Liza Minnelli Was Halston’s Best Friend, On and Off the Stage
You’re officially on the guest list for the “After Hours” edition of Thirstory, where we’ll escort you into the exclusive enclave of the Interview archive, starring the legendary fashion designer Halston and his inner circle of friends and conspirators. Here, sleep is a figment of the imagination, so mix yourself a nightcap as we unpack the gossip and glamour of the real-life luminaries who inspired Netflix’s new miniseries, Halston.
In April 1970, the first-time Best Actress nominee Liza Minnelli left the 42nd Academy Awards empty-handed. Nominated for her starring role in The Sterile Cuckoo, the ingenue, then 24, was among a roster of fierce fellow nominees, including Jane Fonda and Maggie Smith, who ultimately took home the trophy for her performance in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Despite her loss, it wouldn’t be Minnelli’s final bow at the Oscars, nor would it be her last time facing off with Smith for the coveted prize.
In 1973, Minnelli was nominated again, in the same category, competing against Smith, the actress Liv Ullmann, the tour-de-force Cicely Tyson, and Diana Ross, Minnelli’s close friend and fellow musician. If there was any confusion about her intentions to win that year, Minnelli dispelled any naysayers by showing up at the award show wearing the very color that was on her mind: gold.
Outfitted in a canary yellow two-piece ensemble, Minnelli, did, in fact, take Hollywood’s biggest stage that evening to accept the Best Actress award for her performance as Sally Bowles in Cabaret. And in a full circle moment, the lyrics of the film’s iconic theme song “Maybe This Time” rang truer than ever. Minnelli was “not a loser anymore,” and she had her dear designer friend, Halston, to thank for fashioning a frock in a color that would ultimately foreshadow one of the biggest nights of her career.
While it’s unclear as to exactly why Minnelli and Halston chose the golden hue for the awards show, it’s not illogical to imagine that the movie star would have likely worn anything the fashion designer put her in. That’s because by the 1970s, the two, like her Oscars outfit, were a twinset. After meeting the decade prior, a passionate (and very platonic) bond was born; wherever Minnelli went, Halston followed, and vice versa. Beyond friendship, the symbiosis of their camaraderie was born in risk-taking.
As an emerging designer, Halston’s silhouettes, for the age, were unprecedented, and his aspiration was to radicalize the way the world put on clothes each day. Minnelli’s career was just as daring. As the daughter of the beloved cinema legend Judy Garland, it was dangerous for Minnelli—portrayed by actress Krysta Rodriquez on the new Netflix miniseries, Halston—to take the leap into showbiz. Yet the duo’s risky behavior was rewarded—perhaps most palpably as they took their combined star power abroad.
In November 1973, eight months after her Academy Award win, Minnelli traveled to France, where she would support Halston in a showdown between the great designers of the age, known as the Battle of Versailles. At the iconic 17th-century palace, Halston touched down in all his fashion finery, and Minnelli with her megawatt vocal chords. As Marie Antoinette might say, let the international audience eat cake. Instead of putting on a cut-and-paste catwalk like the competing designers, Halston, Minnelli, and the “Halstonettes” brought a theatricality that broke the fashion elite’s stiff upper lip, and ultimately catapulted Halston as the American designer du jour.
As Halston told Minnelli in an excerpt from this magazine’s September 1979 issue, “You rise to all levels. Giving of yourself is the greatest thing you can do. You give more of yourself than almost anybody in the world.” Halston then proceeds to ask the actress, “What do you want on your tombstone?” Minnelli answers, “The enjoyment of just having done it. You only go through it once. You got one time around. It’s like walking through a rose garden without ever taking a deep breath and smelling the roses. That would be stupid.”