Liza Minnelli on ‘Cabaret’ at 50, Oscars Being “More Meaningful Then”

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Cabaret, Bob Fosse’s landmark musical set in a Berlin nightclub in 1931 amid the rise of Nazism, turns 50 this week. The film won eight of the 10 Academy Awards for which it was nominated — making it a record-holder for most Oscar wins for a film which did not win best picture (that went to The Godfather).

Among its winners was Liza Minnelli, then 27, who earned a best actress statuette for her portrayal of the irrepressible performer Sally Bowles. The victory was, in some regards, vindication for her legendary mother, Judy Garland, who died in 1969 never having won an Oscar. But the dark, sexy, thematically complex Cabaret served as the launching pad for Minnelli as a superstar in her own right.

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Minnelli, now 75, shared her memories with The Hollywood Reporter about bringing Cabaret to the screen — and the night an Oscar changed her life.

Describe Bob Fosse as a director, mentor and friend.
He was totally an original. He would swing and move, and that mind was bursting with ideas — and, oh my God! I do consider him to be a mentor for what he gave to me, and also a faithful friend. We loved to spend time together. He was funny, quick and sharp. When the Fosse/Verdon miniseries aired, I thought that Sam [Rockwell] did a fine job, but he didn’t move like a dancer. Bob had a special way of moving that was poetic.

How did you find the iconic look for Sally Bowles?
My father [An American in Paris director Vincente Minnelli] found it. He had a library of art books and knew that era somehow, and figured out what she should look like. He gave me a great gift that later became so identifiable.

What are your memories of choreographing and filming the “Mein Herr” chair number?
The word “klutz” comes to mind. I was not getting it and Bob figured out how to make it all work. He knew how to take my natural body movements and turn them into signature moves for me. I have scoliosis and my body is misshapen, and Bob made it all look beautiful.

What did winning the Oscar mean — both for you and for your family legacy?
As much as it meant to me, I think it meant more to my father. He was sitting next to me and let out such a yell when they announced my name that I still have tinnitus to this day. It reminds me of him and that night. I truly didn’t expect to win. It’s a special feeling to be appreciated by your peers and friends. But Hollywood was different then, and I think in some ways that the Oscar ceremony was more meaningful then. But I wouldn’t mind winning another one!

Do you have any other memories of the shoot?
We were in Germany and away from Hollywood, and the studio executives couldn’t keep an eye on us, so Bob got away with a lot that he couldn’t have done in Hollywood. He was ruthless and fearless. But it was a low-budget film and we were feeling like this scrappy little family trying to prove ourselves. They didn’t even release the movie with a stereo soundtrack because it cost too much.

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