Liza Minnelli has been in show business off and on since the age of three when she had her first walk-on part in The Good Old Summertime. Now at the age of 27 she is a firmly established, gutsy, vital, talented star who appears to have the necessary resilience to stay one. But the public demands that its current idols should always be on show, so Liza Minnelli’s looks, costumes and make-up have become an essential part of her professional life. But did she really like clothes ?
“Well, I am one of the 10 best dressed women in the world — so they tell me.” Who tells you? “They tell me.” She gave an abrupt shout of laughter and then looked gloomy, as if the sound of her voice depressed her. Dressed in a beige knitted suit bordered with a brown frieze and wearing no make-up, she apologised for keeping us waiting just a few minutes, and explained that she had been rehearsing for the three concerts that she was to do in London later that week. “Do you mind if I eat something? I haven’t had a bite all day.” Rapidly she spooned her way through a plate of clear soup, crunched some celery, and cut a slice of cheese which she ate like cake. Did she diet? “No, I really don’t have to. I drop pounds when I work; the weight just rolls off.” When she I was younger she tipped the scales at over ll stone; she’s thinner now, but still nicely curvy rather than model-girl skinny.
In the bedroom she opened her wardrobe door: it bulged with clothes. “I’m afraid that I haven’t got much here, all the really great stuff is on its way from the States.” On her dressing-table, next to a bottle of Vitamin B with Vitamin C complex tablets, were rows of giant lashes laid out like dead insects — these eyelashes have become almost her trade-mark. “And we’ve got boxes more,” said her secretary. “They are made from real hair,” Liza explained. “Christina makes them up for me, and when they get a bit tacky we send them back and she washes and re-does them for me.”
Her emphatic, idiosyncratic make-up was created by the Hollywood beautician Christina (Christina prefers the word ‘created’), and from time to time she` tums up to adjust it and apply it. “Shc designed it for me but wrote it all down so that I can do it myself.” Liza disappeared into the bathroom, emerging minutes later having washed and dried her short dark hair. Quickly she applied her make-up and expertly fixed on a pair of the enormous lashes which fanned around her large, expressive eyes like peacock’s feathers.
The off-stage clothes that she showed us looked classic and good, a few from St Laurent, lots from Halston whose clothes she adores, others from De Noyer; her silver jewellery was designed by Peretti for Halston in New York. Some of the clothes, like Halston’s slinky black jersey dress and his black sequinned suit, she wears both on and off stage: “I simply adore black,” she said. Once she complained that just because she had been to 22 schools and had tive fathers everyone ex- pected her to be a delinquent: “But I had an English nanny for four years.” Even so, you get the feeling that the girl who used to wear bright green nail varnish and heavy purple eye- shadow lurks quite near the surface.
A friend said: “At home she looks diiferent. She wears funky blue jeans and outrageous shoes.” “Yes, I do like shoes,” she admitted. More than anything else? “Yes, you could say more than anything else.” She produced a pair of white skin, stubby-toed shoes with incredibly high heels which were studded with multi—coloured rhinestones which glittered and flashed in the lights.
“Desi calls them my Buicks,” (Desi Arnaz Jnr., her boy—friend before the arrival of Peter Sellers). “I buy them from Fred Slatten in California. They are the best sort of shoes, made in Italy with the diamanté stuck on in America.” She says that she is a mixture of Italian, French and Irish. The press cuttings suggest she is part Jewish too? “N0, I’m not, but my half-sister Lorna (Luft) is half-Jewish. The Press make mistakes. I get irritated when they put expressions into my mouth that I wouldn’t use, like ‘haargh’ or ‘yee-uck’, which don’t sound like me. Occasionally I might use ‘shri-ek’ – but not much. A reporter once wrote that he called on me when I was living in a London mews, banged on the door, no-one came, but as he walked away, a top window opened, and I appeared and threw a bottle of vodka at him. I have never lived in a London mews — and I don’t drink vodka.”
Her off-stage wardrobe may have calmed down a bit, but on stage she glitters and shines in extravagant theatrical fantasies. “You would have flipped if I’d had the red satin here, it’s straight, not cut on the bias. And the cloche hat with the flower. Oh, but I really want the red dress.
“Keith Hodges designed it for me with the hat. Keith’s 26 years old and works for himself in California. He sent me a couple of sketches one day, they were simple but extraordinary. One had this hat, another a boa. A funny look. You wou1dn’t have wanted it yourself but I felt that it was right for me. They were a combination of something that Chanel might have designed and someone like Casati might have worn.” Marchesa Casati was one of the most exotic personalities of the early 1900s; a great hostess who painted her face white, dyed her hair flame-red before it was considered ‘proper’, ringed her eyes with kohl, wore tiger skins and eccentric hats, and kept a small Tunisian slave whom she once painted gold.
“I intend to make a film about her with my father. We’ve been looking for the right thing for ages. It’s from a novel, The Film of Memory by Maurice Druon, and it’s about Casati’s relationship with a little room-maid, when she’s old and sick living in the Hotel Inghilterra in Rome. She changes the girl’s life. I’ll play the maid who becomes a kind of mirror to the old woman’s memories, and in the few of the flash-backs I’ll play Casati.
“For Cabaret we almost did the clothes ourselves. There was a designer, I won’t mention her name, but the original clothes were just ‘the pits’. I had to tell her about shoulder pads and explain what ‘cut on the bias’ meant. Once I said ‘Look, before the war . . .’ and she said ‘What war ?’ Imagine. In one scene Fosse [the director, Bob Fosse] threw me his tuxedo waistcoat and said ‘Try this’. It worked so I wore it.” She paused: “You know there is a real Sally Bowles? She really exists. Isn’t it funny, Sally desperately wanted to be famous and important – she wanted to be – and now she is.”
Interview by Meriel McCooey. Photographs by David Bailey. Scanned by Miss Peelpants from The Sunday Times Magazine, July 1973