Bill’s best: Liza!

Originally published in the Cape Cod Times, July 16, 2007. This was the lead story on a Lifestyle & Arts page that won Best Living Page or Section in a contest sponsored by the New England Press Association.


“We’re all set for that interview with Liza Minnelli today,” the Cape Cod Melody Tent’s PR person told me.

I wasn’t assigned to interview Minnelli, I told her, and no one else at the paper was, as far I knew. She said she’d check into it and call me back.

A minute later the phone rang.

“Hello, Bill. It’s Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-za!”

If not for the previous call, I’d have guessed it was a friend pulling my leg. But this was no gag. I had on the phone one of the biggest stars in show biz – one of the few people to have an Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy in her collection of awards – and I had no questions lined up for her.

I tried to explain that I wasn’t prepared to do an interview and that she might want to wait for me to do a little homework.

But Liza wanted to talk.

I knew she was a regular visitor to the Melody Tent, so I asked her if she had any special Cape Cod memories.

“When I was 15, I was an assistant at the Cape Cod Melody Tent. I didn’t do anything but change the scenery. I was so thrilled that I was assisting.”

What was the highlight of the summer?

“It was the most exciting time of my life. Hollywood, for me, was boring. To be in the theater was so exciting. I learned the discipline of the theater.”

Did she have any advice for a young person going into the theater?

“Do your very best.” Pause. “Try not to be caught on the stage when the lights come up.”

Is she looking forward to doing anything while she’s on the Cape?

“I look forward to going out and having some crabs.”

I wondered if she meant clams, but before I could ask, she told me that she’s touring with a new show.

What’s it like?

“There’s lots of movement. Lots of Kay Thompson.”

This is where my lack of preparedness showed. I had no idea that Thompson was a vocal arranger for MGM Studios, the author of the “Eloise” children’s books – and Minnelli’s godmother.

“She had the most marvelous club act. She blew everybody out of the water.

“This show – it’s so filled with energy and fun.”

She starts to sing: “Won’t you come along with me to the Mississippi?”

I knew from overhearing the reporter’s half of an interview conducted two years ago that Minnelli doesn’t like to talk about her mother, “The Wizard of Oz” star Judy Garland. I was guessing she wouldn’t want to chat about the most recent of her four marriages and divorces, which was all over the tabloids a few years back.

I was wishing I could come up with a question she hasn’t heard a million times but was willing to settle for a coherent question when my boss, who’d done a quick Internet search, handed me a slip of paper.

Minnelli had appeared on Kathy Griffin’s reality show, “My Life on the D-List,” a week or so before. How did that come about?

“Anything she asks for, I’ll do.”

What’s Griffin like?

“She’s immediate.”

What do you mean?

“I mean she’s immediate.”

I get the sense Minnelli isn’t having any more fun with this than I am.

I’m about to ask what she’d call a reality show about her when I remember that several years ago VH1 planned but never aired a program about her and then-husband David Gest. Instead I ask what a reality show filmed about her right now would be titled.

“Right now.”

It takes a moment before I realize that’s an answer, not a question.

A glance at my boss’s notes shows Minnelli recently returned from performing in Buenos Aries and Rio de Janeiro. What was Brazil like?

“It is so fabulous. It is so miraculous.”

I’m trying to put together a good question about “Cabaret,” the movie that landed her an Oscar, or maybe something about why she keeps touring after all these years.

But Minnelli speaks first, reciting what sounds like some sort of Hollywood twist on haiku.

“I’ll tell you what.” (Pause)

“I know you.” (Pause. Now I’m really confused.)

“I love you.” (Pause … and wait for the big finish.)

“And now I have to go to rehearsal. Bye.”