Songs My Mother Taught Me
Washington Center, Olympia
Lorna Luft was born into a family of Hollywood royalty. Her father was the acclaimed film director Sid Luft, credited with the genius of the 1954 film A Star Is Born. Her mother was the legendary Judy Garland. Dealing with an often turbulent childhood, Luft has come out from all other shadows to rightfully find her own place in the entertainment world.
Her latest project takes her full circle, currently touring with her production Songs My Mother Taught Me. The concert is an acclaimed, insightful, and musical tribute to (and by) some of America's greatest talents.
Eric Andrews-Katz: When did you first notice the difference between Judy Garland your mother, and Judy Garland the performer?
Lorna Luft: I don't think there was a difference between Judy Garland the performer, and my mother. That's what she did. It's like asking someone the difference between their father, and their father the lawyer. The performer was who she was, and how she made a living. I guess I first noticed who she was when I was about 7 or 9 years old. I grew up in a whole different community, where everyone's parents were in show business, so it wasn't anything unusual.
Andrews-Katz: Were your parents supportive of your decision to enter show business?
Luft: It was something that really wasn't discussed. I think they had the attitude of, 'If we don't discuss it, it will go away.' It was something that my mother let me make up my own mind about. She let me do what I wanted to do, and never pushed it. Same thing with my father; he didn't push me.
Andrews-Katz: What do you think is the public's greatest misconception about your mother's life?
Luft: The biggest misconception is that she was this tragic figure. Or that she was unhappy. She was happy and, of course she had tragedies in her life, but she wasn't tragic.
Andrews-Katz: Why do you think the women in your family - yourself included - have become Gay icons?
Luft: Because we have good taste!
Andrews-Katz: Who has been the biggest influence in your life outside of your family?
Luft: There have been a lot of musical influences in my life. It goes back from all of my mom's friends, but I think the biggest influence was when I saw a 19-year-old young woman named Barbra Streisand sing. I never heard a voice like that. She didn't look like everyone else, and I'd never seen anyone who didn't fit into the norm. For me, she was gorgeous! Later on, Dusty Springfield was influential. It was the people who were unique in the sense that they didn't follow in anyone else's footsteps. There were a list of wannabes, but it was the people who were the real deal, those who came through the entire experience. I came from a woman who was a true original, so I'm drawn to people who are also unique. There are so few of them out there today. We just lost one, Amy Winehouse, who was always a true original. It's always sad to lose someone who really has it all, and says it all.
Andrews-Katz: Did dealing with your mother's illness as a child help or hinder you from recognizing your own adult battles with substance abuse?
Luft: Sometimes I would love to say that it all comes from that, but I can't. There are kids out there who deal with this [parental illness] every single day. Today we have help; we have the education, the facilities, and the doctors. My mom didn't have that. I didn't know any different [while I was growing up]. I knew that something was wrong, but didn't know how to fix it. None of us did. The progress that we have made in understanding the world of addiction is enormous. I'm so grateful to people like Betty Ford, Elizabeth Taylor; people who have come forward and said, 'I have a problem. Maybe by me saying something I can help you.' That's an important part of learning for young people. I got sober 28 years ago. It was something I had help with. I had all of those resources, and I was very lucky.
Andrews-Katz: What was your initial reaction when you first read through the script for Grease 2?
Luft: That was such a long process. I learned about it seven years before it actually happened. [Producer] Alan Carr called me; I was living in the U.K. then, and he was doing the first film, Grease. He told me that they were going to do a sequel and that he wanted me for the movie. When it finally did happen, I thought: 'It took long enough!'
Andrews-Katz: How did you first meet Ryan White?
Luft: I read about Ryan in the newspapers, and I was so appalled and shocked and devastated that anyone, any human being could treat not only a child, but also a family that way. So, I reached out to him, and found him, and said, 'Look! I don't want you to think everyone is like this. There are people who are more humane, and they will understand. They will not be afraid. Don't judge all of humanity from a handful of ignorant, horrifying people.' Ryan and I were friends, and I remain friends with his family.
Andrews-Katz: You were slated to be the original Grizabella from Broadway's CATS. What happened, and did you ever desire to take over the role?
Luft: It was down to me and Betty Buckley at the final auditions. They went with Betty Buckley. She was fantastic in the role. When I went and saw it, I knew that I would be have been driven batshit crazy if it were me. To sit in the dressing room all that time, just to wait and come out, climb onto a big tire, and sing one song? No!
Andrews-Katz: How did you get involved with LOGO's Rick & Steve as the voice of Steve's bigoted mother?
Luft: The producer is one of my oldest friends. He called me up and said, 'I'm doing this animated series,' and wanted me to be one of the voices. They wrote the mother [Joanna] with me in mind. I read for them over the phone, and they laughed! So they said, 'Get in here and do this!'
Andrews-Katz: Since your Broadway debut during the original run of Promises, Promises, your career seems more focused on stage than on television or film. What's drawn you to this particular media more than others?
Luft: Anything that gives me a paycheck! OK, I'm honest! You know, in this day and age, when the economy is like it is and so many people are out of work, you can't pick and be choosy - not unless you're Meryl Streep or the few actors who get the luxury of doing that. Basically, you realize that you are lucky enough to be working; you are lucky to get the offer to audition. There are so few jobs, and a lot of actors out there. But I think that's also because I'm at an age where I am grateful about my career. I have a family. I have two children (now in their 20s) and a husband, and that's my priority. That's because I know they will always be there. When I was in my 20s, I would get upset about not working. I don't do that so much anymore. Not constantly working is not the end-all and be-all.
Andrews-Katz: What personal challenges did you face in creating your tribute show, Songs My Mother Taught Me?
Luft: There weren't any personal challenges. It was a joyful experience to create the show. It took me a long time to want to do it. I didn't want to in my 20s or 30s. It was in my 40s when I was ready to look at where I came from, my heritage, and legacy. So when I was ready, I decided to do it. It's exciting! I have two of the greatest writers and directors anyone can ask for. It's been a joyful, wonderful experience.
At age 11, Lorna Luft made her debut on her mother's program, The Judy Garland Show, and four years later appeared in concert with her mother at New York's Palace Theatre. As a young adult Luft kept company with the likes of The Who and The Rolling Stones during the late 1970s English mod scene. In the U.S., her name was linked closely with Barry Manilow and Burt Reynolds. Frequenting the infamous Studio 54, often in the company of Andy Warhol or Bianca Jagger, Loft had a drink named after her, the Lorna Special: a mixture of vodka, gin, orange juice, and champagne.
Luft's professional stage work includes the lead during the original Broadway run of Promises, Promises. She later appeared with Farrah Fawcett in the off-Broadway hit Extremities. Aside from her now classic performance as Paulette Rebchuck in Grease 2 (1982), her film career includes Where the Boys Are '84, My Giant, and 54, a movie about the infamous club. In 1998, Luft wrote the insightful and candid autobiography, Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir. Three years later it was adapted into an Emmy-winning ABC-TV mini-series.
Eric Andrews-Katz can be reached at email@example.com.
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