kill you." So, now it's two years later. We have a meeting about Bette Midler, this actress in a-- in-- in-- in the baths. And halfway through the meeting, he points to me and he says, "You're the one." (LAUGHTER) And I said, "Yes, I am." And he got up and walked away. And everybody else in the room said, "What was that all about?" And then I could never make a deal with you.

BETTE MIDLER:
I never-- I never worked for you. Never--

MICHAEL EISNER:
No. I couldn't get The Rose.

BETTE MIDLER:
No, no. I was a starving actress. I wasn't exactly starving. I had a job in--

MICHAEL EISNER:
Fiddler.

BETTE MIDLER:
--Fiddler on the Roof. I started in-- I started actually off-off-Broadway with Tom Ian (PH). I was his house person. He always-- he came to me with all his scripts. I was his leading lady for a couple of years. And-- I was-- because I had been with Tom Ian all those years, I was very used to, you know, I was very used to gay people. I was, you know, I thought they were-- I loved 'em. I had no problem with 'em. So-- I was in "Fiddler." And I could not get another job. I was going on all these auditions, could not get another job. Too short, too fat, too tall, too-- too small, too white, too blonde, too whatever it was. I was always wrong. And so-- when this-- this gentleman called me. He-- he had been my teacher at-- the Berkoff studio. And he said, "There's a man who called me. He's looking for an act." I said, "Well, I have a little bit of an act. I have like 20 minutes." He said, "Well, it's-- it's in a-- it's in a gay bathhouse. Do you have any problem with that?" I-- I have no idea what a gay bathhouse. "Oh, no. I have no problem." After he told me what it paid, which was $300, I mean, I was--

MICHAEL EISNER:
A what?

BETTE MIDLER:
--three-- $300 for the weekend, I was so excited. I mean, it's $300. I-- that was a lotta money--

MICHAEL EISNER:
That's good.

BETTE MIDLER:
--in those days. 'Cause I was working for "Fiddler" for two-- $225 a week, eight shows. So, this was $300 for two shows. I mean, I thought I'd struck it rich. I didn't even think about gay bathhouses. I said let me at 'em. So-- I went. And I went with my best friend who was a hairdresser who was a gay guy, who was Mr. Gerard (PH). And he was a fa-- fabulously famously funny man. And when I told him that I was gonna do this, he said, "Let me write you some lines." So, I said, "Write me some lines." And when we opened, I had some lines to talk about the bathhouse. They were so stunned that I knew what was going on. They were so thrilled that anybody knew their culture that-- I suddenly was like their-- their pet. And I-- I didn't work there that long. But I made such an impression on the world at large because I was a-- I was singing in a gay bathhouse, that I mean, I always say that when I die, it's gonna say on my tombstone, "Began career at Continental Baths." (LAUGHS) You know, that's my-- the start of my obituary.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Johnny Carson-- found you there.

BETTE MIDLER:
He did. He did.

MICHAEL EISNER:
David Frost?

BETTE MIDLER:
Yes-- oh, yes. I started doing all those shows. I did Merv Griffin, Steve Allen, David Frost. Mi-- Mike Douglas, you had to go to Philly to-- been-- never been to Philly. I mean, I was like-- I as on my way. And I was terribly, terribly excited. And really, they were the ones who

sent me on my way.

MICHAEL EISNER:
You came to New York...

BETTE MIDLER:
At 19.

MICHAEL EISNER:
By yourself?

BETTE MIDLER:
By myself, basically by myself. I-- I started-- I-- I landed in San Francisco with a good friend of mine. And we started a road trip. And by the time we got to New Orleans, I'd had enough. And so, I took a plane from New Orleans to-- New York. And my relatives from New Jersey met me. I stayed a week with them. And then I moved into the Broadway Center, which collapsed a year or two later.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Fell-- thing fell down?

BETTE MIDLER:
It-- it just fell down, as-- buildings in New York often do. And-- not with me in it. But I had a-- by that time, I had made some contacts. I had a little job at-- at Stern's selling gloves. And I was basically-- and, you know, I was only 19. And my daughter's 19 now. And she says, "I cannot believe--" she's in college. "I cannot believe that you came by yourself to New York City in 1965 and-- with nobody. And you began a-- a career." And I say-- I say I guess times were different.

MICHAEL EISNER:
I went from--

BETTE MIDLER:
Things were very different.

MICHAEL EISNER:
--I moved too. I went from 89th Street to 65th Street. (LAUGHTER) In Manhattan. I thought that was--

BETTE MIDLER:
With a passport?

MICHAEL EISNER:
--where-- I thought that was the biggest move of my life. (LAUGHTER) It was the first time I was doing my own laundry. You moved from Hawaii.

BETTE MIDLER:
Yeah.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Were your parents, like, upset about this?

BETTE MIDLER:
No. My parents, I think, were--

MICHAEL EISNER:
Glad to get rid of you? What--

BETTE MIDLER:
--they-- my dad cried when I got on the plane. He cried. And I realized then that, you know, he was a-- that was a generation that didn't really-- they weren't overly emotional. They were very stoic. And they never showed their feelings. So, when he co-- he cried, I realized gee, I really meant something to the guy. 'Cause up until then, I wasn't so sure. But--

MICHAEL EISNER:
But wasn't the Hawaii in-- in the '60s really feel isolated? Today, it's because of satellite

television and all that--

BETTE MIDLER:
But, you know--

MICHAEL EISNER:
--it's not as isolated.

BETTE MIDLER:
--it's not as isolated. I-- I gather that it was. The films never-- didn't come for a year or two later.

MICHAEL EISNER:
So, did you learn the hula?

BETTE MIDLER:
I did. I've studied the hula. My mother said that all the girls study the hula. So, we went down to the-- even though my sister wanted to study ballet, my mother says, "You're going to hula." So, we went to hula. We went once a week for years. And I still have all my records. And I still-- I can still do it. Although, I don't remember the stories as clearly as I ought.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Did that help you play the eldest daughter in "Fiddler?"

BETTE MIDLER:
Not even a little. Not even this much.

MICHAEL EISNER:
A Jewish--

BETTE MIDLER:
But it did--

MICHAEL EISNER:
--mid-European dances?

BETTE MIDLER:
No, no, no, no. And in fact, when I see-- when I see sometimes the tapes from that-- from that show, I think I can't believe I got that job. Oh, my word. But I guess they saw something in me that I-- I mean, I really wanted to be in that show. I thought it was one of the most beautiful shows I'd ever seen. In fact, it was the most beautiful show I'd ever seen.

MICHAEL EISNER:
And wha-- when the person came to my office and talked about you in the baths and then said you were the eldest daughter in "Fiddler," I did go. (LAUGHTER) And it only made me more interested. If I hadn't-- if I'd only given Aaron that apartment--

BETTE MIDLER:
You know, you know--

MICHAEL EISNER:
--who knows what could've happened?

BETTE MIDLER:
--what could've happened to me? I would've had a career.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Were you a-- were you a piece of work? Were you a-- difficult?

BETTE MIDLER:
I don't know if I was difficult. I was probably difficult because I was very ambitious. And I didn't have any other interests, which is not good, not re-- really healthy.

MICHAEL EISNER:
You weren't difficult at Disney at all.

BETTE MIDLER:
I-- I-- no, I was-- by that time, I had been so beaten up that I was like-- I was a desperate housewife. This-- I was playing a part for real. I-- after Jinxed which really-- I was so beaten up during Jinxed-- And everybody in the set hated me. And I couldn't figure out why.

MICHAEL EISNER:
This is after The Rose?

BETTE MIDLER:
This is after The Rose.

MICHAEL EISNER:
But you were an Academy-award nominated--

BETTE MIDLER:
Can you imagine?

MICHAEL EISNER:
--yeah, how outrageous.

BETTE MIDLER:
I was-- I was-- I was so stunned that that's how it worked.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Right. Well, it does-- everybody's not that way, you've since learned.

BETTE MIDLER:
I-- other female stars have told me that this is the way it works. You have to have a certain level of appeal to the powers that be. You know, and everyone is not--

MICHAEL EISNER:
I was a power that--

BETTE MIDLER:
--and the-- and I--

MICHAEL EISNER:
--been.

BETTE MIDLER:
--appealed to you. And--

MICHAEL EISNER:
You did.

BETTE MIDLER:
--thank God. So, when you called me, I was probably sobbing my heart out. Because I-- because I had been-- put through the wringer in the press over Jinxed. And I thought well, this is the end. I'll-- never gonna work again. And then this great phone call came. And Paul Mazursky was so kind. And the-- and it was like the $500 special. Me-- it was me and it was Nick Nolte. And it was-- Richard Dreyfuss. And it was as if everyone was-- out of rehab, out of some kind of terrible disgrace. And you were giving everyone like, you know, $1 and a quarter to work, you know, to get their lives back together. And basically, really, everybody did. Everyone really went on from that picture to make, you know, to have big careers and to sort of organize themselves.

MICHAEL EISNER:
I never failed with any of those three people before that or after that. Nick Nolte had

done Rich Man, Poor Man.

BETTE MIDLER:
Yes.

MICHAEL EISNER:
All that stuff.

BETTE MIDLER:
Yes. You--

MICHAEL EISNER:
Richard Dreyfuss.

BETTE MIDLER:
--sensational actor, another sensational actor.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Who was--

BETTE MIDLER:
And everyone was on their best behavior. Well, not exactly.

MICHAEL EISNER:
--now, during this period, you weren't performing like you did on Clams in the Half Shell?

BETTE MIDLER:
I-- I stopped doing live shows. Once I started in pictures with you guys, I basically stopped doing lives shows.

MICHAEL EISNER:
There was a piece of "Clams" where you come out with King Kong.

BETTE MIDLER:
Yes.

MICHAEL EISNER:
And I called up after I saw the show.

BETTE MIDLER:
You did not. You did? I knew it.

MICHAEL EISNER:
I-- I called up Barry Diller at Paramount. I was at ABC.

BETTE MIDLER:
And said, "Get King Kong."

MICHAEL EISNER:
And then he didn't answer me. He never said anything, which is not unusual. And then I called Sid Schomberg (PH) at Universal and said, "How about King Kong?" (LAUGHTER) And they both started making it and ended up suing each other and finally becoming--

BETTE MIDLER:
Interesting.

MICHAEL EISNER:
--partners, all out of seeing you--

BETTE MIDLER:
Amazing.

MICHAEL EISNER:
--coming out of-- Fay Wray.

BETTE MIDLER:
Fay Wray.

MICHAEL EISNER:
So, you span a whole kind of era from the '60s and the kind of-- Vietnam, late '60s, early '70s, the drug culture, the-- coming outta that into the-- kind of the '80s, the-- the Disney culture, as you were-- as you will, the mother culture.

BETTE MIDLER:
Yeah.

MICHAEL EISNER:
The-- turning your back on the drug culture-- then the philanthropic culture. I mean, you have been-- you have actually--

BETTE MIDLER:
I've been--

MICHAEL EISNER:
--the movie about you--

BETTE MIDLER:
--there. (LAUGHS)

MICHAEL EISNER:
--no, but a movie about you has everything you want. It has (LAUGHTER) the arc. It has the revelation of character. It has the--

BETTE MIDLER:
Love interest.

MICHAEL EISNER:
--experience, the love interest, the old boyfriend who goes nuts. (LAUGHTER) And it has-- it has everything. But you--

BETTE MIDLER:
Yeah. Oh, please-- please don't make a movie of my life, please swear to me. Swear to

me.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Well, do (PH)-- we made Stella.

BETTE MIDLER:
Oh, Stella, that was the turning point. See, that was what-- that's when I wound up in the-- excuse my French. That's when I wound up not doing-- that was the turning point. That's when I-- I realized it was-- it was not going to go well.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Because?

BETTE MIDLER:
Because I made Beaches, which was an-- an enormous success. And it was an enormous success-- for women. Women loved that movie. It was a woman's picture. And I remember so clearly--

MICHAEL EISNER:
By the way, I should've listened to you, 'cause you came to me and said--

BETTE MIDLER:
I said don't--

MICHAEL EISNER:
--call it Wings-- Wind Beneath my Wings.

BETTE MIDLER:
Did I say that?

MICHAEL EISNER:
Yes. "Why are you calling it Beaches?"

BETTE MIDLER:
Well, it had a-- yeah.

MICHAEL EISNER:
I made this whole case why it should be called Beaches.

BETTE MIDLER:
I remember that.

MICHAEL EISNER:
You were right. You were right. They did it extremely well. But I wanna go back to this, how you were able, which a lotta people aren't, is to put the past kind of behind you as we say in "Lion King."

BETTE MIDLER:
Very-- well, you know, I had a partner who was a sensational person. Her name was Bonnie Bruckheimer (PH). And I-- I loved her. We parted company. But one of the things that I took with me when we left was her motto which was, "We hold a grudge." So, it's not like we-- the face of it is that I have forgotten. But truly, there's some psychic insults that are so severe that you really don't forget, you know. You kind of like don't tell everybody. But you're-- you're still like (GROANS). And I'm afraid I'm one of those people. I am. I do remember. And that's a problem. I think that comes from my family. I-- the good, the best of times when I really stop and think about it, the grudges are always with you. But the best of times, they have a tendency to dissipate. And you really have to pull them back in order to go on.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Well, one thing that you probably don't hear and you should recognize is that there is in show business, there is business. Otherwise--

BETTE MIDLER:
Yes.

MICHAEL EISNER:
--Woody Allen said, it would be show show. (LAUGHTER) And the effect that you had on the bottom line of Disney, the effect that you had on turning around the perception of a company, of creating a non-Disney brand, was enormous. And what most people don't understand is these companies, even big Disney, only are as good as the content. Just like an automobile company is only as good as, you know--

BETTE MIDLER:
The car--

MICHAEL EISNER:
--the new car.

BETTE MIDLER:
Yeah.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Which is-- seems to be a problem today. And I would say your vitality and your spirit, and I think you know this, but I'm not sure you know the impact it had on the bottom line, though- or you probably heard it. But it's-- it's there. And--

BETTE MIDLER:
Thank you very much.

MICHAEL EISNER:
I-- I mean, it's-- we don't talk about that much--

BETTE MIDLER:
But you enriched my bottom line too, don't forget. I mean--

MICHAEL EISNER:
Well, we all did fine.

BETTE MIDLER:
Yeah, we did.

MICHAEL EISNER:
But there are a lot-- there-- 120,000 employees at Disney. And--

BETTE MIDLER:
That's true.

MICHAEL EISNER:
--millions of shareholders.

BETTE MIDLER:
That's true.

MICHAEL EISNER:
And, you know--

BETTE MIDLER:
Well, that's great.

MICHAEL EISNER:
--you're just doing a movie.

BETTE MIDLER:
Yeah.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Think you're just doing a movie. Then you're doing another movie. You're doing an album. And this is very American.

BETTE MIDLER:
Yes.

MICHAEL EISNER:
It's not done anywhere else in the world. And I think people do appreciate that. Anyway--

BETTE MIDLER:
Well, thank you very much.

MICHAEL EISNER:
--I loved having you here.

BETTE MIDLER:
Thank you. Oh, that's kind of you.

MICHAEL EISNER:
I could go on for 100 hours.

BETTE MIDLER:
I could too.

MICHAEL EISNER:
Thank you, Bette.

BETTE MIDLER:
Thank you. And thanks for everything.

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