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Stepmother, 94, Accuses Liza Minnelli of Neglect

April 04, 2002|ANN W. O'NEILL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Entertainer Liza Minnelli has been accused in a Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit of neglecting her 94-year-old stepmother and selling her longtime Beverly Hills home "out from under her."

As the entertainer was sitting down March 16 to a lavish New York wedding supper with groom David Gest and "850 of their closest friends," her stepmother faced losing her home of many years, according to lawyer Tamara L. Green.

The suit, filed on behalf of Lee Anderson Minnelli, widow of the late director Vincente Minnelli, contends that Liza, as executor and trustee of his estate, is obligated to maintain the six-bedroom house for her stepmother. Yet Liza has refused to pay the utilities or household staff since trying to sell the house six months ago, court papers say.

Estate documents attached to the suit indicate that Vincente Minnelli's 1982 will gave Lee Minnelli lifetime use of the house, which has been on and off the market since the summer of 2000.

Liza Minnelli, 56, and her new husband, 48, are honeymooning in Europe and could not be reached for comment. But spokesman Warren Cowan said in a statement, "Liza Minnelli has sold her home in Beverly Hills, where Lee Minnelli has lived for many years, during which time Liza has paid for all of Lee's expenses." According to the statement, "Liza has offered to buy Lee a condo ... but her generous offer has been refused. It is now in the hands of attorneys."

Liza Minnelli's attorney Joseph D'Onofrio could not be reached for comment.

Green disputed the assertion that Liza, daughter of Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli, offered to buy her stepmother a condominium.

Lee Minnelli was married to Vincente Minnelli from 1980 until his death in 1986. County records list her as owner of the property since 1987. Now she has "been reduced to an anxious and fearful beggar," the suit charges. She is afraid to turn on the lights; as a result, she falls often. Because the pool man has been fired, the suit says, ''the pool is now a green swamp and a breeding ground for insects.''

The utilities were shut off last week for nonpayment, and the household staff is working for free. Although Liza's Rolls-Royce is parked in the driveway, court papers say, the housekeeper, who doesn't drive, was forced to take a bus to pay the utility bill and restore electrical service. The house also is cold because a broken furnace has not been repaired.

Lee Minnelli, who weighs 88 pounds and is just under 5 feet tall, is hard of hearing. She is disoriented and upset from being "subjected to the whims and fancies'' of her stepdaughter's "instructions to her agents and employees to get the old woman out of her house,'' according to court papers. A move, the legal documents add, ''will no doubt be the death of her.''

"Liza is the only family she has in the world," Green said. "She has pictures of her everywhere."

The suit accuses Liza Minnelli of breach of contract, elder abuse and infliction of emotional distress, and asks the court to set up a $1-million trust from the proceeds of the house sale to "secure and maintain suitable housing" for Lee Minnelli.

Correspondence accompanying the suit reveals the hard feelings surrounding the dispute. Green says that although her client attended Liza's recent engagement party in Los Angeles, her invitation to the wedding in New York was withdrawn.

In a letter dated March 4, D'Onofrio wrote: "Given the present circumstances, Liza Minnelli has instructed me to tell your client through you that she is no longer invited to David and Liza's wedding. In our recent conversation, you indicated that you had been invited to attend one or more of the festivities celebrating the wedding. If that is true, you also are no longer invited."

Responded Green, "I went to Liza's wedding to Jack Haley. I wrote them back and said, 'You know, I've already been to one of her weddings, and I'll catch the next one.'"

The Minnelli-Gest wedding--attended by Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Rosie O'Donnell, Donald Trump, Joan Collins, Martha Stewart and Mia Farrow, among others--featured a 36-member bridal party and 12-tier wedding cake.

Ten days later, Green said, her client was sitting in a cold, dark house as the utilities were cut off.

"The utilities for a year don't cost as much as the top tier of that cake," Green said. "I hope that Liza is incredibly happy. But to kick this old woman to the curb for mere money when it's not necessary--that is unacceptable. Liza gets everything. But she has to wait."

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