With an affinity for dazzling bling, a classic Hollywood lineage and a delicious diva reputation, there is virtually nothing that epitomizes the word “showbiz” so much as the name “Liza.” Her coal-black shag, heavily fringed lashes and sparkly designer duds have been known to outshine even the most committed drag queen, leaving admirers and emulators in sequin-stunned awe and others just waving their “jazz hands.”
The daughter of tortured silver screen icon Judy Garland and closeted film director Vincente Minnelli, Liza Minnelli was born into a life of drama. First appearing onscreen at age 3 and eventually winning the Academy Award for her sultry and seductive portrayal of Sally Bowles in Bob Fosse's 1972 musical Cabaret, she was a natural-born star.
Her attention-getting wardrobe and private memorabilia have been well maintained over the decades, and quite an impressive collection it is. Liza, now 72, has decided to liquidate much of her estate in an auction being held in June, featuring more than 1,000 lots. Featuring significant costumes, designer fashion, portraits by Andy Warhol, Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz and David LaChappelle, personal photographs of her famous parents, and even Liza's own 1971 Silver Shadow Rolls-Royce, this sale is a Hollywood collector's wet dream and a magnet for all lovers of glamour, overstated elegance, pomp and pizzazz.
In anticipation of the auction, Beverly Hills' Paley Center for Media has put together “Love, Liza: The Exhibit,” a fanciful display taking over two full floors of the museum and spotlighting some of the glitz and splendor that Liza lovingly flaunted in both her day-to-day life and her performing career. There's fashion by Bob Mackie, Missoni and Isaac Mizrahi, but it is quite apparent that Minnelli's main love was Halston, whose clean lines, disco couture and abundant use of sequins, metallic mesh and jewel-toned silk best captured Liza's flamboyance.
The main floor of the Paley Center features a medley of Liza's showy frippery, including an opulent kelly green dress with matching floor-length feather boa; a red sequin catsuit, bowtie and hat ensemble; the 1981 blue polyester waitress costume from Arthur; and her 1972 Cabaret wardrobe, complete with bowler hat and suede boots. The upper floor is exclusively Halston's creations. Under the original spinning Studio 54 disco ball, reflecting mirrored patches of light to the beat of the disco era, Liza's Halston ensembles are frozen in time, modeled by glossy white laminate mannequins donning jet-black wigs of Liza's signature hairstyle and heavy false eyelashes that almost appear to be batting coyly. This surreal army of fashion poses includes wraparound gold lamé pantsuits, an orange sequined kimono, gleaming mini-dresses so short they might be tunics, and dozens more sparkling creations.
Display monitors throughout the exhibit showcase Liza's live performances and razzle-dazzle singing and dancing, while some of the auction's memorabilia is exhibited in glass cases in the upper-level hallway. This includes leather-bound scripts from the films Cabaret and New York, New York with Liza's hand-scrawled notes in the margins, love notes written by Judy Garland to her husband and sealed with a lipstick kiss, and a typed MGM personnel record for Vincente Minnelli with instructions to notify Frances Gumm Minnelli, wife Judy's legal name, in case of emergency.
As part of the Paley Center's presentation, a big-screen viewing of four of Liza's television appearances is offered every Saturday at 4 p.m. through April 28. These include song-and-dance performances as well as a 1963 spot on The Judy Garland Show. While some viewers might find themselves inspired by the music, falling into a soft-shoe shuffle or even an unexpected disco move, most will be caught up in the pageantry of the exhibit as a whole, which reflects the entertainment icon's style and cultural significance. With Liza as tour guide, the ultimate conclusion from “Love, Liza” is undeniably, “Life is a cabaret, old chum, it's only a cabaret!”
“Love Liza: The Exhibit” at the Paley Center for Media, 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; Wed.-Sun., 12-5 p.m., through April 29; free. (310) 786-1000, paleycenter.org.