Scroll To Top

Barry Manilow reminisces about early gay bathhouse performances with Bette Midler

barry manilow continental baths Ansonia Hotel NYC 1970s gay turkish bath house Bette Midler Event Flier
Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images; NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project via Museum of the City of New York; Public Domain

The formative performances at gay bathhouses helped launch the careers of both superstars.

Barry Manilow said some of his formative years as a stage performer took place in a gay men’s bathhouse where audience members often wore only towels or nothing at all.

Manilow made the revelations about New York City’s infamous Continental Baths in a wide-ranging interview with Seth Abramovitch of The Hollywood Reporter for the magazine’s January 4 print edition.

During the 1960s, Manilow had made a living writing, performing, and producing music and jingles. He has either written and/or voiced the famous jingles for Band-Aids, McDonald’s, Pepsi, State Farm commercials, among others.

In 1971 he was hired by Bette Midler to be the musical director of her outlandish stage show at the Continental Baths, the gay men’s bathroom that also booked live and DJ entertainment. It was at the Continental with Manilow’s help that Midler reportedly perfected the Divine Miss M persona.

The action in the audience often made the action on stage seem tame by comparison. It was routine for the audience to be naked while watching the pair perform, and sex acts were not uncommon, to say the least.

Manilow appeared to deny performing on stage while the audience was performing in the audience, however.

“What do you think, they were fucking in front of us?” he told the Reporter. “They were just an audience. A great audience, too.”

He did admit the venue and audience were out of the ordinary but stressed it was a paying gig.

“It’s unusual, I agree,” Manilow told The Reporter. “But for me, it was a job for 75 bucks.”

The Continental Baths, located in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel, opened in 1968 and was the brainchild of Steven Ostrow. Ostrow said he was tired of seedy and dangerous gay men’s sex clubs and wanted to create what amounted to a safe space where gay men could mingle naked, have sex, enjoy libations, and even swim or dance naked while enjoying live entertainment.

“I built a disco room, a DJ booth, and these special things where you put the records: ‘turntables’!” Ostrow told The Guardian in 2018. “It was spectacular. People would dance in their towels, bathing suits, nude, or anything!”

The club eventually closed in 1976, due in part to the admission of straight and clothed patrons who wished to see the stage acts.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Donald Padgett

Managing Editor at OutTraveler. Also write for Out, The Advocate, and Plus magazines.

Managing Editor at OutTraveler. Also write for Out, The Advocate, and Plus magazines.