Bette Midler And Barry Manilow's Love-Hate Relationship Explained

Unless you're a Fanilow or follower of the Divine Miss M, then you may not have known the original connection between Bette Midler and Barry Manilow — and it's not just their musical abilities or matching initials. Midler and Manilow blast on the scene together at the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse in New York City, in the early 1970s.

Though Manilow didn't intend to become a performer, he earned money playing piano and writing commercial jingles — including some still used today — and coaching singers. A student asked him to accompany her for an audition at the Continental Baths. "She wasn't hired but I was," Manilow revealed to the Winnipeg Free Press (via Bootleg Betty), and he started playing there full-time.

When Midler auditioned for the Baths two weeks later, he was blown away. "I played with all the acts that came through, all the singers. Bette was the best of them," he told Vanity Fair. "She was f***ing brilliant. I mean it. You never saw anything like it." They worked together for at least three years. The problem was, as much as Manilow admired and respected Midler's talent, these two strong personalities didn't exactly get along. "It was hate at first sight," he told Winnipeg, thus kicking off their tumultuous friendship. So how did they work together for so long? And where are they now?

Mutual respect for their talent kept them together

Barry Manilow and Bette Midler's early working relationship was clearly successful, but it also sounds stressful. How then did they sustain it for three years? Especially since he wasn't just her accompanist. He was also her musical director, arranger, and record producer.

"We didn't trust each other but we recognized each other's talents and that kept us together," Manilow told Winnipeg Free Press. "I remember when we were working on [the song] 'Leader Of The Pack,' we screamed at each other all the time." That song is from Midler's 1972 debut album "The Divine Miss M," which Manilow co-produced, based on their performances at the Continental Baths. But Midler says work on the album was difficult because Manilow and co-producer Joel Dorn didn't get along — mainly, it seems, because Manilow fought for Midler when she couldn't speak up for herself. Dorn abandoned Manilow's arrangements and created new ones. "She sounded beautiful and professional and boring," Manilow told Associated Press about the new tracks. "She was never boring. That's the last word you would ever [use to] describe Bette Midler, especially in those days." He fought to save many of his arrangements and brought in a small audience to capture the essence of the live performances in the studio. It worked.

But when Manilow wanted to move on, Midler would convince him to stay. "She kept pushing me to do one more gig," he told Winnipeg. They parted ways in 1974, at least until they collaborated again in the 2000s.

What is their friendship like now?

In 1998, Bette Midler told Rosanne Barr that she and her friend Barry Manilow saw each other the night before. Manilow then appeared and surprised Midler, and they sang together. Apparently, Midler wasn't too pleased about that, despite appearances, because she'd told the show she didn't want any surprises. "I was completely flipped out about it and Barry said, 'You're making a big mistake. You could say hello to everybody and be happy that you're seeing them again, but you chose to take the negative path, and I never want to see you again as long as I live,'" Midler told Contactmusic. She tried to apologize because he was right, "but he was still pretty mad about it."

Fortunately, that changed in 2003 when Manilow called Midler to collaborate on a Rosemary Clooney tribute album. That went beautifully, but when they made a Peggy Lee album two years later, they had another misunderstanding. "He doesn't speak to me anymore," Midler told Today in 2016, explaining, "I did something that really upset him, and at the time he was sick and he didn't tell me." She continued, "What I did was, I went in to fix a note or two ... and I forgot to tell him, and he got very upset." She also said she missed him and wished him well.

Years later, when Andy Cohen asked Manilow about their friendship in 2020, he said, "Bette and I can make wonderful entertainment. We always had trouble being friends. But we're still friends." Here's hoping.