The Real Vincente Minnelli
BY Harrison Pierce
May 15 2009 12:00 AM ET
Vincente Minnelli rose to fame as the flamboyant, wildly stylistic director of such beloved MGM musicals as An American in Paris , Gigi, and Meet Me in St. Louis. Although these films endure as Hollywood classics, Minnelli's reputation as a filmmaker is often eclipsed by a fascination with his complex personal life. Minnelli was married four times, including a short-lived union with troubled actress Judy Garland that resulted in daughter Liza, and his sexual orientation has long been the subject of gossip and speculation. While many of his closest intimates never doubted his true identity as that of a gay or bisexual man, Minnelli remained deeply private about the issue and avoided it completely in his 1974 memoir, I Remember It Well.
Now, 35 years later, film critic Emanuel Levy seeks to offer a more honest and thorough examination of the remarkable career and complicated life of the late director with the fascinating new biography Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood's Dark Dreamer. Having previously authored a book about gay director and Minnelli contemporary George Cukor, Levy is the first to write a full-length biography of the legendary filmmaker and, in researching his enigmatic subject, was granted special access to letters and correspondence from Minnelli's last wife.
Perhaps the most striking revelation in Hollywood's Dark Dreamer is evidence that Minnelli did, in fact, live as an openly gay man in New York prior to his arrival in Hollywood. Unfortunately, the town that made him a legend also pressured him back into the closet, and while moviegoers certainly benefited from the sublimation of Minnelli's sexuality into art, one wonders how things might have differed had he lived in the modern era.
Advocate.com recently had the chance to dish with Levy about his provocative and revelatory new book right before he took off for the Cannes Film Festival, where Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood's Dark Dreamer will have a lavish launch party, presumably in old Hollywood style.
Advocate.com:In the introduction to your book, you note that dozens of biographies have been written about other famed directors like Howard Hawks and John Ford. Why do you think Minnelli's been neglected up until this point?Emanuel Levy: I don't have a good reason for the neglect, but I benefited from being -- shockingly -- the first biographer. Some of it could be that he was painfully shy and did not write much and his own memoir was very subjective and biased -- it doesn't talk at all about his sexuality. Vincente was full of contradictions and he had a troubled sexuality, so maybe people thought [the subject] was troubled waters. But everyone knows when you write about a major director, you have to deal with his personal life.
So what inspired you to brave the "troubled waters" of this remarkable filmmaker's life? Well, I wrote a biography about [film director] George Cukor, and in that book I drew some comparisons between Cukor and Minnelli because they were both top directors at MGM and competing for the same projects -- only Cukor was openly gay. Everybody knew at the studio and outside the studio, while Minnelli was an enigma. He was openly gay in New York -- we were able to document names of companions and stories from Dorothy Parker. But when he came to Hollywood, I think he made the decision to repress that part of himself or to become bisexual. Anyway, I think Minnelli's a brilliant director ... a much more important director than George Cukor, in fact, and very different in his approach. Cukor's an actor's director, whereas with Minnelli the acting's good, but he was also a real stylist -- a visual director. Anyway, there are many similarities between the two, but there was no socializing between them, and that intrigued me. In general, I was intrigued by the different models of brilliant gay directors and how they lived and operated in Hollywood.