After six weeks in Rome, the Kidnap Capital of the World, the most irrepressible and the first, or certainly second, most valuable female property in all showbiz finally did something to appease her bodyguards. Liza Minnelli left town for a week.
But it was not for R&R away from A Matter of Time, the picture she is shooting in Italy with her director-dad, Vincente Minnelli. Rather, it was to promote and, she hoped, salvage her newly premiering Prohibition potboiler, Lucky Lady, back in the U.S. At the time, director Stanley Donen was still mulling two alternate upbeat endings to replace the original downer in which Liza’s two rum-running partners (Burt Reynolds and Gene Hackman) died. With $30 million gross required just to break even, the panicky Donen opted for a paste-up happily-ever-after. Minnelli complains that “they cut the guts out of the film, its emotional weight. Now it’s as silly as an old road picture with Crosby, Hope and Lamour.” (Reynolds, gallantly, announced that the deletion “cheated Liza out of an Academy Award.”)
So much for the only unhappy conclusion in her life of late. Minnelli has, at 29, clearly taken over Final Cut of her own destiny and is not the throwback to her tragic mother sometimes painted. Her second marriage, to production executive Jack Haley Jr., seems strong. And Judy Garland’s daughter pops no pills stronger than Valium. She is fond of bullshots at lunch, but she dilutes her nightly scotch with (choke) Coke. She no longer chain-smokes but has failed to kick completely her Marlboro habit. Liza also doesn’t gnaw on her nails quite so much though that might be partially a result of the new patented acrylic nail extender designed by her hairdresser, Liz Gaylor.
In short, the only thing Minnelli is in danger of ODing on is greasepaint. She really seems to believe her own lyric that life is a cabaret—round-the-clock. Anyone else would retreat to her hotel suite with script if she had a daily 8 a.m. call in Rome shooting the most testing role of her movie career—she plays a chambermaid in the thrall of a fabled contessa-courtesan (Ingrid Bergman)—and with the presumed added strain of working with Pop. Not Liza. She scoots all over town after hours while her security men reach queasily for the Fernet Branca. To Perugina for her favorite bonbons. To Wimpy’s for a home-style burger. And then, still wearing her favorite jeans and a Calvin Klein pea coat, she charms her way past the aghast il capo of the elegant dining room of the Excelsior for crepes suzettes and champagne.
The next night, just as likely, Liza, all got up in a Halston and lashed with diamonds by Elsa Peretti, will be at Donald Sutherland’s villa on the old Appian Way, wolfing her food and chafing while the other dinner guests finish so she can climb on the piano and give away three hours of what is probably the greatest live act going. (A concert impresario would have to pony up $25,000 for a performance half as long.)
That she grew up so supercharged or showbiz is hardly a shock. Sophisticates like Moss Hart and Ira Gershwin (her godfather) hung around the house. Liza sang duets with Sinatra. And along the way she ricocheted through 20 schools. At age 6 Liza’s parents split, and at 11 she was hiring and firing the staff, fending off creditors, and coping with suicide attempts by her increasingly erratic mother. At 19, after a chorus-line gypsy apprenticeship, Liza became the youngest musical star ever to win a Broadway Tony in Flora, the Red Menace. Thence followed an Academy nomination in her second film, The Sterile Cuckoo, and the Oscar in her fourth, Cabaret.
Such triumph of genes has hardened but not spoiled Minnelli. She will still rehearse like a novice for six weeks in a Manhattan loft to polish her Vegas act. And last summer, as a favor to old friends John Kander and Fred Ebb (who wrote Flora and most of her dazzling club material) and Bob Fosse (her Cabaret director), she loyally saved their latest Broadway musical, Chicago, by filling in for five weeks while Gwen Verdon underwent throat surgery. That would have been unimaginable for her only rival in showdom, Streisand.
Success has brought her an entourage, including hair stylist Gaylor and the superstar of make-up, Christina Smith who also works on Aretha and Cher, but only travels with her favorite, Liza. Yet Minnelli prefers to wash her own hair every morning and wears no cosmetics at all if she can help it. Those lush lower lashes on her asterisk eyes are natural, but Christina augments the uppers for occasions.
Her growing assurance about her looks seems also to have calmed Liza’s turbulent love life. Jack Haley Jr. comes from an establishment Hollywood family (his dad played the Tin Man opposite her mom’s Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz) and, except for Peter Sellers (with whom she enjoyed a wham-bang fortnight), is her first man with a real career of his own. Her first husband, Australian composer-singer Peter Allen, began to make his name (writing songs like “I Honestly Love You” for Olivia Newton-John) only after he separated from Liza. In the long interim, she had two years with Desi Arnaz Jr. and quickies with a Parisian aristocrat and a playboy from Ipanema. “I didn’t get a divorce,” Liza explains, “until I fell in love with Jack. He’s a good Irish lad, and our life together just works. I wouldn’t have married otherwise.”
Jack Jr. is 12 years older than Liza and was previously engaged to Nancy Sinatra. He finally buried an opportunist image by producing the MGM musical retrospective, That’s Entertainment!, and taking over the presidency of 20th Century-Fox’s TV division. Though they have been married 16 months, the Haleys (Liza is old-school enough to call herself Mrs. Haley off-stage) still have been too preoccupied professionally to buy any home to replace Jack’s elegant but cramped bachelor pad in L.A.
Most of the published rumors about the Haleys are untrue. It was not Liza, but her 23-year-old half-sister and dearest friend, Lorna Luft, who fell for Burt Reynolds on the Mexican location of Lucky Lady. Though she is show-world flirtatious and Roger Moore took her discothèquing in Rome, she maintains, “I haven’t slept with anyone but my husband since I got married.”
Minnelli is also bitter about the growing Garland bibliography. “I think it is neat,” she snaps, “that a lot of people are still making money off my mother. Bone-picking was never my bag.” She is annoyed, too, by the likes of Rona Barrett’s legman, who recently awoke her at 4 a.m. in Rome to check out reports that she was pregnant. “It’s stupid,” she snorts. First, she’s committed to finishing the picture with her pa, then Martin Scorcese’s big-band saga, New York, New York, and maybe the movie version of Chicago. “After that,” she says, “I’ll get the family.”
As she approaches 30 (March 12) Minnelli has not exactly gone contemplative—her heaviest reading is Cosmo—but she has come to realize on her own that the Yellow-Brick Road can be paved with trauma. “I love attention and I want everything,” Liza concedes. “But listen, I know showbiz ain’t all singin’ and dancin’.”