Okay, so her style of music might not be your cup of tea and her battle with bouts of alcoholism and substance abuse might not endear her to you but when all is said and done, she’s a pretty talented lady. She’s won just about every kind of award that they can offer in the world of showbiz. She managed to do this despite having her early reputation of being known simply as “Judy Garland’s daughter”.
A Star is Born
Or maybe more aptly put - born into stardom. Liza May Minnelli was born on March 12, 1946 in (where else?) Los Angeles, California. When you consider who her parents were, mom Judy Garland, dad director Vincente Minnelli, she had some pretty big shoes to fill from the gitgo. According to Ms. Minnelli, her first name comes from the song “Liza”, a George and Ira Gershwin tune that was popular at the time.
It should come as no surprise that most of her early years were spent in Hollywood.She made her screen debut by the time she was three years old when she appeared in the closing shots of the movie In The Good Old Summertime which starred her mom and Van Johnson. By the time she was seven, she was appearing at the Palace Theatre in the heart of New York City dancing alongside her mom. By her own estimations, she attended over 20 schools around the country and in Europe as a result of her parents traveling lifestyle,
For a while, she appeared to have no interest in pursuing a career in showbiz but all of that changed in 1962 when, at the tender age of 16, she started apprenticing in a couple musicals and even wound up playing Anne Frank in a summer stock production.
The next year she made the leap to Off Broadway and won an award for her part in a musical called the “Best Foot Forward.” She also took to the road and toured around the country in productions of Carnival, The Pajama Game and The Fantasticks. She also managed to find the time to record her first album, Liza! Liza! which eventually sold over a half a million copies shortly after its release.
She followed that up by traveling to London and appearing (once again) beside her mom in an engagement at the Palladium. Even though she was relatively unknown across the pond, most critics agreed that she upstaged her more famous mother. She made her way back across the Atlantic and officially made her Broadway debut in something called “Flora, The Red Menace. Although the show lasted for only 87 performances, it served two purposes. It got her a Tony Award and it marked the beginning of what was to become a long association with the songwriting duo of John Kander and Fred Ebb.
In 1967, she caught the eye of Peter Allen and they were married soon after. A year later she made her big screen debut in a movie by Albert Finney’s called “Charlie Bubbles”. I guess she had a natural talent because the next year saw her get an Academy Award nomination for her performance in “The Sterile Cuckoo.” Just when things were looking up she was hit by tragedy. Her mother died in 1969 and she and her husband, Peter Allen announced their decision to separate.
After taking a couple of years off, she came back with a vengeance The year 1972 saw her star in the movie adaptation of Cabaret. It went on to win nine Oscars including the Best Film award. For her efforts, Liza Minnelli took home the Best Actress award. She also went on to win an Emmy award for a television special called “Liza with a “Z” which was directed by Bob Fosse.
In 1973 she met who was to become her second husband Jack Haley Jr. while working on That’s Entertainment!. Ironically, it was Haley’s dad who, as the Tin Man, starred alongside Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz. They were married in 1974 and Minnelli started to reappear on Broadway. Her one-woman show broke attendance records and garnered her yet another Tony Award.
Her next couple of movies didn’t dazzle either the audiences or the critics but in 1977 she appeared in Martin Scorsese’s film New York, New York alongside Robert Deniro. She then took a break from making movies until 1981 when she starred opposite Dudley Moore in the romantic comedy Arthur.
It was about this time when rumors of her troubles with drugs and alcohol began to circulate. She didn’t help her cause when, soon afterwards, she collapsed on stage from “exhaustion”. Minnelli virtually dropped out of sight, not before divorcing Jack Haley Jr. in favor of an Italian sculptor by the name of Mark Gero, for a couple of years and even spent a stint at the Betty Ford Clinic in California.
She began her “comeback” at the age of 40 in 1985 by playing to a sold out gig at the London Palladium. She also appeared in a made for television movie called “A Time To Live” and won the Golden Globe Award as Best Actress. As the 80’s moved along she embarked on a world tour with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr called The Ultimate Event!
The 90’s saw Minnelli return to the big screen when she revised her role as Dudley Moore’s love interest in Arthur 2: On The Rocks. She also divorced her third husband and took to the stage to appear in a musical comedy called “Stepping Out”. She used the songs from the show as the impetus for her appearance at Radio City Music Hall and wound up breaking the famed venue’s box office record. Catapulted by the success of the show she took it to London and performed at the Royal Albert Hall.
I guess all of those years on stage took its’ toll. In 1994 Minnelli underwent hip replacement surgery for the chronic pain she claimed to be experiencing for the last 10 years. After her recovery she appeared at Carnegie Hall and in 1996 recorded her first album in years. Called “Gently”, it featured performances with such diverse musical talents as Donna Summer and Johnny Mathis.
1997 saw a return to Broadway after an absence of 12 years. Minnelli wowed the audience when she replaced Julie Andrews for a spell in Victor/Victoria. She also appeared in a tribute to Kander and Ebb at a performance at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.
Throughout her career, Minnelli, like her mother, has always been the subject in the press about her addiction to alcohol and drugs. She recently made the news again when she announced her separation from her fourth husband, David Gest, after a marriage that lasted only 16 months.