Liza and MeJun 19, 2013
In 1986, my first book, INTENSIVE CARE: A Family Love Story, was made into a TV movie, re-named A TIME TO LIVE, starring Liza Minnelli.
Liza Minnelli playing ME? I was so thrilled I could hardly stand myself. Neither, I suspect, could anyone else.
As if that weren't enough, the producers asked me to participate in as an "advisor" during the three-week period it would take to make the film.
Liza was fresh out of the Betty Ford clinic, drug free, and eager to prove herself as a film actress, but she was shaky in her newly gained sobriety. Perhaps that's why she kept me close to her and relied on me for companionship. Or maybe, I dared to hope, she really liked me.
"Mary-Lou's my best friend," she told a reporter from People Magazine, "We're joined at the hip."
And as if that weren't enough," Liza would ask my advice about how to play me.
"Show me how you dressed Peter when he couldn't dress himself," she'd ask. Or, "You said in the book that you sang to Peter when you bathed him. What songs did you sing?"
She even confided in me. "People like to predict that I'm going to turn out like my mother," she said, "but I'm going to prove them wrong." And as if that weren't enough, we ate most of our meals together and sat side by side each night, watching the rushes, a new and glamorous word for me that meant viewing the previous day's filming.
I fell in love with her. She was wickedly funny, smart, playful, affectionate, and, as if that weren't enough, Liza Minnelli.
When the three weeks were over we hugged and kissed good-bye.
She promised to stay in touch, and, for a little while, she did. She invited me to attend a performance at the Meadowlands. She even came to our house once for a quick visit.
Then she disappeared from my life. Months later at Christmas time, a deliveryman leveraged a six-foot tall poinsettia tree through our front door. The card, hanging from one of the branches, was hand-written, in ink, and read, "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Love, Liza." Just to be sure, I wet my finger and touched the writing. The ink ran.
Months passed; twelve of them, to be exact. That Christmas we received another poinsettia, this time a bush, about two feet tall. I tore open the envelope. "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Love, Liza"
Again I wet my finger. This time the ink didn't run.
The next Christmas; not even a bush. By then I'd had the good sense to fall out of love. Not so much with Liza, but with myself. I, after all, had been the real object of my affections. Finally, even that was enough.
(PS A few months ago, Dave Stalling – another DMD parent and I cooked up a scheme. We would ask Ms. Minnelli to perform in a fund-raising concert for Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy. Or, if we were being too greedy, maybe just to appear at an event in a movie theatre where A TIME TO LIVE would be shown. Dave actually did the near impossible – he found out the name of her agent and we composed what we thought was a touching, compelling letter for him to pass on to her. Perhaps she still had a warm spot in her heart for me, for Peter and for our cause. We got no response. Still, hope springs eternal. Anyone with a child with DMD knows that. Heck, we practically invented the saying. If anyone out there happens to know Liza Minnelli's email address, would you please forward this blog to her?)