Be­ing Judy’s daugh­ter

Ac­tress-singer Lorna Luft has spent a life­time cop­ing with be­ing the daugh­ter of Hol­ly­wood diva Judy Gar­land. Per­form­ing her mother’s best-known songs has helped, she tells Paul Lester

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

OU MAY not have heard of Lorna Luft’s fa­ther, Sid­ney Luft, a Jewish for­mer ama­teur boxer and small-time movie hus­tler, but you might have heard of her mother, an Amer­i­can singer-ac­tress of Ir­ish and Scot­tish parent­age who just hap­pened to be one of the most fa­mous en­ter­tain­ers of the 20th cen­tury, the Hol­ly­wood star Judy Gar­land.

As tor­tured as she was tal­ented, Gar­land died al­most 40 years ago from an ac­ci­den­tal drug over­dose. It was not an easy life. And it has not been easy for her youngest daugh­ter Lorna, a singer and ac­tress, to live with the bur­den of me­mory and myth that come with be­ing the child of a leg­end (not to men­tion hav­ing Frank Si­na­tra as your god­fa­ther).

“Lisa Marie Pres­ley, Natalie Cole, my best friend Luci Ar­naz [daugh­ter of come­di­enne Lu­cille Ball], even Princes William and Harry, all of us have a leg­end as a mother or fa­ther and are re­minded ev­ery day that they’re not here any more,” says Luft.

She sounds ev­ery inch a tough-talk­ing Jewish-Amer­i­can wo­man, even though her fa­ther, she says, “de­spised or­gan­ised re­li­gion”.

“We’re all card-car­ry­ing mem­bers of a great club. But it’s hard. The good news is that all of us in the club have movies and TV and news footage that are com­fort­ing to us. But then there’s the down­side — news­pa­pers bring­ing up neg­a­tive sto­ries or peo­ple who never knew them writ­ing books, dis­grun­tled ex-em­ploy­ees… But we’ve been passed a torch. I have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to keep the me­mory of my mother alive.”

On Luft’s new album, Songs My Mother Taught Me, co-pro­duced by hus­band Colin Free­man and for­mer lover Barry Manilow, she pays vo­cal trib­ute to many Gar­land clas­sics, from Hello Blue­bird to Over The Rain­bow, the lat­ter re­cently hav­ing topped the Record­ing In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica’s Songs of the Cen­tury list. “It’s also [ X Fac­tor judge] Si­mon Cow­ell’s favourite song of all time,” adds Luft, proudly.

It has taken a long time for her to be able to make the album. “I was too scared of it,” she ad­mits, “too un­com­fort­able with my legacy. It’s been a painful process. I could only have made this record now. Then” — she refers to the af­ter­math of her mother’s death and the gi­ant shadow it cast over the en­su­ing decades — “it would have been too dif­fi­cult. It’s dev­as­tat­ing to lose a par­ent at any age. It never gets bet­ter, it gets dif­fer­ent. When they’re so fa­mous, you’re con­stantly re­minded that they’re not here. What age did I es­cape the shadow? I never did, and I don’t want to. The shadow’s al­ways go­ing to be with me.

“Mak­ing this album has helped,” she adds. “It’s a cel­e­bra­tion. Who else should have done it? Ev­ery­body’s done Judy Gar­land songs. But if any­body has the right to do it, I do.”

Luft’s prob­lems with drugs and her ex­ces­sive lifestyle, though less well doc­u­mented than her mother’s, are a mat­ter of record, al­though whether or not her way­ward­ness in the ’70s and ’80s was a re­sult of the Gar­land ef­fect re­mains un­clear. But did turn­ing 50 (she is 55 this month) make things eas­ier for her,

Ymake her more ac­cept­ing of her past? “Yeah, well, turn­ing 50 didn’t freak me out,” she says. “Turn­ing 30 did, be­cause I felt like I couldn’t screw up any more. Be­ing 50 is great, you come into your own and you reach your com­fort zone. This is who I am. I’m rec­on­ciled with my past and The Legacy and I’m able to en­joy it.

“But I did a lot of crazy things in my twen­ties. I spent my time at Stu­dio 54 [ the no­to­ri­ous New York club]. There were lots of drugs and al­co­hol — it was the ’70s! It was pre-Aids — we all spun out of con­trol. It was mad­ness. Do I re­gret it? No. I had a blast. But even­tu­ally I got sick and tired of feel­ing sick and tired, and I’ve been sober for 23 years. I stopped when it stopped be­ing fun.”

It helped that, in the early ’80s, she started a fam­ily. Her chil­dren, Jesse (born in 1984) and Vanessa (born in Septem­ber 1990), from her first mar­riage to Jewish mu­si­cian and artist man­ager Jake Hooker, are Gar­land’s only grand­chil­dren.

Jesse dis­cov­ered that his grand­mother had over­dosed on drugs while play­ing a game of Triv­ial Pur­suit — it was the an­swer to one of the ques­tions. He was nat­u­rally ex­tremely shocked. Since then, Luft has been de­ter­mined to be hon­est about the pit­falls of fame and the temp­ta­tions of the mod­ern world.

“My kids know that I know ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing,” she says. “The other day, I was in the car with Vanessa and I said some­thing about crys­tal meth, and she said: ‘You know about that?’ I said: ‘Not only do I know about it, but I prob­a­bly did it my­self.’

“But, I also say to them: ‘Just be­cause I did it, that doesn’t make it right.’ Be­cause I know what the ef­fects of drugs and al­co­hol, am­phet­a­mines and bar­bi­tu­rates, are on the ner­vous sys­tem and brain cells,” she adds. Luft uses this knowl­edge as a key speaker for the Amer­i­can-based abuse-pre­ven­tion body, the Coun­cil on Al­co­hol & Drugs.

Hav­ing foren­si­cally in­ves­ti­gated her mother’s life and death for her 1998 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Me And My Shad­ows: A Fam­ily Mem­oir, she is also un­der no il­lu­sions about Gar­land’s tragic life.

“She was taken ad­van­tage of,” she says, “and that’s sad and over­whelm­ing when you’ve got no­body on your side. Her mother [Luft’s grand­mother, Ethel Mar­ion Milne] was a night­mare — she liked the big houses and the lifestyle, and she wasn’t go­ing to say: ‘Don’t do this.’ But she [Gar­land] be­came a prod­uct. They gave her am­phet­a­mines at 14, to cut her ap­petite and make her work harder. By the time she was 37, she’d made 39 movies, done 500 ra­dio shows and 1,200 con­certs. Has it changed? No: look at Brit­ney Spears, look at Lind­sey Lo­han. All th­ese girls spin­ning out of con­trol. Where are their par­ents?”

Her mother’s life was a tor­rid psy­chodrama that should make Spears and Lo­han stop and think. She was also, says Luft, “the orig­i­nal Amer­i­can Idol”.

But what would Si­mon Cow­ell have made of her on the show, had she turned up for an au­di­tion? “Well, I think she would have got­ten a record deal,” she says with wry un­der­state­ment. “She was a ge­nius.” Songs My Mother Taught Me is out now on First Night Records. Lorna Luft will be tour­ing in the UK from Jan­uary

PHOTO: BRIAN ARIS

PHOTO: AP

Lorna Luft ( top) can smile now af­ter com­ing to terms with be­ing the daugh­ter of a Hol­ly­wood leg­end. Above: Luft ( right) aged 12 in 1964 with her mother Judy Gar­land, brother Joseph, and half-sis­ter Liza Minnelli

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