In 1947 a 2-year-old Midler struck a pose in her hometown of Honolulu, where she was raised by dad Fred, a house painter, and mom Ruth, a housewife. "I'm wearing very sensible shoes—oxfords," she says. "Which accounts for my obsession with high heels."
At 62, Bette Midler has finally found a home glitzy enough even for her: Caesars Palace. On Feb. 20 she debuts The Showgirl Must Go On
, a revue that takes over from Celine Dion's Las Vegas show. "I'll be showing various parts of my body that are still showable," Midler quips. "My legs are still divine!" And she's still a work of polished brass. A house painter's daughter who fell in love with showbiz at 14, Midler performed in gay bathhouses and on Broadway before becoming a movie star. "My dreams came true," she says. "It's been quite a ride."
FINDING HER VOICE
"That's me in my corset!" says Midler, performing at New York's the Bitter End in the early 1970s. Starting out, Midler performed in Broadway's Fiddler on the Roof
and developed a nightclub act. "That was the beginning of everything," she says. "I look back on it and say, 'Oh, boy, it could've gone either way.'"
BEFORE SHE WAS FABULOUS
"Here I am with my cat's eyes glasses—I was blind as a bat!" At Honolulu's Radford High (class of 1963), she was a good student. "I was the president of the class, but they tried to impeach me. That was my last foray into politics!"
"I look a little frightened, don't I?" says Midler, who posed with the pianist at a 1980 awards ceremony. "Don't I look like, 'Where's the exit?'"
TEAMING UP WITH CHER
"Here we are as the trashy ladies," says Midler, who performed on Cher's variety show in 1975. "I kept that costume. I adore her. This was after she and Sonny [Bono] broke up. I think she is just a hoot! We had a ball." But it wasn't all fun and feather boas. "It was actually pretty hard work as I recall."
THE ROSE 1979
"I love this film," she says of the rock 'n' roll tearjerker. "This is the one that I will be remembered for—and I'm glad for it."
DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS 1986
"They got us all for no money," says Midler (with costar Nick Nolte). "It was supposed to be [my] big comeback. And it was."
"I didn't want to dress up in a rabbit suit!" she says of this scene with John Heard. "I was just, 'Oh, I've done this so much. Is this movie based on my life or what?'"
THE FIRST WIVES CLUB 1996
"These two girls are really funny!" she says of Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn. "We laughed and laughed. We just had a great time."
At home in Manhattan, Midler's 59-year-old husband, artist Martin von Haselberg (below), and her 21-year-old daughter Sophie, a college student, take center stage. "They are much more excited than I am," she says of her temporary move to Las Vegas. "They get to have fun, and I have to do the work!"
EVERYTHING'S COMING UP ROSES
For her 60th birthday in 2005, Midler got rosy for her annual Hulaween ball—a fund-raiser for the New York Restoration Project, a charity she founded to help city residents restore local parks and clean up their neighborhoods. "I'm older now and wiser," she says of what she wants out of her seventh decade. "Now I want to make it better for everybody else—for people who are in trouble and for the environment."