An informative look at Liza

An informative look at Liza
By KEVIN McDONOUGH, United Features Syndicate

Times Union, Albany, NY
June 11 2004

First published: Friday, June 11, 2004

Unlike the vast majority of celebrity profiles that simply reiterate
the obvious and belabor the hideous, tonight’s two-hour “Biography”
(8, A&E) taught me many things I did not know and reminded me of
other things I had forgotten about Liza Minnelli. This troubled and
talented singer, dancer and actress has spent the better part of five
decades trying to get out from under the shadow of her doomed mother.

The daughter of Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli, Liza
made her screen appearance as a toddler in the 1949 “In the Good Old
Summertime.” Unfortunately, Minnelli explains, the Hollywood staff
that costumed her in 19th-century finery forgot to provide underwear,
and she felt decidedly cranky while being held aloft by family friend
Van Johnson. In a remarkable clip from the old Jack Paar show, we
watch Liza make her TV singing debut — introduced not as herself,
but as an Armenian gypsy girl whose name turned out to be an anagram of
“Judy Garland.”

This superior “Biography” is filled with informative and painful
recollections from Minnelli as well as legions of lifetime friends
and admirers, including songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb
(“Cabaret”). Mia Farrow, a fellow child of Hollywood who has known
Minnelli since preschool, praises her friend’s talent and acting
ability. Farrow describes Minnelli’s performance in the 1969 “The
Sterile Cuckoo” as a tour de force. Marisa Berenson, Joel Grey
and Michael York (in an archival interview) recall the special
circumstances that made filming “Cabaret” so difficult and memorable.

Having won a Tony, an Emmy and an Oscar before turning 30, Minnelli
has had a decidedly bumpy second act. Her Scorsese-directed musical
“New York, New York” faded from memory almost as quickly as its title
song became known as Frank Sinatra’s signature tune. Her spirited
performance in “Arthur” was overshadowed by those of Dudley Moore and
John Gielgud. And, of course, there were the frequent visits to rehab
clinics and her recent freakish marriage to her controlling producer.
While these difficult times are chronicled here, this “Biography”
accentuates the positive and recalls Minnelli’s gifts as she prepares
to make yet another revival in a life that has become defined by
stumbles and comebacks.