Last year Richard brought us some awesome footage of Bette Midler performing in the Continental Baths in 1971—but unfortunately, the material was only available in individual YouTube files, and some of those weren’t even embeddable. I’m happy to report that some kind soul has uploaded the entire (it seems) filmed footage in a single file. Fifty-four glorious minutes, with tons of banter, and including the two songs Richard liked most but couldn’t embed, “Fat Stuff” and “Marahuana” (that’s how it’s spelled on Bette’s Songs for the New Depression, anyway). I think my favorites might be the one-two combo of “Superstar” and Bessie Smith’s “Empty Bed Blues” right in the middle of the file. When she essays the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” towards the end of the set, the place goes BANANAS.
The Baths, famously located at the Ansonia Hotel on New York City’s Upper West Side, were opened in 1968 by Steve Ostrow, who at some point mentioned to Bette Midler’s acting teacher that he wanted to start “a nightclub in my basement.” Midler had recently gotten a solid 20 minutes of material together, and she got the job. She told David Steinberg on Showtime’s Inside Comedy earlier this year that she wasn’t put off by the homosexuality at all, the only thing she didn’t realize before taking the gig was that many of the people there “were in towels.”
Do we know the date of this performance? She jokes that this is her “800th farewell appearance” and plugs an upcoming performance on Sept. 20, 1971. At the very end she does say it “really is” the last time she’ll be there for a while, which remark is met with disbelieving laughter. The Carpenters’ version of “Friends” had been released in May 1971. By the way, in case you are wondering, that is Barry Manilow on the piano in the back, she introduces him at the end. He co-produced her 1972 debut The Divine Miss M (and on occasion would perform at the Baths in a towel himself.)
If nothing else, the video’s worth watching just to hear some top-notch, vintage double-entendre gay humor in what must be close to its purest form. There’s a joke about Zsa Zsa Gabor in Cleveland, a joke about Joan Crawford’s sexuality, some patter about Martha Raye, etc.
“Friends” (The Carpenters)
“Chattanooga Choo-Choo” (Andrews Sisters)
“Empty Bed Blues” (Bessie Smith)
“For Free” (Joni Mitchell)
“Easier Said Than Done” (The Essex)
“Chapel Of Love” (The Dixie Cups)
“I Shall Be Released” (The Band)