There's a certain version of Liza Minnelli that most people mildly aware of pop culture hold in their minds: pixie-cut black hair, giant fake eyelashes, bold red lip, a glittery oversized top and pants. But before she was that iconic Liza, she was the fresh-faced, bubbly daughter of Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli.
Not that she wasn't always a star. At two years old, she was already making a cameo in her mother's film In the Good Old Summertime (1949). You can then see her being very matter-of-fact in a brief interview with TV host Art Linkletter (circa 1952). Minnelli seems to have spent a lot of time on sets with her parents as a girl, and that's how she met Gene Kelly on the MGM lot. She got to dance with him and sing "For Me and My Gal" on a 1959 TV special when she was just 13. (While the lyrics are not exactly appropriate to see a 13-year-old sing with an adult, it is actually a song Garland and Kelly sang together in a movie in 1942.)
Minnelli was pretty well-positioned from the start to be an actress and singer like her mom. Despite suffering so much as a child star, Garland didn't shelter her daughters from the business. At least Minnelli, along with younger siblings Lorna and Joseph Luft, looked like they really got a kick out of joining their mother onstage and on TV.
They also have said they enjoyed the chaos of living with theunpredictable Garland. In interviews, Minnelli and Luft often repeat storiesabout how they used to dodge hotels wearing all of their belongings becauseGarland couldn't pay the bill.
The Judy Garland Show ran on TV from 1963-64, and it gives us a gorgeous look at 17-year-old Liza. She's a brilliant dancer in a clip of "Put on a Happy Face" — which she interrupts near the end to ask, "How am I doing, Mama?" But the real treasure (here's hoping it stays on Youtube) is the duet between mother and daughter, dressed as clown-like vagabonds, singing "Let Me Entertain You" and "Two Lost Souls."
Minnelli's stage career really took off during those years. She starred in the Off-Broadway play Best Foot Forward in 1963, winning a Theatre World Award. Next, she starred as an aspiring fashion designer in Flora the Red Menace on Broadway.
"Liza Minnelli brings her youth and eagerness to bear on the title role, but her freshly burgeoning talent is not yet overpowering enough to save a faltering production," the New York Times wrote when it opened in 1965.
"She acted and danced with an awkward, captivating charm, threw out 'What-am-I-doing-here?' looks, sang in a voice that boomed and belted, quivered sweetly, and occasionally got out of control — which only added to her likability," Life said of her performance. A photographer from that magazine captured her rehearsals for the musical, as well as her 19th birthday, and didn't publish most of them until 2012.
The opening was big enough that the panel on What's My Line? guessed who she was in about 0.5 seconds.
Sadly, in addition to her talent, Minnelli inherited some of her mother's problems with addiction and an unlucky love life, and she's been a tabloid staple on and off for decades. Yet, she's never really lost that vibrancy and presence of her earliest work (see: any of her work on Arrested Development).
All this is to say, sure, young Liza Minnelli looks a lot different at 73 than she did at 17. But she also hasn't changed a bit.