Liza Minnelli Throws a Party for Her Director Dad—and Steals the Show

updated 03/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/07/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Mother gave me my drive," says Liza Minnelli, 36, "and Father gave me my dreams." To be sure, Liza's singing has always been eerily reminiscent of mom Judy Garland, and her dancing harks back to those old MGM musicals directed by her dad, Vincente. And ever since she stole the show during Garland's comeback performance at the London Palladium 18 years ago, Liza has tried to live up to her genes. "With those two people for parents," she explains, "there's no way I could have come out a wimp."

Liza's formidable inherited gifts were on full display at the opulent Palm Springs Desert Museum in California. The occasion: a benefit for the 45-year-old museum and an 80th-birthday tribute to Vincente. (The museum is showing a retrospective of Minnelli's films plus an exhibit of his costume sketches and set designs.) About 450 guests—including many stars from his 30-plus movies—paid $1,000 each for the hearts of palm and medallion of veal dinner. But the dessert was Liza performing in the museum's Annenberg Auditorium. "At first I thought I could just sing Gigi and get off the stage," confided Liza, whose father won an Oscar for the 1958 film starring Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan and Leslie Caron. "But Kirk Douglas, who was one of the organizers, said, 'Oh no, you can't do that. It's a theater. You've got to do 35 or 40 minutes.' "

So while an audience including Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Gregory Peck cheered her on, Liza sang a medley from Minnelli's greatest hits. Her renditions of The Night They Invented Champagne from Gigi and Our Love Is Here to Stay from An American in Paris sparked wild applause. But two Garland classics from Meet Me in St. Louis, The Trolley Song and The Boy Next Door, were sentimental favorites. "In this picture my father met my mother," Liza told the audience. "If it hadn't been for this movie, I wouldn't be here."

Minnelli, who gave Liza her Chiclet grin and doe-brown eyes, was thrilled—but hardly surprised. A few weeks earlier she had given him and fourth wife Lee a sneak preview in their Beverly Hills living room. "It was just like when I was a little girl. I'd get out a recording of some number he was doing in one of his movies and I'd do this whole routine with all my friends. He'd sit there and watch hour after hour, when all he really wanted was a martini and a nap."

For the finale, Liza escorted her frail father onstage and sat at his feet, her back to the audience, while Vincente serenaded her with Embraceable You.

Two days later Liza flew home to New York City with her husband and producer, Mark Gero (her former spouses are Peter Allen and Jack Haley Jr.). On her schedule are two movies, including one about the Alaska pipeline written by brother-in-law Christopher Gero. She's also helping organize another fete for her father this week at Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art. "He taught me almost all the songs I know," says Liza. "Everybody probably thinks my mother taught me. But it was Daddy."

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