Liza Minnelli Biography

Liza May Minnelli, 12 March 1946, Los Angeles, California, USA. Minnelli is an extremely vivacious and animated actress, singer and dancer, in films, concerts, musical shows and television. She was named Liza after the George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn song and May after the mother of her film-director father, Vincente Minnelli. Liza’s mother was showbusiness legend Judy Garland. On the subject of her first name, Miss Minnelli is musically quite precise: ‘It’s Liza with ‘zee’, not Lisa with an ‘s’/‘Cos Liza with a ‘zee’ goes ‘zzz’, not ‘sss’. She spent a good deal of her childhood in Hollywood, where her playmates included Mia Farrow, although she also reputedly attended over 20 schools in the USA and Europe. At the age of two-and-a-half, she made her screen debut in the closing sequence of In The Good Old Summer Time, as the daughter of the musical film’s stars, Garland and Van Johnson. When she was seven, she danced on the stage of the Palace Theatre, New York, while her mother sang ‘Swanee’. In 1962, after initially showing no interest in a showbusiness career, Minnelli served as an apprentice in revivals of the musicals, Take Me Along and The Flower Drum Song, and later played Anne Frank in a stock production.

By the following year she was accomplished enough to win a Promising Personality Award for her third lead performance in an off-Broadway revival of the 1941 Ralph Blane / Hugh Martin musical Best Foot Forward, and later toured in road productions of Carnival, The Pajama Game, and The Fantasticks. She also made her first album, Liza! Liza! which sold over 500, 000 copies shortly after it was released in 1964. In November of that year, Minnelli appeared with Judy Garland at the London Palladium. Comparatively unknown in the UK, she startled the audience with dynamic performances of songs such as ‘The Travellin’ Life’ and ‘The Gypsy In My Soul’ - almost ‘stealing’ the show from the more experienced artist. Her Broadway debut in Flora, The Red Menace (1965), marked the beginning of a long association with songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb, gained her a Tony Award, although the show closed after only 87 performances. In 1966 she made her New York cabaret debut at the Plaza Hotel to enthusiastic reviews, and in 1967 married Australian singer-songwriter, Peter Allen. Her movie career started in 1968 with a supporting role in Albert Finney’s first directorial effort, Charlie Bubbles, and in 1969, she was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as Pookie Adams in the movie of John Nichols’ novel, The Sterile Cuckoo. She took time off from making her third movie, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, to attend the funeral of her mother, who died in 1969. In the following year she and Peter Allen announced their separation.

In 1972, Liza Minnelli became a superstar. The movie of Kander and Ebb’s Broadway hit, Cabaret, won nine Oscars, including Best Film, and for her role as Sally Bowles, Minnelli was named Best Actress and appeared on the front covers of Newsweek and Time magazines in the same week. She also won an Emmy for her television special Liza With A ‘Z’, directed by Bob Fosse. Her concerts were sell-outs; when she played the Olympia, Paris, they dubbed her ‘la petite Piaf Americano’. In 1973 she met producer/director Jack Haley Jnr. while contributing to his movie project That’s Entertainment! Haley’s father had played the Tin Man in Judy Garland’s most famous picture, The Wizard Of Oz. Haley Jnr. and Minnelli married in 1974, and in the same year she broke Broadway records and won a special Tony Award for a three-week series of one-woman shows at the Winter Garden. Her next two movies, Lucky Lady and A Matter Of Time received lukewarm reviews, but she made up for these in 1977, with her next movie project, New York, New York. Co-starring with Robert DeNiro, and directed by Martin Scorsese, Minnelli’s dramatic performance as a young band singer in the period after World War II was a personal triumph. This was the last movie she made until Arthur (1981), in which she played a supporting role to Dudley Moore. The musical theme for Arthur, ‘Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)’, was co-written by her ex-husband, Peter Allen.

A renewed association with Kander and Ebb for the Broadway musical The Act (1977), was dismissed by some critics as being little more than a series of production numbers displaying the talents of Liza Minnelli. In brought her another Tony Award, but she collapsed from exhaustion during the show’s run. In 1979, she was divorced from Jack Haley Jnr., and married Italian sculptor, Mark Gero. Rumours were appearing in the press speculating about her drug and alcohol problems, and for a couple of years she virtually retired. In 1984 she was nominated for yet another Tony for her performance on Broadway in The Rink, with Chita Rivera, but dropped out of the show to seek treatment for drug and alcohol abuse at the Betty Ford Clinic in California. She started her comeback in 1985, and in the following year, on her 40th birthday, opened to a sold-out London Palladium, the first time she had played the theatre since that memorable occasion in 1964; she received the same kind of reception that her mother did then. In the same year, back in the USA, Minnelli won the Golden Globe Award as Best Actress in A Time To Live, a television adaptation of the true story, Intensive Care, by Mary-Lou Weisman. During the late 80s she joined Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr. for a world tour, dubbed The Ultimate Event!, and in 1989 collaborated with the UK pop band, the Pet Shop Boys, on Results.

A single from the album, Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Losing My Mind’, gave Minnelli her first UK chart entry, at number 6. She also appeared with Moore in the sequel movie Arthur 2: On The Rocks. In 1991, her marriage to Gero ended. In the same year, after co-starring with Julie Walters in the British musical comedy Stepping Out, Minnelli used the film’s title for a series of concerts she gave at Radio City Music Hall in New York which broke the venue’s 59-year box office record. She later took the show to London’s Royal Albert Hall, where she returned a year later for a one-off gala charity concert dedicated to the memory of her late friend Sammy Davis Jnr. Her other work in the early 90s included concerts with Charles Aznavour at the Palais des Congress and Carnegie Hall, and serving as host for the 1993 Tony Awards ceremony, during which she sang a medley of Broadway songs with her half-sister Lorna Luft. In June 1994 Minnelli was in Moscow, giving shows as part of the D-Day commemorations. Later in the year she underwent surgery to replace her right hip, after ‘being in pain for 10 years’. In 1996, she released Gently, her first ‘proper’ album in years. It featured some lush duets with Donna Summer and Johnny Mathis. After some much-publicized troubles and health scares, in January 1997 Minnelli was back on Broadway for the first time in more than 12 years. Standing ovations became the norm when she played the lead role in Victor/Victoria while its star, Julie Andrews, took a break. Later in the year she returned to the concert stage in America, but was forced to withdraw from a series of UK concerts in May 1998 amid growing fears for her health. However, she was fit enough to lead the on-stage tributes (and render a typically flamboyant version of ‘New York, New York’) to Kander and Ebb when the songwriters received their Kennedy Center Honours early in 1999. Later in the year she appeared at New York’s Palace Theatre in Minnelli On Minnelli, a tribute to her late father. Liza Minnelli’s rollercoaster career in film and music has enabled her to transcend the title, ‘Judy Garland’s daughter’.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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