Permanent Records: With The Divine Miss M, Bette Midler went from bathhouses to The Tonight Show

Permanent Records is an ongoing closer look at the records that matter most.

On May 21, 1992, NBC aired the penultimate episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, which included one of the most memorable images in the show’s history: Bette Midler, softly speak-singing the Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer favorite “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road),” while the camera catches an enraptured Carson watching from his desk. Carson and Midler had history. She was a frequent guest over the previous 20 years, since first appearing on the New York City incarnation of the Carson Tonight Show in the early ’70s. She was even briefly the opener for Carson’s Las Vegas stand-up act. That night in 1992, they looked like old friends and even older showbiz pros—representatives of a fading era.

Back in 1970 though, it was a quietly subversive move for …

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