Adept at interweaving music and plot, director Vincente Minnelli is best remembered for lavish movie musicals such the Academy Award-winning Gigi, Brigadoon and Meet Me in St. Louis, which starred his future wife, Judy Garland. Minnelli married Garland in 1945, and their only child, Liza Minnelli, went on to become a successful actress and singer. Minnelli's signature touches were saturated color, flashes of surrealism and a nimble versatility with comedy and drama. He died on July 25, 1986, in Beverly Hills, California.
Vincente Minnelli had theatricality in his blood, if not in his name when he was born to Marie Émilie Odile Lebeau (who performed as Mina Gennell) and Vincent Minnelli, co-owner of Minnelli Brothers' Dramatic and Tent Theater. The last of their four sons, he was born Lester Anthony Minnelli in Chicago, Illinois, on February 28, 1903, and began his career as a child actor touring with the family business.
But Minnelli was more interested in the design than the performing side and moved to Chicago, studying briefly at the Art Institute while getting his feet wet in the job market as a billboard painter and dresser at Marshall Field's department store. He soon moved into the city's theater world as a costume and set designer. He followed this career tack to Broadway, taking a small apartment in Greenwich Village, and living an openly gay lifestyle, according to a recent biographer. By the time he was hired by Radio City Music Hall as an art director, he had changed his name to his father's, adding an "e" on the end for a little European flair—after all, his forbears were from Sicily.
Success as the director for Broadway revues in the spirit of Ziegfeld led him to offers in Hollywood. A dead-end contract at Paramount made way for his true home, a spot on the MGM lot that would last the bulk of his career. His very first assignment was Cabin in the Sky, a successful musical on the Broadway stage, but considered risky as a film due to having an all-black cast. Featuring the legendary Lena Horne and handling the material with what would become his signature mastery, Minnelli steered the movie to success, providing the foundation of his varied career as a director.
Minnelli's third film as director, 1944's Meet Me in St. Louis, paired him with his future wife, Judy Garland. The film was a rousing success, a riot of color, brisk pacing, touches of the surreal and lavish movie musical pageantry in numbers like "The Boy Next Door," "The Trolley Song" and even the quieter "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
Garland and Minnelli married the following year, and, in turn, produced their only daughter, Liza Minnelli. Although the marriage only lasted about six years, the family holds the unique distinction of each having won an Academy Award.
Meet Me in St. Louis also launched both Minnelli's distinctive career and MGM's "Golden Era," which encompassed memorable musicals like Brigadoon, Bells Are Ringing, the innovative An American in Paris and the Oscar-winning Gigi (1958).
A decade later, Minnelli scored another musical hit with On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970), starring Barbra Streisand. In the interim, he directed comedic hits like Father of the Bride and its sequel, Father's Little Dividend; Goodbye Charlie; and serious films like Madame Bovary, Tea & Sympathy and his personal favorite, Lust for Life, about Vincent Van Gogh.
Minnelli's attention to artistic detail was acute, often including a specific shade of yellow on his sets that required special mixing; the MGM painters nicknamed it "Minnelli Yellow."
Death and Legacy
Vincente Minnelli married three more times after splitting from Judy Garland, and had another daughter by the time of his death (on July 25, 1986, at the age of 83). He is credited with steering seven actors to Oscar-nominated performances during the course of his career, including Spencer Tracy, Gloria Grahame, Kirk Douglas and Shirley MacLaine.
Discussing Minnelli's work, one New York Times article noted that his "films exist in another dimension: these are not adaptations, but original works that embrace all that is unique about the motion picture medium. They are at once more emotionally intimate [than Logan's film] and more formally abstract, organizing color, space and rhythm into ever-evolving, sensually overpowering combinations."
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