How Bette Midler Became "Bathhouse Betty"

Categories: Bette Midler

Divine.jpg
Way before she was Sue Mengers (the colorful agent she's playing in a new Broadway play), Bette Midler was known for camping and vamping it up for toweled gays at the Continental Baths in between their bouts of horizontal mambo dancing.

Well, Malcolm Ingram's new documentary about the place, Continental (which I'm a talking head in), just premiered at the SXSW Festival.

And it shows the place's owner, Steve Ostrow, relates how how Bette was a performing waitress at the Improv when she was enthusiastically recommended to him.

He recalls that Bette was kind of ordinary looking, but once she took the stage to belt a tune and the light hit her, the room fell silent in awe. She was magical!

Ostrow promptly asked her to play his place. Bette asked what kind of a place it was. He said "A bathhouse." She answered, "I'd play the steam room?" He said, "No we'll build a stage. Twenty five bucks a night." She said fine.

And that's how Bathhouse Betty was born.

And at the very same time, "the Divine Miss M" came to be. Ostrow, it turns out, is really bad with names. When he was about to go onstage to introduce the new star for the first time, he buzzed to her, "What's your name again?" "Just call me 'divine'," Bette replied.

"And now," he told the crowd, "here's the divine Miss M."

That's probably better than the divine Miss Bathhouse Betty.

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6 comments
PhilNY
PhilNY

I am proud to be a backer of this film. I can't wait to see it.

SavannahMontgomery
SavannahMontgomery

OMG...that's how I came about going to the Continental...me, freshman at Michigan State, born in the Bronx..Christmas break, visiting Dad in the Bronx.  Bette was performing "Clams On the Half Shell" at the Palace...I didn't have a ticket, no matter...it was sold out.  But me, knowing NYC, knew I could "bribe" my way in...armed with a "faux" MSU letter jacket [I could plead "rube" from the hinterlands]...I approached a ticket-taker at the front door and stated my case with [gasp!] $40 at curtain time.  He told me to go away and come back in 20 min...I proceeded to the HoJo's across the street and had a drink.  At the appointed time, he let me in... "Good Luck in finding a seat".  I had no idea how big the Palace was...ended up in the 3rd balcony and in heaven.

Afterward, I went to the Continental...(I'd told the folks I would be staying with "friends" that night)...nervous as a tick...and to my dismay, I didn't have enough to get in!  (that $40 bribe/ drink at HoJo's cost me)...What's a girl to do?   Beg.   Actually I had no shame about it....I've come this far so there was no going back.  After about 10 min of this, the "door-man" got tired of my antics and said "How much'ya got?"  "$5" was my answer...[I had a token to get home]...and he gave me a locker free...it was a "gold ticket" to Willy Wonka-land!

PhilNY
PhilNY

@SavannahMontgomery I went in later years when it was the Ansonia Baths. I wish I had been there during the heyday of the Continental. It sounds like it was a blast.

SavannahMontgomery
SavannahMontgomery

@PhilNY @SavannahMontgomery you have no idea...19 yrs old and "let loose".

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