Why ‘The Rose’ Starring Bette Midler Was Nearly Titled ‘Pearl’

Bette Midler has led a remarkable career. Midler released her first album in 1972, The Divine Miss M, and eventually took its title as her nickname. And throughout the 1970s, she enjoyed continued success thanks to hits such as “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Friends,” and “You’re Moving Out Today.”

But it wasn’t until the decade was nearing its end that her career reached its next milestone. With The Rose, Midler seamlessly transitioned from being a music star to the movies. Yet, the film was almost released with the very different title of Pearl. Here’s the reason why the film’s title was changed.

Bette Midler in 'The Rose'
Bette Midler in ‘The Rose’ | Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images

‘The Rose’ was Bette Midler’s very first movie

In 1979, The Rose wasn’t only Midler’s breakthrough role as a film star. It was actually her very first movie role. In the film, Midler plays Mary Rose Foster, a struggling rock star in the 1960s. The character’s struggles with fame and her own alcoholism and substance abuse ring true for many music stars, particularly of that era.

And Midler delivers a devastating portrayal of her character’s journey and inner turmoil. For her performance in director Mark Rydell’s film, Midler earned her first Academy Award nomination. She was nominated years later for For the Boys, which reteamed the actress with Rydell.

But those two films share another common thread. Upon its release, For the Boys faced legal action from singer-actress Martha Raye who believed the story closely resembled her own. Whether that’s true or not, The Rose is well-documented for its basis on late real-life rocker Janis Joplin. In fact, that’s where its original title, Pearl, came from.

The film was nearly titled ‘Pearl’ for a very specific reason

“Pearl” was Joplin’s nickname as well as the title of her final album. And The Rose was intended to be a direct biopic of her life. Yet, when Joplin’s estate refused to give the producers the rights to tell her story, the details were changed to focus on the fictional Mary Rose Foster. Accordingly, the film’s title was changed to reflect this as well.

Even so, The Rose is widely considered the unofficial Joplin biopic it is. The film’s success didn’t suffer from the loss of explicit rights to the real-life story. In addition to Midler’s lead performance, The Rose secured three other Oscar nominations, became a box office success, and spawned a best-selling soundtrack. The title track remains one of Midler’s biggest hits.

And Hollywood is still trying to make a legitimate Joplin biopic. In recent years, stars like Renee Zellweger and Amy Adams have been attached to such a project. But it seems Joplin fans will have to consider The Rose the closest they’ll get to a movie about Joplin’s life. At least for now.

‘The Rose’ was the first of many hit movies for Bette Midler

The Rose might have been Midler’s first movie. But the actress-singer has a number of box office hits under her belt. In the 1980s, she starred in a series of successful comedies, including Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Ruthless People, and Outrageous Fortune. Then, of course, she headlined beloved comedy-drama Beaches in 1988.

Into the 1990s, Midler starred in films like Disney’s classic Halloween movie Hocus Pocus and The First Wives Club opposite Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn. Most recently, Midler provided the voice of Grandmama for the animated movie The Addams Family in 2019.