How Bette Midler Became “Bathhouse Betty”


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.