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Bette's Still Bawdy at All-American Benefit

October 31, 2001, 12:00 AM EST

New York Restoration Project's New York, New York benefit Marriott Marquis Monday, 10.29.01, 6:30 PM onward
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It was inevitable that Bette Midler would sing “The Wind Beneath My Wings” at the benefit for her charity, the New York Restoration Project (NYRP). But she didn't let New York's return to earnestness--or the event's All-American theme and decor--keep her from tossing out lots of bawdy jokes, self-deprecating one-liners and more than a few four-letter words before she sang the feel-good favorite. Even after newly beloved officials Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Governor George Pataki showed up to praise the NYRP's work restoring public parks, Midler went ahead with some filthy jokes, and sang couplets like “Thank you for buying seats at my soiree. Half of you have bucks, the other half is gay.” The audience seemed to love it.

For the past five years, the NYRP's fall fund-raiser has been a Hawaiian luau-inspired Halloween party called “Hulaween,” with eventgoers arriving in costumes. But that theme got scrapped after September 11. “This year it just didn't feel appropriate,” Midler said in the press room before the event. Instead, the event's title was “New York, New York,” everyone wore sober business attire, and Midler's event-closing performance included many references to the strains of post-September 11 Manhattan life.

Eventgoers started the evening in the cocktail area on the Marriott Marquis' sixth floor, and were summoned into the hotel's Broadway Ballroom by the New York Police Department Emerald Society Pipes and Drums corps. Midler's set designer, Martin Izquierdo, filled the ballroom with red, white and blue, including flag-patterned tablecloths on the tables, and bunting and flags hanging from the balconies. The stage set included lots of stars, stripes and American eagles, and an image of the Statue of Liberty.

The hotel's menu was similarly patriotic: wild mushroom pot pie as appetizer, filet mignon and braised short ribs as entree, and a “Big Apple Tart” for dessert (i.e., good old apple pie). During dinner, a jazz band led by Joseph Claffy (booked through Michael Carney Music) played New York and United States related songs, including “Autumn in New York” and “Route 66.”

Rolling Stone publisher and NYRP board member Jann Wenner welcomed guests to the event, and NYRP president Joseph Pupello talked a bit about the organization's work. After dinner, Joy Behar served as M.C. for an auction and gave the audience her own version of Midler's dirty-mouthed, refreshing irreverence. If she didn't get a higher bid for one item, The View star said, “I can't face those bitches tomorrow morning.” The seven auction items included a two-hour session with Dr. Ruth Westheimer, dinner with Sopranos stars Lorraine Bracco and Edie Falco and a song from Midler at a party.

After a short break, Midler appeared on stage to introduce Pataki, and then launched into her energetic performance with the upbeat “Walking on Sunshine.” She sang, joked and mugged for the audience for about 40 minutes, and called Nathan Lane on stage to sing a Cole Porter song. She presented the NYRP's first “Wind Beneath My Wings” award to Sherry and Michael Goldstein of the Toys 'R' Us Children's Fund, who have given the project money and assistance in working with corporate donors. And then, of course, she sang the inevitable song.

--Chad Kaydo

Read about two other events with M.C. Joy Behar:

New York American Marketing Association's Effie awards...

Toy Manufacturers of America's Toy of the Year Awards benefit...

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