I had the opportunity to speak to Liza Minnelli at her home in New York a few weeks ago. Liza is a frequent visitor to the Hamptons, coming out here for rest and relaxation to the homes of friends in Westhampton Beach and East Hampton. She loves this place for how pretty it is, she told me, and is grateful to have so many wonderful friends, not only here but almost everywhere she travels.
At the present time, Liza teaches acting and singing at the Actors Studio, has a regular part in the show Arrested Development, and performs as perhaps the most famous singer and entertainer in the world in about 20 cities a year. Last year, she performed in theaters in 18 different locales, including Niagara Falls, Paris, Broadway, Buenos Aires, Las Vegas, Newport News, Hollywood and Atlantic City. This spring she performed in London, Paris and Poughkeepsie and, on July 6, she will perform at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, without a doubt, to a sold-out house.
Liza Minnelli is the only entertainer in the history of Carnegie Hall to sell out three consecutive weeks of nightly performances. Earlier, at Carnegie Hall, she had a performance where, after it ended, the concert goers refused to leave. They had to be escorted out by the police. She is one of only a handful of performers in history to have won all four major entertainment awards—Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy.
Considering all she has done in her long career—films, Broadway, singing and dancing—I wondered what was the single favorite thing she ever did. I got an interesting answer.
“The next thing I’m gonna do,” she said.
“I’m coming to YOU.”
“I love what I do. When I get into a theater, they shut the door, we’re alone, the audience and I. And we’re friends. This is what I look forward to.”
I also wondered if she ever got tired of singing certain songs. Many singers do. And again, I got an interesting answer.
“I learned how to sing my songs from one of the greatest French male singing stars ever—Charles Aznavour. He taught me that each time I sing a song, one I’ve sung many times or one I have not sung often, I should think of the song as if it were a little movie. So I concentrate on that. And so that’s where the song takes me.
“And how did you meet him?”
“When I was studying acting, he came to hear me sing. I was 17 years old. And he arranged for me to go to Paris to learn from him. I learned to sing my American songs in French because he translated them for me. And then I could see where, when I sang, he would take me. I see him whenever I go to Paris now. He’s one of my closest friends.”
Liza Minnelli was born in Hollywood, California in 1946, the daughter of actress Judy Garland and film producer (Meet Me in St. Louis, An American in Paris) Vincente Minnelli. She was the first and only child of these two. Her mother was 24 when Liza was born, her father was 43. Although they divorced when Liza was five, her two parents, separately, shared raising her and guiding her and it was a loving home life. Minnelli subsequently remarried and had a daughter, Judy Garland had a son and daughter, and both parents had respected careers in their separate lines of work. As is well known, Judy Garland later in life had addiction problems, resulting in Liza’s trying to help her. Garland died at the age of 47.
Liza Minnelli was educated at New York City’s Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts and the Chadwick School. At 16 she was an apprentice at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis, Massachusetts. At 17, at her mother’s invitation, she performed with her at the London Palladium. And at 19 she became the youngest woman ever to win a leading actress Tony Award for her role in the Broadway show Flora the Red Menace.
Simultaneously with her acting career on Broadway, she also became a nightclub singer, performing in Las Vegas and elsewhere At 19, Capitol Records released her first music album Liza! Liza! and then two more in subsequent years, all great successes.
Periodically, since then, she has released more than a dozen albums. She had a hit record with “New York, New York,” and two years later, Frank Sinatra covered it and it was a hit again.
She is, of course, best known for her role in the movie version of the Broadway show Cabaret. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role performance in that film.
And she told me an interesting story about the making of that film.
“We went to Germany to make a movie about Nazis. It’s in the 1930s before the war. Hitler is rising to power. And it all takes place in smoky cabarets and clubs. As it turned out, Bob Fosse, our director, was in this wonderful situation. We were so far away from Hollywood, he could do what he wanted. We did things we would never be allowed to do in Hollywood.”
“Such as what?”
“The movie is dark and mysterious. There is this divine decadence. We’d have a singing sequence, and then there would be this quick cut and he would do this harsh scene of Nazis beating people up. This is not how things were done at that time in the American cinema.
“I remember Fosse assembling the cast. He’d sent a print of the film home. And he got all these requests for changes. He read the letter to us. We were doing too much smoke. All this smoking in the cabarets, it will break up on the drive-in screens.”
“What did that mean?”
“On a regular theater screen, the smoky cabarets would play. But on the big screens at drive-in movies we had at the time, the smoke, technically, wouldn’t play, it would break up. So after Fosse read all these changes, he held up the letter, ripped it into pieces, threw it over his shoulder and walked off.”
The film was released as Fosse wanted it. It won seven Academy Awards in addition to the one for Liza.
Liza Minnelli earned her first Oscar nomination at 19 for her performance in Alan J. Pakula’s first feature film, The Sterile Cuckoo. She played an eccentric in the Otto Preminger film Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon. She worked with her father in the film A Matter of Time, co-starring Ingrid Bergman. She played opposite Dudley Moore in the hit film Arthur.
On television, Liza has had appearances on Saturday Night Live, The View, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, The Judy Garland Show, Law & Order and The Apprentice.
She’s also had her trials. She’s been unlucky in love, married and divorced four times. She’s battled alcohol and addiction—spending time in the Betty Ford Clinic—she’s battled and beaten encephalitis, the viral illness that doctors said if she survived she would likely not walk or sing again.
How wrong they were.
And through it all, she has loved life, loved the work she does, the success she has had, the rapport with her audiences and that so many people tell her how much they enjoy what she does.