Friday, March 11, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Happy Birthday Liza!

Liza blowing out her birthday candles 66 years ago.
by Liz Smith

Happy Birthday to You, Miss Liza Minnelli. 

"YOU ARE the music, while the music lasts," said T.S. Eliot.
WHEN YOU think of Liza Minnelli, her art, what do you think of? Most people, I believe, associate her with the "big" numbers — hit-the-last-note-to-the-balcony — in China! — blockbusters that her audience demands and which she always gives them, weary as she might of "the oldies." (Or, as difficult as it might be to hit such stratospheric notes in recent years.)
But when I think of Minnelli the singer, it is the quiet songs, the introspective ballads, the little musical conversations she herself prefers. ("I'm not really, a singer, I'm a storyteller" Liza has often said.) How perfect are her low, strong, velvety notes, more evocative even than those of her mother. (Please, no outraged e-mails. Judy could do things Liza can't. Liza can do things Judy couldn't. They are not the same person, no matter the inevitable similarities.)
I've been thinking about Liza, her dramatic life and brilliant work, because tomorrow this legendary actress/singer/dancer turns 70. It doesn't seem possible. Our Liza, the eternal gamine, is now a grand lady of a very certain age. She can be regal. She can wear a turban. She can do as she damn well pleases, and do it in the street and frighten the horses, too. She's 70, baby!

I am not surprised she's gotten here. Really. Liza has lived a thousand lives in her 70 years. Tumultuous lives, lives that didn't seem made for the long haul, lives that surely would burn and blaze and die before wisdom and ripening.

Oh, silly observers of the famous and troubled! Liza was never meant to "go like Elsie" as the lyric in the song "Cabaret" seemed to ominously predict. Liza is an optimist and survivor par excellence.
She keeps her sunny side up; she walks on the sunny side of the street. Her public face is always turned upward toward the light and her outlook is forward-thinking. She knows who she is and what she's experienced. And she knows we know. And because she knows all that, she never blames, never cops a plea, never makes excuses. When she falls, she gets right back up, dusts herself off with a shrug and a wisecrack and carries on.

She wants universal love and acceptance when she is onstage, the public Liza Minnelli. (Almost all performers want that!) The off-stage woman is a realist, who works hard on her cockeyed optimism. Perhaps because she knows if she ever gave in, ever said "It's not my fault!" the abyss would have surely opened and swallowed her.
SHE'S WON the Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy. She has been adored all over the world — a star since her teenage years. Her vulnerability and her up-from-the-floor comebacks have welded fans to her in a uniquely emotional, tender manner. At the moment, Liza Minnelli is taking a long deserved break. She moved from her beloved Manhattan to Los Angeles — all's quiet on the Minnelli front, right this minute. But we are not in epilogue time. The tenacity, glamour and vibrancy of Liza always reminds me of a great oil well; when you think she's depleted, sputtering, or just plain tired, then comes another gusher, another dazzling spurt of incalculable wealth.
In concert, whenever Liza first appears — all huge dark eyes, and tentative gestures, still the nervous fawn who might dash away at the slightest hint of danger--along with the applause and screams of encouragement, the love she generates before she even sings a note, I always think I hear those Munchkin voices from "The Wizard of Oz" trilling: "You're out of the woods, you're out of the dark, you're out of the night/Step into the sun, step into the light/Hold onto your breath, hold onto your heart, hold onto your hope."
Liza has stepped into the light and held onto hope countless times, against all odds. That is why we can joyfully celebrate her 70th year.

Happy birthday, you marvelous girl. They broke, stomped on and ground into the dust the mold they made when they made you.

Many more years, lots of health, and happiness, too. Whatever happiness is, for any of us.

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.