This story was originally published in the May 10, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone.
Once she would snap instantly at her nails. They looked chewed as if by small animals; now they are untroubled and her hands, which would explore one another whenever she talked, rest neatly in the lap of her jeans. Where are the tarantula eyelashes, the chain-smoked Marlboros, Where’s the feverish Liza of Vegas cabarets and Plaza suites? She has been replaced, for now, in the cast, by scrubbed, westernized young matrom, the sort of vigorous semi-rural girl seen tossing Frisbees on the beaches of rustic summer houses like this one, just turned fiery inside by the Malibu sunset. With a little can, she waters the ferns she has bought to place on the table beside the framed pictures of herself on the covers of Time and Newsweek, to personalize the rented house. She notes that in six days the plants must again be watered; that for supper, the sausage must be defrosted, she does not need her secretary or housekeeper to remind her. Gently, she speaks of supermarkets and paper towels.
Paper towels? Liza May, who’d order caviar from the deli if the dog’s stomach growled? “Oh yeah, but to run a real household well,” she asserts primly, “you gotta figure, um, how to do things fastest and cheapest, so it won’t put tsouris on your head. I found that supermarkets are really convenient. Also, they’re great equalizers: You’re all just women on common ground in there. Oh, sometimes ladies do point, and come up and say hello. Nice.” And she laughs, suburbanly. “I was really shocked with myself, yesterday, the cashier didn’t know the price of my paper towels, and I said, ‘Uh, 39, they went up.’ I said that, me!” Turning to the glass deck door, she regards the dark, boyish source of all this serenity, quite ordinary in his chinos and parka: the $50 million TV baby, Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV, whose birth in January, 1953, bumped the Eisenhower Inauguration from the headlines, and who, at this moment, is throwing bread scraps to a dozen circling gulls. Not really asking a question, Liza says, “Do you believe it!”
Clearly, she does, though she has always seemed to believe implicitly in her immediate circumstances, as do most actors: For them all, the life-movie shoots perpetually, each new setup is as convincing as the last. She had believed, too, in her serenity four years before, sitting cross-legged on the new grass in Central Park. Then, though, there was a subtle urgency about her, an under-cutting apprehension, and her nails were pathetically ragged. To get acquainted, we’d met to have lunch in the park, both wearing protective glasses, though the sky was dirty cotton; when the sun came out we took the glasses off. She was coltish, disarming; her movie, The Sterile Cuckoo, was still unreleased, but she has begun what you sensed she sensed would be a spectacular career. She had already willed it.
Then, as now (though no one near her ever fully acknowledges it) her mother’s ghost (Garland was then still alive, or apparently so) passed continually through her body, eyes, inflection; like a hurried guest. She spoke of Gar-land tentatively: “Dancing, it came first with me, y’know?” She would smile a lot then, as she talked. “Because I sort of grew up at MGM, it was a fantastic playground, I knew every inch of it, all the underground passages to the sound stages. Terrific! And Daddy would let me ride on the camera boom with him.
But what I really dug was the dance rehearsals: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly. Uh, my mother. I’d memorize the routines and go home and rehearse them in front of a mirror for literally hours. The singing came much later: When I was a teenager. I used to jam with these musician friends, and one day we rented a studio and recorded three songs, and I gave the record to Mama for her birthday. They were just standards, Harold Arlen, like that, the stuff she sang. She was really, uh, pleased, but …. I guess everybody thinks she got me started. Wronnng. It was my idea, and she was, like, busy when I was starting. She was getting married again. I had to talk people into giving me work; I waited two years for the part in Sterile Cuckoo. When I got it, I sent the script to Mama in London and she called and said, ‘But why do you want to play this? How could you possibly understand this screwed-up, neurotic girl?'”
Smiling, she tore at a cuticle. “Well, all parents worry about their kids understanding adult sickness. Don’t they? I had to say, ‘No, Mama, calm down, it’s got nothing to do with you…'”
And she hugged the grizzled head of Ocho, a grey mutt suspicious of the world who growls continually in half-sleep. “I found Ocho in the street when I was singing in San Juan, he was all bones and bloody from fighting, I took him right back to the hotel. Somebody’d castrated him. I think he dreams about his old loves.” Then she was up, hurrying to the road to find a cab to go and rehearse The Ed Sullivan Show. At the curb, some very young long-hairs asked to take her picture — one carried, oddly, an old scarred Kodak — and she offered a quick, public smile. As I helped her shove Ocho into the taxi she says, “Hey, come up for dinner tonight, just a couple of people — Ocho, come on — I cook a mean roast.”
So you watched the disappearing cab totally subjugated, unlike the kids with the camera.
“Who’s that?” the youngest asked an older girl.
“You know, on television, like that… ”
Surprising they’d recognize her at all, she was hardly a youth cult figure; so far, she’d devoted herself to their parents’ music, nostalgic treacle and show tunes. She had made her debut on the stage of the Palace, New York, dancing briefly with her mother in one of the first of the continuing Judy Garland Comeback Series, but Mama — occupied with marriages, divorces and breakdowns — wasn’t much help professionally.
By the time she was 21, Liza had been kicked out of at least one New York hotel for nonpayment of the bill, had slept in the Park and on the steps of the Plaza Fountain, had talked herself into one off-Broadway musical and one Broadway flop, and had served on several of her mother’s concert tours as duenna and crying towel.
“We traveled with charisma,” she said satirically the night her mother died, sitting on the floor of her bedroom talking until dawn, “there were never less than 26 pieces of luggage, and I’m talking about checkable luggage. The hand stuff, forget it: shopping bags, food bags, medicine bags. I was always in charge of her personal ice bucket, which she had to have. It was her firm belief that there would never be anything, ever, in any hotel in the world that she could just order from room service. But I didn’t mind, because Mama almost always made it fun. You know? She was truly one of the funniest people I’ve ever known! A lot of times we had to sneak out of hotels because she was out of bread, and she would make an incredibly funny game of it. We would put on all the clothes we could, about five layers, and just walk out leaving the rest, laughing. Mama’d say, ‘Oh, hell, I needed a new wardrobe anyway.’ Descending in the elevator, she would assume her very imperious air, she’d whisper, ‘No problem, always keep in mind, I am Judy Garland. …’ ”
She answered the apartment door herself, Liza, that night at dinnertime: She appeared very high, though it turned out she did not drink much and would have nothing to do with drugs. A joint would be passed, she would sometimes take a hit and then recoil from it, coughing.
“She won’t even take aspirin, luv,” her husband, Peter Allen explained later. “When she was a kid, a doctor told her that Judy could not take more than a couple of Nembutals a day, that more might kill her, but that she had to believe she was taking more, so it was up to Liza to empty out most of the capsules and fill them with sugar. I mean, Liza’s not the kind of girl you’d even, um, break a popper with, during sex.”
“Quick, to the kitchen,” Liza said, dashing ahead to a little room full of steaming appliances and the diners: Peter; his younger sister Lynn, the sort of lacquered beauty who wore hot pants to discotheques a full year before anybody else wore them anywhere; an artist friend of Peter’s, prettier than Lynn; Kay Thompson, octogenarian eccentric, creator of Eloise and Garland’s closest friend, in black pants and a toreador hat. James Taylor complained loudly from the stereo, everyone talked at once, there weren’t enough chairs for the makeshift dining table in the canopied dining alcove. The first course was a baked potato stuffed with sour cream, caviar and vodka.
“Ocho,” Liza asserted ironically, “prefers caviar mixed with steak.” The pork roast was perfectly cooked. Then, in the living room — contemporary, expensive, genial, navy walls, baby spotlights on good paintings, chairs like massive velvet building blocks, a lucite sculpture on the baby grand — we sat apart from the others with glasses of Grand Marnier, and she talked again, rapidly, with great animation:
“For me, the work’s got to come from here, not here,” She pointed first to her heart, then her head. “It’s gotta be instinctive, totally felt. Still, everything registers on my face and that’s not good. Did you see that small part I did in Charlie Bubbles? Well, Albert Finney, really a nice man, but he kept saying, ‘Tone it down, luv, do half what you’re doing,’ and he was right. I could see it myself, on that early TV work: ghastly. Shreeek! I had big dinners for everybody I could think of, the nights I was on, and serve late and keep everybody at the table and set the clocks back, so that when it came time to watch, we’d missed the program. Look, I fought for the Sterile Cuckoo part, but I was scared out of my wits of it, because Pookie Adams never shuts up, she is, as written, miles larger than life. Somehow it helped me to concentrate on how little she really knew of the real world. When you’ve been in prison, in your head, for 19 years, you are frightened of free-side, you say, ‘Aw no, it’s a bum rap, out there … ‘ ”
Out of cigarettes, again, she bummed one. “I just discovered this: that if you are feeling your character fully, there is this point when she steps from here into here.” With her hands, she moved an invisible Pookie Adams from beside her to inside her.
“And it comes when you’re least looking … terrific! Like, before we started shooting Cuckoo, up at Hamilton College, Alan Pakula, the director, got me together with the four college girls who were going to appear as, you know, the girls in Pookie’s dorm, so we could get to know each other, talk about ourselves. The first girl said, ‘Well, my mother collects antiques; my father’s a minister.’ Like that. The next girl started, and I thought, ‘Oh, hell, what am I gonna say? That I come from this show business family, and my father is a really fine movie director and my mother’s really this groovy chick, no matter what you may have read about her.’ It would sound so, um, conspicuous. And when it was my turn to talk, suddenly, Pookie Adams moved right in, automatically. l was telling her background, no parents, no home, nothing but confusion from the day she was born.”
At the piano, Kay Thompson was lining out “Think Pink,” which she sang in Funny Face, and Liza listened, nodding; you could feel her being pulled into the spotlight, the actual one aimed at the piano bench, and she shifted restlessly. She does not like sustaining any conversation very long, especially when someone else is performing. Her father, she said absently, taught her a lot, about words, how to find the one word in a line that will make an actor think that line, feel it, “and he gave me a wonderful sense of a film as a whole, a kind of director’s vision of a script… ”
And her mother? She’d gotten up, stopped, and sat again. “Mama’s the ultimate actress; there is no division, for her, between life and fantasy. Maybe she’s given me my one great acting lesson. I was up for this TV role, on Ben Casey I think, the part of this teenager who was pregnant and is in the hospital after her abortion, and I was scared of one scene and took the script to Mama sort of gingerly, and said, you know, ‘Mom, help me.’ Well, she was in the right mood. We sat down on the floor and she said, ‘Now, read me the whole scene, your lines and the doctor’s lines, both.’ I did. l told her that when the doctor said, ‘Did you want this baby?’ I was supposed to cry, but somehow I couldn’t feel it. Mama said, ‘All right, this is what you feel: that you should have had this baby, that you loved the father, but he’s left you and the baby’s gone, and why is this doctor intruding upon you with this question? And you are not going to let him see you’re vulnerable! You’re strong, your teachers told you that, your parents told you, you know it, and so you are not going to cry, you’re not going to cry! So of course I cried, and she said, ‘Fine, perfect!’ And if I’ve got a method, when acting, that’s it: that I’m not gonna cry.”
Then she went to the piano, Peter played, and she sang, a whole living room concert; but there were many other nights like that one, at home, when she did not want to sing, possibly because she sensed an unmanageable audience: Too often the room was filled with Peter’s friends, Lynn’s friends, friends of their friends, the Hippopotamus contingent, boys who cut hair, others who should, boys who brought boys, various breeds and sexes, Their humor seemed shrill and obscure; they laughed too often, at random, insinuatingly, private smirks were exchanged. The room did subtly defer to Liza, as any room will to its thoroughbred, whether or not she is hostess, and decidedly, she was hostess. The empty bottles and the deli containers filled the garbage, but, except for the grass that was smoked, no one else ever seemed to bring anything. She never patronized or mocked this little aviary. She never behaved, as someone once said of Julie Andrews, describing her in such a situation, “like a royal personage visiting the poor,” but she didn’t laugh much either, and increasingly there was a sad apprehensiveness in her expression. One excessive afternoon, she bit so intently at a banging cuticle that, abruptly, a great gush of blood sprang from the end of her finger and somebody had to be sent back to the deli, for Band-Aids.
A Sunday morning, very early, they got the call in Southampton, Long Island, where the entourage was spending the weekend at somebody’s summer place: Mickey Deans, Garland’s fifth husband, sobbed through a had transatlantic connection about pills, too many, accidental. Supposedly, Liza listened calmly, and consoled her young father-in-law. Then they all drove quickly into Manhattan.
Liza cried once, in the car, with abandon, and did not cry again for a week, at least when anyone could see her. The rest of New York wept copiously. It had always been said that the Daily News and the Post kept the headline JUDY TAKES OVERDOSE set in permanent, easily accessible type, and now they could compose addendas and codas: JUDY DEATH ACCIDENTAL? … JUDY’S LAST TRIP HOME … LAST RAINBOW FOR JUDY … THOUSANDS SOB AT JUDY RITES. Radios broadcast dreary, specious Judy anecdotes hourly, television news kept running her “Over the Rainbow” sequences from The Wizard of Oz.
The week was warm even for June, and, in the Village, myriad windows were opened, in the evenings, to stereos playing her records. Friday, the day of the funeral, mobs completely blocked Madison Avenue around the Frank Campbell Funeral Home, many had slept all night in the street, playing portable phonographs. “…The Man That Got Awaay.” They were permitted to file past the open casket all day Thursday, closely watched by guards: It was entirely possible that one among the huge number of the androgynous, rouged persons who used to haul armfuls of roses to her concerts and attempt to touch her hands at the curtain calls would now try to disturb the body, though it lay enclosed behind glass, like the bodies of saints. They were not allowed to pause long at the coffin, so they would get back in line and walk by twice, and, after the chapel doors were closed for the night, they lingered in the street.
“Well, she is happy at last, she was smiling.”
“The undertaker did that, her eyes were anguished.”
“How do you know; they were closed.”
“She is too pale. The eyebrows are wrong, the lips are literally orange. Listen, she was a make-up expert, she’d never have gone before a camera looking like that…”
They found Liza’s apartment building, though they had really never tried before: sometimes there were dozens of them downstairs, but they were largely quiet when she would descend to get into a limousine or taxi.
The doormen didn’t let them close to the canopy, so there was no way to try to touch her. They were quiet, too, when the famous, arriving in the city for the funeral, would stop at the apartment to pay respects: Mickey Rooney, Fred Astaire, James Mason, Gene Kelly, Sinatra, each shockingly old in the light, tired and sad, spectres from the attic of Dorian Grey. Thursday, Mickey Deans came from London with the casket, stoned and tearful, ready to help, but there were no more arrangements to be made. Kay Thompson, Peter Allen and Liza’s press agent, a motherly woman named Lois Webber Smith, once publicist for Marilyn Monroe, all helped with the endless details, but it was Liza alone, pale and rational, who decided, against opposition, that the service would be strictly private; that James Mason would speak at the rites; that the only flowers would be dozens of yellow roses which she would buy herself; that this, while not an hilarious occasion, would neither be one for keening and wailing.
Otto Preminger had just begun rehearsing her for the lead in the eventually disastrous Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, and offered to suspend work until she felt well. “I told Otto, ‘Thanks, but I feel fine, let’s get on with it. I can handle the arrangements during breaks.’ ”
This she explained to the group lurking in her living room, for once subdued. Then, in an effort to cheer them: “You shoulda seen Kay at the funeral home. The usual Kay! We were cracking up. The organist played the music he’d chosen, very solemnly, and when he was finished, in the silence, Kay exclaims, ‘Perf, darling, absolutely perf! Like it was a sound stage… ”
She laughed, too, that evening in her bedroom, sitting on the white rug, hanging up the white phone. She had called Hollywood to ask Eva Gabor if she could borrow, for a day, the make-up man who had always done Garland for the MGM musicals, so that he might prepare her dead face; had listened intently, said goodbye politely, slammed down the receiver, and laughed.
“Oh, God! Hilarious. Come in and shut the door, I don’t want them all trooping in right now, Well, what Eva said was, “Dahlink, I need him, without him I shall look ghastly, and ve shoot tomorrow,’ He does her make-up for Green Acres!” And she doubles over, “Green Acres! Oh, Mama would have found that funnier than anything.”
But the laughter ended in a cough, from too many cigarettes. “I want to write a book about Mama, you wanta help? Because everybody will be doing it, the husbands, the so-called friends. I want to write what no one will, that my mother was the ultimate comic! That life with her was theater of the absurd. When I was a little kid, she started locking herself in the bathroom, announcing that she was going to OD, and I soon discovered that what she’d done was empty half an aspirin bottle into the john. I once took some big shears and cut through the screen and climbed in, and that’s what she’d done. All she wanted was attention! I had to hire the servants when I was 12. She couldn’t, and there was this one chauffeur who was always drunk, but Mama liked him and wouldn’t fire him, so there was nobody to take Lorna and Joey to school. I had no notion how to drive, but I taught myself fast. I’d cut my last class to go pick ’em up. To Mama, it was all funny, always. A few years ago, she was on a hospital’s critical list, we were gathered at her bedside, expecting the worst. She suddenly sat up, out of a coma, and announced, ‘Spyros Skouras choreographs the Rockettes!’ And flopped back down, to go to sleep and get wet!, Now, that was her crazy humor!”
A sharp exhale through her nose; she isn’t even smiling now. “Of course the papers made great tsouris when she didn’t show up for my first big opening night, off-Broadway in Best Foot Forward. Well, at intermission I called her hotel, and she said, sounding uncomfortable, that she’d thought opening was the next night, and of course I understood instantly that she didn’t come because she didn’t want to, um, draw attention away from me. I think that was pretty swell. I mean, she did come the second night, and cried, and told reporters how proud she was and so on. Oh, God, maybe I’m gonna cry now. No … no, I’m not. Hey, did I tell you, ’cause I’ve told it before, about how I was in the ladies’ room with her when I was about 14, she was washing her hands and this drunk lady came in and started saying. ‘Oh, Judy, never forget the rainbow, whatever happens, never forget the rainbow,’ and Mama said exiting grandly, ‘Madam, how could I forget the rainbow, I’ve got rainbows up my ass.’ And I have never heard Mom say a word like that before, she was always very discreet in front of us kids, about language. Oh, yeah, she could be a terror. I got used to her tantrums, scenes. Though now I … still can’t stand to hear anybody yell. l can’t stand temperament. Screaming, fighting, I will run from it at any cost. I … the best, funniest thing she ever said was, ‘When die, my darling, they will lower the flag to half-mast at Cherry Grove. I can see ’em now, standing erect at the meat rack, singing: ‘Somewhere, over the… ”
Saturday, when the service was over and they had taken the body to Ferncliff Cemetery in Westchester County, Liza, Mickey Deans and Peter rented a car and took a long drive, out into rural New Jersey.
“At night, driving back on the turnpike,” Peter said, “some record of Judy’s played on the radio. It was somehow very relaxing. Nobody said anything, nobody changed the station. After it was over, we just talked on, as if we’d never heard it.”
By then, a number of people, including the press, had begun to state and to imply several unpleasant things about Peter; they were the same people, who, later, pointed triumphantly to what he said to Time, about Rex Kramer, the musician Liza had taken up with: “Rex is the exact opposite of me, he hates the city and loves girls.”
Tuesday evening, the living room was still more or less full of loungers, tired now, but not quite wanting to let go of the funeral week, to open the window and let out the ghost. No one was speaking at all. The radio played an opulent orchestration of “Sad, Rainy Day.”
“Y’know,” Peter remarked quietly, to no one, “that is really quite a well-written song.”
“Yeah,” Liza said flatly. “It’s the fags’ national anthem.”
Then she went away to make Junie Moon; but I saw her in California, for an afternoon at the end of summer, after she had called, unexpectedly, from her bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, saying, “I heard you’re in town, super! I am always so wired in Hollywood, Christ, l am certain that someday, somebody is gonna yell, ‘OK, it’s a wrap. strike the set,’ and the place will just, whoosh, disappear! Come right over. I don’t know anybody here!”
A curious, if not ludicrous assertion, that last; I went.
She seemed haggard, distracted, and blamed that on working with Preminger. “Peter’s playing a lounge in Vegas,” she offered absently. “He’s really been working on his music. He’s going to do a record. You know, he is talented. He is going to make it. Eventually.”
Then she had wanted to go into the Polo Lounge to drink … unlike her … and had had several Scotches-and-Coke, also unlike her. She did not mention her mother at all. That fall, The Sterile Cuckoo opened, and she was, abruptly, a movie star. The Judy articles had begun to appear everywhere, including a gushing Look piece by Mickey Deans.
“I have not read it,” Liza asserted one night back in New York, sitting on her floor, her arm wrapped tightly around Peter’s knee. “I have heard. But, see, I am lucky enough to have the kind of husband who just won’t let me look at that kind of junk.”
Oh. “Listen, last night we went out to dinner and afterward we had about 40 cents left, but we walked home past the theater where Cuckoo is playing, and nobody was on the door so we just walked in, and the usher was beside us in five minutes saying, ‘You gotta pay or leave.’ So Peter whispered to him, ‘Uh, we just wanted to see if anybody was here and how they liked it, y’know,’ and pointed to me. No good, we were bounced!” They laughed, too long; one noted how much they touched, how purposefully, when they never had before, as if to reassure themselves.
The phone rang constantly, and all the calls were for Liza. By then of course, everyone wanted her, including all the world’s nightclubs, and she seemed to accept every offer. There was always a new act to rehearse. Peter languished, mostly unemployed in Manhattan, while she traveled, and though we talked, he didn’t talk much about his wife. She’d hired a Texas rock group to back her, and it included Rex Kramer; that spring, over a drink, Peter mimicked him, expertly, and not kindly. He didn’t have to explain that the marriage was finished.
“Rex’s relatives live in Arkansas. She goes there with him to pick blackberries, or whatever they pick in Arkansas. Maybe she needs that. She never had any sort of childhood, you know, so maybe she’s reverting. He’s an incredible noisy hick, maybe she needs that, too. In Arkansas, they don’t care about Judy Garland.”
Very thoughtfully, for Peter, he added: “They write to Liza now, y’know, all those straange people who were obsessed with Judy. I don’t think she sees a lot of the mail. She was in New York not long ago, rehearsing, but we hadn’t seen each other, and I went to the studio. And I had to wait to see her, two hours: The agents, the lawyers, the press people, the business people, they were all on queue ahead of me. She’s a good person, y’know, Liza is, one of the best, but … well, she is working too hard, for one thing, which she never did before. She can not rest. Anyway, I finally got into the dressing room, she turned around, she was in make-up, the eyelashes, y’know, like bugs, she looked … frightening, in these white lights, and frightened. I said, ‘Now, damn it, I am still your husband and I don’t like having to make appointments to see you.’ And she started to cry, the make-up ran, she kept saying over and over that she was at fault, that she was no good for me, that she had been a rotten wife… “
“Which of course is nonsense, but it is what she felt at that moment. She is very much of the moment, isn’t she?” Pause. “Did you ever really listen to the record of Judy at the Palladium in London, when she introduced Liza first as a grown-up? I was at that concert. Liza was, I think, 18. We’d just met. On the record, you can hear the applause when Judy said, ‘And now, Miss Liza Minnelli.’ It was polite. Then listen to the applause at the end of Liza’s first song: Incredible, like thunder! Nobody expected it, and I watched to see how Judy would react, and it was weird. Love-hate. She was as startled as anybody, and proud, but she’d never had to share her audience with anybody before. Think of it, sharing that unbelievable devotion! At the curtain call, Judy literally shoved Liza right off into the wings, smiling, of course, as she did sometimes, that big, steely smile.”
October, 1971, Las Vegas. Even at Ann-Margaret’s show they don’t set aside their daiquiris, the weekenders in Sy Devore suits, before the star enters. At Liza’s, the anticipatory chatter begins with the overture, just as it did at the Garland appearances. The first four bars of “Cabaret” are played—the movie, though finished, is not yet released, but she has already made the song hers—and she charges on, offering love before she has hit stage center, reaching for them, with her energy, as if they were kidnapped children just returned to her. They are amazed, somewhat stunned. They relax a bit, basking, during her new rock medley: She performs it rather than interprets it, she makes it comprehensible to them, persuading them that they, too, can be young. Then, for the first time, she sidles out from the wings, after a break, in black velvet knickers and a white blouse and does “Mammy,” starting softly, with a tear, finishing full out down on one knee. They finish on their feet, delighted; never mind that Garland never sang the song.
She was no longer staying in the suites provided by the hotels she plays, preferring now to rent houses. The Vegas place, a Holiday Inn without the sign, contained a white candy-box living room of which she later remarked, “This has got to be what Shelley Winters’ bedroom looks like.” But she did not remark it yet, because she was still in bed. Last night, as usual, after her own late show, she caught somebody else’s closing, or opening, and there was another party.
“Well, it is only two in the afternoon,” asserted Deanna, her new British secretary, with soft, smiling irony, “she hasn’t suddenly turned into an early riser.” Deanna, young but unflappable, had seen Liza through the difficult Cabaret shooting in Germany, a sort of apprenticeship; at three, she said briskly, “I know what’ll rouse her,” strode to the phonograph and slipped on Barbra Joan Streisand. And winked. Sixteen bars or so, and Liza, heavy-lidded and petulant, loped downstairs in jeans and a sweatshirt, embraced us painfully, as if still asleep, and folded herself onto the speedboat sofa. Deanna quickly killed the music and went to get her breakfast, a tumbler of milk.
“Umnuh, Deanna, are we really out of Bosco?”
“I can order some in a jiffy.”
No real answer. Deanna went to get the Marlboros.
“So, have you seen Peter? Is he OK?” Against her will, she yawned. “Let’s call him later. He’s still a very close friend. A good man.”
She picks a tooth. “Know what I was thinking? That every American girl, I don’t care who she is, is absolutely , brought up, conditioned by this, um, society, to believe that she should expect one thing above all: to get married and ride off into the sunset, right? It’s wrong, and silly, but it’s true and I was no exception. Now I did make a very good choice, a very talented man, one I’d been engaged to for two years, one who was — is — a pal. We were interested in the same things, my mother liked him, we had a very good time together. So we were ready for marriage, right? Wronng. You’re married, a guy’s career goes well, swell, but the girl’s does and his doesn’t and it’s panic time. I could not believe that anything so dumb could be happening to us, but we were doing A Star is Born. He’d say, ‘You never come home anymore to cook supper,’ I’d say, ‘I have to work to make the money to buy the food to cook the supper,’ he’d say, ‘I’m the man, I should be making the money to buy the food to …’ ”
Again she yawned. In silence, Deanna replaced the milk with a Scotch and Coke, and Liza led the way back upstairs to her big bedroom, where dozens of stills from Cabaret are spread on the floor.
“Aren’t the clothes perfect? And the nightclub numbers are truly raunchy, the chorus girls actually grew hair under their arms, at the wrap party we gave ‘em gift razors. Sally Bowles was played before as this little lost innocent, and what she is is a tramp, a user, a bitch, and alotta times you hate her, but by the time she finally sings “Cabaret,” at the end, she’s learned something, she is finally feeling, suffering. I dig ladies like her; they burn high energy levels. I can play them. It’s the kind of energy level you use doing night clubs: You must start high and stay high, or you lose them. It’s hard to hold ’em when they’ve got a good steak going, no matter who you are, but I’m after their emotions, not their heads. I’ve tried being aloof and remote, like, um, Barbra, and I’m nowhere, I’ve got to tell ’em. ‘Come with me, come to me.’ And now they’re not afraid of touching me. I don’t necessarily want that, or encourage it, but they’ve got to feel able to … ”
Ocho, cheerful as ever, snarled and headed down toward the kitchen and we followed. Germany, Liza said, was deadly dull, and ominous. “They were very suspicious of this film there because it criticized Nazism. Yes. Not everyone, of course, but there’s a revival of Nazi, well, interest, at least. Scary. Also, we were shut up in this one dreary hotel and Rex Kramer, who was with me, became, frankly — uggick — madly possessive.” She sounds, here, like Sally Bowles. “Impossible, and I knew he was using me. I suspected that way back in Arkansas. First I thought, ‘Oh, farms are the good life, the simple life,’ only to discover that the good life ain’t so simple. A month of it and you gotta say, ‘OK, now out of the overalls, where’s the action?’ ”
She found it, in August: Suddenly the papers were sprinkled with items about her vacationing at the Rothschild villa or gambling with a baron. Liza, with barons, in villas? “Right!” she shouted, clapping her hands; in the kitchen, Deanna laughs softly. “Wanta know what really happened? l’d finished Cabaret, dumped Rex, Deanna went on a holiday. Suddenly, for the first time, I had nowhere to go.”
She is somber, telling this part. “Got on a plane for Paris. Alone. Nearly went berserk. I thought, ‘I don’t know anybody in Paris,’ got a total anxiety attack in midflight. At Orly, told the taxi to ‘Take me to the, uh, Plaza Athenee,’ because it was the only good hotel I could think of. Asked for the manager. Said, ‘Oh, I would like a suite, please.’ Thought that sounded good. Got in the suite — crash — sat there one hour biting my nails. Finally called Kay in New York, she shouted, ‘Go instantly downstairs and out into the street and shout, “Paris, you are beautiful, and so am I!”‘ And I did it, to the doorman’s dismay. And it worked, I actually just walked around, by myself and I was breathing again.”
Back in the hotel, she called Marisa Berenson, international model, granddaughter of Schiaparelli, “Marisa played the rich Jewish girl in the movie, we became terrific friends. I remembered she might be in town, she said she was just leaving for the Rothschilds,” on the Riviera, and I was to come with her. I said, ‘Swell,’ then hung up and thought, ‘Oh God, all my clothes are awful and how do you talk to a Rothschild? l’d never talked to anybody like that before. Started biting my nails. Went anyway. We arrive at this really lovely, unpretentious house, just nice furniture and fresh flowers everywhere, like anybody’s beach house, and Guy de Rothschild asks what I would like to drink. Marisa and I had been sort of giggling anyway, and I said, without thinking about it, ‘Oh, just a bit of homebrew.’ Get it? Rothschild vineyards? Hahl I thought it was pretty good, but the only one who laughed was this Baron, Alexis de Rede. And after dinner, he asked me out.”
The Rothschilds, she added earnestly, turned out to be casual and unaffected. Just folks. “We all laughed all the time. I think that when you’re a Rothschild, you don’t have to pretend to be anything else. Wow, but everybody was so gorgeously dressed, and I looked like Funk City.”
Here, she is girlish again, the old Liza, sitting in the park. “So I flew back to New York to ask Halston if he’d do me an entire new wardrobe. He said, ‘Where are we going to be wearing these clothes?’ I said, ‘We’ll be wearing them to the races and the casinos and receptions in villas.’ He said, ‘Ahhh,’ and did these fabulous ensembles for me, and l flew right back,’ to Deauville. The Baron was there, and he was super. Wait!” And she bounded back upstairs, and right down with a little blue velvet box. “Regardez that, dahling,” she demanded satirically, producing a ring of rare woods, gold and diamonds. “Fabulous? It’s a friendship ring, we are just friends. Perfecto! I’m seeing him again next month, as soon as I finish at Tahoe, where we go after here. No, really, he is very sweet and gentle, this great gentleman, and a good pal, though somewhat formal. Very serious, I’m always saying to him, ‘Alex-ii, laugh!’ And I, like, jab him in the ribs or sort of punch him, and he laughs.”
During that, Deanna had brought more drinks, and sat down to listen, and laugh, though in a corner, not with us.
She glanced significantly at her watch. When she had retreated again, Liza said, tentatively, “Oh, I asked somebody to come by for a drink before I go do the show, I suppose you’re going to think it’s a little strange. Because it’s Jim Bailey. But listen, have you seen him work? I hadn’t, and I’d heard that in his act, he was doing, besides Barbra and Mae West and so on, that he was doing an imitation of Mama. This bothered me very much; but he’s booked in a lounge here, and I finally decided to go, with enormous trepidation, and he’s incredible! There is nothing nasty or cheap in it, no put-down. He is a genuine actor. Uh, he is Mama, he even sings like her. I was totally speechless with admiration! He becomes Mama when he is performing. I even went backstage and congratulated him, and he was really super-nice, and so I asked him over because I want to talk to him about how he does it; it’s a mystery to me. It’s … when he is onstage, for me, it’s like Mama is alive again. … ‘
He came, of course, and talked and laughed. “I don’t actually think about it,” Bailey explained, “but while I’m getting into my make-up, and into her dress, and when I put on her wig, I start to sort of move as she did; I smoke like her; I cross my legs; my hands begin to tremble a little, I have a drink. And I start to speak as she did. And by the time I’m on, I’m Judy.”
Liza listened politely. When he’d gone, she said, subdued, “Mama would have been the first to enjoy what he’s doing, the first. You know, people that write about us, they’re still getting a lot of it wrong — about Mama, about me. I’ve read lately that I’m compulsive about work. Look, I’ve had to work a lot, there were debts when she died, and Lorna and Joey’s education, which, as far as I know, wasn’t being taken care of by anybody else. Also, I happen to like to work. Is that neurotic? If you have a God-given gift, you do not screw it up. It is not allowed. I use that phrase often now: I am ‘not allowed’ a thing if it’s going to be detrimental to me. Of course the damn fan magazines also have me hating my father, which is true rubbish, because he is my best friend in the world — he and Peter are. God, what an exceptional man!
“Know what I figured out that Mama really was? A true schizophrenic: the definition of the word. I used to kid her, I’d call her “Queen of the 8:25 Comebacks,” because she would be in total collapse in her dressing room at 8:20, and the overture would start, and zap, she’s on her feet, bright-eyed and ready! I’m certain, now, that she did not kill herself. What she did was, she let her guard down for one night, that’s all. Did you read Mel Torme’s book about her? Hah! Do you know what Mama used to say about Mel Torme, who claims he was this great friend of hers? She said, ‘Mel Torme has eggs-Benedict eyes!’ Isn’t that terrific?
“I finally looked at Mickey Deans’ article, by the way. He has his right to his memories of Mama, but he wrote them for millions of readers, and they aren’t accurate. He claimed that in six months of marriage, he had eliminated 40 years of pain, and that is total bull. I guarantee you that what Mickey wanted Mama to be, she was, and that what she didn’t want him to see, he never saw. I’ve been in her dressing room when, say, a nice, ordinary straight woman would come in and say, ‘Judy, we all just love you!” And Mama would laugh and say, ‘Well, thanks, that’s wonderful, and I feel just fine! And the next minute, a rather, um, effete young man would enter, and take her hand and whisper, ‘Oh, Judy …’ And her lip would start to tremble and she’d whisper, ‘Oh, yes, darling, don’t say a thing, I know.’ I think I told you this, that once I accused her of being full of self-pity, and she turned to me, smiling, and said, ‘Don’t you understand? Sympathy is my business!’ That was her survival. That’s what I learned from Mama — survival.”
“…Once I accused her of being full of self-pity, and she turned to me, smiling, and said, ‘Don’t you understand? Sympathy is my business!’ That was her survival. That’s what I learned from Mama — survival.”
Two nights after that night, backstage, she met, or rather, re-met, Desi Arnaz IV.
“We’d always known each other,” Desi said of this, rather shyly, “our parents were friends, we’d say hello at parties and so on, so I guess it’s not exactly love at first sight.”
He’d come in from the Malibu beach, and Liza was on the phone, so we went back outside to watch the last of the sunset. His smile is his father’s, his hands are very young, the nails long and virginal. “I was really depressed that night. Some friends were flying up from L.A. to see Tony Bennett in Vegas, and asked, at the last minute, if I wanted to go, and he’s my favorite singer, so I just said yes, but I was really low at that time. I mean, uh, the whole human predicament had got to me: its absurdities, jealousies, possessiveness. It seemed to me that everybody I’d ever known had had these really incredible opportunities to be dynamite, and that something had happened to them, that they couldn’t accept their successes, they’d become, um, heavy-headed. Of course I had been through the whole thing with Patty Duke, a real mess, made much worse than it was by the fan magazines, the publicity was horrendous … ”
For years, the pulp press had been indicting him for affairs with older women — at 14, he was supposed to be involved with a starlet in her 20s — and while he denies those stories with vigor, it’s true that both Patty Duke and Liza are several years older than he is.
“Any-way,” he said, “that Vegas weekend, I went to Liza’s dressing room to say hello with some other people, and, wow, it was just instantaneous. I looked at this girl and thought, ‘Well, I want to be with her forever, forever.’ Right then, there was no doubt in my mind that we were destined to be together for, uh, the rest of our lives, I’d never felt totally secure before, with anybody, I’d never felt so without fear. I could see that Liza could … handle anything. That we’d been looking for each other for maybe 19 years and, ‘Wow where have you been? We coulda been having a helluva lot of fun all this time!’ I felt like we’d both been preparing for each other: We’d had the same kind of life, it’s not the usual life, and it’s hard to find somebody who can share it, who knows what it meant, and she is so strong, so knowledgeable about it! I dunno: Could it be true that you have, as a human being, this other half waiting somewhere for you, always? I mean, maybe love is that, finding that. I think about things like that a lot; Liza does, too, except that she doesn’t intellectualize them; she just feels them intuitively. Hmm, maybe that’s the essential difference between men and women, that men always think about all of that, and women just use emotion to get to the same place. But of course that’s all just conditioning …”
Slowly, the thought exhausted itself; aware of that, he grinned, hopefully. Then Liza called him back to the house; he had to pack, they were leaving in an hour for a ski tournament up north. Deanna was consulted: When does the car come for them, what time is the plane? Could Ocho and Liza’s two new poodles be taken? Desi wanted them; Liza objected: “Honey, it’s our honeymoon, we don’t want to take the kids!” Laughing, they fried some sausage; watching them bumping into each other in the kitchen, it struck me how well-suited they seem; that physically, at least, each is what the other attracts.
The Oscars are to be given in a week, and I ask about that. Wicked grin. “I have two things to say about the Oscar: Diana Ross.” Big laugh. “I, um, enjoyed her performance, let’s leave it at that. You’re nominated, sure you wanta win, but at the same time, you wanta forget about it until the awards night comes, and nobody lets you; they mean well, but they talk about it all the time. They want you to talk about it, promote yourself, and I just don’t take to that. If you get it, fine, if not … how else can you possibly feel about it? I will say, though, that Cabaret itself deserves to win, I don’t like every choice I made in the part, but the movie as a whole is a total breakthrough in filmmaking. You know? Look, I’ve read that some people, critics, objected to the fact that Sally Bowles sang so well onstage, when she’s supposed to be this second-rate performer in this dive, and I don’t get that. To me, it was completely believable that Sally would have real talent, but no discipline; that she wasn’t really interested in being good, or in a real career, that all she wanted was glamour. It would be fairer if every movie review or critical piece began with the phrase, think that,’ or ‘In my opinion,’ because that’s all a review is, one opinion. What is it that qualifies a writer to become a critic? Oh, the press has always been pretty good to me, actually, though that can’t be said of everybody in this household.”
When her direct gaze begins to cloud, it’s always subject-changing time. What about her new record album, a rock-pop assemblage that’s had less than ecstatic reception? “I chose the songs myself. Why not? I think it’s lyrics I respond to first, even before melody, and there are some great words on that record. So what if Carly Simon’s made “You’re So Vain” a classic by herself? I love the song. I wanted to do it. It doesn’t bother me at all that she’s done a definitive recording. We don’t exactly reach the same audiences. I mean, that’s, a truly humorous, sophisticated number she’s come up with there! And James Taylor, didn’t you like me doing “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” as a torch song? People say rock is in trouble, but when you’ve got talents like these writing, there’s not a lot to worry about. I’m going to go right on singing it, and recording it. I love the emotional sweep you can find in a rock song, the way you can take one emotion and sustain and build it; though it’s not too different than, say, what you can do with “Maybe This Time,” a standard-type ballad, and maybe my all-time favorite number.”
And written for her, wasn’t it? She nodded, absently, skipping a beat. “You know, I’m not at all sure I want to work all that much in the future. Because I have recently discovered that there are other things in the world — tennis, skiing, people. It’s amazing: Before Desi, I had never wanted to get into the whole Hollywood social-life scene. I always assumed it was totally phony and bluughk. Well, listen: When you play tennis with these people, or ski, or play backgammon, you’re all concentrating on something outside yourselves and each other, you’re equalized. Everyone’s thinking about the game; nobody’s thinking of status and is your latest movie doing better than mine? Sports are a great way of finding out that there are really some swell people out here.”
Desi, of course, is swellest. “And now,” she announces, “I suppose I am going to start gushing; but really, he is terrifically intelligent, and kind, and funny, we are always laughing. And he is so mature for his age; like me, he sort of missed being a kid. He has been working since he was a child; he has insisted on making his own spending money since he was a teenager, And he is really turning into a fine actor. We would love to do something together, now, maybe even something musical. To sing, and dance, and act, and live together — who could ask for anything more, as the song says. Yeh, we’re looking for a house to buy here. Sure we’ll get married, because … Well, you know me, I’m just not that independent of convention. Like, I think women should be equal and all, but at the same time, I love having doors opened for me, I love being feminine. And I hate having to go into a hotel together and there are two different names on the register. And it seems to me that if two people are afraid of committing themselves to a wedding ceremony, a marriage license, then maybe they shouldn’t be together in the first place.” Sudden giggle. “And also, I adore ceremonies. I’m very sentimental about them. We told this one writer that what we’d like would be just this private ceremony that we made up and said to each other ourselves, on the beach, with candles, and he printed that we did that. It was only a nice idea; I don’t think it’d he enough for me, in the end. I’d never have kids without being married, I just couldn’t. Not that I want them at all just now: Oh, I would love to, when I’m about 30. 1 couldn’t devote myself to motherhood right now, there is just too much else to do…” \
A quiet frown. “Do you think I’ve changed, since we met?”
“Sure, but I’ve been … consistent. Haven’t I? I think I’ve been a pretty clear-cut person. Hah, so funny, one interviewer recently started out by saying he’d heard that I drink a bottle of Grand Manlier per day? Hilarious. The point is, they all seem so disappointed that I haven’t turned into some kind of jaded, raging monster. They seem to expect me to explain why I haven’t.”
Pointing to the bedroom again, she adds, “Thank God that in there is one person in the world I don’t have to explain myself to. Because he knows. To this man, you see, I do not have to apologize for being very good at what I do.”
The day after the Academy Awards, she calls, breathless, from her father’s house in Beverly Hills. In the background, multiple conversation: They’re having a meeting with the business people for the film they’ll do together this summer, wisely waiting until the Oscar was announced to close the deal, but she doesn’t say that. What she says is, “Today, I feel a lot of faith in the film industry, because last night they gave a truly courageous, experimental movie its proper due.”
You point out that it wasn’t Cabaret itself they gave the Oscar to, but she doesn’t seem to hear that, someone near her is trying to speak to her. “And, I’m pretty excited about my profession today. Got the statue right here, with the ones Daddy won. Had a whole acceptance speech ready, got up there and could not remember a word of it. There’s something I wanted to say that I didn’t, maybe you could sort of, um, say it for me?”
One waits. “That … I am a very lucky lady.”
That’s all? “That I’m very lucky to be in a business I love, in an industry that supports me.”
Oh. One decides to tell her what an older actress said at a party after the Awards. ‘That girl deserved it, but she got it because this town destroyed her mother, and now they’re doing their penance.”
A silence. “But she’s older. The young, here, they see me as me. I didn’t much like that one thing somebody said last night, that in this horse race, bloodlines count, and Liza’s got the bloodlines. That performance was mine. And when I said to them, ‘Thank you for giving me this award, you’ve made me very happy,’ I meant the emphasis right where I put it… “