By Steven M. Housman
Lizas Legacy - Start Spreading the News
By now, most of my readers know me as a music journalist, a music enthusiast. Every so often I take on a project that strays a bit off from the recording industry and pays attention to other aspects of the entertainment world. When I do this, it has to be a project Im absolutely passionate about. And more importantly, the interviewee has to be as passionate about the work that we are discussing. The project being discussed in great detail is The Liza Minnelli Scrapbook, due out November 2 from Citadel Press. The interviewee is Scott Schechter, an award-winning author who is also a producer and historian, who has devoted thirty years to researching the careers of Minnelli and her mother Judy Garland, earning his status as the premiere Minnelli-Garland historian. TV shows Schechter has produced or consulted on include A&Es recent 2-hour Biography on Liza, and the similar 2002 E! True Hollywood Story. The many CDs he has produced, compiled and written liner notes for include Liza Minnelli: Ultimate Collection - which the star enjoyed so much, she raved about it in her latest concert souvenir program -- along with Judy at Carnegie Hall: Fortieth Anniversary Edition and The Judy Garland Show: The Show That Got Away. DVDs of Garlands entire 1963-64 TV series were the result of Schechters efforts beginning back in 1998, including conception of the 2001 Songs For America disc benefiting the American Red Cross immediately after 9-11. The authors previous book "Judy Garland: The Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Legend was acclaimed by the LA Times, Liz Smith, and the Hollywood Reporter which stated Its the most complete retrospective yet published on a celebrity... Schechters research is as thorough as a Nobel scientist.
Along with Schechters powerful prose on Minnellis professional output, The Liza Minnelli Scrapbook also features a staggering amount of mostly never-before-published art - well over 200 photos - and the majority of the photographs are in glorious color.
Another special feature is the books Foreword, which has been written for The Liza Minnelli Scrapbook by Minnellis musical mainstay, her arranger, accompanist, collaborator, and confidant, Billy Stritch. Stritch has headlined in every famed nightspot throughout the country. Recently he has served as Minnelli's musical director on her 2004 U.S. tour.
In this interview, I didnt have to stray too far from my knowledge of music, since Liza has been an entertainment icon for forty plus years. Scott Schechter took a unique approach to this fabulous new book and did something for Liza Minnelli that has never been done before: He wrote a book that completely encompasses the entire professional career of this 20th and 21st century icon. I not only went deep into Schechters psyche to uncover his passion for Minnelli and this book, I also discovered many things about the legend herself, including her love for her first husband, the late Peter Allen, who she still loves to this day, her adoration and generosity towards her audiences, her personal favorite song, and the fact that this lady is far from over. Wait until you see what projects shes working on now, and what feature film role shes nabbed that many actresses in Hollywood had been clamoring for for years. In this interview, like the book, Schechter uncovers many aspects about Minnellis professional life that even her most die-hard fans didnt know. You dont believe me? Read on.
Is this the first book on Liza Minnelli that covers her entire career?
This is indeed the worlds first book on Liza Minnellis career. Every other book thats been out, and its been several years since a book has been released, have always concentrated on her personal life, not her professional accomplishments. This book is ninety-nine and three quarter percent about her career and the only time her personal life is mentioned is within the context of her career, if it affected her career, and not the other way around. Im very happy to say this is the very first book to pay tribute to Lizas great body of work.
Are you in communication with Liza, and has she seen the book?
Yes, and yes. I showed Liza the first twenty pages of layout last July. As soon as I signed the contract for the book, I immediately called and Fed-Exd her an outline of what the book was going to be and I sent her copies of the manuscript, as well as a copy to her attorney. I definitely wanted her, and everyone in her circle, to know about the book, to have no secrets, to be upfront about what I was doing. Ive known Liza for over twenty years and shes told me that she trusts me, which means a great deal to me. I would never want to betray that trust. I have kept her abreast on everything thats been happening. The best official stamp we have so far, since she hasnt seen the actual final book, is that her musical arranger, pianist, confidante, Billy Stritch, has written the books Forward, and I think that says more than anything about how she feels about the book. Certainly if she had any objections, I wouldve heard from her, or at least her attorney (laughing) IMMEDIATELY! Its incredible that Liza is still working after forty plus years, and this book will hopefully be seen as a reminder to people of everything shes accomplished and is still accomplishing. I feel shes a major part of the success of the Emmy-winning comedy Arrested Development. In fact, shes going back to LA in mid-November to film more episodes. It looks like at least four at this point, but it will probably be more.
You mentioned that you met her over twenty years ago. How did you two meet?
I met her in 1981 in my hometown of Philadelphia. It was just a different world back then. Celebrities had bodyguards, but if you were a member of Lizas fan club, you knew who the people were around her and could send a note backstage. I sent a note and her assistant said Sure, you can see her before the show, which I had found interesting, instead of after the show. I got to see Liza become Liza at her make-up table. I got to see her become Liza with a Z! She couldnt have been nicer, or warmer, or more open, and made me feel so comfortable and relaxed. She has this incredible and rare reputation for being so approachable and so down to earth. She really loves her fans as much, or more, if thats possible, as they love her. Most celebrities have an arms length relationship at best, and thats not Lizas stance at all. Shes truly very grateful for the people who support her work. I wound up back at the theater every night that week she was there. Weve kept in touch, and have over the years. I started doing things professionally involving her work and her moms work, and she has been very pleased with the things I have done, such as the DVDs of Judys TV series, and the CD of Judys legendary Carnegie Hall concert, which was presented in full for the first time in 2002. She continues to be supportive and generous shes just Liza! I remember one night a few years ago at the Palace Theater when she was doing Minnelli on Minnelli, she was staying backstage and signing all of these things for fans. I had to say to her, This is so you, and she said, What do you mean? I said, Its late and youve done a show and here you are doing all of this, and she said, Well, thats my job. I think that really says so much about her.
I have to ask, did your fascination with Liza begin with her mother Judy Garland, or is your fascination isolated to just Liza herself?
Well, thats how I learned about her. I didnt really make the connection that this woman had a great career of her own until I started seeing her on TV. I know this is going to sound odd, but I never make the connection between Judy and Liza. I see them as separate entities. As far as Liza goes, I guess I was about thirteen and started seeing her more frequently on TV, and the first film of hers I saw was Lucky Lady and that actually floored me. I know a lot of people are not thrilled with that film but I enjoyed it and thought she gave a wonderful performance. Most people know her as Sally Bowles (Cabaret), but I was just floored by her talent and started buying her records. I think the first time I saw her perform live was January 1977 at the Latin Casino and I was hooked.
Some people call your fascination an obsession. What would you say to those people?
Well, if its something that becomes the only thing in your life, then I might be worried. Im sure there have been times when that has been the case, especially when were younger. As I said, I started liking Liza when I was about thirteen, so I think its normal when a persons idol becomes it for them. But hopefully, people grow up and meet people and have a life and relationships and family and work, and it becomes a part of your life instead of your entire life. Ive been blessed that Ive been able to make my passion my vocation. Ive been able to make things happen professionally that Ive wanted to see happen. I questioned, Why isnt there a full-length production of Judys Carnegie Hall concert? So, I made it happen. Why arent Judys TV shows out on DVD? So, I helped make that happen. The same with Liza and this book. Why dont people see that her life is about her art, and not trials and tribulations, the Oscar-winning legend? Its because the media only likes to focus on the negative aspects of some peoples lives, never positive. The glass is more than half full when it comes to Liza, but the public needs to be reminded. I hope that this book is a great reminder to the talent that Liza is. Forget about the tabloids and celebrate the artistry of, I think, the greatest talent that we have.
How long have you worked on this book?
I started this right after my Judy book came out in the summer of 2002. So, two years ago. My agent asked me, What do you think you should do next? She said, Liza would be a natural. I said, Yes, but I would love to do something positive that would celebrate her career. Of course she said, I dont know if a publisher would be interested. They would want it to be the sensationalistic aspects of her life, because thats what sells books. She discovered that the Citadel Press had been doing this series on Scrapbooks, and I thought, this is exactly what I wanted to do. My agent approached them and they really loved the idea. It only took about four months to do the actual writing, but I had been researching her for years. We ended up with about 70,000 words and over 200 images, most of which have never been seen before, which are also in color. This is a full color book.
Where did you obtain all of the photographs?
A lot of them are from my archives. There were so many fans that have been so generous. Once I sent the word out about the book, I ended up getting huge boxes of things from fans! There are also some photo agencies that we licensed some photos from. I really got the best of what was out there. Im sure I looked at least a couple of thousand of images and cut it down to 263 eventually.
Are there mentions and photographs of Lizas marriage to David Gest? If so, how does she feel about that?
The only time any of Lizas husbands are mentioned in this book is within the context of her work. So, if she performed with Peter Allen, if Peter wrote a song for her, like the song Simon, which was the first real song that he wrote that she recorded and sang and performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. Yeah, so Peter Allen is mentioned. She has worked with all four of her husbands, which is a common thing in the industry. I hope Liza will realize that this is just presenting the facts. She did work with her husbands, she married her husbands! Shes even said, Whats personal? Theres nothing personal about my life.
Speaking of Peter Allen, did she see The Boy from Oz?
No. I think Fred Ebb was quoted not long before he passed saying, I would eject her from the theater if she ever thought of going in there to see it! Something like that. I cant imagine what it would be like to go in and see someone portraying your life and your husband and your family. She loved Peter Allen, she still loves him to this day.
How does this Scrapbook differ from a conventional book?
The book is laid out very uniquely. Its not unlike one of Lizas Broadway shows. It has an Overture, Act 1 is an overview of each decade of her life. Each decade has its own chapter with the emphasis on her career. Unless a personal issue had impact on her career, then its mentioned. Theres an intermission which is two chapters, one on The Liza Look, the styles over the years, and another called Everybody Loves A Winner which covers all of her major awards. Then the second half of the book, which focuses in on all of the different aspects of the media she has worked in, such as Broadway Baby which is her Broadway Book shows, different sections devoted to her TV shows, her movies, her records, her live performances, and the appendix has suggestions for collecting her work on CDs and DVDs, and other products. Its incredibly comprehensive, something thats never been done before.
Does the book cover much of her Studio 54/Warhol/Halston days?
I certainly mentioned Halston. I didnt get into what necessarily went on at Studio 54 - again I was focusing on the performer, not the personal aspects. There is a great photograph that Ive never seen before of Liza with Halston in that chapter.
Are there things in this book that even the hardest die-hard fan might learn and see for the first time?
Oh, yes! One of the things I love is the chapter on Minnellis movies. I have a listing with the detail about all the films that Liza almost did, that she was originally offered or asked to do. I have an ad (laughing) from 1983 that says, Coming from Cannon Films in 1984, The Great Wind Cometh. Theres a drawing of Liza coming down in a parachute. Its a World War II drama, (laughing) and another one of my favorites was The Carmen Miranda Story. Someone actually wanted her to be Carmen Miranda! The drawings of these posters are hysterically funny.
Is Liza planning on more appearances on stage, concert, television, movies, etc?
Right now shes concentrating on the Arrested Development shows, and a couple of movies she has offers for. Actually a film and two TV series. She didnt accept either of the TV series, I think she wants to do the film offer. Also, Andrew Lloyd Webber has promised her the role of Norma Desmond in the film version of Sunset Boulevard. Webber wants Liza and Hugh Jackman. This all took place back in 2002 when Liza was performing in London. Andrew Lloyd Webber came and was blown away and made a public announcement that he wanted Liza for the film. Hes also producing the project for the big screen. Nothing has been signed, and Liza has been very coy about it, but he wants her. Liza is his number one choice. She also has three albums shes working on. The first one thats half done is a French album. They are songs either about Paris or in French, a mix of standards and some new songs. There will also be duets on the album. Another album shes working on is a tribute album to her Godmother, Kay Thompson, and the third is her first ever Christmas album. Those are the things shes been talking about or that weve heard about. Certainly concerts, shell always do concerts. Shes ageless, but shes also turning 60 a year from March. Shell probably do mini-tours rather than large scale tours. Shell continue to do concerts for the rest of her career.
What is your favorite Liza Minnelli Song, Concert, Film and Album?
My favorite song is But The World Goes Round, and its her favorite song as well. I think its one of the best songs ever written and is so vital to her life. Favorite concert would have to be a small venue, Westbury Music Fair in the fall of 96. It was just perfect. Every song was perfect. She did all the stuff I wanted her to do. The clothes were perfect, the audience was perfect and she ended with an A Cappella version of You Made Me Love You. Favorite film is a three-way tie. Cabaret, of course, but I thought her acting in New York, New York was a bit better, and her most underrated film, Steppin Out. I would have to say my favorite album is The Ultimate Collection, not because I worked on it, but because it encompasses her entire career, including her first album Liza, Liza from 1964, and ends with Losing My Mind with the Pet Shop Boys.
Now that the book is done, whats next for you?
Retiring! No, Im working on a few things, but Ive learned the hard way never to discuss something until it is practically out. You just never know. Its safe to say Im working on a few things about Liza and Judy.
© 2004 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.