Born Liza May Minnelli on March 12, 1946, in Hollywood, CA; daughter of Vincente Minnelli (film director) and Judy Garland (singer/actress); married Peter Allen, 1967 (divorced, 1972); married Jack Haley, 1974 (divorced, 1979); married Mark Gero (divorced, 1992). Education: Educated in United States and Europe. Addresses: Home--New York, NY. Management--Lee Salter Co., Los Angeles, CA.
For the children of the very famous, perhaps the most daunting task of their lives is to emerge from the larger-than-life shadow cast by their parents and become their own persons. For Liza Minnelli, this process has been doubly difficult because she chose to make a name for herself on the stage, thus following in the footsteps of a mother who was one of the most famous performers of the twentieth century. That Minnelli succeeded is a testament both to her artistic gifts and her independence. he remains one of the most versatile and energetic performers on the American music scene.
Minnelli's life began in the glow of the spotlight and has never really left it. She was born on March 12, 1946, in Hollywood, California, to singer/actress Judy Garland and the second of her five husbands, film director, Vincente Minnelli. Liza grew up in the shadow of the studios, visiting her parents on sound stages, absorbing the details of the film-making process. She was particularly interested in dancers such as Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, whom she watched rehearse for hours, and at an early age she was given dance lessons by MGM choreographer Nico Charisse. By the time she was three, Liza had appeared in one of her mother's films, In the Good Old Summertime, and at age eight she danced on stage in New York as a backup to her mother singing "Swanee." Although Vincente Minnelli and Garland were divorced in 1951, both would play key roles in Minnelli's artistic development, as she acknowledged in a New York Times interview, "I got my drive from my mother and my dreams from my father."
If Minnelli's was a glamorous upbringing, it had a dark side as well. Judy Garland's later years were marked by addictions to tranquilizers and alcohol, illnesses, and episodes of emotional instability resulting in a series of failed marriages and strained relationships with everyone close to her. Almost from infancy, Minnelli was pressed into service as her mother's confidante, and by the time she was a teenager she was managing her mother's household, paying bills, hiring staff, and supporting Garland through her mental crises. For all that, a strong emotional bond linked the mother and daughter, and to this day Minnelli remembers Garland with fondness for her supportiveness and her efforts to encourage Liza's artistic development.
Perhaps Garland's greatest legacy to Minnelli was her voice. Liza inherited many of Garland's mannerisms and vocal effects. As New York Times music writer Michiko Kakutani pointed out in a 1984 article, "Although [Minnelli's] voice possesses a harder ... edge, it carries echoes of the throbbing emotion that Judy Garland imparted to all her songs; her stage presence, too--histrionic, nervous, at once vulnerable and brassy--can also conjure up images of her mother." In the early years of her career Minnelli would consciously distance herself from her mother's image, refusing to sing Garland's songs and taking movie roles that portrayed her as worldly and tough as opposed to the wide-eyed innocent Garland often played. But in time she would come to accept and be honored that her audience saw her mother in her.
Minnelli's interest in performing came to the fore in 1960 when she saw the Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie. She recognized in the atmosphere of the stage a world in which she felt completely at home. Successful tours with her school drama club and in local theaters followed, and in 1962 she decided to take the plunge, dropping out of school and moving to New York to pursue a stage career. Although her parents refused to pull strings for the aspiring sixteen-year-old actress, good auditions and curiosity based on her name resulted in her being cast in an Off-Broadway revival of the musical Best Foot Forward. The show opened in April 1963, and Minnelli was praised by critics for her confident and accomplished stage presence. After the show ended, Minnelli recorded her first album and went on the road touring with musicals, slowly but surely moving up the ladder to success by dint of what, in a Washington Post article, she called "slogging along every day ... step by step by step."
The most prominent step in Minnelli's developing career, however, was when she appeared on stage with Judy Garland at the London Palladium on November 8, 1964. Overwhelmed by the thought of having to sing alongside a living legend, who also happened to be her mother, Minnelli was at first terrified, but her talent quickly asserted itself and she proved more than equal to the occasion. So much so, in fact, that Garland became jealous and paid her the supreme compliment of trying to outperform her, as if she were any other competitor. It was an electrifying moment for Minnelli, confirming that she had arrived as a musical talent. She recalled in a New York Times interview, "It was like Mama suddenly realized I was good.... 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."
In 1965, Minnelli's new status as a rising stage star was reaffirmed by her performance in the Broadway musical Flora the Red Menace, a lighthearted spoof of the American Communist movement of the 1930s. Although the show received mediocre reviews and closed after only a few weeks, Minnelli was critically applauded and received the Tony Award as best actress in a musical for her work in the title role. At nineteen, she was the youngest actress in Broadway history to be so honored.
More importantly, she established a connection with Flora's songwriting team, Fred Ebb and John Kander, who would arrange much of her work from that point on. By characterizing Minnelli as an eccentric but resilient waif with a flashy exterior and inner vulnerability, Kander and Ebb were able to imbue her with a stage personality that, while drawing on her mother's image, was distinctly separate from it. This would be key to Minnelli shedding the critical distinction of being "just like Judy Garland" and emerging into her own as a performer.
With the support of Ebb, Minnelli made her cabaret debut in Washington, D.C., in sold-out performances at the Shoreham Hotel's Blue Room. As was the case with Flora, she received accolades from the critical establishment and went on to tour successfully in the United States and abroad. The nightclub milieu was one in which Minnelli felt very much at ease, bringing a relentless energy and stage presence to the smaller venues regarded by most other performers as merely a sidebar between stage shows. As she explained in a 1970 After Dark article, "The way I do my club act--it is theater ... I have too much energy to stand still and be cool." Her audiences invariably responded to her enthusiasm and to this day, her nightclub act is the foundation for her continuing appeal.
In 1968, Minnelli ventured into the world of film for the first time, taking the role of the American secretary to Albert Finney in the British comedy Charlie Bubbles. Favorable reviews resulted in her being cast in The Sterile Cuckoo. Her role of Pookie Adams, a slightly crazy, love-starved college student, gave her an opportunity to display her considerable acting talent and would garner her a best actress Oscar nomination. It also served notice that she could do more than just sing and dance and was in fact a multi-dimensional talent.
In 1969, Minnelli had just begun work on a third film, Otto Preminger's Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, when she received word that Judy Garland had died from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. Although she must have been devastated, she calmly took charge of the events surrounding her mother's funeral and the settling of her estate, much the same way she had run her mother's household as a child. Plunging back into work afterwards, Minnelli filmed her first television special, entitled Liza Minnelli, for NBC in 1970 and went on tour with her cabaret act. In 1971, she was selected to play the female lead in Bob Fosse's Cabaret, a film version of writer Christopher Isherwood's short story collection, Berlin Stories.
The role of Sally Bowles, a down-on-her-luck cabaret singer struggling to survive in the amoral atmosphere of 1930s Nazi Germany, was tailor-made for Minnelli. On the strength of an excellent score by Kander and Ebb, director Fosse was able to draw a powerful, well rounded performance from Minnelli, showcasing her singing abilities and highlighting the tough/vulnerable dichotomy that was her hallmark. On its 1972 release, Cabaret was hailed by the critics and audiences alike and Minnelli received the Golden Globe, the Academy Award, the British Academy Award and Entertainer of the Year from the American Guild of Variety Artists. As if to crown her laurels, a NBC television special of her singing act, Liza With a Z, earned Minnelli an Emmy Award, raising her into the select group of artists who had won a Tony, an Academy Award, and an Emmy, the "Triple Crown" of show business.
Having firmly established herself as a star in her own right, Minnelli continued the relentless schedule that had brought her to the pinnacle of recognition. For the next several years, she toured extensively, playing venues all over the United States. A one-woman show, Liza, was the basis for a world tour and garnered her a special Tony Award. In 1974, she was a narrator for That's Entertainment, a highly successful film tribute to MGM musicals which prominently featured her mother's work. She also provided voice-overs for the character of Dorothy in Journey Back To Oz, an animated feature that allowed Minnelli to reprise Garland's most famous role.
After such a meteoric rise, it seemed inevitable that Liza's career should hit some sour notes. Lucky Lady, an adventure film starring Minnelli, Burt Reynolds, and Gene Hackman, was released in 1975 to harsh reviews in spite of the assembled talent. Similarly, when A Matter of Time, a Cinderella-type story directed by her father, hit the screens in 1976, her performance was thoroughly panned as mawkish and unconvincing. Perhaps the greatest disappointment for Minnelli, however, was the reception accorded to New York, New York which appeared in 1977. She had jumped at the chance to work with Martin Scorcese on the film, a 1940s style musical with Robert de Niro that would afford her the opportunity to star in the same kind of role that had made her mother famous. Once again, however, the critics were less than charitable, charging that she had merely copied her mother's mannerisms, and the film was a box-office disaster.
As if to redeem herself, Minnelli returned to the Broadway stage in late 1977 with The Act, the story of a has-been singer trying to reclaim her earlier success. The verve of her live performances, a domain which seemed to suit her more than the screen, pleased the theater-going public and critics alike, and resulted in her third Tony Award. Likewise, her concert appearances continued to attract overflow audiences, with a 1979 Carnegie Hall engagement setting a record for that venerable theater. In 1981, Minnelli returned to film with the hit movie Arthur, the story of the unlikely match between a waitress and a drunken millionaire. Capitalizing on that success, Minnelli launched an international tour of her stage show and in 1983 earned a Tony Award for her starring role in The Rink, a musical with the close-to-home subject of a daughter coming to terms with her estranged mother.
In spite of her continued success, or perhaps because of it, Minnelli's personal life began to go out of control. Part of a sophisticated, fast-living crowd in the seventies and early eighties, Minnelli, in a haunting parallel to her mother, developed addictions to alcohol and several different types of drugs, particularly Valium. Gradually she became more and more withdrawn and began to miss concert dates, until in 1984, she entered the Betty Ford Center for detoxification treatment. Several months' intensive therapy cured her of her drug habit, and Minnelli emerged from the Center feeling renewed. In 1985, she mounted a hit tour that was a comeback of sorts for her, as well as appearing in a NBC made-for-television movie A Time to Live that brought her a second Golden Globe award.
Since the mid-eighties, Minnelli's career has leveled off. She has had little success on the silver screen, starring in Rent-A-Cop in 1987, Arthur 2--On the Rocks in 1988, and Stepping Out in 1991 with minimal critical or box-office impact. However she has found the medium of television much friendlier, appearing in a series of highly acclaimed specials including Liza in London, an HBO pay- per-view event in 1986, Minnelli on Minnelli: Liza Remembers Vincente, a 1987 PBS tribute to her father, who had died the previous year, and Liza Minnelli: Sam Found Out, three one-act plays on ABC in 1988.
Minnelli's greatest success, however, has come in her continually sold-out appearances in theaters and clubs, a forum in which she has the greatest latitude to showcase her high-energy performance style. In 1987, Minnelli appeared in a three-week engagement at Carnegie Hall, recording the concerts as a best-selling live album, her first in almost a decade. A worldwide tour in 1988 with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. was billed as "The Ultimate Event" and proved to be very lucrative as a pay-per-view special. Minnelli appeared for several weeks in 1991 at New York's Radio City Music Hall, selling out every performance and recording a PBS special that was nominated for six Emmy Awards.
Through the seventies, eighties, and on into the nineties, Minnelli has also kept up a high profile as a recording artist, releasing albums steadily. Although her recorded output has not achieved the kind of recognition her film, television, and stage work did, all of her albums have sold well, reflecting the extreme devotion of the following she has maintained over the years. A 1996 recording of smoky-sounding romantic standards entitled Gently is a distinct change from the show tune-oriented albums she has done in the past and has been generally well received by music critics.
Now in her fifties, Liza Minnelli can look back over a career that has seen many highs and some lows as well. From her teenage years on, she has walked a fine line, striving to establish herself as an artist in the face of inevitable comparisons to her legendary mother. That she has succeeded in making a name for herself is beyond doubt, and in many ways she has become a more well-rounded, if not as compelling, an entertainer as Garland. In the process she has, if anything, extended her mother's renown by giving fresh life to the musical domain in which Garland had her greatest triumphs, a fact that New York Times critic Stephen Holden underlined in extolling Liza Minnelli as "an exuberant, brash entertainer who may be the last great practioner of the brassy and at times proudly vulgar American music-hall tradition."
by Daniel Hodges
Liza Minnelli's Career
First performed in 1961; made Off-Broadway debut in 1963; made Broadway debut in 1965; has toured extensively in United States, Europe, Australia, and Japan; has appeared or recorded with Judy Garland, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Chita Rivera, Goldie Hawn, Vic Damone, Donna Summer, Joel Grey, Charles Aznavour, Marvin Hamlisch; film credits include Charlie Bubbles; The Sterile Cuckoo; Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon; Cabaret; That's Entertainment; Lucky Lady; A Matter of Time; New York, New York; Arthur; Rent-A-Cop; Arthur 2--On the Rocks; Stepping Out.
Liza Minnelli's Awards
Tony Award, 1965; David di Donatello (Italy), 1970; Academy Award, 1972; Golden Globe Award, 1972; British Academy Award, 1972; Entertainer of the Year, American Guild of Variety Artists, 1972; David di Donatello, 1972; Emmy Award, 1972; Tony Award, 1973; Tony Award, 1977; Golden Globe, 1985.
- Selective Works
- Albums Liza! Liza! Capitol, 1964.
- It Amazes Me, Capitol, 1965.
- Judy Garland & Liza Minnelli Live at the London Palladium, Capitol, 1965.
- Flora, The Red Menace, RCA Victor, 1965.
- There is a Time, Capitol, 1966.
- Liza Minnelli, A&M, 1968.
- Cabaret: Original Soundtrack, MCA, 1972.
- Liza with a Z, Columbia, 1972.
- Liza Minnelli: The Singer, Columbia, 1973.
- Live at the Winter Garden, Columbia, 1974.
- New York, New York, EMI, 1977.
- Tropical Nights, Columbia, 1977.
- The Act, DRG, 1978.
- Best Foot Forward, Picc-a-dilly, 1980.
- Liza Minnelli Live at Carnegie Hall, Caltel, 1981.
- The Rink, Polydor, 1984.
- I Believe In Music, CBS, 1986.
- Liza Minnelli At Carnegie Hall, Telarc, 1987.
- Lovely! Lively! Liza! Capitol, 1987.
- The Liza Minnelli Four Sider, A&M, 1988.
- Results, Epic, 1989.
- Love Pains, Epic, 1990.
- Stepping Out, Milan America, 1991.
- Liza Minnelli: Live from Radio City Music Hall, Columbia, 1992.
- Liza, Sony, 1993.
- Gently, Angel, 1996.
- Films Charlie Bubbles, 1968.
- The Sterile Cuckoo, 1969.
- Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, 1971.
- Cabaret, 1972.
- Lucky Lady, 1975.
- A Matter of Time, 1976.
- New York, New York, 1977.
- Arthur, 1981.
- Rent-A-Cop, 1987.
- Arthur 2--On The Rocks, 1988.
- Stepping Out, 1991.
- Television Liza With A Z, 1972.
- Goldie and Liza Together, 1980.
- Baryshnikov on Broadway, 1980.
- A Time to Live, 1985.
- Liza In London, 1986.
- Liza Minnelli: Sam Found Out, 1988.
- The Ultimate Event, 1989.
- Liza: Live at Radio City Music Hall, 1992.
- Parallel Lives, 1994.
- The West Side Waltz, 1995.
- Theater Best Foot Forward, 1963.
- Flora, the Red Menace, 1965.
- Liza at the Winter Garden, 1973.
- Chicago, 1975.
- The Act, 1977.
- The Rink, 1984.
July 25, 2003: Minnelli and her husband, event producer David Gest, ended their 16-month marriage. Source: People, August 11, 2003, p. 46.
September 2003: Minnelli and her estranged husband, David Gest, announced they have settled their lawsuit against VH1 for their television series, which was canceled before airing. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, September 22, 2003.
October 21, 2003: Minnelli was sued by her estranged husband, David Gest, for $10 million accusing her of alcohol-fueled violence that has caused him neurological damage and headaches. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com, October 22, 2003.
November 14, 2003: Minnelli filed a suit accusing her estranged husband, David Gest, of stealing money from her, insulting her in public, and trying to fire members of her staff who questioned his practices; the performer is seeking no less than $2 million in damages. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, November 18, 2003.
- After Dark, April 1970.
- Boston Globe, April 18, 1996.
- Harper's Bazaar, August 1990.
- New York Newsday, April 23, 1991.
- New York Times, September 6, 1979; March 4, 1984; May 31, 1987; April 25, 1991.
- USA Today, April 16, 1996.
- Vanity Fair, June 1987.
- Washington Post, July 9, 1988.
- Additional material for this profile was furnished by Angel/EMI Records, 1996.