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#BornThisDay: Liza Minnelli

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At the 2016 Academy Awards, NBC via YouTube

 

March 12, 1946– Liza Mae Minnelli Allen Haley Gero Gest:

“Momma always taught me: ‘Be the best version of yourself. Don’t be the second best version of somebody else’. I’ve always stuck to that. I performed with her at the Palladium and it was tough to keep up although I never tried to imitate her. She’d be pleased I’ve made a name for myself.”

They come in all stripes, shapes and shades, so I am rather certain that there must be some LGBTQ folks that do not care for her. I mean, there are unbelievably, LGBTQ Trump supporters after all, but for me, I wouldn’t be a proper gay guy having my gay day without celebrating the birthday of Liza Minnelli.

For you kids who are too young to understand: Her mother was Judy Garland, whose own father was gay. The man Garland handpicked as a husband for her daughter was gay. Like her mother before her, at least three of her husbands were gay. Garland and Minnelli practically invented the term “Gay Marriage”. Minnelli’s gay fans have remained her most steadfast fans through the drugs and the booze, the highs and the lows.

Her father was Vincente Minnelli, the director of classic MGM musicals like Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), Gigi (1958) and An American In Paris (1951). He lived a life as peculiar as the dream ballets that became his trademark. Liza Minnelli even got her start at MGM, at two years old, in a scene with her mother in The Good Old Summertime (1949). The first two visitors to her famous mother’s bedside when she had given birth to Liza were Frank Sinatra and Noël Coward. Minnelli:

“Honey, I’ve been famous since before I was born.”

That has been both her blessing and her curse.

Fully recognizing her illustrious pedigree (her parents were both Academy Award winners), I first saw her in The Sterile Cuckoo (1969), which brought her own Oscar nomination. I was rather astonished by her performance which was followed by another in Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970). Of course, there was the double whammy in 1972 of the film version of the musical Cabaret plus the television special Liza With A Z, all formidable, heady stuff for a baby gay like me.

Minnelli started her career in her teens, working first in nightclubs, crooning the standards while dreaming of being an actor. While it lacked the glamour of Broadway or the prestige of films, the years of performing before a small audience helped her build her acting chops and her assured stage presence. She was one of the replacements for the role of Luisa in the long-running The Fantasticks Off-Broadway and on tour. She made it to Broadway with credits that include: Flora The Red Menace (1965), Chicago (1976), The Act (1978), The Rink (1984), Victor/Victoria (1997), plus a series of Broadway concerts, the first in 1974 and the last 2009.

You kids might know Minnelli from her role in the cult hit Arrested Development (2003-05, 2013). What you might not have noticed was the amount of inside jokes the writers crammed into her appearances; mocking and paying homage to everything from her biggest roles to her famous friends. Minnelli camping it up as the horny, rich, dizzy (literally) Lucille was one of the best surprises on a show filled with great ones.

There is no denying the talent: An Oscar, Emmy AwardTony AwardGrammy Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe all sit on her mantle. She is one of only 16 people on our pretty plaent to have won them all.

“Cabaret” (1972), Allied Artists via YouTube

For me, Minnelli was sort of miscast in her most famous role, Sally Bowles in Cabaret, a character decidedly marked by her lack of talent. Yet, it is bad casting that worked out rather nicely. Minnelli was absolutely wrong for the role, yet she made it her own and ruined it for every actor that followed.

Through the ups and downs, the drugs and booze, the weight gains and losses, and the marriages, just when she seems a joke, Minnelli redeems and reinvents herself with choices like Results, her terrific 1989 album with Pet Shop Boys.

Minnelli’s performing style is so: “Please, Please, Love Me”, that I find it simply rude not to. At 71-years old she keeps on giving and giving and demanding the love.

Minnelli has been performing since  she was two-years old. Just two years ago, she gave a series of concerts in the UK, including a night at The Palladium, the same venue of her mother’s famous comeback concerts in 1964. Garland died with a huge debt. Minnelli has bills to pay too:

“I had two business managers and they’re both in jail! I mean, Marty Scorsese and I had the same business manager… and he’s in the clink! Luckily, now I insist on always signing my own checks. You learn a little bit as you go along.”

She was just 19-years old on the opening night of Flora The Red Menace, and her mother was there to cheer her on. Garland proclaimed to the Donald Brooks, the show’s costume designer:

“Can you believe that’s Liza up there? We did that! You got her up there looking the way she does. And I got her up there because I’m her mother and conceivably her inspiration — the heck with her motivation.”

On The Judy Garland Show, 1963, via YouTube

Garland’s competitive spirit was not lost on her young daughter. Minnelli:

“It was like Mama suddenly realized I was good, that she didn’t have to apologize for me. It was the strangest feeling. One minute I was on stage with my mother, the next moment I was on stage with Judy Garland. One minute she smiled at me, and the next minute she was like the lioness that owned the stage and suddenly found somebody invading her territory. The killer instinct of a performer had come out in her.”

Minnelli’s early success brought her money. But, Garland’s drug and alcohol abuse, along with her financial woes, had only gotten worse. The daughter became her mother’s caretaker and provider. The showbiz must go on.

Minnelli has always been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ people. She claims that she was the one who told Elizabeth Taylor about HIV/AIDS while talking about their mutual friend, Rock Hudson. She has given a lot time to Taylor’s organization, amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research).

Minnelli has long been associated with the music of Kander and Ebb, and in 1994 she recorded their song The Day After That, donating the proceeds to amfAR. She performed the song in front of thousands of fans at a Central Park concert on the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

On a lovely spring day in 1977, I followed her for several blocks until she arrived at the Russian Tea Room, where she met Lauren Bacall in the doorway with a kiss. I followed the pair of stars inside and sat at the bar, but I couldn’t bring myself to approach her. I may have seen her at Studio 54 during that same era, who knows, what with the Quaaludes and the cocaine; maybe I just thought I saw her with Halston, Bianca and Andy.

“Listen, everyone ages but not everyone has to get old. I’ve never lost my curiosity and I think that keeps you young.”


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