Colman Domingo
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Bathhouse Bette

Bathhouse Bette

By April 23, 1975, the date the photo above appeared in The Advocate, Bette Midler had just the prior week returned to Broadway for Bette Midler's Clams on the Half Shell Revue. Five years earlier she signed on to sing at Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse in Manhattan, where she famously earned her nickname "Bathhouse Betty" and befriended her accompanist Barry Manilow. The gig paid $50 per night. Her appearances in that scandalous venue (audience members were in towels!) proved fruitful, earning her legions of fans; the article by author and activist Vito Russo notes that Midler's Broadway shows generated the largest single-day ticket sales in Great White Way history. The people we described as Midler's "over-protective publicity team" couldn't keep her from doing this interview, alongside the very few others she did, including The New York Times and Newsday. The photo, shot by legendary lesbian photographer Annie Leibovitz, came from Midler's personal collection and was published here for the first time at the singer's request. In the second in a series of re-creations of photos from The Advocate's archives, we've channeled the aspirations of a star on the rise through Willam Belli (below), an actor and breakout competitor from the most recent season of RuPaul's Drag Race. Eagle-eyed readers will note two things: Belli is holding the Bette issue, marking this magazine's first celebrity cover; and the shadowy figure behind Midler in the original photo—is that Leibovitz?


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