Watch CBS News

Bette Midler on her legendary career, the birth of her alter ego and "the one character that I did that will not leave me be"

When Bette Midler was a child, she said she wanted to become one thing: a legend. Decades later she accomplished her goal, becoming a legend in film, theater, music and comedy.

Her stardom spans from generation to generation. She's had a hit song, movie or TV show in every decade since the 1970s. Her resume includes four Grammy Awards, three Emmy Awards, two Tony Awards and nine American Comedy Awards. 

She was one out of five selected to be a Kennedy Center honoree this month. Midler told "CBS Mornings" co-host Gayle King she was emotional when she heard she was selected for the honor because it was something she never saw coming.  

"I cried... I really did. I did. 'Cause I never in my wildest dreams ever expected it. I really didn't," she said.  

While most people would describe Midler as an icon, she sees herself as a devoted performer who first took the stage when she was 14 years old in community theater. 

"I try to be engaged. I love my work. I'm devoted to performing," said Midler. 

She would get her big break on Broadway seven years later in "Fiddler on the Roof." She earned her nicknames "Bathhouse Betty" and "The Divine Miss M" at the Continental Baths in New York City.

When a teacher of hers first told her about an opportunity to work at the bathhouse, Midler said she had no idea what a gay bathhouse was.

"So my teacher called me and said, 'This gentleman I know is looking for an entertainer in a gay bathhouse.' And I said, 'Does it pay?' And he said, 'Yes, it pays $300 for the weekend.' I said, '$300? I'll be there,'" recalled Midler. "People would sit on chairs in their bathrobes or their towels, and I would entertain."

It would be a turning point in Midler's career and introduce the world to her alter ego: "The Divine Miss M." 

"I was at the bathhouse and the gentleman who owned the bathhouse came knocking on my door. And he said, "How do you wanna be introduced?" And I said, "Oh, tell them I'm divine." Just like that. "Tell them I'm divine," Midler said. 

"The Divine Miss M" became Midler's "stairway to the stars" and helped her achieve things that she would not normally feel comfortable doing.  

"She's allowed to do a lotta things that I am not allowed to do. Cause I'm really very shy. I'm quite shy. And I'm insecure... Incredibly insecure," she said. "I like to participate but kind of on the fringe. I'm not really comfortable being the belle of the ball, even though on the stage I am." 

Midler has said she's most proud taking center stage and calling the shots at her one-woman shows. Midler holds her own in movies too. Her spell-binding performance as Winifred Sanderson made the movie "Hocus Pocus" a Halloween classic. 

Thirty years after the Disney film debuted, she, along with Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, will be returning to play the Sanderson sisters, in Hocus Pocus 2, scheduled to be released in 2022. 

"I am so climb onto that broom again. She's the one character that I did that will not leave me be. She's still around," Midler said. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.