by Terri Schlichenmeyer
Everybody has an opinion. Half the country votes one way, the other half votes another way. Issues are favored in one corner and vilified in the other one. You might love doing something that would horrify someone else, so you keep your opinions to yourself.
And then there are those who march to a different drummer, seemingly unaware or uncaring about what others think. That describes the life of Liza Minnelli’s father, Vincente, in many ways. In the new book A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli by Mark Griffin (Da Capo Press, dacapopress.com), you’ll read about the life, work, and eccentricities of this enigmatic man.
Lester Anthony Minnelli was born in 1903, the sixth child of Italian-American parents. Baby Lester was practically born on the stage; his father and uncle owned the Minnelli Brothers Mighty Dramatic Company Under Canvas, and his mother was a performer with the troupe.
As soon as he was old enough, Lester left his family in Ohio and moved to Chicago. Extremely creative (he loved to draw and design), the job he landed as a window dresser for a major department store was perfect for him. It was also the perfect time to design a new life for himself.
Lester Minnelli changed his name to “Vincente” and shaved four years off his age. He also changed his background: for the rest of his life, he denied that he had an older brother who was developmentally disabled. Transformation complete, Minnelli emerged a new man and moved to New York.
Broadway was the obvious place for someone with such creativity, and Minnelli flourished. Though he was happy in New York, he tried Hollywood but didn’t like it, so he returned to the Big Apple. When a friend convinced Minnelli to try filmmaking again, it was a turning point in his career, and personally.
Throughout his life, friends and colleagues knew Minnelli as a quiet, reserved man who, though obviously brilliant behind the camera, seemed reluctant to give directions to performers. Many noticed his fondness for wearing women’s makeup, which led to rumors of homosexuality. Others denied those rumors, pointing to Minnelli’s four wives as proof otherwise.
When Vincente Minnelli died in July 1986, the truth died with him.
Author Mark Griffin says that he became fascinated with Vincente Minnelli films one summer when he was struggling with typical adolescent issues. Mark’s friends hassled him about his obsession, but that focus served him well: he used it to create a well-written biography.
A Hundred or More Hidden Things includes an exhaustive list of Broadway stars and shows in which Minnelli worked, as well as a filmography. What fans are going to want out of this book, though, is more of Minnelli’s personal story and an answer to the was-he-or-wasn’t-he gay question. Though Griffin wasn’t able to nail down anything definitive, judging by this book, he sure tried.
If you’re a theater fanatic or old-movie buff, or if you want a fascinating biography that accurately depicts a bygone era, you are sure to enjoy A Hundred or More Hidden Things.