October 23, 2004
Drugs, infidelity and rampant egos ensured that New York, New York
was a very rotten big apple
New York, New York was supposed to be Liza Minnellis triumphant emulation of the great MGM musicals made by her mother, Judy Garland. With a plot partially lifted from A Star is Born, it was filmed at MGM studios. Minnelli even used her mothers old dressing-room and the original hairdresser from The Wizard of Oz.
This being the 1970s, however, filming was a nightmare of cocaine, egotism and adultery. Minnellis father-fixation propelled her into a drug-fuelled affair with her director, Martin Scorsese. He was the creative genius who was going to rescue her from post-Cabaret disappointment. She was his ideal muse, the embodiment of the classic Hollywood movies that he loved.
Back in the real world, Scorsese had the obligatory unfinished script to deal with, and a pregnant wife who was also a “Jekyll and Hyde drunk”. When she wasn’t being sick, Mrs Scorsese (Julia Cameron) prowled the set taking her rejection out on the crew with snotty comments. Scorsese stayed closeted in his trailer with Minnelli having lengthy “script conferences”. Their drug use got worse and worse. Andy Warhol wrote in his diary of the night that Minnelli and Scorsese appeared on the doorstep of the fashion designer Roy Halston, demanding: “Give me every drug you’ve got.”
"People still sit around and tell horror stories about working on New York, New York,” says the film’s costume designer, Theadora Van Runkle, who had her own problems coping with Minnelli’s creeping weight gain. “The crew,” she says, “were treated like peasants.”
Thanks to the interminable delay, the first cut of the film was more than four hours long. It was trimmed by two hours, but did poorly at the box-office, sending Scorsese into an angry depression. Things got worse: his wife divorced him and Minnelli began a torrid affair with the dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. He was put on lithium, and his only distraction was Robert De Niro bugging him to read a book about the boxer Jake LaMotta. Scorsese threw the book aside, saying it was “full of s*** ”. It was another year before Scorsese kicked his drug habit and decided to make Raging Bull.