Not only did Hello, Dolly! Tony winner Bette Midler provide one of the funniest moments during the 71st Annual Tony Awards telecast as she attempted to (and eventually succeeded) in silencing the orchestra with the quip, “Shut that crap off,” but the stage and screen star also offered one of the more moving speeches offstage.
After saying she was “very, very grateful” to win the award and is “having the time of my life,” Midler revealed that, prior to rehearsals, she sought advice from Broadway's original Dolly Levi, Carol Channing (and Channing's son), as well as Marge Champion, the widow of original choreographer Gower Champion.
It was when Midler began to discuss the Broadway community and her early-life mentors that the Grammy, Emmy, and Tony winner became emotional.
“There's birthdays celebrated, there's weddings celebrated, there are people being born, there are people dying,” Midler said about her life in the Shubert Theatre. “It's real life in one theatre, all this real life under one roof, and you become a family. I wasn't prepared for that. I was quite stunned by it, and yet they embraced me to such a degree that I can only say, ’It's more than I deserve.’ So thank you—thank you to the Broadway community.”
“I was 14 or so, and Mrs. Ishimoto, who was my speech teacher, and Mrs. Betty Blake Rice, who was my drama teacher, took me under their wing,” Midler, born and raised in Hawaii, recalled. “We used to have little contests in our state because we didn't speak English. We spoke pidgin English mostly, and they had a program to teach the kids how to speak standard English because we were a territory of the United States. So they would have these statewide contests, and they would push me along to do these statewide contests, and I became the state champion. I played both parts in The Glass Menagerie!
“I still see Mrs. Rice,” Midler continued. “I don't see Mrs. Ishimoto because I don't go back so often, but gee, they were fabulous to me. Mrs. Ishimoto brought me to the first restaurant I ever went to. I was really, really poor, and she showed me that there was another way—another way of life. It was really marvelous.”