Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Discovering Liza Minnelli

“Reality is something you rise above.”
-Liza Minnelli

It's been a long, cold winter! But yesterday in New York gave us a glimpse of spring ahead.With the spring, I always think of life reemerging. How appropriate that Liza Minnelli's birthday falls on the "eve" of spring...which is right around the corner.She emerged when others said she was down. She is a survivor and continues to defy the naysayers.

On this date, March 12th, in 1946, Liza May Minnelli was born to Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli.

As if that wasn't enough, her godparents were Ira Gershwin and Kay Thompson.
 I don't think you get more anointed by the show business gods than that.
From the time I first saw The Wizard of Oz, I was a fan of that film. I was of that generation who looked forward to the annual showings year after year. In 1969, I was eight years old. That was also the summer that Judy Garland died. I only knew Dorothy as Dorothy.
Who was Judy Garland? I quickly found out. It was my cousin Patsy who gave me my first dose of reality  when she told me that Dorothy (Judy) had died in London.

"Dorothy" had a life beyond Oz. It was a Sunday night when I got all this news. I channel surfed between the three networks to get more info.
It was being covered on every network.
 She was 47...which seemed OLD to me at the time.
It wasn't until many years later that I realized how wrong I was to think that.

On Monday morning, our parents dropped us off at Hazel Elvington who baby sat us in the summer. I immediately asked for the newspapers and started reading everything. It was as if the entire News and Courier, our state paper, was devoted to Judy's death.
I sat the entire day in shock. When my parents picked me up, they wanted to know why I was so sad. When I got home, I broke down crying! I was eight years old!! I thought I would never see The Wizard of Oz again.
My mom told me to snap out of it; that I didn't even know this woman.
But she had touched me. I also now knew that she was a real person and more than just Dorothy Gale.
The first book that came out on Judy that I remember was Al Diorio Jr's Little Girl Lost. The next book I got was from the Pyramid Series. These were a series of books celebrating movie icons. I was able to find it again recently.
That was in 1973. By now I was twelve years old.
I remember seeing this book in the paperback bin of Rose's Department Store. I begged my mom for it and she relented. This book depicted a side of Judy that was heavy on the tragic. The Wizard of Oz continued to show yearly and that was my main, and for the most part, only connection with Judy.
But reading DiOrio's book, I also learned about Judy's life beyond what we saw on television through her films. I learned of her three children especially Liza Minnelli, who I was seeing popping up more and more on television. In 1973, my parents bought me my first Liza album, The Singer.
The following year in 1974, she did a television special, Liza With a Z. My parents let me watch it and I was now a FAN!
I went around singing Liza With a Z over and over. I remember singing it with my cousin Donna. 1974 was a pivotal year for Liza. That was also the year of Cabaret, the movie in which she won her Academy Award. Also in 1974, the film That's Entertainment came out.

Liza narrated and hosted the segment on Judy Garland. Nostalgia was everywhere. Two of my favorite magazines at the time was Rona Barrett's Hollywood and Rona Barrett's Gossip.
I lived for those magazines. Rona truly was the last
of the Hollywood gossip columnists.She tied old time Hollywood with a newer sensibility.
Liza was in both magazines on many occasions. I continued to follow
Liza's on stage and off stage careers. She conquered EVERY aspect of the entertainment world...she continues to do so.
I was living in New York several years when I started getting work doing singing telegrams. I worked for a company called Eastern Onion in 1984.
I could do complete blogs on my experiences with that! Two days before my 23rd birthday, The Rink opened on Broadway, on February 9th. It was at the Martin Beck Theatre, now named The Hirschfeld.
In early March, I got a brainstorm of delivering a singing telegram...FROM ME,,,by ME to Liza on her birthday, her 38th.
I contacted The Martin Beck Theatre and made the arrangements. Because Liza's birthday fell on a Monday that day, we agreed that the "telegram" would be delivered to the Martin Beck between shows on Wednesday at around 6:30 PM. I showed up in my Eastern Onion uniform: pink ruffled shirt, red tuxedo jacket with tails, black satin pants, and MY added touch, blinking bow tie, tap shoes and GIANT sun glasses.
You couldn't miss me if you tried. When I arrived at the theatre, Liza had not arrived yet. The door man asked me to sit off on the side until they were ready. The longer I waited the more nervous I got! What if they figured out my ruse? I waited for about fifteen minutes, an eternity! Finally, the doors opened, and Liza walked in with a few "friends". She was smoking, no make-up, and announced that she the worst afternoon! OH NO! Now, my heart is REALLY racing. About five minutes later, her assistant, came and got me. I knocked on her dressing room door and asked  for "Lisa Munnilli". She yelled come in. I walked in and she burst out laughing. I did Eastern Onion's birthday standard to the tune of Stars and Stripes, this time with Liza's moves from New York, New York.
She howled throughout the entire presentation. I gave her the physical large telegram "To Liza Minnelli from Richard Skipper." I told her "he" was a fan of hers from California.
She asked my name and I quickly said, "Skip Richards". (That was going to be my stage name. Thank God I got over that!) When I told her my name, she looked at the telegram again, and laughed even harder. She asked me if I had seen the show. I had not. She asked me when I would like to see it. I said "Tonight!" She arranged for me to see it that night! The first of six times that I saw it!! After leaving Liza's dressing room, I flew up the street to the Green Room Answering Service, which was my main source of income at that time. I couldn't wait to share my news. At the time, I worked with a woman named Louise Quick, who recently passed away. Louise was quite a character and a bit eccentric. During the day whenever things got quiet or serious, she would stand up and yell "Taxi!" When I told her what had just happened to me, she told me that she had worked a lot with Bob Fosse.
In fact, she was his assistant on Cabaret and Liza with a Z.
Louise Quick
That was it! I was convinced this woman was nuts!! About a year later, I was doing stock and Cabaret was on the late show. During the Two Ladies number, one of those ladies looked a LOT like Louise Quick. At the end of the movies, her name appeared in a box as assistant to Bob Fosse. When Cabaret was shown last year, Louise and I had long talks reliving our days at the Green Room Answering Service.
She died a few months ago. I love and miss her.

As I stated, over the next few months, I saw The Rink six times. Each time I saw the show, Liza was in it. There were rumors that she was in bad shape and missing more performances than not. I NEVER saw that side of Liza,
It wasn't long after that that she left the show to go to Betty Ford. After getting out, it was announced that she would be doing her first concert in the New York area at Jones Beach Theatre on July 26th 1985.
Joe Lemerise, who I worked with, got our tickets and could not wait! This would be the first time that I would be seeing her in concert. In November of '84, a sober healthy looking Liza appeared on the cover of People magazine. She was anxious and ready to get back to work. The day of the concert came and it was if Armageddon had hit New York. It was dark and rainy ALL day. At first, we were told that the concert WOULD go on rain or shine. As it got closer to showtime, EVERYONE knew this was an impossibility. The date was switched till September. We patiently awaited the new date. It arrived and guess what? Torrential rain! Jones Beach said Liza would go on rain or shine and she did. Fans sat underneath make shift tents and umbrellas.
She walked out on stage and sang, I can see clearly now, the rain has stopped and she owned the audience. She has owned me ever since. Since then, I have lost track at the number of times I have seen her: Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, The Town Hall in NYC, The George Street Theatre in Staten
Island, the Beacon Theatre. Liza's presence was even felt at our wedding. Our dear friend, Annie Hughes, sang A Quiet Thing at our wedding. 
I still follow Liza. My love for you is just as strong today as when I first saw you! Happy Birthday!

Let's start celebrating artists again rather than tearing them down.
TMZ has done nothing to add to our cultural landscape.
Thank you ALL of the artists mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs ,



Check out my site celebrating the FIRST Fifty years of  Hello, Dolly!



I desire this to be a definitive account of Hello, Dolly!  If any of you reading this have appeared in any production of Dolly, I'm interested in speaking with you!
If you have anything to add or share, please contact me at Richard@RichardSkipper.com.

NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED.  FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!



Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
               Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!



  
Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!



With grateful XOXOXs for your support!
Richard Skipper 845-365-0720




                                                                  Keeping Entertainment ALIVE!
                                                                   Richard Skipper Celebrates

TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY










4 comments:

  1. What wonderful memories you've shared of Liza, and what an experience with the singing telegram for her--wow! I love your theatre/singing stories about these wonderful entertainers, Richard--thank you so much for taking the time to writing about them.

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  2. Wonder, wonderful, Richard. I love your celebration of the arts and artists and what a thrilling adventure you had singing for Liza on her birthday and making her laugh. Thank you for sharing! Made my day!

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  3. Whoops... I'm signed in as Judy Garland Museum, but was me, Michelle Russell!

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  4. Lovely Liza memories. Mine are just opposite, having become a Liza fan,friend & supporter, long before I knew much about her mom. In the mid sixties, I was attending Brooklyn Technical HS, having recently immigrated from Israel. As was my habit, I Would cut my Wed afternoon classes to check out Broadway matinees. Broadway was booming those days..Barbra was still in Funny Girl (soon to be replaced by her understudy Lanie Kazan), Sammy Davis Jr. Was in Golden Boy, Fiddler had rising stars in major & minor roles ( Bea Arthur, Bert convy, Bette Midler, Pia Zadora). On one such Wed afternoon venture, I stumbled upon a new musical, still in rehearsal, at the Alvin on 52 st. It was Flora the Red Menace. I was introduced to Liza, by celebrity photographer Nancy Barr and became enthralled. That spring and summer of 1965 were simply wonderful days spent with her, not just at the Alvin, or hanging out between the matinee and evening performances but also with Liza appearances on Ed Sullivan, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas and Joe Franklin as well as her Tony win that June.
    That was just the start of a 50 year friendship documented, in part, with photos at https://www.facebook.com/avi.duvdevani/media_set?set=a.1522612194261.158196.1503297347&type=3

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