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Larry King Live

Darrell Waltrip Remembers Dale Earnhardt; Bette Midler Discusses Her Career

Aired February 19, 2001 - 9:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight we'll dish with the Divine Miss M, the fabulous Bette Midler in L.A. with your phone calls.

But first, the racing world mourns the death of legendary driver Dale Earnhardt in the final lap of Daytona 500. By a twist of fate, the winner was Michael Waltrip, whose brother, the great rice driver himself called the race. NASCAR driver turned announcer Darrell Waltrip will join us from Franklin, Tennessee -- first interview since Sunday's tragedy.

Then, Bill Clinton's op-ed defending his Marc Rich pardon seems to be stirring more controversy than it settled. We'll check in with Hugh Sidey, Washington contributing editor for "TIME" magazine. Also in Washington, "Washington Post" columnist Mary McGrory, plus "TIME" correspondent Doug Waller. He's had unique access to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on Capitol Hill.

And in Vegas, former special White House counsel to Bill Clinton, Lanny Davis. And in Tampa, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandy Weinberg, who led the prosecution -- or attempted prosecution in the Rich case -- all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

We will open the program with Darrell Waltrip from his home in Franklin, Tennessee, his first interview since the tragedy yesterday. Darrell Waltrip was one of the all-time great drivers in NASCAR. He was announcing this for Fox, and this was Fox's first call of a Winston race. They've taken over NASCAR from CBS, and here is the way Darrell called the finish of the race; his brother wins it. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NASCAR COVERAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three wide behind them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got him, Mikey -- you got him, man, you got him. Come on, man! Oh, my! Get him in the fold.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The three car down -- big trouble, big wreck behind him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beat him back, beat him back, come on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To the flag. Come on, Mikey, you got it, man! UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got it! You got it! You got it! Mikey! All right! Yes! All right!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Waltrip wins.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about Dale, is he OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Schrader has climbed out of his car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Darrell? (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: DW, what was that like? Mixed emotions to the highest, right?

DARRELL WALTRIP, DAYTONA 500 ANNOUNCER: I'm focusing on the race, I'm watching Michael, I'm watching Dale Jr. Out of the corner of my eye I see Earnhardt and Schrader get together, but my brother has come to the line to win his first race, and it's the biggest race of his life, it's our biggest race -- the Daytona 500.

I'm calling him to the line, I see he is going to win and, as soon as he gets across the line, we flash back up the track, and I see Dale's car at bottom of the track, and then we went to a replay, and as soon, Larry, as I saw that car snap and go straight up the hill, straight up the banking into the outside retaining wall, I had a vision -- in my mind, I had a vision of a great friend of Dale's and I, it was Neil Bonnett -- a similar incident and a similar result -- well, same result, Neal was killed in that same corner several years ago. And it just all came back to me so clearly, and I worried about Dale.

KING: Your brother -- your brother was driving a Dale car. So was the runner-up, his son.

WALTRIP: Yeah. Yeah.

KING: Was the move he made designed to protect the two leaders? That's been said today, that that was a strategic move he made, which in a sense -- in essence got him killed.

WALTRIP: Well, what he was doing was -- he was actually, he was talking to his spotters, and he was giving instructions to Dale Junior's and to Michael's spotters to tell them stay low, to stay together.

And he was a blocker. He was doing something that -- I have been watching Dale Earnhardt drive for 30 years; the man always would go to the front, no matter what, at any cost. This day, yesterday, he was being a blocker, kind of holding off the competition, to see that -- for one thing, my brother won his first race, and I think Dale knew he didn't have the car to win the race, all he had was a car maybe good enough to get up there and cost Michael the race.

So, he came -- he did the next best thing he could do, and he protected the -- my brother and his son from somebody getting up there and racing with them.

KING: How is your brother dealing with all this today?

WALTRIP: Well, I'm -- my poor brother. He has waited, Larry, he's raced for 15, 20 years, and he has never won a race. Now he wins the biggest race we have, the Daytona 500, and he had 15 minutes of glory.

And then, 15 minutes in victory circle, they first came to him and told him that his boss had been killed, and all that happened -- all that excitement -- everything he had lived for, everything he had worked so hard for, he had to turn it off, right there and then, and turn his attention to the tragedy that we had all just witnessed.

KING: Were you were with the family today, Darrell?

WALTRIP: I went -- as soon as I got out of the booth, I got in a police car and went straight to the hospital, and I was there with Dale Junior and Teresa and Richard Childress, Dale's car owner, and other members of racing -- and all the friends and family was all there -- Mike Helton, Mike Helton.

KING: Should he have worn that special new rig, that helmet rig?

WALTRIP: Larry, we can debate it the rest of our lives. Dale wore an open face helmet, in other words, just -- like you see a motorcycle, probably rider wear. A lot of drivers wear a full-face helmet with the guard around chin, shield on it. There was controversy -- Dale didn't like the closed face helmet, he liked the open helmet.

The HANS device has been discussed time and time again. I don't believe anything would have saved Dale's life. When a car turns that way, Larry, and goes straight up the banking, your brain is floating around your body, your heart's floating around your body. That sudden impact and that recoil, it just snaps the spinal cord, and I just don't think anything would have saved him, unfortunately.

KING: The code in the sport, DW, used to be that drivers didn't go to other drivers' funerals. Are you going to Dale's?

WALTRIP: I loved Dale -- I loved Dale Earnhardt; he was a good friend. I -- Larry, there were times on -- I wanted to grab him and shake him and ask him what was he thinking and what was he doing.

But the man had a side to him. He was one guy on the racetrack, when he put that helmet on he was somebody else, but when he took it off, he was Dale Earnhardt, and he was as gentle as they come. He was a gentle giant.

This sport -- we can't replace Dale Earnhardt. This is the worst thing -- this is the biggest thing that's happened to this sport since I've been in it. Dale Earnhardt is known all over the world. This is like when John Kennedy got shot, or when Martin Luther King got shot. This is a day that we will remember for the rest of our lives.

KING: You will go to funeral.

WALTRIP: I'll be there. I'll be there for him, his family, Dale Jr. I love these people, they are my family, it's what this sport is all about. We live and die together.

KING: You won a lot of races. You were a great champion. The obvious question when we see something like this -- why do you drive?

WALTRIP: Larry, that's a question that gets asked over and over again, particularly in tragedies like this. You know, why do farmers have a drought and lose their crops and go back and plant them all, go all over again? Why do airplanes fall out of sky? And -- but we got to get to where we are going, we get back on an airplane.

I mean, there are so many an allergies I could make. But I think, for me and for others like me, it's the love of the game, it's that passion we have. We can't quit. We're in it -- we're in it to the end. We're in it to the bitter end or we're in it to the sweet end, and you just never know in a game like this how it's going to turn out.

KING: Will you extend our best to the family, will you ask Michael whenever he is ready to come on, we would love to talk with him?

WALTRIP: Oh, he'd love to talk to you. He is a sweet man, and he deserves that win, and he drove his heart out -- and one thing that Dale Earnhardt I think was trying to do was to -- people said, why did he put Michael in that car, and I think Dale was trying to help Michael prove a point.

KING: I have no doubt of it. We'll talk with Michael and you tomorrow and try to get Michael on.

Thank you so you much, DW. Thanks for -- I appreciate this.

Darrell Waltrip, a great driver himself, announcing the finish. His brother wins, and one of the people he admired most in the world dies. Couldn't write that in a fiction. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: As soon as we have the time firm, we'll let you know about Michael Waltrip's appearance. This goes everywhere. Yesterday in The "New York Times," "My Reason for the Pardons," an op-ed piece by former president Clinton.

Today's "Newsweek" cover: "Sleepless Nights and Secret Pardons; the Inside Story of Bill's Last Days."

"TIME" Magazine: "The Incredible Shrinking Ex-President."

Let's meet our panel: Hugh Sidey of "TIME" Magazine is in Washington, as is Mary McGrory of The "Washington Post," and Doug Waller, who wrote a terrific article also in that new issue of "TIME." He spent a full day with Hillary Clinton, the first national reporter to whom she gave such access. In Las Vegas is Lanny Davis, the former special White House counsel to Bill Clinton, and in Tampa is Morris Sandy Weinberg, former assistant U.S. Attorney would have been the lead prosecutor in the case against Marc Rich and his partner Pincus Green, who was also pardoned.

Let's start with you. Let's read one excerpt from the op-ed piece by Bill Clinton in which he said:

"The suggestion that I granted the pardons because Mr. Rich's former wife, Denise, made political contributions and contributed to the Clinton library foundation is utterly false. There was absolutely no quid pro quo."

If there are no tapes or anything, Hugh, is that -- I guess it is not provable, is it?

HUGH SIDEY, "TIME": Well, if there are no tapes, or videos or diaries, perhaps it isn't, but the fact of the matter is that I think everybody who followed this believes there is more. I had one of Washington's prominent lawyers, the other day, talk, for instance, about the $300,000 fee to the lawyer -- yes to Jack Quinn, and said that is ridiculous, let's start at $10 million. And also, on the library. What were the promises down the way? Tens of millions, I would suggest.

KING: Mary McGrory, is it something that looks like duck, acts like a duck, it's probably a duck, but you can't prove it is a duck?

MARY MCGRORY, "WASHINGTON POST": That is about right, I would say. But I think we must also remember that Bill Clinton did go to law school. Sometimes we forget that. But, he did. And that would be a bribe, you know. Even he knows -- you can't spin that. I think the most interesting -- as interesting as Mr. Clinton's explanation of what he did, was the piece in the "Washington Post" yesterday, about Mrs. Rich, Denise, the songwriter. The big giver.

It turns out that they were -- she and Marc Rich were married for quite a long time; they had three daughters, one of whom died. They loved their father, often happens, and wanted his pardon. So that gives another motive, I think, to Denise Rich for her generosity and her pleas for her ex-husband.

KING: By the way, concerning Denise Rich -- Bette Midler will be on at the bottom of the hour. Bette Midler not only knows Denise but also was very involved with a song -- a hit song that Denise wrote for a great movie.

Doug, you spent a full day with Hillary Clinton; did this come up?

DOUGLAS WALLER, "TIME": We talked about it at the end of the day. I followed her last Tuesday when she gave her maiden speech on the Senate floor, her first speech as a U.S. senator, which was a big event for her. At the end of the day, we talked about some of the more difficult issues like the pardons, the gifts, and even the pricey office space in Manhattan. Particularly on the pardon, her the response she gave me is really the response she has been giving everybody, which is, she had nothing to do with that, and said if you want to ask any more questions on that, ask the president.

KING: Did she give a hint whether she agreed or disagreed with it?

WALLER: None whatsoever. I think -- I think she realizes that the pardons have seriously damaged her first several weeks in the Senate. And there is still an open question on what she had to do with some of the pardons. There is one that involves a Hasidic community in New York where there were four members, that were pardoned for embezzling millions of dollars, and there is some question about whether there is a connection between Senator Clinton and those pardons. She denies it. But it is still something that people are looking into.

KING: Lanny, do you think the president made a good case yesterday?

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER SPECIAL WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I don't think he made a good case. I don't know anybody close to him and supportive of him as I am, who agrees with the judgment that he made. John Podesta and others in the White House disagreed strongly with the judgment.

But the second point to remember, is it was a judgment. It was a judgment that he obviously wrote about in the "Times" to try to explain, the suggestion of a quid pro quo is merely innuendo, and I would point out that if we are going to talk about quid pro quos from donors, what about David Geffen and all the support that Hollywood has given to the Democratic Party and they supported a pardon for Leonard Peltier, and Clinton said no to that.

We can disagree with his judgment but before we jump to these innuendo conclusions about taking money and doing something as a quid pro quo, why don't we wait for Mary Jo White, who has the right to investigate, and should investigate, and get it out of the political arena. I do question the double standard of Republican members of Congress, who didn't have a hearing, on the pardon of Caspar Weinberger which I happen to agree with, but now are having a hearing about President Clinton.

KING: Sandy did any -- you would have prosecuted this case if there had bean a case. Did anything in that article impress you?

MORRIS SANDY WEINBERG, FORMER PROSECUTOR IN RICH CASE: Nothing -- well what impressed me was -- I was very disappointed in what he said. I mean, what he said, in essence was that he believed the case had no merit. And by saying that, he really demonstrated, I think, an absolute lack of respect for the American judicial system because what he was saying is, that in his opinion, Mr. Rich and Mr. Green couldn't get a fair trial or couldn't get justice.

And to say -- for an American president to say something like that, I think, is more shocking and more disappointing than the pardons themselves, because, if their case was so meritless, which, of course it wasn't, then why did they become fugitives? Why did they renounce their citizenship? Why did they thumb their noses at the American system? If their case was so meritless, like every other defendant in the United States, they should have come into court, there would have been -- the president surely isn't saying that there is no judge in the Southern District of New York 17 years later that would give them a fair trial. I mean, that was what most impressed me.

KING: We will be back with more. We'll give you other highlights, two excerpts from the president's article, and the comments of our panel right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Here is another excerpt from the op-ed piece that the president wrote.

"Many present and former high ranking Israeli officials of both major political parties and leaders and leaders of Jewish communities in America and Europe urged the pardon of Mr. Rich because of his contributions and services to Israeli charitable causes, to the Mossad's efforts to rescue and evacuate Jews from hostile countries, and to the peace process through sponsorship of education and health programs in Gaza and the West Bank."

Hugh Sidey, isn't that a pretty good reason?

SIDEY: No. It actually isn't. As a matter of fact, Jewish interests tonight are denouncing this. There is an embarrass -- I forget who the fellow was -- but he said it was an embarrassment to him, to Israel, to the United States, to everybody.

And I think you can solicit these things if you give enough money, and, I think quite honestly, it has really a downside, the intrusion of Israel into something like this? No. I find this to be totally negative.

KING: Mary, you seem to be in the minority. Everyone is thinking that this was either quid pro quo or a severe mistake?

MCGRORY: Oh, I think its were a severe mistake.

KING: You do.

MCGRORY: Yes, I do. But I'm just saying that the principle suspicion so sort of centered around Mrs. Rich. It was assumed, at least among the people I move with, that Mr. Rich -- Marc Rich was shoveling millions across the ocean, to his ex-wife. And I must say, her compassion for her ex-husband who treated her badly, as she said in court papers, was quite astounding.

But with her daughters, if it mattered a great deal to them as a family, I can see where she might be inclined to take the case. It was an emotional thing, and she had oceans money herself: her father was a wealthy shoe manufacturer, in Wooster, Massachusetts, so you have a great deal of money at her disposal and she didn't necessarily get everything, even the zillions she gave to the Clintons, from her former husband.

KING: Doug Waller, how about the argument that Lanny raised and others, that guys in Hollywood gave a lot of money to Clinton and they wanted Peltier out and he did not get out?

WALLER: Well, they are good many FBI agents that are glad he didn't. I think...

KING: If it was quid pro quo, why not quid pro quo him, too?

WALLER: Well, I mean, I guess you -- you can't justify one very questionable decision with another questionable decision. I think, one of the bottom lines here, too, is this whole episode, shows the absolutely corrupting effect that campaign financing and funding run amok with soft money has had. No, there probably won't be any prosecutor that can prove a quid pro quo exactly, but what happened here, clearly, was a particular campaign donor who gave hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars got special access to the White House, to get decision in her favor.

And it happened in other cases, too. It happens on Capitol Hill all the time. Nobody ever explicitly talks quid pro quo. But that money buys you something, they don't give that just to get White House cufflinks; they give that to get favorable decisions in the future.

KING: Since it happens all the time, Lanny, are we making too much of this?

DAVIS: Well, I'm really shocked to hear that money buys access in Washington. Oh, my Gosh, it is breaking news. Of course, it is a rotten system, and John McCain and Russ Feingold want to do something about it. The very same Republicans are holding hearings on a decision that, at least, I think the president of United States, George W. Bush says we ought to move on.

Those very same Republicans are opposing the McCain-Feingold Bill. Look, I find the decision by President Clinton incomprehensible -- he is a very, very smart man. He is a very great politician. I think what happened is he didn't go through the normal procedures in his own White House, his chief of staff was against it. Bruce Lindsey, his counsel, was against it. He didn't allow the opposition to make their arguments, the prosecutors in the Justice Department should have made their arguments.

Eric Holder is an extremely wise man, was compromised by not being given enough information, early enough, the process was awful! And that is why I believe deeply in Bill Clinton. I still do, as a president that did a lot for the country. He ought to go testify, he ought to answer every question, forget about resisting subpoenas, he ought to disclose every donator to the foundation and everywhere else, full transparency, then we can move on and he can become the great ex- president that all of us expect him to be.

KING: I'm going to take a break and come back and ask Sandy Weinberg what this trial would have been like right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Sandy, what would the Marc Rich trial have been like?

WEINBERG: If Mr. Clinton had asked us or anybody that knew about the case, he would have learned that we had dozens of witnesses, we had witnesses from inside Marc Rich's companies, we had witnesses from outside, we had Marc Rich's CFO, we had traders, we had indicia fraud like every fraud case that I have ever been involved in, we would have demonstrated that Marc Rich made 100 million dollars worth of illegal profits, profits in violation of the energy regulations.

And the witnesses would have said that those profits were kept in pots -- what Marc Rich referred to as "pots" on the books of other companies, and Marc Rich's people and other people had a second set of books, had handwritten ledgers that one of the witness brought us where they tracked the pot and they created phony transactions, to launder that $100 million out of the country, and they evaded $48 million of taxes.

The case was a slam-dunk winner, and that is the reason that, you know, I have such outrage and why Mr. Rich fled and why, when you read what Mr. Clinton said, he could not have considered this case on the merits. Because -- because he didn't consider those merits; he never asked us.

KING: Hugh Sidey, where do you think it is all going?

SIDEY: Well, I would like to see -- I must say, like Lanny Davis said, I think he is going to have to go up there and testify and get it over with. Now, I think you damage the presidency if this thing drags on, and we see Clinton in on the tube every night, and there is more and more. And I think that perhaps the best thing is to...

KING: Appear.

SIDEY: Yes, to go up and testify, and answer all the questions.

KING: Mary, do you agree? Should he go?

MCGRORY: Not particularly. I think it would be better, if we just could sort of put the whole thing aside. I think that Clinton should do something else, something for somebody else. Maybe tutor some of those poor children all around him in Harlem, serve in a soup kitchen, little volunteer work would be in order. The pardon is absolute. The pardon power is absolute.

KING: Doug, what do you think he should do? Where is it going?

WALLER: Well, I think what he might be counting on, or could count on, is invariably, this ex-president has been able to land on his feet before, because the Republicans overreach on it. You have now people like Senator Arlen Specter calling for impeachment hearings of an ex-president which is kind of a ridiculous idea. You have Congressman Dan Burton, who has pursued Clinton doggedly in the past and really come up empty in the past.

And, the Republicans can overplay their hand here, which they have in the past. I think, yes, he should be -- instead of going out and trying to hit -- make $100,000 speeches, maybe he could take a play book from former president Jimmy Carter who went out and built homes for the poor.

KING: We are going to see lots more of all of you and I thank you very much. We are out of time here.

Hugh Sidey, Mary McGrory, Doug Waller, Lanny Davis, and Sandy Weinberg.

When we come back, lots to talk about, including Denise Rich, with the divine Ms M., who has a great new album out and a terrific television show, Bette Midler is next! Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE one of my favorite people. She's only won four Golden Globes, four Grammys, two Emmys, a Tony. She stars her in her own TV sitcom, "Bette." Her latest album is "Bette." We'll hear some numbers from that. She has a link as well to Marc Rich's ex-wife, Denise. In fact, how much of a link? We'll show you the link. Denise Rich wrote the song from "First Wives Club."

You heard that song at a party, right?

BETTE MIDLER, SINGER: I did, I did.

KING: At a party at her house.

MIDLER: How did you drag me into this?

KING: It's called linkage.

MIDLER: Well, what was interesting? This girlfriend of mine, who was a Harlette (ph), who was a fabulous -- hilarious, funny girl, Jennifer Lewis (ph). Denise Rich threw her her 40th birthday party. She didn't know her. And she came upon her at some event and Jennifer was whining that she didn't have a 40th birthday and Denise said, "I'll throw one for you."

KING: She's that way?

MIDLER: She was that way. And she threw a 40th birthday party.

KING: At her apartment?

MIDLER: At her apartment. And Jennifer invited me and there I was. And one of our -- an old friend of everyone's, Billy Porter, got up and sang this song that Denise had written. And it was a fabulous song. And what do you know? That's what happened.

KING: All right, here is the song that Denise wrote that was the song of "First Wives Club." Watch.

(FILM CLIP, "FIRST WIVES CLUB)

MIDLER: Great singer, great voice, good song.

KING: Why didn't you sing it?

MIDLER: Because you know what? He needed a shot. He needed the shot and I wanted to make sure he got it.

KING: How good a writer is she?

MIDLER: I think she's a good writer and she's a nice person. She's a genuinely nice person.

KING: Is she getting a bad rap here, do you think? Is it twixt and between or...

MIDLER: Don't -- Larry, please...

KING: I'm not going to bring in the politics, but you know her.

MIDLER: I have to say this. She throws a mean party. I think she's genuine. I think she -- I think she was under a lot of pressure probably from her ex-husband. I -- you know what? I really couldn't say. I was at a party once...

KING: Have you caught up with her since?

MIDLER: No, I don't see her much. She was very -- she was kind enough to throw my fledgling organization, New York Restoration Project, a cocktail party when we first started, and we got -- we were introduced to a number of big donors at that cocktail party. So, that was fantastic.

KING: She does know a lot of people.

MIDLER: She knows a lot of people and she is not -- and she doesn't mind sharing the information. She's very kind that way.

KING: You gave an opinion about Bill Clinton once in which you said you were horrified that, thanks to Bill and Monica, your teenage daughter learns the intricacies of oral sex.

MIDLER: I said a lot of things about -- I've said -- I wax and wane on them. Every day it's different.

KING: What do you make of this?

MIDLER: Every day I feel differently.

KING: About him?

MIDLER: About -- yeah, yeah.

KING: What is it then? MIDLER: I think he's the brightest guy. I think he's one of the smart -- certainly one of the smartest people I've ever met. I spent -- I can't say that I know him well. I know him -- I've been introduced. I've spent a little time. He was on our Christmas card. We went to -- I sang for NPR one year, and part of the perk was that you could have a thing around -- a little tour around the Oval Office. And my husband and I and my daughter went into meet the president and have our picture taken because you get your picture taken.

Well, while Bill was standing there, my daughter and I were standing there very kind of very politely. My husband was in the back behind us going...

KING: That was your Christmas card?

MIDLER: And that was our Christmas card. And he didn't -- actually, he told my husband -- my husband told him about it subsequently. He got a big kick out of it.

KING: So what do you make? An enigma?

MIDLER: You know what? Yeah, yeah, a great, great talent, a great talent. God only knows. I can't -- I don't know. I think a lot of it is generated by the press. He's a fascinating character and I think that a lot of -- a tremendous amount of it, of the interest in him is generated by this -- the constant scrutiny, you know.

KING: Well, you would know about that. Look how well- scrutinized you were.

MIDLER: Oh, people -- nobody bothers with me. Nobody -- people don't bother with me. I am square.

KING: No, you were tabloid heaven for a while.

MIDLER: I'm so square. I'm deeply, deeply square.

KING: Yeah, but when you -- when it was wild with the gays loving you, that was like the big story. The gays...

MIDLER: You were reading the tabloids in those days, Larry?

KING: No, no, no, I read about it.

MIDLER: In the tabloids?

KING: No, we discussed it in the past.

MIDLER: Oh, OK, OK.

KING: OK, but I mean you've been fodder.

MIDLER: A little bit but I don't read it, so I don't pay much -- I don't -- you know, I don't know whether I'm fodder or not.

KING: You do political humor in your act. MIDLER: A little bit. Very, very little. I'm not sharp enough. I don't keep up. I'm very, very busy. Got my hands in a lot of pies. I don't -- and you know, you have to know everything. You have to be pretty well versed in everything that's going on before you make those jokes. I mean, otherwise, you look like a shmuck when they turn around and say, "Hey, you didn't get that right." So I steer clear.

KING: So -- and Hillary, have you...

MIDLER: I call myself apolitical.

KING: Any thoughts on Hillary?

MIDLER: I think she's a very decent woman. I think she's got a lot of good ideas. I think she's strong, very strong, and I think she's going to be a good senator. On the other hand, I have to tell you, I'm crazy about Rudy Giuliani. Where does that put me? I love Rudy Giuliani.

KING: He's a good mayor.

MIDLER: I think he's been a terrific mayor. I'm sorry to see him go. Tough luck about those three-term limits. Too bad.

KING: How about the president's office in Harlem?

MIDLER: Brilliant, genius.

KING: See, he can do that. Brilliant, right?

MIDLER: Genius, genius, genius. And I cannot wait until Harlem comes roaring back, because it was on its way. It's been on its way. I go up there all the time. I live like -- I'm at the gateway to the ghetto. I live like...

KING: You're in New York.

MIDLER: I'm in New York. I live like a few blocks from 110th.

KING: You still into your restoration blocks and everything?

MIDLER: Absolutely. Washington Heights. You should see it. It's gorgeous, it's beautiful. Real estate prices are rising.

KING: We'll ask Bette about her TV show, why she's doing it. We'll check in with her new album, "Bette." She is the Divine. Who gave you that name?

MIDLER: I did.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: The self-named Divine Miss M. You know who's here Wednesday night?

MIDLER: Who?

KING: Darva Conger and Rick Rockwell.

MIDLER: Are they divine?

KING: Together, the married couple. First night together since they got married on television and divorced.

MIDLER: Oh, is that the...

KING: Remember, the two of them.

MIDLER: Oh, oh, oh, funny, funny.

KING: Funny. Good hit, as they say. Right back with the Divine one after this.

(BEGIN FILM CLIP, "BETTE")

MIDLER: You look blondes, don't you?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Nah.

MIDLER: Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Well, let's say we go to the Mediterranean. He's going to broil like a lobster. I'll be sitting on the beach. He'll be in the casino losing the mortgage. I've seen it happen.

MIDLER: Oh, oh, an airline pilot. You've enjoyed a few layovers in your day, haven't you?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: No, they retire early. Then what do you got? Some old guy in a hat trying to fly the toilet.

(END FILM CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN FILM CLIP, "BETTE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: All right, that's it. Who's Mooky?

MIDLER: You're Mooky.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Since when.

MIDLER: I don't know. I was standing at post office the other day, and I said to myself, I think I'm going to call Connie Mooky. Don't you think that's fun?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: No.

MIDLER: Me, too. Now you think up a cute name for me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: No.

MIDLER: Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Spike.

(END FILM CLIP)

KING: Before I ask about the show, you were horrified about the Lewinsky story though, right?

MIDLER: I was pretty scandalized.

KING: Because you commented -- oral sex and...

MIDLER: I was scandalized. I was scandalized. I was scandalized. But at the same time, I thought that there was so much -- there was way, way, way, way too much scrutiny on it. I thought it blown all out of proportion. And the thing that was so fascinating was to me the fact that he had not been in office for a day before they started to hound him. They wanted to bring him down and they were going to stop at nothing.

KING: And sometimes he gave reasons.

MIDLER: So there was that. And he gave them reason. That's what killed me. If I had been there, if I had been him, you know, -- If I had been him, I'd say, "Well, I know they're going to get me -- they're going to try to get me, so I better watch my Ps and Qs," because they were. They were trying to get him on any old thing, you know.

KING: Eminem, would you work with him?

MIDLER: Would I work with Eminem? It looks like I may work with Eminem. Would I work with Eminem?

KING: You will?

MIDLER: Well I'm doing the Grammys and I'm presenting the best album. And his album is up for the best album of the year. So it's possible I may share a stage with Eminem. One doesn't know. Beck is also up and...

KING: What do you make of Elton John's fight for him?

MIDLER: I think he Elton John has a real good head on his shoulders, and I don't Elton John would do -- I don't think -- he was a big supporter. He came out for Matthew Shepard when all that happened. And I think Elton is...

KING: Do you think it's funny -- I mean, weird that he would support someone...

MIDLER: Well, I'm not so sure how serious this guy is with his attacks on gays, but, please, please, I work in TV. I know nothing, you know. KING: But you will -- if he wins it, you're going to present it? You're not going to jump off the stage.

MIDLER: I am going to present it. I hope that Stevie Wonder will be the presenter along with me. And I'm not going to slug the guy. I mean, you know, there's a great -- this is America, you know. There's a big, big, big -- what can I say? There's a lot of leeway. People are allowed to say a lot of things that make a lot of people angry. That's part of what makes our country great. This sounds like such bull shit.

KING: Why are you doing sitcom?

MIDLER: Why am I doing -- did you bleep that? Why am I doing a sitcom? Because I'm old. No, why am I doing a sitcom?

KING: Why?

MIDLER: Why am I doing a sitcom? I wish I knew.

KING: You're a big star (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MIDLER: I'm a big star. I wasn't -- it was the only thing I hadn't done, and I had a big contract with Sony Tristar. They had been doing -- giving me overhead for making -- you know, overhead for offices for years and years. And part of that deal was that I had to turn them in for movies and for television. Part of that deal was a television deal. And after so many years, they finally said, "Oh, Miss Midler, Miss Midler, where is that pilot you promised us so many years ago?" And then we had to say, "Oh, oh, yeah, yeah, that." So we started looking around for writers, and we met many, many writers, and we finally came up with this one guy who turned in such a sensational pilot that we decided we were going to do it.

KING: I told you I've seen it. It's a funny show.

MIDLER: It's funny.

KING: Are you enjoying it?

MIDLER: I have my ups and downs. In the first couple of weeks, it was very stressful because it was a brand new routine for me, and I had to sing and dance in almost every episode. And that's...

KING: They expected that.

MIDLER: They expected it. And they wanted to give it a good launch. And it was -- the workload as unbelievable. It was like 9:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night for, you know, for weeks on end. And I just didn't get it. I just didn't understand how it worked. And finally after the eighth episode or the ninth episode, everything sort of kind of fell into place. And now I kind of get it and now I'm having a good time.

KING: Now do you think this limits your being in movies now?

MIDLER: I don't like to think so. I don't like to think so.

KING: Because usually, the thought is, if we can see you on television all the time...

MIDLER: You know, but I think that it's very permeable that boundary now. It used to be very cut and dry. You couldn't go from one to the other. But now, it's not like that. George Clooney goes from this one to that, you know, from this movie to that television show. And a lot of people -- you know, Susan Sarandon plays on "Friends" and this and that. KING: Are you going to come back with it? Are you going to stay with it?

MIDLER: I have no idea, because you don't find out until May. That's when the big muckity-mucks decide.

KING: How are your ratings? How are you doing?

MIDLER: Dismal

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, I don't know. I think they're dismal.

KING: Who are you up against?

MIDLER: "The Millionaire."

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Why did they put you in that slot?

MIDLER: Because they thought I could lead in a night. This is -- see, this is all stuff I didn't know. This is stuff I found out later on.

KING: "Bette" will carry us.

MIDLER: Oh, yes. Well, "She'll do it. She can do it. If anybody can, she can." But the truth is you can't. You know, it's a -- they call it a freshman show. And I was the first one up in the 8:00 spot. Instead of giving me a chance -- instead of giving someone to lead me in, to lead me in -- is that's how it's said?

KING: Yeah, lead in to you.

MIDLER: Lead into me. Lead me in -- lead in to me. Help me.

KING: Yeah, lead into you.

MIDLER: Lead into me, I got stuck opening the night. And Wednesday night is, you know, the tomb night anyway. It's the night of death. So it was -- all in all, it was a lousy spot, you know, bad place to be.

KING: Maybe they'll move you and give you a shot.

MIDLER: Maybe they will. If he loves me half as much as he says he does, he will.

KING: But you don't need it, right? You could do concert tour. You could do movies.

MIDLER: Oh, I know. But you know what? You want to have success. People are, you know -- I've been used to a certain degree of success, certain amount of success, and I'd like to think I'm smart enough to make 22 minutes go along splendidly. Unfortunate, it's very, very -- it's much harder than I had any idea.

KING: Harder to make a movie?

MIDLER: Oh, it's harder than making -- it's the hardest thing in the world because every week, you have to be great, It's like doing a little Broadway show every week.

KING: Grease and music (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MIDLER: It's something. I never in my life -- I had no idea.

KING: Live audience.

MIDLER: Live audience. Sometimes you do a little pre-shoot with the music or the dancing. It's really hard, because you have to have a laugh every three lines. They have to be laughing. Jack Benny -- I read Jack Benny's book. He said, "I had 66 lines -- 66 laughs in my half hour." Six-six laughs. That's a lot of laughing. That's wall- to-wall laughs. That's hard.

KING: We'll talk about Bette's new album called "Bette," right after this.

(BEGIN FILM CLIP,

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: You remember that old cosmo test to see if you were perky enough? Where you stuck a pencil under breast, see if it drops to the floor.

MIDLER: The very same. Hand me one of them things. All right. Thank you so much.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Wait a dog gone minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: That's one of the songs from "Bette," "Heartaches Are Made." All original songs?

MIDLER: No, no, a lot of covers (ph). That's a very old song. That song is from Baby Washington, 1962.

KING: How often do you do an album? MIDLER: I used to do them once every two years or so. I enjoy the process. This was a really great experience for me because I -- it was the first album I had made in almost 25 years where I worked with my own band and that was great.

KING: Oh, really?

MIDLER: Yeah, it was a real thrill for me, a real thrill.

KING: Call for Bette Midler. Edison, New Jersey, hello.

CALLER: Hi.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: Bette, you have a huge acting and singing career. How do you manage that and have a great marriage and still be a good mom?

MIDLER: Well, I get a lot...

KING: Sophie is 14.

MIDLER: My daughter is 14, yeah.

KING: What does your husband do?

MIDLER: My husband is an artist. He is working -- currently working in photography as his medium, but he's been an artist all of his life.

KING: So how does it work? Seventeen-year marriage, 14-year-old daughter, show business, tours, travel.

MIDLER: Well, I get a lot of support from him. He really picks up the slack. He has been -- he's been the best husband and wife a person could have. He's just been fantastic.

KING: He doesn't mind your success?

MIDLER: He is thrilled with my success. He wants my success. He wants me to be -- he wants me to be happy and he also wants me to have joy and my own creativity. And he also wants me to keep growing. He's a fantastic guy.

KING: By the way, we just learned from your folks that your show will switch to 8:30 instead of 8:00 starting a week from Wednesday, the 28th. And your lead in will be with "Friends Like These."

MIDLER: Yes. Everyone knows...

KING: So they'll have a lead-in for you.

MIDLER: Yes, that's right, OK. Everyone knows but me, yes. Yes, it makes me feel...

KING: Well, the star is always the last to know. MIDLER: I know. They just dress you up and put you in the limo.

KING: Do you look looking at ratings every week?

MIDLER: I don't look at the ratings every week, but I did hear that one time I was 77, and I thought -- I got a big kick out of that.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Did you like -- did you look at grosses with movies? Did you check on Monday morning?

MIDLER: You know, in the old days when I first started with Disney, Jeffrey used to call, and that was a lot of fun. Those days...

KING: Katzenberg.

MIDLER: Yeah, yeah. Those -- that was a lot of fun because we were -- everybody was -- we had all started together in 1984, the studio and I. We all started together.

KING: Eisner, too?

MIDLER: Yeah, yeah. And so it was -- that was a lot of fun. You know, it looked so -- those numbers were so little, so low. And those days, if you had five million seven million on a weekend, people would freak out. They were so thrilled. Now it's $100 million a weekend or $150 million a weekend. It's so different.

KING: Is still singing your favorite thing?

MIDLER: Absolutely, without any question. Music, musicians, unbelievable. The best part of my life.

KING: Why didn't you follow up "Wives Club"?

MIDLER: Well, they couldn't get a script. It was very odd. They couldn't get an idea, but I'll tell you something. About six months ago, someone -- Pam Gray (ph), I think. Pam Gray, am I right? Pam Gray turned in a script to Sherry Lansing (ph) at Paramount and it was really good. And we were getting ready to do it before the strike.

KING: With Jane and Lily and...

MIDLER: It was going to be Diane and Goldie and me again. And Goldie decided she didn't want to do it. She decided she had something else to do at that time. Maybe she'll come back to it. But at the time...

KING: So there's a chance.

MIDLER: There's still a chance, yeah. But everyone wanted to do it before the strike. You know, the strike's coming. The writers might go on strike. The actors might go on strike. So everyone was...

KING: So you can use the women from the other women's movie.

MIDLER: I can use the women from all the women's movies.

KING: But there's some terrific -- "9 to 5," and...

MIDLER: Yes, oh, yes.

KING: "The Wives Club." It was the biggest hit, women's type movie.

MIDLER: Is that true?

KING: Yes, I think it was.

MIDLER: "Beaches" was big.

KING: We'll be right back. Get another call in for Bette Midler. The new album is "Bette." The show now airs 8:30 Wednesday nights starting the 28th.

MIDLER: Thank you.

KING: Glad we both found out the same time on live television. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MIDLER PERFORMING "BOOGIE WOOGIE BUGLE BOY OF COMPANY B")

KING: I love that number. Petersburg, Virginia for the Divine one, hello.

CALLER: Hi. I was just wondering what Bette's greatest accomplishment is so far?

MIDLER: Oh, my daughter, without any question.

KING: Nothing like motherhood, right?

MIDLER: Nope, nope, nope. Best thing I ever did.

KING: You've done Broadway because you were in "Fiddler on the Roof."

MIDLER: Did it all.

KING: Anything you want to do?

MIDLER: Save the world. Get music and art back into public schools, my next crusade.

KING: Is it out of public schools?

MIDLER: Mostly, mostly. That's my next crusade. KING: Why do continue to live in New York?

MIDLER: I live in New York because there's no place like it, no place. So much stimulation and so many wonderful people full of ideas. And the interesting thing about them is they just keep chugging along. I mean, in the face of terrible, you know, odds and terrible -- it's a hard town to live in. The traffic is bad. Sometimes the weather stinks, but you know -- and there's a lot of jostling for power. But it's fascinating. Its' very -- it's energetic and it's alive. And makes you know that you're alive.

KING: You do your show in L.A., though, right?

MIDLER: I do my show in L.A. because I could not get a four- camera film crew in New York. I asked the film commissioner to help me for next season, and I'm hoping if they pick me up that I get to go back to New York.

KING: What is the big kick in concertizing?

MIDLER: There's nothing like it. First of all, you have that great band. You got the drums behind you and the bass and they're kicking you. And the girls are screaming and the piano player is banging. And it's just fantastic. And the audience, you know, you can't discount the audience, the roar of the crowd.

KING: Have you ever explained why you and -- so many gay people liked you? Have you ever understood it? You started in the bath houses.

MIDLER: Well, I think it's because I'm utterly fabulous. That's a start. And they love fabulosity and they always...

KING: Fabulosity?

MIDLER: They love fabulosity. And they're always on the cutting edge. They are always the pioneers. They always like the first thing, the new thing. They can always find the new thing. I'm telling you, they're like bellwethers. They just -- they find the new thing and they sort of give it a lift, especially if they like you.

KING: Well, they were about you.

MIDLER: Well, I thank you very much.

KING: Thank you, darling.

MIDLER: Thank you so much.

KING: Bette Midler. The new album is "Bette." The TV show is "Bette." Bette is everywhere. You want to bet on a good thing? Check out my new web site and send us an e-mail with your questions and comments: cnn.com/larryking. Tomorrow night, Judge Judy will be here. And on Wednesday night, first time ever together since they got married and then broke up Darva Conger and Rick Rockwell together on this program right here Wednesday night. Thanks for joining us on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Stay tuned for "CNN TONIGHT." It's next. Good night.

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