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On Judy Garland’s birthday, we talk to Lorna Luft about the lasting memory of her iconic mother

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Exclusive Gay Times interview from 2015.

Growing up with a parent in the public eye can be tough, especially when your mother created one of the most respected and renown characters to ever grace both stage and screen. As daughter to Wizard of Oz favourite Judy Garland – who’s history, career and beloved nature needs no introduction – life for Lorna Luft has never been like most. Alongside sister Liza Minnelli, the pair watched as their mother was lifted to international fame.

Today, on what would have been Judy Garland’s birthday (95th, 2017), we spoke to daughter Lorna to discuss The Songbook of Judy Garland, life as the daughter of an icon, sister Liza Minelli and the lasting tribute the gay community pays to her mothers legacy.

The Songbook of Judy Garland is now touring across the UK. What can we all expect? I think what people are going to come to the show is to hear her music. The reason that I said ‘yes’ to doing this show is because nobody has done a proper show about personal input. The reason that you talk about my mum is because of the music she left us with. Plus, with wonderful performances over the years in film and television and concert work, the music is the link to why we are here so many years later still talking about her. Why? Because she was an original.

We imagine doing a show about your mother’s legacy must be a difficult thing to embark on emotionally. So, why now? Honestly, her music. We had Arlene Phillips and Christopher Manoe leading us and we’re paying tribute to her songbook and the artistry that she left us all with. That’s what she gave to us and this is what she left us. For me, it’s less of a memory and more a thank you.

Related: US museum launches fundraiser to save Judy Garland’s ruby slippers

Is it possible for you to narrow down a favourite song of your mothers? I don’t have a favourite cause that would sort of mean that all the others weren’t as good, but I have a few that I play a lot more. I tend to go through them all in cycles. Her catalogue is truly extraordinary and I think also, because of her amazing ability to connect with the lyric and she was so honest, that’s what made her into the performer that she became. She connected to the lyric, she connected to the song that was written and she connected with the audience. And, she really did love her audiences.

Would it be fair to describe your mother as an icon? YES! Away from the name, the music or what she achieved, all these years later she still has this incredible buzz around her. For me, truthfully, she’s an icon that will last forever. Her name was Mrs Show Business, and so I think she was the greatest female entertainer that’s ever lived.

Judy, Liza and yourself make up one of the most well known stage families ever. Can a life like this ever be classed as normal? Sorta, yeah. I didn’t have anything to compare it to so its became the norm for me.

Is that weird looking back now? I know it sounds strange but it’s my normal to me. I used to sit and watch in the early 60’s families on TV shows sat watching TV together on a weekend and think they were the strangest family i’d ever seen in my life. But now, I have a gorgeous granddaughter and I think about her future, and I think how strangely fantastic and strangely odd it’s going to be, because this is her great-grandmother. With her, it’s a new circle that is gonna go on teaching people about mum.

My daughter-in-law actually said to me the other day “What age are we gonna show her Wizard of Oz?” Problem is, I don’t actually know. It’s a scary film when you’re younger.

Do you remember the first time you watched it? Was it with your mother? Yeah! It was really scary. Mum was in New York and my sister and I were in LA. We had a well-meaning nanny that use to tell us our mum was gonna be on TV and then all of a sudden, there she was. But on screen, we see her but as a character. And then when Margaret Hamilton and the monkeys appeared on screen, Liza and I got so upset and started crying.

Actually, my mother then called us from New York asking “how did you like the film?” and had two kids crying. [laughs] She was like “Oh, no! It’s only pretend”. I don’t think we were any different to any other kids in being scared by parts of the film so mum had the right answers to say.

And all these years later, it still has the same international success… I’ve seen it live, I did the show in Manchester where I played Margaret Hamilton – the lot. It was so much fun but i’ll always be very protective of the material. I’m not a big fan of people who take the material and do other things with it.

Thoughts on Wicked? Ummm, I certainly understand why it’s so popular and that’s because I don’t think they would have a show and/or a book and/or the original material if it wasn’t for the original source. I guess I’m just really protective because it means so much. I respect that the audiences that are going to see Wicked but it was hard to warm to the idea of changing what I already knew so deeply.

A remake of The Wizard of Oz wouldn’t get your support then? DONT. Don’t even do it, don’t even think about it. Because why would you want to touch perfection? It’s one of the most perfect movies ever made, and it shouldn’t happen.

It’s a perfect, perfect film and that’s because of the music but mainly the actors. You believed every single solitary thing, every single one of those actors said. Not only my mum, but when you think of Frank Morgan, when you think of Margaret Hamilton, and you think of all of the little people.

You believe everything they say cause it was so invested in that material, and it’s honest. And it’s also the written word, it’s also when she says “there’s no place like home”, it’s an iconic piece of movie history.

Related: Seth Sikes on why Judy Garland is (and will forever be) the greatest star of all

Watching her back now, there must of been an incredible sense of pride? You have no idea. Just no idea. The three words I use to describe my mum are extraordinary, genius and one-of-a-kind.

What’s your lasting relationship like with your sister Liza? We’re fine. We speak on the phone about once a week.

Chances of Liza and yourself ever returning to the stage, together? Oh, we’ve spoken about it. Just timing. But we are always discussing it…

Would it be fair for us to say your family has gathered a large gay following along the years? What – really?! [:aughs] I’m shocked. Don’t talk craziness. Stop talking crazy talk. [Laughs]

Where did it all begin? I actually think it all began with Stonewall and not my mother. Stonewall was the tipping point for the gay community to say “we’re not gonna take this anymore”. Yes, I had lost a parent, so I didn’t know about Stonewall, but I was taught when older about it. But now, I think to myself about the amazing part of my legacy to have rainbow flags.

I’ve been very keen to teach my children that all of us have got to treat each other the exact same way. Not only with equality, but with love and respect. I don’t like labels.

The gay community has had a big influence in your life then? Being brutally honest with you, I believe that the gay community has kept my mother’s memory intact, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. I have a great respect and a great pride for equality for everyone, and I have fought, I have marched, I have sung, I have preached about this.

I cannot bare, the one thing I cannot put up with and I cannot bare, is any kind of slur against any kind of minority and any kind, actually majority too. I can’t deal with it, not even in. I just don’t like it when people make jokes and people laugh. I don’t like it. I never have and never will. And that was taught to me by my mother.

 … and now – with this new show – the chance to meet fans of your mother in person… What I’m really looking forward to, is seeing the audiences faces. To see the joy and laughter on their faces and probably the tears too.

With this show, there is no sadness but there is great emotion. However, it is a roller coaster and that’s the journey she brought to the stage. Mum never understood why people cried when she sang, cause she said “I’m not crying, why are you crying?” She never quite understood. “I would be up on stage having a great time and I’d see somebody crying their eyes out and I never understood that. I’m not crying, why are you crying?” [laughs]

The Songbook of Judy Garland an honest tribute to her wonderful life then? There’s a whole generation who, through this show, know who she was and how truly touching and honest a person she was. And they, well, they need educating on Mum’s life.

Happy Birthday Judy. A true icon.

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