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Liza Minnelli Fondly Recalls Working on New York, New York

22 Feb, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

It's been tough for Liza Minnelli these past few years. Her marriage to David Gest fell apart. A former bodyguard claims she forced him to have sex with her. And last December, she was rushed to the hospital after falling out of bed and hitting her head.

But mention New York, New York's recent DVD debut — as part of MGM Home Entertainment's four-film “The Martin Scorsese Film Collection” ($50) — and the 58-year-old diva becomes chatty and glib as though she hadn't a care in the world.

“I love that movie,” she said of Scorsese's 1977 ode to Broadway musicals, in which she plays a timid young singer who hooks up with a slick saxophonist (Robert De Niro) on the fast track to stardom. “It's highly stylized in the way it looks, and the sets are fantastic. But it's a dark movie. It's not a happy-go-lucky musical; it's a very serious film about people who were in the music business.”

The first time she saw the finished movie, Minnelli recalled, “I didn't like it. But now I see it for what it is, and I think it's really spectacular. I think what happens in that film is very honest.”

Minnelli should know. After all, the world of New York, New York is very much like the world in which she grew up — Hollywood, where as the daughter of Judy Garland and movie director Vincente Minnelli, she was practically raised on the MGM lot.

“It was wonderful, to have it as a playground,” she said. “I knew my way into and out of everywhere, every department, and I was friends with everyone who worked there. One of the things that was so great about doing that film was that before we started filming, I was having lunch at Hamburger Hamlet. I ran into Sydney Guilaroff, who did all the stars' hairstyles in the 1930s and '40s.

“I said, ‘Uncle Sydney' — everybody was my uncle — ‘Uncle Sydney, do this movie that takes place in the 1940s,' and he said, ‘Sure, I'll do the wigs.' And it was great — our films have always dictated our styles, and so Sydney dictated what American women looked like for years. And to get him on New York, New York was simply extraordinary.”

Minnelli has other fond memories of New York, New York, as well.

“To be working on these sets brought back all sorts of memories,” she said. “I said, ‘Can I have my mom's old dressing room?' and they said, ‘Sure.' So I was in my mom's old dressing room, where I had grown up. After school, I wouldn't go to the playground, I went to MGM. That was my playground.”

Minnelli also enjoyed working with costar De Niro and director Scorsese.

“Working with Bobby was fascinating,” she said. “We were doing something so stylized and taking such a chance. I think the thought was we were doing a tribute to musicals, and it wasn't that at all. And Martin was just wonderful to work for; he conducted that whole performance from the word go.”

Still, there was lots of hard work, Minnelli remembered. An accomplished singer, she had to go back to her own start to faithfully sound like a young upstart with no training or experience.

“I am an actress when I sing,” Minnelli says. “It's almost like I do research for each song I sing,. And in that movie, I couldn't sing like that. I had to sing like I was singing ‘Jingle Bells' until I got to ‘But the World Goes 'Round' and ‘New York, New York.’

Those two final songs, from the songwriting team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, are among her favorite tunes of all time. But “The World Goes 'Round,” in particular, has special meaning, in light of all she's been through of late.

“I feel it was written especially for me,” Minnelli said. “I love what it says — it's really a song about acceptance and just realizing that in the long run, everything's going to be all right. It's a wonderful point of view: ‘And one day it's kicks, and it's kicks in the shins, but the planet spins, and the world goes 'round and 'round.’

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