Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Monday, September 7, 2009

Garland? Streisand? Liza Minnelli? Jim Bailey's career drags on. But don't call him a drag queen!

with Barbra Straisand

with LIZA

as Judy

as Judy

as Phyllis Diller with Lucille Ball

as Streisand & Minnelli

September 6, 3:37 PM Pittsburgh Stage and Screen Examiner Alan Petrucelli

It’s been 40 years since Judy Garland slipped over the rainbow . . . 40 decades since the 47-year-old performer was found dead, slumped on a toilet in her London flat. Yet Judy’s spirit lives on . . . through her recordings, her films, her TV appearances.

And through Jim Bailey. For the past 43 years, Bailey has been donning his best Garland garb and voice, bringing her to life in performances that have earned him critical acclaim and fame and fortune, but perhaps more importantly, the seal of approval from Judy herself, who caught Bailey’s act when he first began performing as her back in 1966. Judy’s daughters, even her ex-husband Sid Luft, always have praised the familiar facsimile, with Liza going as far as performing with Jim/Judy in a curious Las Vegas recreation of the famous Judy/Liza London Palladium concert of 1964.

Bailey’s voice grows quiet when he recalls what Liza once told him: “Don’t ever stop doing what you’re doing. If you do, how will I ever see myself again?” Yes, Bailey is also known for his illusions of others---Peggy Lee, Barbra Streisand, Phyllis Diller often come to mind---but it’s Judy that’s earned him a place in show business history, and countless meetings with the rich and famous, including his all-time favorite, Princess Diana. We caught up with the 60+-year-old Bailey at his townhouse in Southern, California, where he lives with his two rescue mission cats, Patches and Cuddles. Here, the master illusionist, who’s currently writing his autobiography (“and I am telling everything, kid!”) and working on a Broadway show and a new CD, chats about his life, his career and, course, Judy, Judy, Judy.

Some people think a man who wears a dress is a drag queen. Does that phrase anger you?Of course it angers me. It’s slang. It’s a bad term, like shit. It should not be applied to me. I don’t even know what a drag queen is. And what does ‘drag’ mean? You drag race, you drag a chair, but when you say ‘drag queen,’ I don’t have a clue what it means, unless it’s slang for a man who wears a dress. I would rather be called a female impersonator than a drag queen, and I don’t like being called a female impersonator because I am not one.I am an illusionist. Irv Kupicent, a columnist from Chicago, once told me, ‘You know what you are? You are an illusionist. That’s the only word I can think of that fits what you do. You create the illusion that she did not die, that we are watching her perform.’ I said, “But an illusion has to do with magic and trickery.’ He said, ‘Exactly. The average person sees a man wearing a dress and thinks he’s a female impersonator. You create magic.’ When I do Judy, I become Judy. I am Judy.

You have met, and worked with, so many famous folk. Is there a favorite?There have been several. My relationship with Lucie Arnaz means a lot to me, and that happened through my relationship with her mother. Lucy was one of the celebrities who came backstage after my first big concert in Los Angeles. She pushed her way through the crowd, pressed a card in my hand and said, ‘I can’t deal with this. Call me.’ After I said hello and goodbye to everyone, I read the card. It said, ‘Dear Jim, Call me. I love you. Lucy,’ and it had her phone number.

I called her the next day and we began a friendship. I’d go to her house and watch movies with her when her husband was out of town or playing golf. She’d sit in her special chair, I’d sit on the couch and I’d think, ‘I cannot believe this! I grew up on I Love Lucy, and now I am in her den!’ Sometimes I’d spend weekends in her guest house. I remember one day she called and asked, ‘What are you doing tonight? The studio sent me this new Woody Allen movie. Wanna come over have dinner and watch it with me?’ That was Lucy’s way of saying, ‘Jim, I’m very lonely.’ We had dinner and the film was Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex . . . But Were Afraid to Ask. We were sitting there, and the scene with gene Wilder and the sheep came on, and Lucy was sitting there, chain-smoking, and making these sounds . . . ‘Ugh! Oh! Eww!‘ She finally said, ‘Honey, I can’t take this anymore. If you want to watch the rest of this you can. I am going to bed.’ I watched the rest of the movie which I thought was very funny. But it wasn’t Lucy’s cup of tea. That was the only time she walked out of a movie we watched together.
What about Princess Diana? You performed for her at a Royal Command performance. Do dish!Before the show, they told all the artists that Diana was in the Royal Box and that no one was to look up at her---that was the protocol. That’s I had to hear. At one point, I looked up and Diana had this huge smile on her face. After the show, I changed into a tuxedo and there was a receiving line. Charles said something brief, and we shook hands. Then Diana gets to me. She is standing in front of me with the greatest skin I have ever seen in my life. ‘You are brilliant! I know Judy isn’t with us anymore, but she was an hour ago. I really believed I was watching her. Tell me, when you are home, do you ever become these people?’ I said, ‘No. I think I have it pretty well pulled together. I want to tell you something Your Majesty . . .’ She interrupted and said, ‘Call me Diana, please.’ I said, ‘You must be congratulated on your work with people and the way you put yourself out in mainstream and care about unfortunate people. You love humans . . . you are such a human . . . you love human beings.’ I got all flustered and she said, ‘You are getting all loused up, but I do know what you mean. You are so kind to pay me that tribute.’ Here we are having this conversation! Her aide came up to her to push her along and she gave him this look. Now I was supposed to take her hand and kiss, but Diana shook my hand like a real human being. Her aide freaked out because when you are royal, you don’t shake a man’s hand. She shook and said, ‘It’s such a pleasure meeting you. I hope we meet again.’
Did Diana wink and say, ‘Now don’t do me?’[Laughs] No. But I’ve people ask me over the year, ‘Why don’t you do me?’ Bizarre people I couldn’t do in a million years.Like who?Let me think. [Pauses] Rosemary Clooney was one. I am looking at this woman who weighs 500 pounds and thinking, ‘Do you?’ I adored her. I loved her, loved her music. But I could not do her.

How long does the transformation take?I always allow three hours in the dressing room. I have it all paced out---when I eat, when I do makeup, when I do this or that. I do not want to be rushed. The people who work with me know when it’s time to get Miss Garland dressed. I don’t like to have any time to pace while the overture plays---I’ve always have it down to the second.I get up and am ready because she’s wants to on stage and work.
How has your illusion of Judy changed over 40 years?As you grow older and you experience more and more of life, you understand songs that perhaps before you might have been acting. Now when I sing a particular song know exactly what it means. I have lived the lyrics.
You appeared as Barbra for the real Barbra. What was that like?My manager got a call from a woman who said she was Carole Bayer Sager. She said that she was planning a private party for Barbra and asked if I would consider appearing as Barbra. My manager is telling me the story and I said, ‘You have been put on by someone who is very, very clever. Do you really think Carole Bager Sayer would call to ask me to do Barbra Streisand for Barbra Streisand ? So I called the phone and some maid answered, “Miss Bayer Sager’s residence.” I thought, ‘Uh-oh. This isn’t a joke.’ Carole told me about the party and what would happen.

At the end of dinner, Carole had it planned that someone would ask Barbra to sing, and that I would come out. Carole told me that Barbra would be way in the back of the room and that no one would notice her. This was a Hollywood-elegant party, on the beach in Malibu. I was wearing a black gown and my hair looked like Barbra’s. At the end of the show, the audience stood up and went crazy. I walked off stage, shaking. The real Barbra walks on stage, and a big-wig from Warner Brothers says, ’This is the real Barbra. That was Jim Bailey.’ [Laughs] Now everyone is thinking, ‘This is insane! Where’s the booze? Where did I put that cocaine?’ Barbara said [Bailey impersonates her voice], ‘Isn’t he great? If I’ tired, I can always call him up.’ Now I’m in the dressing room, and Barbra pushes the door opened. She said [again Bailey impersonates her voice], ‘You’re something else!’ She complimented me on my hair, dress, talk and make-up, but never mentioned the voice. She never said, ’You sound just like me.’ I waited, but she avoided the entire issue. She sat down and we chit chatted and had our picture taken. She could not have been sweeter. What a night that was!Oh those nights alone! What do you look for in a partner?I am picky. Oh yes! Oh yes! I’ve had relationships on both sides of the fence, but for several years, I have been on my own. I would like to meet someone who’s not intimidated by me, who’s strong enough to deal with the fact I am a successful person and I do something that no one else does which makes me special. Someone who has their own money---God! I’ve supported people my entire fucking life!. Someone who is intelligent, giving. Someone who’s got to have a sense of humor. Age? I don’t know . . . not 23. . . no, no. They’ve got to be in their 40s.

And male? Do you consider yourself a gay man?No. Well . . . I don’t know. I don’t know. There are women I see who I am very attracted to, and if the moment was right, I’d probably be having an affair with them. It’s not like I think, 'OK. I’m not to be straight anymore. I’m exclusively gay.’ But right now, I prefer the companionship of a man.
My book, Morbid Curiosity: The Disturbing Demises of the Rich and Infamous, is getting RAVE advance press!Read all about it, then pre-order at!

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