The Real Vincente Minnelli

Film biographers have long ignored the real Vincente Minnelli. But with his new book, Emanuel Levy delves into the complex personal life of the flamboyant Oscar-winning director ... also known as Liza's dad.

BY Harrison Pierce

May 14 2009 11:00 PM ET

VINCENTE MINNELLI JUDY GARLAND LIZA X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

In researching your subject, did you meet with any resistance inquiring into his personal life? Actually, my book was initiated by Minnelli's fourth wife and widow, a lovely lady named Lee Anderson Minnelli. She was his last wife and took very good care of him. I think he was the happiest with her. They met rather late. Anyway, she read my Cukor book and said, "Can you please do a book about my husband?" And I met with her in Beverly Hills -- I was there six or seven times -- and she gave me an invaluable collection of letters that no one had seen, and the book is based on many of those letters.

Did you attempt to interview Liza? I tried to interview her four times. She always had an excuse. Finally Lee Anderson said to me -- it was like a Freudian slip -- she said, "She doesn't want to talk to you." And I know that Liza did not want to meet with me because she was well aware of the Cukor book and knew I'd bring up her father's homosexuality. Looking back, I'm glad she didn't talk because Lee Anderson didn't make any conditions and said I could use the letters whichever way I wanted, whereas Liza might have requested to read the manuscript and I would have objected. This is definitely not an authorized work.

In your book you describe Lester Anthony Minnelli as a shy, stammering child who sometimes slipped into his mother's clothes. Describe how he became Vincente, the worldly aesthete? Well, he reinvented himself -- I think it happened sometime in the 1920s while he was in Chicago. He became an effete, a dandy, a snob. One of the first books he read -- and it's really an interesting story of how a book can change one's life -- after reading a biography about the flamboyant British painter James McNeill Whistler, he modeled himself after him. He became sophisticated and a snob and cultured, and this came across when he met Judy, who was exactly the opposite.

Can you explain the initial attraction between Minnelli and Garland? Well, I have a theory that runs contrary to the one developed in the biographies -- and there are, like, 50 books about Judy as you may know -- and it is that Judy always wanted to look beautiful. It sounds very simple, but that's one of the reasons. If you look at Meet Me in St. Louis, she has never been more beautiful than Minnelli made her look, and Judy was very, very sensitive about her looks. Plus she was attracted to older men, but not for sex. She has a complicated history too, you know. She slept with women occasionally. However, she never acknowledged that she was bisexual.

So did they have some kind of understanding or an open marriage? The marriage between Judy and Minnelli was not open. Although during the marriage she slept with Frank Sinatra and other men. But Judy was very insecure, paranoid, and jealous; at one time, during the making of The Pirate, she accused Minnelli of being in love with Gene Kelly, her costar, and favoring him over her. Apparently, she threatened him with suicide when she caught him in compromising positions. She caught him twice -- once with a bit player and once with the gardener. For the most part, during his marriages Minnelli repressed his homosexuality, and after Judy his relationships with women were more social than erotic.

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