Moviecrazed
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WHEN LIZA'S LIFE WAS A CABARET, OLD CHUM

I interviewed Liza Minnelli for The New York Times in 1972, just before the premiere of "Cabaret." Since then, she's won an Oscar, gotten married and divorced and married again and separated and sued, been accused of hubby-battering while under the influence of vodka, gained and shed many pounds, been in and out of rehab and back. And she's still here. So how much has Liza changed over the years? You be the judge. --GUY FLATLEY

"Is it true, Miss Minnelli, that you drink a bottle of Grand Marnier a day?"

A rude question, to be sure, but then there have been rumors that Liza Minnelli--like Sally Bowles, the deliciously decadent night club performer she plays to sizzling perfection in the movie version of "Cabaret"--is burning her candle at both ends. Comparisons have also been made between Liza's frantic life style and that of Judy Garland, her talented and legendarily tormented mother.

Everyone knows--or thinks he knows--about Judy's lamentable luck with the men and the money that got away, and the booze and the pills that didn't. Now, they whisper, here's little Liza, with a marriage shattered by her all-consuming drive to become a superstar. And here, too, is Liza in Australia, playing pals with a prime minister, and here is Liza in some smoke-filled Parisian den of iniquity, hobnobbing with barons and such. Apparently, Pookie Adams, the sweetly melancholy misfit of "The Sterile Cuckoo," has been replaced by a heartless hoyden dancing atop a table, drink in hand and devil-may care look in her brown eyes.

"A bottle of Grand Marnier!" Liza gasps, her eyes more enormous than ever. "Are you crazed? That's absolutely insane! Why, I don't even enjoy drinking. Oh, I may have one on occasion..."

"One bottle?"

This question turns Liza's frown upside down. "Haaahhhh!" she shrieks, patting me on the back. "I like that. One bottle; that's funny. Grand Marnier is a cordial--so sweet that nobody could drink more than one or two glasses a day. But you know, I've had the feeling these past few days in New York that I'm so disappointing. I must be truly boring to people who are looking for dirt. Probably, if I suddenly decided to run stark naked down the street, screaming at the top of my lungs, they'd all say..."

"You're drunk."

"No, not that I'm drunk," she says, giving me a playful jab on the arm. "They'd say, 'There, see...see, we told you about her.' Dammit, it really does make me mad! So mad that I think I'll just have myself a Grand Marnier."

Liza, in her black and white caftan and her bare feet, marches across her room at the Plaza and pours herself a drink. Then, quicker than you can say cordial, the sweet liquid has disappeared down the hatch. "Well, I'm certainly not a sipper," she says. "I can't drink anything without slugging it down. I must have had a nanny who hit me over the head with a milk bottle."

Hardworking gossips have also hinted that Liza has developed a penchant for pills. On hearing this report, she slumps into her chair, shaking her head in disbelief. "Look, I'm terrified of any kind of drugs. I don't like anything that screws up my self-control, anything that dulls my senses. I think if God has given you a talent, you have a duty to develop that talent, that it's a crime to do anything which destroys it. You're not allowed to do that."

Judy Garland, so the saga goes, came to rely heavily on uppers and downers during her days as a child star at M-G-M. "I'm lucky," Liza says, "I had a choice. I didn't have to go through the problem at the age of 14 of having a doctor come into my room, shove some pills down my throat and say, 'Come on, kid, go to work.' That was a terrible thing to do to any kid."

When asked to describe her saddest memory of Judy Garland, Liza smiles. "I'm never sad when I remember Mom. Our home life was strangely normal. My mother was not the tragic victim of fate that she presented to the world. That was something she planted there for the public to see. She let everyone else wallow in her misery, while she sailed on through life. Mom was exactly what she wanted to be, a brilliant, witty, optimistic lady.

"She was not self-pitying, either-except on rare occasions. We were having an argument once, and I turned to her and said, 'How can you be so self-pitying? Why are you so full of sympathy for yourself?' She looked me straight in the eye--I'll never forget it--and she said, 'Sympathy is my business!' You see, Mom always knew what she was doing."

There were times, though, when Judy did experience some slight doubt, and she went to Liza for advice. "I talked my mother out of doing the part that Susan Hayward finally did in 'Valley of the Dolls.' I said, 'It's going to be a cheap movie, Mom, don't you understand? That woman they want you to play is a tough, hard woman.' And Mom said, 'But I'd like to play that sort of woman.' 'O.K., Mom,' I said, 'but not in this film. It's not up to your standard.'"

Liza was right, of course, about that role in "Valley of the Dolls." Just as she was right about the role of Sally Bowles, a role that could well win the 25-year-old actress the Oscar her mother never got. Sally is a spoiled American girl who goes to Berlin during the thirties, gets a job singing in a seedy night club, sleeps around a lot and ends up getting an abortion, even though Brian, her bisexual roommate--played splendidly by Michael York (shown at left with Liza)--wants to marry her and raise the child as his own.

"That abortion was the most generous thing Sally had ever done in her whole life," says Liza, "because I have a feeling Sally really wanted that kid. And Brian would have married her, because he was honorable. But what was there in it for him, really? I don't find Sally admirable, but I do find her understandable. I know Sally, I've known lots of Sallys."

It's dandy to discover that not only is Liza neither an alcoholic nor a drug addict, but that her career is also in shipshape health. She has high hopes, in fact, that her next film will be "Zelda"--to be directed by her father, Vincente Minnelli. "I like Daddy's concept of concentrating on the early years--not all that frantic stuff that came later. Daddy and I are determined to work together."

But how healthy is Liza's love life? There must have been some rocky battles with her estranged husband Peter Allen, an Australian rock singer who has failed to scale the heights of American showbiz. "Peter and I never battled," Liza says, astonished that anyone should entertain such a far-out notion. "Sure, there was a career conflict, but Peter never resented my success. I don't think Peter ever resented anything. But with our two careers, it was just hard for us to lead a normal kind of life. Peter is one of my very best friends. I think we had a very good marriage."

Suddenly, Liza launches an intensive examination of her brightly painted toenails. "My toenails are not looking well tonight," she concludes with a sigh. "And neither are my poor calloused gypsy dancer's feet."

As a matter of fact, Liza, who manages from moment to moment to look amazingly like each of her famous parents, has never been tremendously thrilled by any of her physical attributes. She considers Lorna Luft, her younger sister who recently made her Broadway debut in "Promises, Promises," to be the family beauty. "I saw Lorna in 'Promises, Promises' three times. She's terrific. She has this marvelous vulnerability. Not like me; she has more of a Monroe quality--glamorous, with incredibly white skin that's sort of translucent. I've got my father's old Italian skin.

"It's not that I think I'm ugly; I'm just not pretty. I mean, if somebody is reading a casting list that calls for a beautiful young girl, he doesn't instantly think of Liza Minnelli."

Nevertheless, she has seldom been without a beau. For example, there was that fun-loving baron who was introduced to Liza by Marisa Berenson, her cafE` society co-star in "Cabaret." "Oh, he was terrific," Liza says, "but he was never anything more than a really super friend."

As it turns out, the affair with John G. Gorton, former Prime Minister of Australia, never even reached the super friend status. According to Liza, it was no more than an absurdly brief backstage chat in a Sydney night club with Gorton and a group of his friends. But according to Gorton's enemies, the drama of the married Prime Minister and the show girl had distinct romantic overtones. "That only proves one thing--that I must be very popular in Australia, popular enough for them to use my name in the papers when they're trying to get somebody out of office."

But now there is a genuine romance-with Desi Arnaz Jr., the handsome 19-year-old actor who recently won the Foreign Press Association's Golden Globe award as the most promising newcomer of the year for his performance in "Red Sky at Morning."

And a couple of nights after my first meeting with Liza, Lucy's grown-up boy is on the scene. The scene, however, is no longer the elegant Plaza suite provided by the producers of "Cabaret." Instead, it's the cozy East 57th Street pad once shared by Liza and her husband. At present, Peter is nowhere to be seen, but Lorna has dropped by. As Desi tinkers with a stereo set in a corner of the softly lit living room, Liza is asked if Desi has taken her home to meet the family.

"Desi's family?" she laughs. "I met them when I was a year and a half old. We get along fine."

Would she care to describe her relationship with Desi? "I think you'd better ask Desi that one. Desi, he wants you to describe our relationship."

Desi wheels around from the stereo, with some wires in his hand. "Me? Oh, I just do the work around the house," he says. His hair is brown and of medium length, his eyes a clear blue, and his manner nicely nonchalant. "I'm kidding. I really only do the electrical work around the house. Liza has a couple of other guys who come in and do the rest."

Desi adjusts the volume on the stereo and takes a seat opposite Liza, whose soulful eyes have been glued to him for the last few minutes. "Our relationship?" Desi continues. "We're in love. But we have no plans to get married--yet. Just as soon as we do, we'll let you know."

"Oh, Desi!" Liza claps her hands and lets loose with a brief emotional burst that is part shriek, part laugh. She seems vastly amused by the spectacle of Desi meeting the press.

Earlier in the evening, while Liza cavorted on the Dick Cavett show, Desi was backstage informing a press agent named Sandy that letters addressed to Patty Duke were arriving at his Los Angeles apartment. "Could you please tell them Patty Duke doesn't live there any more? I do."

The subject of Patty seems a potential hot potato, so I approach it now as delicately as possible. "Excuse me, this really will seem like a rude question..."

"Oh, for God's sake," Liza says with a wink. "We're on to you by now. Go ahead and ask your question."

"Desi, a while ago I happened to overhear you mention another girl's name..."

Oh, you mean Patty? Well, I just wanted Sandy to know that Patty doesn't live in my apartment any more."

"Surely, he didn't think she did?" says Liza, sitting forward in her chair.

"You want to know about my relationship with Patty? We were together for about a year, but we aren't seeing each other any more.'"

"Patty's a terrific actress," volunteers Liza. "One of the great American actresses of our time. But for some reason, she has to keep proving it."

But getting back to the personal side of Patty, isn't Desi the father of her 11-month-old son?

"Oh, the baby...well, you see, that's not necessarily true. It was probably by me. But Patty's engaged to somebody else now."

And how did the love story of Lucy's son and Judy's daughter begin? "I didn't really know Liza that well when we were kids. I'd see her at a party once in a while and we'd say 'Hello,' but that was about it. Then, not long ago, I went up to Las Vegas to catch Tony Bennett's opening. Liza was closing that night, so I saw her show, and we met backstage. The next day, I took her to see Tony Bennett."

The similarity of their background--each the child of a superstar, and each determined to make it on his own--must have been one of the things that brought Liza and Desi together. "I'm sure that's a factor," says Liza. "If you've both been raised in show business, that eliminates a lot of opening questions. Like, 'Where are you from?'"

But show business can also tear people apart. Next May, Desi will be off to Japan, where he will star in a movie musical about Marco Polo. How will Liza survive the trauma?

"I won't know that until he's gone," she answers. "But as soon as I do, I'll let you know."

Liza looks at Desi and they both laugh. And something in their laughter suggests that, this time, the boy next door will not be the man that got away.