“She’s 5’1” . . . absolutely dizzy, and rarer than a homemade honeybun” raved an awed reporter in 1972 about the singer-comedienne Bette Midler, then performing at New York City’s Continental Baths. “Her hair is “red as a Pomegranate. . . . Her bosom is formidable. . . . She moves fiercely on tiny feet strapped into the highest platform wedgies since Carmen Miranda.”
Richard Amsel, an emerging talent who had recently won a nationwide contest to design the poster for Hello, Dolly!, caught Midler's energy and flair in his 1973 poster. Midler’s accompanist, Barry Manilow, who produced her first and second albums, admired Amsel’s work, and Midler agreed he should design the cover and advertising art. Amsel's stylized strutting figure graced Midler’s second album, promoted a national tour, and here announced her appearance to sold-out audiences at New York’s Palace Theater in December 1973. A similar image was reused for later albums and tours.
Maya Foo, a researcher at the National Portrait Gallery, recently discussed this poster at a Face-to-Face portrait talk. It is on display on the museum’s second floor, in the exhibition “Ballyhoo! Posters as Portraiture.” The exhibition’s last day is Sunday, February 8, so see it while you can.
Listen to Maya Foo’s Face-to-Face talk on Bette Midler (8:35)
Face to Face occurs every Thursday evening at the National Portrait Gallery. The next Face-to-Face talk is this Thursday, February 12, when the NPG’s Lauren Johnson speaks about the portrait of Maria Callas by Henry Koerner. The talk runs from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. Visitors meet the presenter in the museum’s F Street lobby and then walk to the appropriate gallery.
Bette Midler/ Richard Amsel, 1973 / Color photolithographic poster/ National Portrait Gallery; gift of Jack Rennert/ © Richard Amsel