Interview: Lorna Luft
Daughter to Judy Garland and producer Sid Luft, and sister to the iconic Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft speaks to GT
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You were born into and grew up in a family of amazing performers; did you ever feel any pressure to have to go down that route?
No, I really didn't. I watched my older sister, Liza, go into the business and it was just a natural progression for me
Your first ever performance was at the age of eleven, with your mother. Before that point, how aware were you of her fame?
You know, she was just mom to us at home. I was never really aware of it until we started leaving the house with her, and then you'd get the autographs, the staring and the people coming over to us all the time. Then we knew things were very different. But then that just became the norm.
Your last album in the UK was entitled, 'Songs My Mother Taught Me'. Would you say your mother was the biggest inspiration/ influence in your life?
Yes, I think she was, but I had many inspirational people in the business around me, who taught me. Frank Sinatra was my godfather; I grew up at Sammy Davis Jr's house and Dean Martin was practically my uncle. I was surrounded by unbelievably talented artists - artists that broke the mould.
What do you think your mother would make of Hollywood today, especially the reality/celebrity culture?
I think she'd respect the actors, directors and writers who are genuinely doing brilliant work. She wouldn't understand the whole reality thing, because I don't understand it either. Andy Warhol was one of my dearest friends, and when he said "Everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes" I don't think he realised how true and prolific that would become. I mean, I don't hold anything against the people who are doing this. I was the biggest fan of The Osbournes - the show that started all of this. But then when everyone started jumping on the bandwagon I just didn't get it and wasn't interested.
Do you think it damages the industry and that the 'shock value' has to keep increasing to maintain ratings?
No, I don't think it does damage the industry. It just takes it into another medium. And I think 'shock value' for everyone is now very high. For me, personally, there is no more shock value because that's the part of my emotional being that was taken away on 9/11. Nothing will shock me anymore.
Would you ever do one of these celebrity reality shows for charity?
I've been asked to do a few in the UK. But I'd rather put on a big show or produce a great charity event such as the breast cancer benefit concert Liza and I organised a few weeks ago. Give me a stage and great songs to sing, with beautifully dressed artists over eating bugs in a jungle any day!
Can we just talk a bit about that recent breast cancer benefit show with Liza - the first time you've performed together for over twenty years. How was that?
It was extraordinary. I've just recently finished all of my treatment for breast cancer. I was diagnosed in January; had my surgery in February, and finished my radiation two weeks ago. Whilst I was going through my treatment I wanted to have a goal. So to tie in with breast cancer awareness month in October I planned to pay back as much as I could by putting on a show. Pay back to the people who took care of me, my friends, and to every other woman who will be diagnosed or is a survivor. So I called my friend, Jim Caruso at the Birdland club in New York and then I called Liza and they both agreed to be a part of it. Then I chose the charities I wanted to honour and support: The Actors Fund's Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative and Dr. Philomena McAndrew Fund of Tower Cancer Research Foundation - she was my oncologist. The atmosphere on both nights was beyond electric and the room was filled with love.
How did you feel when you were diagnosed, Lorna?
Well, you know, my phobia was always cancer. So when I found this lump on December 17th  my mind instantly went to that negative place. And then it went into denial. So instead of rushing to a doctor for a mammogram I just didn't want to deal with it. Eventually, I had the biopsy, and two days later - whilst having a pedicure - they called and told me I had grade three breast cancer. I had a few bad experiences with doctors afterwards, until one of my friends recommended an absolutely amazing doctor - Dr. Agus - and he took care of me. He's the one who said 'You can either be really afraid or you can put on your war paint and go kick it'. I said 'Let's go kick it'. He changed my fear and outlook by explaining everything to me. I faced my monster and I won.
What would you say to other women going through the same thing?
Don't do what I did. Don't go into denial. The thing I've learned most is that you must be proactive in your own healthcare.
What's the prognosis?
I'm in remission now and I'll be monitored for five years, so life just continues as it was before I went on this ride. I prefer to call it a ride. Because I didn't sign up for no journey. I did sign up for a journey to go to Primark, though [laughs] - my favourite place in the world.
Primark? You don't have them in Cali now do you?
No, we don't. But it's my favourite. I know the Oxford Street store from head to toe. I've taken so many of my American friends there and told them to take a big deep breath before you go in, and enjoy the experience - which is something between nirvana and chaos. [laughs]
You're also very involved with HIV/AIDS charities in LA. Why is this something that's so important to you?
I was an adult when the AIDS crisis hit and I remember losing so many beautiful and wonderful people in my life. So to this day I am such an advocate for people to just understand, yes, we've come a long way but that doesn't mean people are not still getting diagnosed. All you can do is educate and educate. Unlike cancer and other diseases, there is a control button to preventing HIV; it is so important for you to protect yourself and your loved ones.
I agree. Education is key, preventing a culture of complacency...
Absolutely. And I have to say this, too; it's sad to me that there's a whole young generation coming up now who are complacent, thinking it's not a death sentence anymore because of the antiretrovirals that, thankfully, now prolong life. I think to myself, really? Sorry, I've done too many walks, concerts and funerals for you to act irresponsibly. When I hear of someone being diagnosed now, it's very hard for me not to feel frustrated.
Can we just go back to your collaboration with Liza; do you think you'd ever be tempted to bring an album out together?
Yeah, we'd definitely love to do that, but it's just getting us both in the same city at the same time. That's why it took us twenty years to come together for the benefit.
It would be wonderful. You've also been in a ton of musicals and stage shows. Which has been your favourite?
Playing Miss Adelaide in the Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls. The Jerry Zaks production was pure perfection. All of us that came out of that have a bond and still see each other. It's one of those musicals that's just iconic because everything really works together.
So tell us about your upcoming show at Crazy Coqs in London...
It'll be a feel-good show with plenty of things that people except me to do, and, as it'll be leading up to Christmas, there'll also be a festive element. You can't be in December and not do that, right? What I like about the venue is that it's so intimate and gorgeous. I played it last year and it was a wonderful experience so I'm very excited about returning.
Lorna Luft performs at Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood Street, London W1F 7ED from 3-7 & 10-14 December 2013.
Words: Jason Reid (@JasonReidUK)