"Sunday Morning" caught up with Liza Minnelli where she's most at home … at the piano with Michael Feinstein, and a tune by George and Ira Gershwin:
my sweet embraceable you…"
Still the one and only Liza, yet even now, uncertain of her own immeasurable gifts.
"Sunday Morning" anchor Jane Pauley asked her, "Do you recognize that you have achieved the status of legend?"
"No, I have to be told a lot," Minnelli replied. "Like, I keep saying to Michael, 'Is that all right?' I had great people around me. The biggest thing I got was to recognize somebody else's talent."
No one knows Liza like Feinstein, her best friend and confidante. She said, "I mean, we met each other and we were joined at the hip."
Feinstein said of Minnelli, "You understand human nature better than almost anyone I know … I think that's one of the extraordinary things about her. I think that's why she's a great artist, because she's able to channel a fundamental understanding of the human condition into her art."
It takes talent, tenacity, and originality to become a star. But the great ones have an undefinable something that endures. And Minnelli had it from the start.
Liza Minnelli performs "Mein Herr" in the 1972 film "Cabaret":
She won her first Tony in her teens, for "Flora, the Red Menace" … and both an Oscar and an Emmy in a single year! The Grammy "Legend Award" made it an EGOT grand slam.
Fame was practically her birthright. She was just a toddler when she appeared with her mother Judy Garland in the movie musical "In the Good Old Summertime."
"I thought my mother was perfect, perfect. Every little thing she did," Minnelli said. "But my father – there was no one in the world like my father, and I'm so much like him."
Film director Vincente Minnelli was a Hollywood giant in his day. Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Kay Thompson were literally household names. "I grew up around all of these wonderful people," Minnelli said, "and yet, my parents always said to me, 'No, you're your own. There's nobody like you.'"
At 17, she began to see it herself.
"I remember my first gig was in a show called 'Best Foot Forward,' Off-Broadway, and I mean Off Broadway, right? I don't know, I just knew then that from the minute I walked onstage, I wasn't me. I was the person that I knew so much about, because I had thought so much about her habits, about her thoughts."
And then in November 1964, at London's famed Palladium, Judy Garland filled the house, but her teenage daughter was a revelation … And not just to the audience.
"My mom was my mom. You know, other people think of her as Judy Garland. That's Mama. If I get frightened, I'd look at her, and she would somehow know, and she would calm me down. Just by her look."
Judy Garland died five years later, four months before the premiere of "The Sterile Cuckoo," in 1969, Minnelli's Oscar-nominated performance at age 23. She performed this scene in one take:
"I knew that character so well and I really tried to get that part, and thank God I did," Minnelli said.
In 1972, she shifted into a higher orbit, and credits a Frenchman. "Charles Aznavour changed my life. He changed my entire life."
Aznavour, who some call the greatest entertainer of the 20th century, taught her how to deliver a song.
"Because I wasn't a good singer. I was not," Minnelli said. "And I knew, because my mom was the best in the world. But I went to see Charles Aznavour, and he sang a song, but it wasn't his voice that got me. What got me was why he was singing it. I just thought, 'That's what I wanna do!' He told that story through the song."
Azenvour even helped shape her Oscar-winning performance in Bob Fosse's film version of "Cabaret."
Pauley said, "I love that thing you [did with your hands]."
"I did it, I learned it from Aznavour," Minnelli said.
Fosse noticed, too. She recalled: "And I did that, and he went, [SLAPS KNEE]. I thought, 'Ooh, it's good! Maybe I can add something to it that he'll like even more.' And that's where that came from."
Fosse also directed TV's "Liza With a Z." Dressed by Halston, and wearing that iconic pixie cut, she brought the house down.
Pauley asked, "At the end of it, the show is over, and there's a shot offstage now, and the look on your face is, it's uncertain, it's not happy, it's not joyful … I don't know what it is?"
"It's usually – and I say it to Michael – we go off, and we're just in the mood, and everything, and we'll stop and I'll say, 'Was I all right?' It's that simple: Was I all right?"
If she was born to the spotlights, there was the dark side, too, following her mother down the road to addiction. There were also failed marriages and miscarriages, all captured by the prying eye of the paparazzi.
Minnelli is currently working with Feinstein as executive producer of an upcoming album called "Gershwin Country," and producing his new tour, celebrating Judy Garland's 100th birthday this year.
At 75, Liza Minnelli doesn't perform in public that often, so this is something special ...
WEB EXTRA: Liza Minnelli and Michael Feinstein perform "I Love a Violin":
"When I'm singing to an audience, I'm not singing to an audience, I'm singing to you," she said. "What I wanna say to the audience is, 'Have you ever felt like this? 'Cause it's what I'm going through now.' I just want people to know I've been through what they've been through."
For more info:
- Follow Liza Minnelli on Instagram
- "Gershwin Country" featuring Michael Feinstein (Craft Records), available March 1
Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Steven Tyler.
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