Lorna Luft is a woman who has lived all the great showbiz stories, knows all the intimate secrets and has played her own important role in keeping a legacy alive.
She loves telling her stories and tells them in a matter-of-fact and to-the-point style, with just a healthy dose of pride thrown in for good measure.
She is, after all, Judy’s daughter, Liza’s half-sister, Peter’s sister-in-law , the writer of the book, the producer of the mini-series, not to mention having had an impressive career as a singer-actress-1970s rock chick in her own right.
But sitting in her Double Bay hotel just a few days after the Mardi Gras, the small, delicately boned woman in a pair of jeans and a sweat shirt is a million miles away from the glitter, sequins and spotlight that has been part of her life since her mother presented her to the world in 1952.
But Lorna smiles as she says she now has one more story of glitter, sequins and spotlights to add to her seemingly neverending list -“ being in the Mardi Gras parade, paying tribute to her mother, on the same night she sang for former US president Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton and Mardi Gras in the one night -“ it was quite something, she says with a smile. I remember as I finished my set for Clinton, I began to race out of there because I thought, -˜Now I have something really important to do and I can’t be late. I don’t want to keep drag queens waiting and have them mad at me. That would be scary.’
When I got to the parade, I was amazed -“ it is a real tribute to the gay community in this city. It was such a blast, it was so much fun and my mother would have loved it! I attribute a lot to the gay community which has been so vigilant in their adoration of my mother and the determination to not let her legacy die. They have never forgotten her and that means something.
The modern gay liberation movement is often regarded as beginning with the Stonewall riots the night of Judy Garland’s funeral in 1969. Lorna admits it was only a few years ago she learnt of the connection. A reporter from a gay paper in Washington asked me about Stonewall and I had no idea what he was talking about. All I knew about that day was I had lost a parent and had no idea of anything else that was going on.
I have since met people who were at Stonewall and their stories are amazing. In a way, I am very proud that my family was part of something that led to the gay liberation movement.
While her half-sister Liza Minnelli has spent most of the recent years in the headlines for battling her demons, Lorna has spent that same time keeping her mother’s legacy alive.
In fact, Garland famously handed the family mantle of succession to her teenage daughter when she told a reporter in the 1960s, Lorna’s going to be the real star of the family. She’s got more talent than the rest of us put together.
Lorna smiles at the mention of the famous line. I’m really grateful she said that, she says quietly. I guess it is better than saying, -˜You’re the untalented one.’
But I finally became friends with a ghost as I had to, says the star of the musical and cabaret stage, as well as movie musicals like Grease 2. I had been running away from it for so long, then I realised you can never run away from your shadow forever. So, she instead embraced the legacy wholeheartedly and the result was her best-selling memoir, Me And My Shadows: Living With The Legacy Of Judy Garland, which exposed what went on in the Garland family life.
The book was then turned into the Judy Davis mini-series, Life With Judy Garland, with Luft as executive producer.
I am incredibly proud of the movie but also I am proud of the story it told, she says. That is my family and that is where I came from.
In the wake of the mini-series, Luft hit the road with her one-woman tribute stage show, Songs My Mother Taught Me, which takes a musical journey through the life and career of Garland. She now plans to bring the show to Australia.
This is a very personal show and we see old MGM clips of my mother and then I sing duets with her. People can relate to this as we all come from families and we all know what these emotions are like.
I am negotiating while I am here to bring the show to Australia for the Gay Games, says Luft excitedly. This is an ideal show for the Gay Games and I get the feeling this is just the right time.
Never short of a fast one-liner, she quips: If it doesn’t make it to Sydney, I will hang myself! Someone, hide the rope!
Luft, mother to two teenage children and married to musician Colin Freeman, is enjoying an extended holiday in Australia this visit -“ her first in almost 30 years -“ while she negotiates returning with the stage show in November. As a result, she won’t be in New York for Liza’s over-the-top gala celebrity wedding.
This trip was booked months ago and Liza knew that I would be here, so that’s why I’m not there, says Lorna, suddenly becoming guarded. I don’t know what to say about the whole thing, but I hope it goes well. It sounds all a bit -¦ well, I don’t know what it sounds like actually!
The other night and I was in my hotel watching Letterman and Martin Short was ragging on about the whole wedding thing. I just pulled the pillow over my head and thought, -˜This is just another day in my family’s life!’
One member of her family she is, however, more than happy to talk about is Liza’s first husband, Peter Allen. Even now, 10 years after his death, she still refers to him as -˜my brother’.
I loved him as he was my knight in shining armour when I was a kid. He was also incredibly funny, she adds with a smile. He would stand up to my mother when she was misbehaving and tell her what for. I really admired him for it.
He also cared a great deal about my sister and they remained great friends. All the other brothers-in-law I have had -“ and there have been a few -“ I didn’t really keep in contact with. But Peter I did until he came back here for that last tour and got sick. I never saw him again. But I was thrilled he became one of the great entertainers of our time.
As for Hugh Jackman playing Peter in the upcoming Broadway version of the musical The Boy From Oz, Lorna gives her blessing to the casting. I’m thrilled as I know Hugh and think he has the talent to play Peter. He will be wonderful, although it will be a different show to what happened here.
I think if I had seen the show here, I would have had mixed emotions about it. I’m pleased his music and story are out there, but still sad he is not around.