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Liza at the Oscars. Then, Then, Then, and Now

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)

Liza and Babs at the 1969 Oscars (April 7th, 1970). Gaygasm! 

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.

Liza & Babs cheering Marvin Hamlisch on for "The Way We Were"

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.”

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Reader Comments (32)

Liza Minnelli is a goddess and could show up in a BRIGHT BLUE BURLAP BAG and still be a fucking goddess. And goodness knows Lorna can sing (Joe... not so much) so as much as I loved P!nk's performance, why waste the opportunity when you have LIZA IN THE AUDIENCE to bring the Spirit Of Judy down to earth again through her kids?

Liza Minnelli and Judy Garland are two performers who, no matter how I terrible I feel, can always make me smile.

'Scuse me while I go cuddle up with my DVDs of New York, New York and The Judy Garland Show.

March 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

Most disappointing in retrospect was the lack of a Best Actress nomination for New York, New York (1977)...

Indeed, because even though the film is not as beloved as Cabaret, I've always found Liza's work in to be even stronger and more layered.

...but Oscar voters clearly didn't like that Scorsese film; they even snubbed the now classic song "New York, New York"!

One of Liza's other performances in the film, "But the World Goes 'Round," would have been an even worthier Best Song nominee. It's Kander and Ebb at their "Maybe This Time"-iest, and Scorsese's staging of it is masterful. Amazing camera and lighting by László Kovács.

March 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

The drag joke was absolutely tasteless and disrespectful. It reminded me of the Will and Grace episode where the point of Cher's cameo is for Jack to confuse her with an impersonator. Several key differences: 1) Cher looked youthful and fabulous 2) the joke was on Jack, and most importantly 3) Cher was IN on the joke. To blindside a living legend on live television with a tacky low blow fit for a Comedy Central roast is just one of many reasons why Ellen's performance has been deservedly boo-hissed. It was just tone deaf.

Moreover, Liza herself has said it was poorly done, which should be good enough for anyone.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

At BEST (skipping over "transphobia" accusations) the unironic point of Ellen's joke is that Liza Minnelli looked derivative of her former self. Totally unkind and thoughtless, and I'm not even a Liza devotee.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

That joke would've landed better on Bette Midler, who had the benefit of aging better and a guaranteed showstopper later in the broadcast.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

Very well said Nathaniel, to invite the children of Judy Garland is a gesture of respect. They showed up in good faith, only to be dismissed in such an insulting manner.
There could have easily been a clip of them talking about what the song meant, and how they grew up with the movie. Instead they delegated that to Whoopie Goldberg, which made them superfulous. What a horrible way to treat hollywood history. Liza Minnelli was a huge star, and while she may be past her prime, there was no reason to treat her and her siblings so shamefully.
I can't believe how tone deaf the production team was. Which also brings to mind how shabby the treatment of poor Kim Novak was as well.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

She is hilarious in the first three seasons of "Arrested Development." That show really gave all of its actors something to chew on, and Liza was no exception. So brilliant in everything.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

Barbra Streisand made the same drag queen joke about herself once, saying that she was walking along the street in New York during the Gay Games when a woman walking past said to her husband, "Look, that's Barbra Streisand" and he replied, "Will you stop already, that's the fourth one today!" So it wasn't entirely original, didn't really work on the night, but I don't think it was meant to be as mean as people think.

Liza is a true legend. She got old, doesn't look quite like she used to look and isn't quite as quick as she used to be. But you know what? It will happen to us all, people. Only most of us won't have an EGOT by then.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterErko

Since Bette Midler's name was brought up: I'm completely surprised that her performance hasn't been criticized. I mean, she's singing for the memorial portion of the show, flapping her arms about pretending to fly. Not only is that worthy of mockery, it's downright disrespectful. She ends it all by beaming into the audience and says "I feel like I just won the Olympics!" It's really not about you Bette.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Camera cut away - unforgivable. The rest - lighted up people. It's just Hollywood.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael p

Seriously people need to lighten up about that joke for the reasons Nat states , I mean really I can't deal with the transphobic accusations. First look at the source: Ellen , one of the biggest LGBT champions in the public eye and who does not have a mean or phobic bone in her body. Second look at the intended subject, it's f'ing Liza who has inspired so many drag queens to impersonate her because she is such a gay icon and legend. That joke wouldn't work with anyone else around today save for maybe Cher or Streisand (maybe Bette Midler) . It's a compliment of how legendary she is , not an insult. The point wasn't to make fun of how she looks now, the point is there are so many drag queens that impersonator her. I find people want to overanalyse and find fault every year with the hosts even someone as relatively benign as Ellen.

I do agree the ageist comments I have seen are really bad, the reactions to Liza and Kim Novak really sadden me.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRami

I totally share in your anger at the way Liza and her siblings were treated during the Wizard of Oz tribute.

But I do not support Liza's retroactive nomination for New York, New York: outside of the numbers she's all over the place in that movie. Just completely disoriented by de Niro.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I love this post and I totally share your disappointment with the criticism online. I didn't like the drag queen joke though. Ellen's humor is usually quite banal so it came out of tune (or maybe it's just me being overprotective with Liza).

Pink sang beautifully, but overall it was a poor tribute.

Yes! Buy Liza with a Z or watch it on Youtube. Any number is better than most of the musicals of the last two decades altogether.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I do wonder if lupita even know that the "stranger" who hug her is a legend

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercraver

If I remember correctly, Liza was also on a musical number about women in movies at an Oscar show. Off to Google....

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPedro

I don't even know how Kate Hudson continues to get invited to the Oscars. It would have been refreshing to see someone like Greta Gerwig or Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who actually contributed to great films this year, in her place as a presenter an invitee.

As for Liza, I share your anger over the tribute. I thought seeing Liza onstage would be the highlight of the evening. But I also thought Ellen's joke was uncharacteristically mean. To me, was pointing out that Liza didn't look as good as she used to (and yet, she grew up in an industry obsessed with appearance); the joke would have been much different if she'd have aimed it at Midler, who looks fabulous.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

David - I agree. She came across as very smug. Also, the lyrics of that song make no sense for In Memoriam at the Oscars, especially in a year when so many legends had died. Philip Seymour Hoffman/Joan Fontaine/Peter O'Toole etc. always walked a step behind, so Bette Midler was the one with all the glory?

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJan

I was astonished that Judy's 3 children weren't at least brought on stage. I'm not sure the last time the 3 of them have been photographed at an event together, and it would have made for a much more special moment. And permitted more reflection on The Wizard of Oz and it's legacy - one of the best pic nominees in 1939 - the golden year of oscars, an iconic film that catapulted the astonishingly talented Garland to superstardom, who in turn gave birth to another multitalented legendary performer Liza, who seems to have won it all pretty much - the Oscar, an Emmy, the Grammy Living Legend award and 3 Tonys. Lorna is also an accomplished singer/performer in her own right.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterkrakray

Still think Bette should've done "For All We Know" from "For The Boys"--I'd like that played at my memorial service (though probably Barbra's version). And yes, I think having Liza, Lorna and Joe walk out onstage after the number to take a bow with Pink would've been nice.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDback

Pedro, you are right, Liza was in the 65th ceremony, in 1993, singing "Ladies' Day" almost at the beginning of the night, as a musical tribute to women in the film. I remember it well, it was a nice performance.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoel

Very good points. Bravo! And by the way I loved the blue PJ way more than Angelina's Grand Ma Dress or Julia Goth meet Laura Ashley disaster.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterstjeans

The cutaway was disgraceful as was the three of them not being included in the tribute. It does seem Liza is still suffering some movement issues from the operation she had on her feet and can't move quickly so that may have factored in them participating on stage. All the more reason for them to have their extended moment on camera.

As far as that damn worn out song Bette sang, it was totally superfluous. The tribute with the instrumental backing was perfectly fine, even if I didn't agree with some of the placements, and since as always they left out some deserving people like Dennis Farina should have been longer. Bette's performance made no sense and the most egregious portion was at the conclusion of it when the graphic of all those who had passed was put up behind her the stupid director, who overall did a terrible job of choosing shots, did a tight shot on her thereby negating the purpose of the tribute and making it all about her. Her acting like it was didn't help matters.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Ellen's drag queen joke to Liza was in very poor taste. She never recovered from her botched monologue after that. If it wasn't for the selfie and the pizza gag, Ellen's hosting gig would have been a total washout.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIan

New York New York is so underrated. Liza's performance is her best--layered, subtle, devastating. She would have been my No. 6 that year. The problem of her being snubbed for an Oscar nomination is that there were just too damn many great performances that year: Keaton, Mason, Bancroft, Fonda, MacLaine. All of them deserved to be nommed.

Oscar really f'd up this year by not inviting Liza up on that stage and letting her sing her mother's signature song. This is the damn daughter of Judy Garland and a movie icon in her own right. Can you imagine what incredible emotion that would have evoked? The opportunity for a classic moment was lost for no good reason.

Off topic: Nathan, any way you can get your hands on the Oscar count for Best Actor? I'm dying to know how close Bruce and Chiwetel came to the gold. But if I know I might get even more depressed. Sigh.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Yes, I was going to say that the problem wasn't Liza's performance in New York New York (wasn't being disoriented by Robert De Niro sort of the point?), but just the timing of the release. If it had come out anywhere from 1973 to 1976, she probably would have been nominated again, but 1977 is an almost iconic year for actresses.

I think the Wizard of Oz tribute was kind of a missed opportunity. In that I agree. I think if you've got stars "of a certain age," why not give them the full Streisand lighting/makeup treatment in a short film blurb and let them come out or stand up for their applause? I think Kim/Sidney, maybe even Liza would have been better served with that kind of treatment.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Not much to add - thanks for the post & thanks for the responses - i agree. crummy treatment. Liza, Lorna & Joey should have done the intro - not Whoopi. Liza is an icon for all!. and from what i have heard, she a very nice & kind & loyal person as well. She's not a joke. Interesting phenom - older women who appear on the Oscars being ridiculed & laughed at for 1. not looking good - too much or too little plastic surgery (kim Novak). 2. being dazed & confused (Liza) 3. refusing to grow old (Goldie). Women in their 80's can look perfectly wonderful / healthy / vibrant - 2 examples: June Squibb & Angela Lansbury. it's a tough business - all the career ups and downs, the husbands, booze, drugs, cigarettes & drama eventually catches up to some of them.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjimmy

La Minelli is a true star in every sense of the word.

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Bit disappointed you didn't re-use this gif of Liza and Barbra at the '74 Oscars. -> http://thefilmexperience.net/blog/2013/12/10/tuesday-top-ten-marvin-hamlisch-movie-moments.html

March 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

In my mind, Liza's such an interesting figure because she bridges old Hollywood showmanship and new Hollywood edginess (best exemplified in Cabaret, of course).

After Sunday night's ceremony, I checked IMDB and was surprised to find that Liza, Goldie Hawn, and Bette Midler are roughly the same age (born within a year of each other). I've always thought of each of them representing a different era.

March 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBiggs

Brookesboy -- it's worth noting that Liza will not sing that song. She has emphatically stuck to that since she was young. She wants it remembered as her mothers. Which is gorgeous, you know. So many people would just exploit that shit.

March 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Glenn - ARGH. can't believe i forgot that. I added it in, thanks.

March 8, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Terrific site and a great topic with lots of interesting comments. Thanks.

HOWEVER....Stop the presses... that "gif of Liza and Babs" is DEFINITELY NOT Streisand!!!

Plus, I really wish journalists would refrain from calling Barbra "Babs" it just does not fit and makes little real sense. But I digress...this is a great website.

March 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMax

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