Monday, February 6, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Talking with Liza

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Generally, it’s called Throwback Thursday But today we wanted to give you Throwback Monday. The odd news about Judy Garland’s body being moved from New York to Los Angeles after so many years, got me to thinking about daughter Liza. She lives quietly in Hollywood now. But a couple of years ago, my guy Denis Ferrara did an interview with Liza, that captures so much of her gracious, energetic, optimistic spirit.

We’re being a bit lazy today, and at least this column can’t even allude to politics — a temporary relief and respite, yes? 
Here are Denis and Liza circa 2014:

Along with the Oscar, the Tony, the Emmy, the Grammy and the (still) clamoring fans at concerts all over the world, there’s something else Liza Minnelli has won through trials by fire. She keeps her sunny side up; she walks on the sunny side of the street. Life is just a bowl of cherries, more or less. Liza Minnelli is the most apparently optimistic star I’ve ever met.  Her public face is always turned upwards toward the light and her outlook is forward-thinking. She knows who she is and what she’s experienced. She knows we know. And we know — or we should! — that getting into what we believe is the darker nitty-gritty of her colorful life is a pointless task. 

Like her late great friend, Elizabeth Taylor, Liza tells only so much. She keeps truly intimate matters close to her heart and away from her tongue.
Her parents were the iconic director Vincent Minnelli and MGM’s musical goddess, Judy Garland. But since you know that already ...

If she’s gonna talk, she’d rather talk about her work. And that is exactly what we did not long ago, after seeing Liza at the State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ.  She was sensational. At the top of her current form.
We gave her a call.

LM: Honey, how are you?! (This delivered in her most upbeat tones — like a happy shot of electricity or a spike of Red Bull through the phone.)

DF: I’m great. How are you? I saw you in New Brusnwick and you were incredible. I kept thinking, “Indestructible. She’s just indestructible.”

LM: Yeah, that’s me, Wonder Woman!

DF: Is it tiresome when people — like me — comment on your energy and longevity and how you just “keep on keeping on?”

Liza on “Arrested Development."
LM: No, it’s not tiresome. It’s just ... well, I don’t think about myself. Look, when I go to the theater, I want to come out feeling good. So that’s what I think about — am I going to make my audience feel good, too? They’re all scrunched in their seats and paid good money, and I try to do what I can to entertain them. We’re locked in a building for two hours after all! When it’s over. I’m just tired. I don’t feel very indestructible.

DF: When they came to you and said, “Arrested Development” was coming back and would you reprise your character did you ...

LM: Say yes immediately? Of course. They are the most talented, funniest, group of people in the world. And the creator of the show is just brilliant. (Liza is not big fan of phrases like “It’s just fine.”)

DF: And you get to have vertigo again.

LM: That was my idea, actually. It was sort of during talks we had about the character. They let me explore. Well, it was my idea to fall down and it just went on from there! (Big laugh)

DF: Do you want to act more? Are you looking for things or are your people looking for things?

LM:  I’d love to act more. I think it’s assumed I’m not interested. But I am! Listen, I act when I sing, I act when I dance. But it all comes from acting. I don’t have to sing and dance to act.

DF: You tell a real story when you sing ...
LM: I always think of myself as a storyteller. Songs are stories and that’s acting, too, to get back to acting. And, here’s this — I love to learn. That’s my favorite thing. I’ll see something and I’ll say, “Oh, I want to learn how to do that. And I’ve had such great teachers over the years, they taught me, they made me — Marvin Hamlisch and Fred Ebb and John Kander and Fosse and Charles Aznavor and ...

DF: Wait, wait ... I know you have a dozen more names. You are incredible. I’ve never known another performer who gives so much credit to others. Everybody else always kind of acts like they’ve sprung full blown from the head of Zeus!
LM: My biggest talent, I think, was knowing who was best, who I could learn the most from. So, how can I not give them credit? I guess I have good taste. And that’s a talent, too.

DF: You still take singing lessons, and dancing lessons. That’s kind of incredible, but I have to say, there are aspects of your voice that are stronger than ever.

LM: Oh, honey, thank you.  But you know, things have calmed down. Everything’s calmed down. At some point my body just said ‘Stop! Sit down!’ So, now I sit down a bit. But then you have to project more in some ways — like a laser beam.
DF: Do you sing at home?

LM: Oh, sure. But you know, it’s like ... I take singing lessons not to learn to sing but to keep up what I’ve got, to work the muscle. If you sit down too  long, it’s hard to get up!

DF: Is there anybody, is any aspect of entertainment, you haven’t worked with who you’d like to?

LM: Oh, God, so many. But, right off the top, Tom Hanks. He has great taste, and every time I see him onscreen I trust him. I think I’ve done that onstage — giving trust. My concert audiences trust me. But I’d like to extend that.
DF: Is it incredible to you that 40 years have passed since “Cabaret” opened? To me it seems like yesterday that I was sitting at the Ziegfeld Theater watching it — and that was the first movie they played at the Ziegfeld!

LM: It was!  And it seems like yesterday to me, too. I remember everything. I kept thinking, “I wonder who they’re talking about?’ Or, “Is this really happening to me?” And what a film! Nobody should ever just brush it off as just a musical. You know, it was my father who took the musical off the stage and onto the street, he really made it believable to simply ‘Burst into song’ without the confines of a stage. “Cabaret” did the opposite. It put musical numbers back onstage.
DF: I loved  “New York, New York.”

LM: Well ...

DF: And “Stepping Out.”

LM: You did? You saw it?! It kind of got lost, which is a pity. I think it’s a very hopeful film.
DF: What is a day in the life of Liza Minnelli — I mean, do you go out and buy groceries and such?

Uh, sure. If I have to. Something for the dog or whatever.  My day — I get up and go to dance class. Have lunch, I do business. Then the day is mine. If I want to see friends or go to the theater, or whatever. Again — it’s calm.
DF: Do you watch TV?

LM: I love it! I love TCM especially! I have it on right now. The old black and whites. You learn so much. I still want to learn!  And black and white was universally flattering to women, and they had a way of making women up, and filming them that was extraordinary.

DF: Do you ever go on vacation?  I think you’re like Madonna sometimes — work, work, work. Although I think she’s, um — calmer now. With kids and all.

LM: Of course I go on vacation. And isn’t Madonna great?  I think she’s a lovely woman. I’ve always really just liked her. She’s fun to have dinner with. She’s not wacko. She knows things. She wants to learn too. And Lady Gaga too. She can do anything, and has a great sense of humor, too.
DF: Do you ever forget where you are, when touring?

LM: Honey, how can ever forget being in, like — Poughkeepsie? I love the new audiences and the new places and new sights and sounds. And especially how every audience is different; how each reacts to this or that. And when you get into their groove, you lean that way. I’m there to tell them stories. It’s like having a conversation; a conversation that never bores me.

DF: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

LM: Oh, Geez! So much. Well, one of the best things anybody ever said to me was “keep moving.” But here’s the best advice I can give: “Stay curious.”

DF: That’s great. And you have stayed curious.

LM: I have. But please don’t ask me to do anything more than turn on my computer!  There’s curiosity and then there’s technology.
Contact Liz here.