Revisiting Bette Midler’s Thighs and Whispers (1979)

I was recently perusing an old issue of Blueboy magazine (as one does) when I found an in-depth review of Bette Midler’s 1979 LP Thighs and Whispers. Single-monikered reviewer Dallas certainly had strong feelings about the album. The review is quite a roller coaster ride, describing different aspects of the LP as “a knock-out”, “third-rate disco,” “disco at its finest,” “gives the impression that she has no taste,” “borders on genius,” and many breathless adjectives of adulation and despair.

Bette had been going full steam throughout the late 70’s. This was her third studio LP released in three years, plus the live double album Live At Last, a concert special on HBO, and her TV special Ol Red Hair Is Back, which won Bette her first Emmy award.

I should probably take Dallas’s advice to smoke a joint and listen to the song “Hurricane” again, because unfortunately my weed-free opinion is that the track is utterly forgettable.

Bette spoke about Thighs and Whispers during a 2021 interview with Jim Farber in Parade Magazine. Reflecting on her career, she admitted that she had recorded “some stinkers.” Of the song “Married Men,” she joked; “Please, God, shoot me now!”

Bette Midler sings “Married Men” on the SNL 4th season finale, (5/26/79). Among her backup singers were Katie Sagal and Luther Vandross.

She also mentioned the song “My Knight In Black Leather,” saying “Save me! That was the label saying, ‘You have to record this.’”

Bette has been using “My Knight In Black Leather” as a punchline for decades – not just in interviews but also during her live shows. Reflecting on her career back in 1987, she told an interviewer that she had no regrets:

“I’d do it all over again, just as I did.”

“What about ‘My Knight In Black Leather?'”

“Well,” she said, “that’s the exception. That’s one thing I don’t think I would do again.”

Bette and her Harlettes (Linda Hart, Paulette McWilliams and Franny Eisenberg) performed “My Knight In Black Leather” on the German television show Musikladen (10/18/79)

In defense of the song: it was not supposed to be taken seriously. Should it have been a single? Probably not, but they were trying to get a hit record by tapping into that “Village People *wink-wink, nudge-nudge* we-know-it’s-gay-but-Middle-America-doesn’t” disco energy.

Mister D, head of the BootlegBetty fansite is fond of the LP: “…great album, great cover, great orchestrations, and one cut, ‘Cradle Days’ which I thought is probably her greatest vocals on an album.”  


Thighs and Whispers was considered a commercial failure, but ultimately, it was water under the bridge. The film The Rose was released the following month, earning Bette a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination. The accompanying soundtrack LP (for those keeping track, that’s 6 albums released in three years) placed her firmly in rock and roll territory. It should be noted that one of the highlights of The Rose – the song “Stay With Me” – was written by Jerry Ragavoy, composer of… “My Knight in Black Leather.”

With an eye towards the 1980’s and the rise of New Wave music, Bette told an interviewer “I think I should jump on every musical bandwagon and really drive people mad, just irritate them to shit so they say ‘She’s such a cow – she’ll jump on any musical bandwagon.’ Why not? I’ll bleach my hair and rip my clothes. I think it’s fun. I’m getting silly in my old age.” This would have to wait 4 years until her next studio album: 1983’s No Frills.

On October 8, 2016, Bette was the special guest at a Forest Hills Stadium show called Nile Rogers’ FOLD (Freak Out Let’s Dance) Festival – a show also featuring his group Chic, The Village People and Earth, Wind, and Fire. Given the theme, I thought Bette might dust off a song from her disco period – 1976’s Strangers In The Night, perhaps. But she didn’t. Her set consisted of her classics: “Friends,” “Do You Want To Dance,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Her final song was a nice surprise: “Route 66,” which she said she had never sung before and had just learned the day before.

This issue of Blueboy also features a full page ad for Elton John’s foray into disco,Victim of Love, which was released the same month as Thighs and Whispers. The album is widely considered to be the low point of his career.

Gay Times #69 (1978)

I recently came across a 1978 issue of Gay Times, East Coast Edition – Issue #69 (ahem).

The news section was dominated by California’s Briggs Initiative, aka Proposition 6 – the first attempt to restrict gay and lesbian rights through a statewide ballot measure. Thankfully, it was defeated that November with 58% of the vote, but the stakes were high when this issue went to press.

It was the importance of this vote which also inspired the centerfold:

Caption: Register To Vote – Your right to live may depend on it!

The photo is from Robert Bresson’s 1957 film A Man Escaped, a WWII drama based on a true story of a French resistance fighter portrayed by Francois Leterrier (center).

Elsewhere in the issue, an editorial calls for the continued boycott of Florida Citrus due to the anti-gay efforts of their spokeswoman, Anita Bryant.

Welcome to 2022, when it all seems painfully current, domestically and abroad.

Ah, but it wasn’t all politics and protests. Editor Pat Pomeroy interviewed The New York Man: Damian Charles. He’s described as an Aries ram, former school teacher, author of 49(!) books of erotica, and a centerfold model. He inspired orgasms in 17 countries! (I have to wonder who collects such statistics and where does one find the raw data?) And also – what quote could encapsulate the era better than “… as I have sex with a succession of lovers under the strobe lights at Studio 54”?

I reached out to photographer John Michael Cox, Jr. to see if he had any recollections of this dynamo. “Charles Herschberg was a very close friend & the writer I most used to conduct interviews – I didn’t like to transcribe interviews so I employed writers. For his nude modeling, he decided on the name Damien Charles, which I never liked. He never had the ambition to do much & mainly posed for me. He never did films but I did shoot some hardcore pix of him with his lover Richard Allan. Chuck died around 1990 in Florida.

“These photos are from the first session we did. I never worked for Gay Times, so Chuck must have given them the prints to use.”

I asked about Chuck’s work as a writer. “I met Chuck when he was writing a piece on (gay porn star) Roger. I came over to the Eros to photograph him and Roger’s manager Jim Bacon introduced us. Typical of Chuck – he never finished the article.”

Click here for the January 1977 Omega cover story on Jobriath – written by Charles Herschberg with photos by John Michael Cox, Jr.

Regarding the many porn books Chuck wrote: “He probably wrote under many different names. He worked for an outfit that used many writers. They churned out huge amounts of paperback porn.

“Harlequin offered him a deal to do books & said he could alter his porn stuff. $5,000 per book. He couldn’t bring himself to do it.

“Years ago I tried to do a tribute to Chuck on my website, which has since been taken down. Like everyone who knew Chuck, I adored him & also wanted to hit him over the head.”

Charles Herschberg with Jayne Mansfield backstage at the Latin Quarter (1965)

Thanks to John Michael Cox Jr. for his recollections of his friend.

John Waters In Blueboy Magazine (1977)

Back in January of 2020, I posted an article written by Armistead Maupin for the September, 1980 issue of Blueboy Magazine. I mentioned that this magazine was part of my collection of vintage male erotica that is large enough to choke a horse – file boxes full of smut that were gifted to me by an old friend when he vacated his New York City apartment after 30 years. I was slowly selling them off on eBay, but that door slammed shut earlier this summer when the company decided that they did not need all the unholy illicit dirty sticky revenue generated by adult items. As of July, they have completely eliminated their adult section.

Sidenote: If anyone can recommend a halfway reputable website to peddle my gay wares, I would be very grateful.

As the end of this selling opportunity drew near, many vendors starting unloading their products at a discounted rate.1Cover I went in the opposite direction: Rather than listing these publications for less than their worth, I chose to buy up even MORE magazines at a discount

One of these recent acquisitions was the November, 1977 issue of Blueboy Magazine which featured an interview with The Pope of Trash: filmmaker John Waters.

This interview was conducted just as Desperate Living was about to be released.