Warhol! Cabaret! Halston! Liza Minnelli's past up for auction

A dress detail for Love, Liza, seen at the Paley Center for Media on April 3, 2018, in Beverly Hills, California.
A dress detail for Love, Liza, seen at the Paley Center for Media on April 3, 2018, in Beverly Hills, California.PHOTO: AFP

(NYTimes) - Call it "Liza with a $".

Divesting herself of a trove of bugle beads and showbiz memorabilia, Liza Minnelli is putting more than 1,900 items from her designer wardrobe and extensive archives of Hollywood ephemera up for auction in May.

But before her one-of-a-kind Halston flapper dresses, her Cabaret bowler and annotated shooting script, several large-format Annie Leibovitz portraits, an engraved silver baby cup, a watercolour portrait of her at age three, and a US$20,000 cheque made out to (and endorsed by) Andy Warhol are put on the block, some noteworthy pieces are being installed at the Paley Centre for Media in Beverly Hills, California, in a monthlong exhibition, Love, Liza. It opened on Wednesday (April 4).

"I woke up one day and thought, 'Honey, you ain't gonna wait till you've bought the farm and leave your life on someone else's doorstep,'" Minnelli, 72, told The New York Times last week through her colleague and confidant Michael Feinstein. "My life is a gift of flowing friendships and relationships, all collected in these objects. It's with many emotions that I share them."

The sale is being conducted by Profiles in History, an auction house based in Calabasas, California, that oversaw sales of Debbie Reynolds' vast collections. It will include Minnelli's personal effects, like the waitress uniform, complete with the "LINDA" name tag, that she wore in the 1981 comedy film Arthur, and objects that once belonged to her famous parents, Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli.

Expected to be among the most coveted lots are Garland's scrapbooks and personal 35-mm screening copies of her films, and Vincente Minnelli's rare one-sheet poster from his 1943 musical, Cabin In The Sky.

"We're basically telling their family history," said Joe Maddalena, the chief executive of Profiles in History, adding: "You'll be able to see a celebration of her life, her parents' lives, and how all this came about."

The vast number of items, including clothes by Halston, Bob Mackie, Gianni Versace, Gucci, Isaac Mizrahi and Donna Karan, Maddalena said, distinguishes this auction from most others.

"By the time most celebrities sell, you're usually getting junk, their furniture and their castoffs," he said. "The stuff of importance is usually donated and gone. But Liza kept everything."

Rene Reyes, a production executive at the Paley Centre, described the Love, Liza exhibition as "a lot of fabulousness stuffed into this building." Included will be costumes from the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical Cabaret, the film version of which earned Minnelli the Best Actress Oscar in 1973, and from her string of 1991 concerts at Radio City Music Hall.

Selections from Minnelli's vast wardrobe of vintage Halston, like a red sequin tuxedo she wore in concert, will be on mannequins sporting her signature short hair and long eyelashes, in a specially created setting evoking Studio 54, the Manhattan disco she frequented in the 1970s. Halston Heritage, which is overseeing part of the installation, will be lending a mirror ball it acquired from Studio 54. "If that ball could speak," said Angela Pih, the chief marketing officer at Halston Heritage.

Minnelli and Halston, who were introduced by her godmother, actress and author Kay Thompson, were close friends - and muse and mentor - for decades.

"No one matters more to her than Halston," Feinstein wrote in an email. "Liza says that, with Fred Ebb and Kay Thompson, Halston created her."

Feinstein said that although Minnelli has "made a conscious choice to simplify" her life since moving to Los Angeles from New York several years ago, she isn't parting with all cherished possessions. She is retaining such items as the christening Bible she received from Thompson, her mother's music library, her father's 1959 Academy Award for Gigi and a Richard Avedon portrait of Garland.

But getting rid of so many items, which had been housed for decades in more than a half-dozen storage spaces on the East and West Coasts, has been good for Minnelli, Feinstein said: "After a lifetime of nonstop work, she is, from my view, happier than I have ever seen her." A share of the auction proceeds, he added, will go to the Great American Songbook Foundation, which he founded seven years ago with Minnelli's help.

It is unclear whether Minnelli will attend the Paley Centre exhibition. Blaming an "extreme viral infection", she cancelled a March 30 performance with Feinstein.

But Minnelli seems pleased to have relinquished past clutter. "It was time to go there and I have," she said through him, "and it feels good."