Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Liza's Auction — Love for Sale?

Liza's Auction — Love for Sale?
by Denis Ferrara

“ONE OF my whims?”

That line, spoken by Liza Minnelli in “Cabaret” accompanied by a half-airy, all-tragic, hand gesture, is the heart of Liza’s performance in the 1972 film, which won her a well-deserved Academy Award.

I won’t go into the entirety of the scene, in which Minnelli as singer Sally Bowles is confronted by her lover, played by Michael York.  I’m assuming most of my readers know it. But on the odd chance you don’t, or have forgotten — I don’t want to spoil.
Although Liza is wonderful in all aspects of her performance — if much too ridiculously talented to be struggling in a seedy Berlin nightspot — this scene encapsulates the essence of her character and Liza’s own unique film persona; enormous eyes brimming, voice quivering, a beautiful open wound, vulnerable to the max, resilient to the core.

Liza’s on my mind these days, mostly in the matter of the huge auction of her — and her father, Vincent Minnelli’s and her mother Judy Garland’s — personal property.  The auction, called “Love, Liza” is selling off over a thousand pieces of correspondence, photos, scripts, awards, clothes, even a Rolls Royce!  Even her iconic black bowler hat from the “Mein Herr” number in ‘Cabaret”!!!!!!

A release in Liza’s name says that the great star is “downsizing” her life, and wants to give back to the fans who “have always been there for me.”  This is not an extraordinary move—many people, even mere mortals look around at what they’ve collected and think, “time to prune that tchotchke bush!”  But the salient words are “mere mortals.”  Liza is as human in her flesh and her mortality as the rest of us, but she has accomplished great things, she is a historic figure, if you consider that the history of our lives is, in many cases, our shared entertainments — acting, singing, dancing. 

So, as such a figure, a woman who has made us care deeply, even aggressively about her personal happiness, who has lived her life to give as much as she can — and then give more — I feel that certain things should not be up for sale to “fans.”  As loving and important as they are.  
Liza Minnelli "Sally Bowles" Cabaret performance ensemble, bowler hat, and boots. $4,000 - $6,000.
Years ago I was shocked at what Anna Strasberg, the second wife of Marilyn Monroe’s acting guru Lee Strasberg, put up for auction at Christie’s. (Anna had never even met Monroe.)  With the exception of the famous Jean Louis “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” gown — most of Monroe’s clothes had deteriorated badly.  But there they were, along with items of Monroe’s lingerie, personal correspondence, furniture, knickknacks, costume jewelry. (The one real piece was her engagement ring from Joe DiMaggio, and that had a missing stone.)  It was rather sad. 

Monroe and her Golden Globes—should fans really have this kind of “memorabilia”?
But most distressing was the sale of her awards — Golden Globes, the French and Italian best actress plaques for “The Prince and the Showgirl” and her scripts, with notations in her own hand.  Surely these things that represented her work — work that she agonized over, constantly insecure — could, should find a place in a film museum of some sort.  Not resting on the shelf of a fan, with the great chance of it being damaged, lost, stolen, or thrown out by relatives. 

I feel this even more strongly about Liza, who has had a far longer and more distinguished career.  I was stunned to see page after page of her awards, her annotated scripts for “Cabaret,” “New York, New York” and other movies. 

And her clothes!  Good grief, there must be a hundred Halston gowns, in what appear to be pristine condition.  These clothes should go to the Fashion Institute of Technology, or the Metropolitan Museum or the Museum of Modern Art — as these pieces are indeed works of art. 

(I felt the same way about all of Elizabeth Taylor’s clothes, at the massive Christie’s auction of her belongings.  The jewelry was something else — Taylor always said she was the “temporary” owner of these beautiful things, no matter the sentimental assertions, and she was fine with the stash moving on to decorate the necks and ears and wrists of another. Significantly, what I do not recall seeing at Taylor’s auction were very personal items — letters, checks, prescriptions, etc. which mark the Minnelli and Monroe events.  Taylor’s family protected her.)
“Love, Liza” is selling off over a thousand pieces of awards ...
Photos ...
Correspondence ...
Clothes ...
Shoes ...
... even a Rolls Royce! 
Liza’s auction ends today, at Profiles In History, in Calabasas, California.  I do wish somebody connected to the sale had taken the name of the auction house to heart.  (I think a lot of Vincent Minnelli and Garland material should have been safeguarded as well — Minnelli’s sketches are wonderful!)

Aside from “downsizing,” I don’t know what else the auction means.  I’ve been told that Liza does not need the money.  I do know that at least some of the proceeds will benefit Michael Feinstein’s Great American Songbook Foundation, which is located at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana.  (Feinstein wrote the intro to the “Love Liza” auction catalogue in which he assures us that Liza has hung onto certain very personal items from her father, mother and beloved godmother, Kay Thompson.)
Still, I wonder if anybody thought about contacting the powers at Turner Classic Movies?  They have a yearly film festival that I bet will eventually morph into a museum of some sort. 

I’m a sentimental slob in a lot of ways and a fan of many actors (actresses, mostly, but we must be politically correct, yes?)   I know I wouldn’t be happy if one of my cats knocked over and broke Marilyn’s 1962 Golden Globe for World Female Film Favorite, or turned one of Liza’s glittering Halston’s into a scratching post.  I say buy the catalogues and leave the good stuff, the historic stuff, for those who can and should take care of them properly.
I HAD hoped today to write a bit about the screening I attended last week, but space does not permit.  It was “The Wife,” starring Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce. (The film is scheduled to open on the 17th.)  I will tell more on Friday.  But let me say this, in advance — time’s up for Glenn Close to take home an Oscar.  (Six nominations, folks — and not a “Florence Foster Jenkins” among them!)
A PERSONAL note:  Last Friday I ran a column that — as it appeared — gave more of a gloomy impression than I’d intended.  Although it wasn’t meant to be a particularly jolly read, even in its original form.  (My bosses tell me I include too much political commentary, which annoys many people.  I tell my bosses my mail indicates otherwise.  But the boss, like the customer, is always right.)  I was deeply touched, however by the concerned response to that column — people are lovely, just when you have given up on certain aspects of human nature. 

And so while I still struggle with “how can I write about ‘entertainment’ when I have to think about the newly launched ‘Religious Liberty Task Force’?”,  I will go on for now.

Or, as the excited announcer yelped in “A Star is Born” — “Vicki Lester WILL appear!”
Contact Denis here.