By Marilyn Achiron
June 07, 1993 12:00 PM

LIKE ANY OTHER INDEPENDENT-MINDED 7-YEAR-OLD, LORNA Luft was mortified to be seen as a miniature version of her older sister. “Our mother decided she was going to dress us alike, and I remember thinking, ‘I have to wear what she’s wearing!’ ” says Judy Garland’s younger daughter, indicating her half sister, Liza Minnelli. The reason the two have become so close as adults, says Lorna, is that “we don’t dress alike.” But then Lull and Minnelli take a look at themselves and burst out laughing. They arc both dressed entirely in black.

On the bare stage of New York City’s Gershwin Theatre, Luft and Minnelli are rehearsing the medley of songs about sisters that they will perform during the June 6 Tony Awards broadcast, which Liza is emceeing. It has been 30 years since they last performed together on television—singing a trio with Mom on her variety show. The reason, says Minnelli. is simply that their careers have taken different paths since both started on Broadway: Minnelli became an international star while Luft continues working in theater and television. Their relationship blossomed when both were working in New York in the ’70s. Indeed, it was Luft who, in 1984, went with Minnelli to the Betty Ford Center for treatment of the alcohol and drug abuse problems that marred Minnelli’s New York years.

“Liza is my best friend and the only person I know I can tell anything to,” says Luft, 40, daughter of Garland and her third husband, producer Sid Luft. “She never judges me, It’s really corny, but she’s like a part of me.’

“We’re just women who admire and really know each other,” says Liza, 47, whose father was film director Vincente Minnelli, Garland’s second husband. “We allow each other to have the weaknesses the public doesn’t allow us to have.”

When they were growing up, Minnelli admits she was “bossy from the get-go as far as the stage was concerned.” Yet, says Minnelli, “I seem softer than Lorna on the outside because her sense of humor is so biting and funny. In fact, when you get down to the core of us, we’re both extremely strong and oddly steady.”

And closer than most sisters who aren’t working in the same cutthroat profession. They talk daily, especially now that Luft and her musician-husband of 15 years, Jake Hooker, are divorcing. (Minnelli has been divorced three times and is now involved with musician Billy Stritch.) But difficult schedules make it hard to plan time together. Minnelli will be touring, first with Charles Aznavour, then alone, through the summer; Luft is playing Miss Adelaide with the road company of Guys and Dulls and is slated to take over that role on Broadway when Faith Prince leaves the show. Minnelli says she and Luft try to calm the turbulence of their schedules—and in their lives—with comic relief: “You live your life on a daily basis and get through it and laugh. It’s the laughter that’s so important to us.”


TOBY KAHN in New York City