the End of the Rainbow
Judy Garland's daughter, Lorna Luft,
She's been called "Judy Garland's other daughter," "Dorothy's daughters," or "Liza's sister." But she has survived, come into her own and emerged as Lorna Luft, the writer, the actor, and singer who just happens to be Sid and Judy's daugher, and Liza and Joey's sister. Lorna has been trailing the rainbow all her life.
She shoehorned onto Broadway at fifteen, appearing with her mother in Judy at the Palace. Since then she has performed on stage, theater, television, and on the widescreen. She probably is best known for her role in the movie Grease 2. Luft is currently touring the continent in her show, Songs My Mother Taught Me.
She lives in Los Angeles with her husband of three years, English musical director Colin Freeman, and her two children, Jesse, fifteen, and Vanessa, nine, who are from her first marriage to Jake Hooker. Her unpretentious home is snuggled into one of the lush bends in Coldwater Canyon. It exudes an air of down-home middle-class suburbia. When I arrive at her ironclad security door, Greta, her attractive personal assistant, greets me along with the two family dogs, Steinway and Arson—friendly but quite overpowering Dalmations. After a moment, Lorna strides out from the kitchen. Prettier, and more petite than I had imagined, peacefulness envelopes her as she extends her hand and introduces herself with a calm intensity. She initimately connects eye to eye, heart to heart. It is a nice moment.
She escorts me into the living room—past a large Warhol portrait of Luft hanging in the dining area—that is sprinkled with Judy Garland mementos. Several Garland records are enshrined on the wall. Framed family photos from the fifities sit on the glass coffee table and a ruby red slipper worn by Garland in The Wizard of Oz lies in a bookcase. Several publications are scattered throughout her home—Tina Brown's newest rag, Talk, is on an end table, and The I Hate Kathie Lee Gifford Book lies atop the commode.
As Lorna lowers herself into a granny rocker, she halts halfway and moans. Yesterday she bicycled along the beach from Santa Monica to Manhattan Beach to begin her training for the AIDS Ride in June 2000. Her butt is sore. "At the very beginning of the tragedy, when people I knew were dying from AIDS it was really devastating. I knew so many people at one point [who were dying] that I didn't even want to pick up the phone. And then you emotionally shut down, and unfortunately it becomes commonplace. That's really sad. But then when you hear about someone else dying; you are not as raw. You protect yourself, then you begin to accept it," says Lorna as she gazes out the window overlooking the backyard pool and realizing that she has lost over fifty friends, including her firend and hero, Ryan White.
Ryan's death deeply affected Lorna and also her son, Jesse. Someone close to his age was dead. Now Jesse had a face for this disease. Lorna is actively involved with her kids' education and their school functions. For the past decade, she has forged into schools to talk about AIDS preventions. "I would find it a head-banging experience because the board of education would say, 'You can't use this word and you can't use that word.' And I'd think, what planet are you all on?" she says brushing bangs off her forehead.
In her own home, Lorna has been up front with her kids about HIV and AIDS. "We discuss everything. AIDS was discussed years ago. It was discussed openly, it was discussed how, and it was discussed why. Whatever they wanted to ask me I answered becaue they knew all mom's friends were dying," she says, as she ponders momentarily while teething on ther thumbnail.
Luft praises the gay community for initially taking the reins and educating the populace. She now feels it's imperative that the heterosexual community be better educated about HIV. She remembers a forerunner in this arena, Elizabeth Glaser, who formed the Pediatric AIDS Foundation in 1988. "She was out there, adamant, and in your face," Lorna says commending Glaser. "She raised a lot of money. She really smacked people up side the head real quick! Here was this heterosexual, married woman with children who unfortunately got an [AIDS infected] blood transfusion, and brought AIDS into the Betty Crocker home. People reacted because they realized that this could happen to them." Glaser and her daughter, Ariel, age seven, both died of AIDS in 1994.
Death affects each of us differently, but Lorna becomes livid when people say "I don't do funerals." "What?! What?!" she exclaims. "It constantly never ceases to surprise me how selfish people become when someone else is ill or they have died. You know my big mouth and me. I always say something. I don't care, I really don't. For Chrissake, don't think about you. Think about what is best for the immediate loved one."
Another one of her pet peeves is the popular belief that funerals bring closure. The phrase makes her loony! "Closure? What are you talking about? Just because you have a funeral that means that's closure? I never have understood that word. You cope with the loss. It never gets better. It just gets different. It's always going to be there. You just learn to deal with it on different levels, but that's not all of a sudden. Your heart, and your emotions don't all of a sudden clear up."
Losing close friends like Brad Davis, Tina Chow, and Peter Allen (Liza's ex) has been devastating. She finds solace in her belief that something good always comes from something tragic. "Every single time I lost somebody [I believed] that they would discover a cure medically, scientifically, or maybe prejudice against gays would stop. I do believe that everything that happens has a purpose. And she doesn't remain idle during a storm. She takes flight. "Instead of [asking] 'why?' I always say 'what do we do about it?' I refuse to go for 'well, I guess that's just the way it is.'"
An AIDS activist for years, Luft has been affiliated with many recognizable AIDS organizations. Presently, she is gearing up for her first AIDS ride—biking from San Francisco to Los Angeles. She keeps her sexy figure by spinning. She explains that this rigorous aerobic exercise leaves you exhausted and sweat-soaked. Lorna's zest even convinced Greta to join the AIDS Ride! For the past two years she has been at the AIDS Ride finish line. "It is an extraordinary experience to watch them come in, thousands [of spectators] lined up greeting 3,000 bikers who have been on a bike for seven days. What an achievement." She was captivated and her interest peaked. "I've never really physically challenged myself to do something like that and I'm forty-seven and I thought why not do this. I've known some people who have done the AIDS Ride and have said that it's a life-changing experience. And last year they raised eleven million dollars. So, that's really cool," she says lifing her eyebrows which spotlight expressive blue eyes.
"One thing about this disease is that you have the choice in being responsible or not. And don't be blaming it on anybody else. If you're a junkie, you made the decision to put that needle in your arm, that's your choice.," she says with conviction.
In the late seventies, Lorna partied for a decade, abusing drugs and alcohol, as she discoed at New York's glitzy Studio 54. She was whacked out. "I got sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I really did. Oh, those hangovers. Yech, yech, yech. I couldn't do it [anymore]." Seventeen years ago, she terminated her use of substances. It took me a hell of a long time to get to this level [where I am today]. It took a great many friends, a great twelve-step program, and a great sponsor. The disease of addiction is quite unbelievable. It's sinister, it's deceitful and deceptive. This is a disease that people have no control over what they do. But they have a choice to live a sober life or not. It's up to them. And they've got to want it. I wouldn't be sitting here saying this if there weren't people like Anthony Hopkins who came out and, 'I did ti.'"
I mention how sorry I feel for Robert Downey, Jr. Lorna instantly replies,"No, you don't. He made a choice not to show up for the drug tests. A lot of people think that we can be too cold-blooded about this but until you have been through the anguish of what addiction makes your family go through and the chaos it causes, you don't understand it." She empathizes with Robert Downey, Sr. and the family because of the pain Jr. has caused them. "I don't feel sorry for a kid who's a great actor and has been given every opportunity. I don't know a lot of other drug addicts who get let out of jail to make a movie. I mean, let's take responsibility. I have to go with what that judge said, 'Let's remember why we're here.'" She thinks briefly, then points a finger. "Jail's not the ultimate answer. But he made that choice. He did that." She says the only justification for jail is to keep the addict from being behind the wheel of a car, because then they become killers. "He gets stoned, gets in a car, hits me and my kids—that's reality," she says matter-of-factly. "That's the stone-cold truth about drug addiction."
Lorna may sound harsh, but she learned about the craziness of drug abuse from an expert–her mother—who took prescription drugs every day for over thirty years. Lorna began taking care of her mother when she was in her early teens. Her rite of passage into adulthood came with a late night knock-down-drag-out she witnessed between her mother and then-husband, Mark Herron, in Hawaii. In an excerpt from Luft's autobiography, Me and My Shadows, she wrote: "I'll never forget the scene before me. My mother was wearing her nightclothes. She was deathly white, and one of her eyes was blackened and swollen like an egg. Mark was completely naked. He was very drunk, and my mother was far from sober. Both of them were covered in blood. They were screaming at each other; my mother was shaking with anger. Some of the furniture had been knocked over, and there was blood splattered around the room. I held on to the doorjamb, staring at them in shock. I stood there frozen, unable to move. Mark's blood was streaming down from his face and onto his bare white skin. My mother was twitching from anger and whatever she'd taken. I was never afraid for myself in those moments; I was always afraid for her. Really afraid.
"I beat myself up for a real long time about my mom, until I realized it wasn't her fault. She was a true victim because she was introduced to this when she was a child. When you lose a member of your family, whether it is a blood relative or a friend, due to the disease of drug or alcohol addiction, you beat yourself up for a long time until you realize that it wasn't your fault. And the minute you realize that you didn't cause it, that you can't cure it, and you can't control it, it's like a weight lifted off you." Lorna has no patience for saviors. "We feel so egotistical that we can save people. I remember just recently somebody who kept saying, 'If I'd only been there for so and so.' And I thought, 'Who are you? Why are you so damn self-righteous?'"
Back in the early eighties, Lorna participated in the family program at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California. When confronted there with questions regarding addiction warning signs, she answered them all in the affirmative. "Hey, Yes! I got an 'A' in everything. I was perfect!" she bellows sarcastically. She discovered that she was an enabler, an adult child of addiction, and realized that marrying an alcoholic was symptomatic of the disease–she needed to take care of someone, like she did her mother. The pattern repeats, until the cycle is broken. Thank heaven, Lorna broke it.
Through the program and her own life's journey, she has dicovered the crucialness of self-expression to another. "The easiest thing is not to feel. The hard part is not to feel," Luft specifies. Also, she has come to accept and honor each individual's pace of growth. "It's okay if people don't want to grow and they don't want to go backwards, or forwards, but just stand there. I just don't want to be a part of them." She has cut negative people and victims out of her life. And she has been estranged from her sister, Liza, for several years. Since Luft's book came out in 1998, she has received many emotional letters thanking her for the inspiration to fight this disease of addiction. Presently, she is shepherding her book into an ABC miniseries, set to air next season starring Judy Davis as Garland, and Lorna playing herself as an adult. And her next book will be written for children on current issues.
As we finish our chat, Lorna tries to persuade me to join the AIDS Ride in true Tony Robbins evangelical style. Her enthusiasm and passion are infectious. She's taken life's punches and, at times, she's been battered and bruised, but through her strong-willed resilient character she has endured! Clearly, Lorna has found the treasure at the end of the rainbow.