WHEN LIZA'S LIFE WAS A CABARET,
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.
it true, Miss Minnelli, that you drink a bottle of Grand Marnier
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
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melancholy misfit of "The Sterile Cuckoo," has been replaced by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..."
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..."
"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."
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
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.'"
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
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
"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
"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
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?
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
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
"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
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.