Bet you didn't know this: Joan Cusack backed out of The Stepford Wives remake (opening today) to spend time with her ailing father. Her role was recast with Bette Midler, who happily rose to the occasion. However, the 58-year-old legend had never seen the original 1975 cult classic about a suburban hamlet where disobedient wives are swapped for robots.

"When I got cast, I rented it," Midler recalls. "I was surprised at how sad it was. It was so tragic. All [the heroine] wanted to do was be a photographer. The poor girl. That was what was considered threatening in 1975? Imagine."

While she's pleased that women's lib has come far since the '70s, the Divine Miss M wonders if it's gone too far. "There are so many things happening in the media that are hard to absorb," she laments. "I never thought I would see the day when someone [like Paris Hilton] could make a pornographic film and survive it. I remember when, if you got arrested for marijuana, you'd be ostracized for the rest of your life. So to be alive, and to have seen all of the changes in society that are so severe in such a short time, it really takes your breath away."

The advent of plastic-surgery programs also took the wind out from beneath her wings. Shows like Extreme Makeover and The Swan "assume that you are going to be overjoyed and a happy person if you look okay," Midler says. "You'll look okay for a while, but eventually gravity will take its toll, once again. And you'll have to go back under the knife again! So it is best if you make some sort of peace [with yourself] at some point."