On Sunday night, CBS aired the Tony awards. Generally I don’t enjoy watching award shows. They offer very little genuine entertainment. The Tony awards offer slightly more because they show little snippets of the shows that are honored, which is fun and entertaining. The acceptance speeches are usually pure dreck, all inside jokes and names of people no one knows. I usually watch the snippets and skip the “thanks.” That’s what I did most of the night Sunday, but when Bette Midler received her award, I stuck around to listen.
I’ve liked Bette Midler for a long time. When I was in college she had a concert special on HBO that was raunchy and fun, totally entertaining. She has a versatile and warm voice, and she has a wicked sense of humor and both were shown to advantage in the special. Anyway, I figured Midler would stop the show, and I was NOT disappointed.
She is currently playing Dolly Levi in the revival of Hello, Dolly! I wasn’t surprised she won. She is clearly popular just about everywhere she goes. For those who didn’t catch the moment when she got her award, I’ll give you an idea of why it was special. Since they use the show to promote Broadway and to make some advertising bucks, it’s loaded with commercials, and the people who win awards are given strict instructions to keep it their comments short and to get off the stage when they hear the music come up. This is important rule-making for broadcasters because they have time limits they are supposed to uphold. When Midler got her award, she was truly surprised because she didn’t have a clue what to say or who to thank, and she didn’t want to leave anyone out. She didn’t want to insult anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings. She started saying names, and kidding around because she’s a world-class improviser. The music came up as expected, and she kept talking, not budging. Finally she said, “Turn that crap off!” and the crap stopped. She brought the entire ceremony to a halt. It was FAN-TAS-TIC!
She got more time than anyone else did to accept an award, and that is as it should be because Bette Midler is a battle-axe, and the very best kind of battle-axe a person can know.
If you were to look up battle-axe, you would read (in crazy Wiki-pedia) that it is an insult of an older and assertive woman and the entry mentions Carry A. Nation. I suppose Nation is the example because she carried a hatchet, but she is not really a battle-axe. She is a cray-eyed zealot. That’s different.
The quintessential American battle-axe is Susan B. Anthony who fought all her life to for the right of women to vote, and actually cowed the poll watchers in her town into letting her vote. She got arrested and fined. She didn’t ever pay the fine. Susan B. Anthony was a woman who had something to say. Midler is, too. A battle-axe says exactly what she means, and not because she’s silly. She says it because she knows what’s best, and she’s thinking, “Look, I’m not going to be here forever, and you need to know this.” Her actions spring not from entitlement or from selfishness. They spring from hard won experience and expertise, and she can help if you will just shut-up and let her help. Every organization needs a battle-axe, and it helps if she is a good one.
There’s another word that’s similar from the world of archetypes–crone. These terms would not be insults if our culture had the right attitude about age. White hair should be considered a mark of wisdom and earned respect. (I write this though I have my white hairs carefully dyed about once a month.) A battle-axe can hurt you if you cross the wrong line, but she will always try and make things fair, worthwhile, beautiful, and true. I consider myself a battle-axe in training. Just a few more years, and watch it!