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BETTE AND THE CONTINENTAL BATHS
Lecture by Jeff Auer

May 13, 2011
CLAGS (Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies, CUNY Graduate Center)
www.clags.org

The Flyer:

"New York City in the 1970s was home to the famed Continental Baths. Not just a bathhouse, but a place that brought back cabaret and the straight and gay worlds together in a way that had never been done before or since. Jeff Auer, a PhD candidate at University of Nevada Reno, gave a presentation on the history of the Continental Baths. There was rare footage of Bette Midler and Barry Manilow performing there just as the place became the launching pad of their careers."

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Editor's Intro:

A serious yet campy voice intoned, "That is the pits ending to a really terrific song!" It was 1972, and "the pits" was a phrase much in currency. I wasn't exactly sure whether it had derived from miner's pits or the armpits, but it meant something deeply dreadful. (Currently, various Web dictionaries allude to several, including geographic, origins.)

Bette Midler's cover of the Ellie Greenwich/Jeff Barry girl group classic "Chapel of Love" did indeed have a really cheesy ending, but it was fun, and the unedited chatter afterwards let us know that Midler and her musicians knew what they were doing.

I queried several friends about their first awareness of Bette Midler. Some knew her from her new (and first) album The Divine Miss M., and the radio play garnered by her covers of Buzzy Linhart's "Friends," the Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," her smash sultry slow-dance take on Bobby Freeman's "Do You Wanna Dance?" Hell, nearly all the songs on the album got solid AM and FM airplay.

Others had seen her on the cover of the quasi-gay publication After Dark (which my crowd often mocked as In The Dark), which Mr. Auer correctly said would now be tagged "metrosexual."

Even more of them had met her via her frequent television guest spots and performances on The Mike Douglas Show, The David Frost Show, and she became a staple on and was the last guest on The Tonight Show featuring Johnny Carson.

Momma Connie says her first image of Bette was the delightful thrift shop clothing Bette would embrace, way ahead of the curve. Carol Jacobson recalls Midler saying, on Merv Griffin, that she would like to become known as "the female Frank Zappa."

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Note:

All video performances included here were sourced from the Internet by the Editors, not from Mr. Auer's lecture. Also, close listeners will pardon the conflation of Mike Douglas and David Frost into the fabulous Michael Frost.

This lecture was recorded from the back of a small but highly echoic room, with a reception for another event taking place in the corridor immediately without, so the sound is the pits, but we believe the content is significant enough share with our readers. Our warm thanks to Jeff Auer and to CLAGS.

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Introduction to Jeff Auer, and Jeff's Intro to Bette


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Bette, Bangs, Androgyny, Camp and Rock.

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Cheap and Trashy Side of Life, Glam, and Bath House

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She Changed Her Act

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Transitions and Ahmet Ertegun

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Questions & Responses

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Jeff Auer is a public historian and a PhD student in History at the University of Nevada at Reno. He received his M.A. from Cal State Fullerton and his B.S. from the University of Southern California. His research interests include cultural history and post war American history.

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A fascinating site for Bette fans is Delve Into The Divine. delveintothedivine.com

 



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