P.T. Barnum, meet Bette Midler.
There she was yesterday, star of stage, screen and club, autographing copies of her book in Crown Books on K Street, wearing an absolutely exquisite chapeau of a typewriter nestled in tulle, and sipping Perrier from a chic styrofoam cup.
As the sweaty throngs line up for a few seconds of her undivided attention, she scribbled away on copies of her sort-of-memoirs, "A View From A Broad."
"Is it literature?" someone asked.
"Oh, pleeze," she said. "It's entertainment. I have no pretensions to great art, but the Divine Miss M, of course, she would say it's great art, having read only bus schedules in her entire life."
The Divine Miss M. of course, is Midler's alter ego, the flaming personality in whose shoes (usually extremely high-heeled) she performs her highly energetic concert act. The Divine Miss M, who is the queen of tack, is not, the Bette Midler who was nominated for an academy award in "The Rose," but she bears a close resemblance to her.
"Are you having more fun as a blond?" one fan asked her yesterday.
"Indubitably," she said.
Bette Midler is kinder to her fans than most stars, it would seem, as she has the ability to appear genuinely appreciative of their worship and to smile that kilowatt grin for hours. They bring offerings of roses, drawings, pictures. and even a painting on a round piece of glass mounted on plastic that the giver said took her two nights to make.
Midler did the first of these book-signing marathons in New York, because she was "in betweenskis," as she put it, which means, uh, between engagements.But she enjoyed it so much that she embarked on similar events in Chicago (6 1/2 hours, 1,900 copies), San Francisco (7 1/2 hours, 1,900 copies), and Westwood, Calif., (1,350 copies). Crown Books president Robert Haft said books were "moving" at about 1,000 copies an hour, and he hoped to sell 2,500 copies by the end of the day. Since they were also predicting that she would be there for six hours. Haft's math ability must be less stunning than his bookselling prowess. Midler stayed until 5 p.m. and sold 2,100 books.
"They're great events," she said between scribbles. "In Chicago, the store had three floors, and the music was real loud, and everyone was jumping around. Here the store is so small, they don't have the facilities to jump around."
"Would you sign this one for my boss and say that's why I'm late coming back from lunch?" asked a young man.
"Sure. What do you do?" she said.
"I arrange flowers."
"I really enjoy this," she said later. "I get to stare at people and see what eveyone's wearing. It's the only chance I have to get out among people who have, like, regular lives."
"May I kiss you?" fawned another sweet young thing.
"Just the hand, darling, just the hand."
Mlle. Midler, who has been known to appear on stage in a dress with a plume of red feathers attached to her rear and a rubber chicken dangling from her wrist, was dressed relatively demurely yesterday in a high-necked striped dress with armholes large enough to reveal -- just slightly -- a sturdy black bra.
Her literary talents tend toward the one-liner, as when in her book she lists things to before she embarked on her worold tour: "1. Learn to decline in seven tongues. 2. But a globe. Study it. Try to find Lund. 3. Have passport photos retouched. 4. Have a chat with musicians union (speak slowly). Ascertain minimum wage for all countries on itinerary. 5. Keep this information secret." And so on.
Even though she has gone from singing for free in grubby New York joints to being a Movie Star complete with her own trailer, she still gives the impression of being someone who could leave her coffee pot on the stove till it melts. "The world is my shoehorn, I shall not shlep," she wrote.
She has written, in her account of her tour abroad that was being purchased in such large quantities yesterday.
"Why don't you speak French? I am speaking French."
"I'm going to go out there and turn that ice rink into a wading pool!"
(In introducing the singing group that backs her up) "And now Ladies and Germs, would you please give a rousing welcome to three prime examples of why drugs are not the answer . . . please say hello to the Staggering Harlettes!"
Linda Pdrazik and Don Bandel, co-coordinators of Midler's fan club, came down from Bayonne, N.J., to stand around watching Midler sign books. Podrazik is an accountant for an insurance company, and Bandel works for the Post Office.
"To me she's a real, live person," said Podrazik. "She's not like those stars of yesterday, like Joan Crawford or somebody. You can tell she has real feelings, and she's just as great person."
Some people waited for three hours before her scheduled noon arrival, which was heralded by a brassy band. "The heat wasn't so bad, it was the band . . ." said one young woman, clutching two copies of the book, one for herself and one for her boss.
When Midler arrived, the crowd lunged forward, and quite a few people were mashed against the store windows ad crushed against each other, thanks to their enthusiasm and the paucity of crowd control. "I am really furious," said one of the crushees, Elsa Levy. "They shouldn't have let things get so out of control."
Inside, the autograph seekers were made to stay in line."I rebuke you in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord," said one woman to a security guard.
As they approached their idol, some fans blushed, some giggled, some gushed and some wiggled. "Vicky with a Y," said one. "Can I take your picture?" asked another, who, when granted this request, promptly had what can only be described as a conniption.
"It's too hot outside," said the public relations man from The Coast. "Just sign Bette Midler so we can get some of those people in here. No Names."
So the next "Vicky with a Y" was told "sorry, I've got to move my a--." No names, "except for speshies."
"Oh, she touched me!" squealed one man, who appeared to be approaching adulthood. "She touched me!"
Is there anyone she'd stand in line or, Midler is asked.
"Jesus, I would do it for. Once. Or maybe Mao Tse-tung. Of course he's not with us anymore."
Every sixth person, it seemed, asked her if she had writer's cramp yet. No, she said, but she would soak her hand after the books were sold.
"In a glass of Scotch," she said.