Thursday, April 14, 2016

LIZ SMITH: One Hell of a Fabulous Wedding!

David and Liza on their wedding day with Taylor and Jackson by their side.
by Liz Smith

David Gest: Say What You Will — That Was One Hell of a Fabulous Wedding!

"BE KIND, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle," said writer Ian Maclaren.

I came across this quote in the tender and moving Anderson Cooper-Gloria Vanderbilt memoir "The Rainbow Comes and Goes." (The HBO documentary based upon this work, is very good, but the book is a minor masterpiece of intimacy.)

I am going to take Ian Maclaren (and Gloria Vanderbilt's) advice and "be kind" on the matter of the sudden death of music producer David Gest. I hadn't seen David or thought much about him since the heady period of his romancing, marriage and divorce from Liza Minnelli. (The relationship began in earnest in 2001, at a Michael Jackson extravaganza David had produced, just 48 hours before the horror of 9/11. They married the following year and divorced in 2003.) During that time he often called this office and we were inundated with his notes and e-mails.
MJ and David way back when.
Although reviled by some Liza Minnelli fans, David did revive the great star at a point when she needed that. Whatever his methods or motives, within months of their meeting, Liza had lost weight, and was more active than she'd been in a while. And she seemed happy — although that's what Liza does. She always seems happy and optimistic. "What, me worry?" could be her slogan.

To say all who knew Liza were astounded at the announcement of their intended happily-ever-after, would be an understatement as vast as the caverns of the Grand Canyon.
But she said she was in love, and David certainly said it — to every news outlet and reporter and stranger on the street he passed. If Liza was hesitant about the circus atmosphere David created around the nuptials, she didn't indicate it publicly. Not so much privately, either. She was grateful to him, and allowed the spectacle to unfurl. Despite the glamour and drama of her public image, Liza herself, tended to keep her private life and feelings private. David had turned her into a figure of fun (and not in a funny way) and their nuptials into something not even the super-showman, self-promoter Mike Todd could have dreamed up.

Still, the wedding was a jet-powered toboggan and Liza was strapped to it, smiling but awfully surprised.
SEVERAL WEEKS before the ceremony, I interviewed David, whose primary concern was a recent Vanity Fair article which claimed he plucked his eyebrows. "Can you believe they said I pluck my eyebrows? Why, I was born with these eyebrows!" That didn't quite address the issue of whether or not he plucked those brows, but he seemed so sincere, I just told him to embrace the Vanity Fair article and not pay attention to what people said. After all, hadn't he (and Liza) survived everything the press could possibly throw at them? "Yes, well, maybe you're right" he admitted. My feeling was that David didn't really care what the media said, as long as they said it.
It was at this point that people were almost literally offering to sell their children — or at least the neighbor's children — into slavery to snare an invite. Every single day there was some new, gaudy detail, another famous attendee, what Liza would wear (Bob Mackie), who would perform, where the happy couple were registered (Tiffany, Lalique and Bergdorf Goodman. Liza and David were hot for china and other items from Elsa Peretti — and they appeared to want 16 of everything! I'd never known Liza to be a greedy girl, so I assumed this was mostly David's wish list.)
AND THEN came The Event. Again, no matter what David Gest had on his mind, then or later, I have never in my life been to a better party, had more fun, or observed such utter, surreal madness. It was the polar opposite of Elizabeth Taylor's wedding to Larry Fortensky, which was — despite the dozen or so helicopters jammed with paparazzi, whizzing ominously above Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch — a low-key family affair. David wouldn't have known low-key if it knocked him right on his suspicious eyebrows.

The two most striking moments of the event were David's infamous face-eating kiss that he planted on Liza after the "I do's."
The collective "Ewwwww" was almost audible.
And then the presence of Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson. La Liz, who had been so vivacious and beautiful at the 2001 Jackson concert was now bloated, badly dressed and had "forgotten" her shoes at the hotel — one of her entourage ran back to fetch them. Michael looked stranger than ever. Neither seemed to be truly invested in Liza and David's happy day.
Jackson and a still-vibrant Liz in 2001. (Never understood the blonde hair, but what hell — she liked it.)
Does anybody still wear a hat? Taylor and Jackson at the Minnelli-Gest funeral — uh, I mean, wedding!
Well, this was one of the few times in her life Taylor was at a wedding where she wasn't the bride! ET and Marisa Berenson, Liza's co-star in "Cabaret" were the "maids" of honor. (The bridesmaids ranged from Gina Lollobrigida to gossip columnist Cindy Adams. David's best men were Michael and Tito Jackson.)
Just Married!
THINGS began to unravel fairly quickly after the wedding. Well, how could they not? After you've married like that, divorce seems the only natural follow-up.

I won't go into what I know. I said I'd be kind. In short, everybody was relieved when the marriage ended. Liza most of all.

I do recall attending a Liza concert here in Manhattan as the marriage wound down. Rumors were rampant but nothing had been confirmed. Liza was in fabulous form that night, and the audience was rapturous as only a Minnelli audience can be. She looked terrific; there were no signs of strain and certainly no onstage references to trouble. However, when she ripped into Lesley Gore's powerful feminist pop song, "You Don't Own Me" — which I'd never heard her perform before — I thought to myself, "I wonder if David understands what's happening here?!"

Several months later it was over, and Liza was no longer "owned." Much to the relief of friends, family and fans.

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.