Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Liza 1, Gest 0

The train wreck that has been Liza Minelli’s entire life has entered the trial phase with her divorce from and dueling lawsuits with David Gest. I’ve actually been paying attention to this just because I think it’s hilarious. This woman is basically a walking SNL sketch and when I first saw the two of them on Larry King it was obvious this was going to be a fantastic journey of dysfunction. For God’s sake, when they got married, Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor were the best man and maid of honor (quite possibly not) respectively. If that doesn’t foreshadow some major league washed up celebrity humiliation, what would?

Not only are they divorcing but they’re suing each other for abuse and everything else under the sun. Gest claims she would go into fits of rage and beat him up, but that suit has just been dismissed. And you’ll love the reason why:

State Supreme Court Justice Jane Solomon granted Minnelli’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the ground that Gest’s doctor had failed to rebut the 60-year-old actress-singer’s medical expert, who said Gest’s headaches were caused by a strain of herpes that causes shingles and not by beatings.

Now mind you, Minelli is also suing Gest, claiming that he stole her money.

Solomon said the only issues remaining in her court are those in which Minnelli claims in a $2 million lawsuit that Gest misappropriated her earnings.

Gest has denied that he wrongfully took money from Minnelli and has said she owes him money because of what he spent trying to revive her career.

Which leads to the obvious question: she has money? And when did she last have a career? All of this reminded me that I had read something at some point about Liza going to some sort of singing class in New York as a special guest and being to incoherent and out of it that she did everything but piss herself on stage. I had to do a websearch and I found the story. You have to read this. I’ll post a few of the best little tidbits from it. First, the scene is set:

The door at the back of the aisle opened suddenly. A couple of my classmates were engaged in some hostile improvisational skit up on the stage, involving imitations of a couple of our teachers – and so we were so busted. We bustled back into our seats, staring up the aisle in ghoulish curiosity at Liza. Our teacher for the day.

Liza was surrounded by the entire voice department. All 4 teachers were huddled around her.

She needed the support of 4 people to walk down the looooong aisle to the stage.

At times, she seemed about ready to collapse into a quivery mess, her knees kept buckling under her, and she would wildly stagger about, her legs going this-a-way, that-a-way … and our whole voice department would stagger about after her, waiting to catch her if she fell.

Our mood of slap-happy ghoulishness disappeared at the sight of Liza. Who was obviously a wreck.

We sat quietly. Staring back at her, as she staggeringly approached us.

Now, for her outfit:

She was wearing a big triangular-shaped BRIGHT RED woolen coat – literally, it came out from her neck into a triangle, and it stopped just above her knees. Then, coming out from beneath the triangle, were two absolute stick-figure legs, encased in black spandex. Stick legs emerging from the massive red triangle.

Later, when I was describing the debacle to Mitchell, I said, choosing my words carefully, “In her outfit, Liza looked like … she looked like … I guess she looked like a bloated tick.”

We expected Liza Minelli to come teach our Master Class, and instead we were faced with a bloated tick…

Liza’s hair was short (of course) – and she had a terrible case of bed head. Her hair was all squashed off to one side, and then the back was COMPLETELY flat. As though someone had held a plate onto the back of her head.

And the woman could not walk.

Unfortunately, none of you are with me in person right now – because I do a hell of an imitation of Liza Minelli’s stagger-walk down the aisle.

Imagine this: you set your right foot out to take a step, but instead of putting it down directly in front of you, you scoop it waaaaaaaay out to the side, and – without putting your foot down, you then scoop it waaaaaay back in, across your other leg – and then you finally put your foot down on the ground. A wild perverse dance-step. If you try to walk like that, you will lose your balance. You will look very wobbly.

And when I saw her bedhead, coupled with the fact that she was half an hour late, coupled with the crazy woman walk comin’ at me, I realized that she probably had slept the entire day away, and the entire voice department, alarmed, had raced to her apartment, woken her up out of her drugged-out sleep, slapped some clothes on her which happened to make her look like a bloated tick, didn’t even run a comb through her hair, carried her into a cab, took her downtown, and then presented her to us, like: TA-DA, as though everything was normal.

So various students from the class were prepared to sing for Liza and have her offer comments and advice. Let’s just say it didn’t go well:

I cannot begin to describe to you the vibe in that auditorium. Nobody could even BREATHE. Liza was this bobble-headed bloated tick in the front row. It was so disturbing.

Matt goes up onto the stage, Les D. (our accompanist) took his place at the grand. Matt, politely addressing Liza (who could not have cared less), said, “I’ll be singing blah blah blah today.”

Then he sang.

When he finished, silence descended on all of us, as we waited for Liza to take over. Nobody said a word. Nobody moved. Wade reached out and gripped my hand. I couldn’t look at him. Someone needed to take the reins, and quickly … I looked at Liza, in the front row, and – during Matt’s song – her head had literally fallen back onto the back of her chair – nose up to the air – and she was FAST asleep. Her mouth was open, people. She was conked out, the entire time of Matt’s song. And not just dozing in boredom, trying to hide it. This woman was openly FAST ASLEEP.

At this point, I started to get angry.

Not at Liza. But at the powers-that-be. They should have just canceled the damn class. This was ridiculous. This was so embarrassing. I thought I would die of embarrassment.

Matt, standing up onstage, glanced down at Liza. He obviously saw that she had just entered a deep REM cycle, so he just stood there like an orphan … wondering what he should do, wondering who would save him … should he bark out: “Hey! SLEEPY! You with me??” He just stood up there, arms hanging awkwardly, with this odd look of polite embarrassment on his face.

I was gripping Wade’s hand. “This is awful,” I whispered.

Wade was starting to get hysterical. I could feel it.

Department-head nudged Liza awake.

I am not exaggerating when I say she snorted as she woke up.

She had missed the entire song.

In this completely dazed drugged-out voice (and yet so completely recognizable as Liza’s), she said up to him, “I’m sorry, darling. Darling, I’m so sorry. Could you run that by me one more time?”

It was at this point that Wade silently and unobtrusively got up and left the auditorium. He couldn’t take it anymore.

So Matt politely ran through his song one more time.

During the song, the entire class nervously kept our eyes on the black head in the front row. Nobody paid attention to Matt. I saw Liza fall in and out of sleep about 10 times. It was like that guy on the bus you sometimes see, head flopping to one side, jerking himself awake, head flopping off to one side again, then jerking himself awake – over and over and over and over again. Sometimes she jerked herself awake with more violence than other times, jumping up in her chair, other times was more subtle. But this woman was obviously slipping into a perpetual coma all through Matt’s song.

Matt knew it, too, as he sang. He said to me later, “I kept thinking – I don’t know what to do. Should I stop? Should I just stop the whole class?”

Matt finished “running it by Liza one more time”, and then waited. We all waited.

Liza then decided to teach. Which was even more awful than the narcolepsy. She stood up, and promptly fell right back down. 3 voice teachers leapt out of their chairs immediately to help her up. Liza decided she wanted to be up on the stage with Matt. So that she could teach.

I was terrified. I thought I was going to witness something awful. Like – the disintegration of a human being’s personality. I thought she might start to … tell us stories of her life, or start to try to sing for us, or suddenly start to weep like a gibbering chimpanzee … It felt like anything could happen.

Frighteningly, she refused help in getting up the stairs.

It took her 10 minutes to climb the 6 stairs up to the stage. At every moment, she looked like she would collapse. Her teeny black-spandex stick legs were bucking about wildly, emerging from under the enormous red triangle.

Then there she was up onstage, untethered, no stair railing, nothing. Just Liza and Matt.

Matt was staring at her with a look of barely concealed terror.

(Later, as you can imagine, the entire class laughed about our Master Class with such abandon that the humor STILL has not died – and when we run into each other, we still reference it.)

Matt was alone. With the swaying bloated tick coming at him, saying absolutely incomprehensible things in a slurred incomprehensible voice.

It went like this:

“Well, darling, I think you’re just wonderful…I really do, darling … wonderful … just wonderful, darling … who ever taught you how to be so wonderful, darling? … I think you need to flow with it more … you know, darling? … and what I like to do is to put my hand on the piano and just feel the flow, darling, feel the flow … come over here with me .. come to the piano, darling …”

Matt obeyed. I mean, what are you gonna do when Liza tells you to “come to the piano, darling”…

“Let’s feel the music together now, darling…”

Les, our hilarious cynical pianist who always looked annoyed about life in general, began to play some random song, with this look of wounded pissed-off dignity on his face. I loved Les.

Matt was trapped, with his hand beneath Liza’s. Matt was trying to feel the music, in front of the whole class, with Liza 10 inches away from his face, her eyes rolling back in her head.

“I’d like to hear you do it again, darling …” (or, with all the slurring, it sounded like this:

Then, of course, it took her 10 minutes to stagger her way off the stage before Matt could try it again. And, of course, with such unclear suggestions, he sang the song pretty much the same way as before. And Liza sat in the front row again, dozing off, jerking herself awake, dozing off, jerking herself awake, dozing off…

At one point, Jen, my dear friend and roommate, sitting a couple rows ahead of me, turned around to look at me, and she had tears running down her face.

I confess to taking a perverse and cruel pleasure in this sort of thing. I don’t know why, really. It just amuses me. Which probably makes me an asshole, but I can live with that.


  1. #1 Susan Brassfield Cogan
    September 27, 2006

    Yeah, you’re probably an asshole, but it’s SUCH funny story I can hardly blame you!

    Of course, I enjoyed the story too. . . um. . . I wonder what that makes *me*? 😉

  2. #2 egbooth
    September 27, 2006

    Not to completely come to her defense but she was in 10 episodes of the hilarious and very underrated Fox sitcom “Arrested Development” in 2004 and 2005. I thought she did a good job especially because her character had a chronic case of vertigo (which now makes me realize that it probably wasn’t too hard for her to act that part out).

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    September 27, 2006


    Now that you mention it, that was actually a very funny show. But does she realize that they were mocking her with that part? It seemed quite obvious to me.

  4. #4 Mark
    September 27, 2006

    You are gonna loose your gay readers if you continue to bash Liza! Don’t you know she is a Goddess!!!!

  5. #5 AndyS
    September 27, 2006

    Sorry, I just don’t see the humor in the sad tale. This wasn’t a scene in a movie, it was real life. Tragedy, not comedy.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    September 27, 2006

    But tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin. That’s why we laugh when someone trips and falls. Most humor is cruel to varying degrees.

  7. #7 pookapooka
    September 27, 2006

    Too bad everyone there was so star-struck that no one was comfortable enough within themselves to call out the obvious bullshit, and lighten the scene a bit, while this was taking place. I mean, isn’t Minelli fundamentally just another human being too?

    Seems endemic to our cultural conditioning, don’t it now — I mean, look at the way the media can’t call the obvious no-clothes situation out on bush…

  8. #8 red
    September 27, 2006

    I wrote that piece. She actually came back the following week (she had just had hip surgery – which was why she was so out of it, I believe – although we had no idea at the time) and gave an amazing class. (I didn’t go – but I’ve heard it was amazing.)

    I’m going to see Liza in Vegas on the 13th – I kinda can’t wait. 🙂

  9. #9 j-dog
    September 27, 2006

    Contrast this celebrity horror story with Martin Short, who was a real professional when he visited my son’s college theater department. He talked and shook hands with everyone, and hung out after his show with the kids. Made a good positive impression on my son and his friends. Too bad about Liza, but meh. It’s a tough business, but she should have learned from her mom…

  10. #10 AndyS
    September 27, 2006


    But tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin. That’s why we laugh when someone trips and falls. Most humor is cruel to varying degrees.

    Yeah, I know what you mean, but we have a choice in every situation to pick one side of that coin. In this case, when reading that story I just couldn’t believe no one in that auditorium had the heart to do the compassionate thing, stop the program, and get help. That prevented me from seeing anything funny about a celebrity acting foolishly. And I don’t even like Minelli.

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