The hit 1988 movie Beaches follows the lives of two lifelong friends, one of whom – Bette Midler’s CC Bloom – enjoys a successful career as a singer and actress. While Beaches is not quite a true story, Midler’s character was directly inspired by a real-life pop superstar.
Iris Rainer Dart, author of the Beaches novel on which the film is based, modelled the character of CC Bloom on Cher, her former boss and close personal friend. While working together in comedy television together for four years, Cher and Dart poured their hearts out to one another about love, family and careers; it was a relationship that would inform Dart’s 1985 tale of female friendship.
The 70s were tough for Iris Rainer Dart. She went through a divorce from her husband, the rock concert promoter Steve Wolf. Just a few months later, he was murdered in a home invasion, leaving Dart to care for their seven-year-old son Gregory on her own. At the same time, Dart was pursuing a career as a TV writer in Los Angeles. The long hours, combined with single motherhood, often left Dart “in tears” with exhaustion.
Cher was going through her own break-up with husband and professional partner Sonny Bono around that time. Their split meant the cancellation of the couple’s TV variety series, The Sonny and Cher Show, so 1975 saw the singer and actress front a solo show, simply entitled Cher. Iris Rainer Dart was hired as one of Cher’s many sketch writers, and was the only woman in the writing team.
Dart and Cher soon bonded. “Cher, I still adore her and idolize her,” Dart has said since. “We’re close to the same age [Dart is two years Cher’s senior], and when I first got on the show I was the only woman for the special and then two years of writing the show.”
“The men were very afraid of her, she’s very powerful and very smart and knew exactly what should happen and what she wanted to do,” Dart elaborated. “So they would send me into her dressing room. They’d say, ‘She didn’t want to do this monologue, find out what she’ll talk about!” And they sort of pushed me into the dressing room.”
It was during this process that Dart found she had a lot in common with Cher. “We would talk – only about a third of what we talked about was the show. We both talked about our lives, we were both going through divorces, we were both going through raising kids. Chaz and my son [Gregory] are the same age.”
Cher left a powerful emotional impression on the writer. “We became friends, and I just admired her everything – how hard she worked, how she was so street smart and had such good instincts about herself and everything else,” she noted. “… She’s just non-stop and I love that.”
Dart writes Beaches
1976 saw Cher and Bono put aside their differences to reunite on a revival of The Sonny and Cher Show, which Dart remained on board as a writer. After this series came to an end in 1977, Dart gradually moved away from TV writing in favour of novels. Her first book, 1980’s The Boys in the Mail Room, was loosely based on the life of her former husband Steve Wolf.
It was Dart’s second novel Beaches, published in 1986, which really made her name as a novelist – and Dart has confirmed that “the character of CC in Beaches is really based loosely on Cher.” The novel proved popular enough that it was soon optioned for a big screen adaptation, yet Dart declined the opportunity to adapt the novel into a screenplay herself, knowing that the studio would have to make major changes to the original tale.
Making the film – and changing the novel
Dart had reservations about one changed scene in particular: “It was a catfight set in a department store. I don’t write catfights; I’m a feminist.” The author was also displeased that the story’s second female lead Bertie White was renamed Hilary Whitney for the film (the role taken by Barbara Hershey).
Curiously, despite being the inspiration for C.C. Bloom, Cher does not appear to have been considered for the role (possibly because her then-recent Oscar win for Moonstruck had pushed up her asking price). It was Dart’s second husband, Stephen Dart, who first suggested sending the script to Bette Midler.
Dart had no say in the choice of director – but by chance, the person who won the job was her old writing mentor, Garry Marshall. After being named as director, Marshall called his old student Dart and told her, “Well… I’m back in your life again!”
Critics derided Beaches as old-fashioned and flat, with one critic arguing: “Beaches is no longer Dart’s full, wallow of a story, and the movie’s manoeuvres in its place are so inept they don’t work.” Nevertheless, it was a box office success.
“Hanging out with you was a joyous time in my life”
What’s more, the final movie delighted Dart, who was overwhelmed on her first viewing. “I wept through the whole thing… it was thrilling,” she said on watching Beaches for the first time.
“I’ve only watched it five or six times, but there’s a certain point at which I’m so triggered that I just lose it, even now – and I know what happens!” she has said, citing the porch conversation as a particular tearjerker. Dart also continues to hold Cher indirectly responsible for what has been the writer’s greatest professional success.
In 2021, Dart thanked Cher for this on Twitter, stating, “Working on your show for 63 episodes and hanging out with you was a joyous time in my life and the inspiration for Beaches. Thank you.”