Liza Minnelli's appearance at the Oscars this past weekend was the subject of much discussion and typical ageist snark ("old people are so ridiculous!") online which was... disappointing. Not that Liza didn't bring some of it upon herself particularly with her slow on the uptake reactions to Ellen's drag queen joke* and the selfies. But before we get into this year's particulars, CONTEXT.
I think it's worth remembering that this was not Liza's first time at the rodeo. Liza has lived her entire life in the unreality of showbiz so if she wants to wear a braless blue pant suit with matching hair stripe, to Hollywood's High Holy Night, she damn well should! After all, few people attending this weekend's ceremony can rival her for true icon status (Meryl, Bette, Poitier... and very few others)
I don't know if Liza ever attended the show as a child or teenager with either of her parents, the brilliant director Vincente Minnelli and the World's Greatest Entertainer Judy Garland who were both nominated only twice (all four times after Liza came into the world). But she first attended as a nominee herself at the 1969 Oscars when she was Best Actress nominated for The Sterile Cuckoo (she lost to Maggie Smith "in her prime"). Three years later when she was all of 27 years old she won Best Actress for Cabaret (1972) and ascended to immortal legend, chasing it with an Emmy award for the greatest concert television special of all time. (I urge you to buy "Liza with a Z" which is so damn great and rewatchable and a perfect antidote to this Oscar season's disrespect). And after that two more Tony Awards. And more Oscar ceremonies spent hangin' with Babs.
Let's just say that the 70s were good to her.
Liza was never Oscar nominated again after Cabaret despite 3 more Best Actress nominations at the Golden Globes. Most disappointing in retrospect was the lack of a Best Actress nomination for New York New York (1977) but Oscar voters clearly didn't like that Scorsese film; they even snubbed the now classic song "New York New York"!
But Liza and the Oscars didn't exactly fall out of love. She has been a presenter and guest several times and she even co-hosted the 1982 ceremony (held in 1983). Do you think Ellen Degeneres knows that she's also been up there, trying to hold the room's attention? Here's the opening number from that ceremony:
All of this history is why, the Liza Minnelli bits at the 86th Oscar, both excited, amused and angered.
No, I didn't object to the drag queen joke. It was hilarious given Liza's history with the gay community and the fact that so many drag queens have 'done Liza' in their lives. [ A note to the easily outraged: it's not transphobic to joke about drag queens impersonating famous women. They do that for a living and being a drag queen and being transgendered are totally different things.]
I'll readily admit that some of the 'oh nooooo' moments in her surprisingly eventful Oscar night were amusing separately in a kind of showbiz car crash way. I LIVED for that moment, for example, when she grabbed an already overwhelmed Lupita Nyong'o, clearly scaring the hell out of her (who is this complete stranger hugging me so tightly?!?).
But by the time people made fun of her pouty posing with Ellen for their picture together or that sad shot of her trying to get in on the world's most famous selfie action, I ended up feeling a bit sad for her. At least until I realize that this much media attention is, in some ways, a triumph for a celebrity her age who doesn't work in film and television very frequently.
But there was one moment that positively infuriated me. It came during The Wizard of Oz tribute. Liza and her half siblings stood up and after the camera looked at them for a second or two IT CUT AWAY. They are the living children of Judy Garland and they're the ones being applauded and you cut away? To add insult to injury the camera settled on Kate Hudson...AND STAYED THERE. I haven't used a stopwatch but I swear Kate Hudson got more screen time during the Judy Garland tribute than Liza Fucking Minnelli. I am not a violent person but I wanted to pummel the director and camera operators right then and there. If I were in charge of Hollywood they'd be run out of town.
You do not cut from a living legend when the topic is HER MOTHER to a much lesser star and her bored date... even if said star is also a famous child of a legend. I see the connection, tenuous though it is, but show a little respect. The festivities were not about Goldie Hawn, they were about Judy Garland.
In the end though, Liza will be fine. She still has her terrific sense of humor -- and if you ever see her interviewed or live in concert she loves to cackle at her own jokes and anecdotes, so she's self-amusing too! When asked about not making the world's most famous selfie, her reply:
This picture explains why I never played basketball.”