Cabaret’s real-life star ‘hated’ movie’s ‘anti-feminist’ portrayal | Films | Entertainment

Cabaret took the musical world by storm when it first hit Broadway in 1966. The story was later adapted into a musical movie which was released in 1972, which starred Liza Minnelli as Sally, and won eight Oscars. It is still the record holder for the picture with the most Oscar wins without winning the Best Picture Award.

Much of the film’s praise came from Sally’s eccentric and loveable character. But Jean Ross, the real-life cabaret singer on who Sally was based, slammed the character and criticised those looking to interview her about the film.

After the success of the 1972 movie, Jean was hounded about the backstory behind the semi-autobiographical story of Isherwood’s Cabaret.

She hit out at the press for claiming to “seek knowledge about Berlin in the 1930s” but not wanting “to know about the unemployment or the poverty or the Nazis marching through the streets”. She added: “All they want to know is how many men I went to bed with.”

In particular, however, Jean did not like how Sally went against her own feminist ideals.

Jean’s daughter, Sarah Caudwell, explained that Sally offended Jean’s “feminist convictions”. She stated that Isherwood’s original portrayal of Sally insisted that “a woman must be either virtuous (in the sexual sense) or a tart. So Sally, who is plainly not virtuous, must be a tart to depend for a living on providing sexual pleasure”.

This portrayal of a woman, Sarah revealed, would have “seemed to [Ross] the ultimate denial of freedom and emancipation”.

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Although Jean disliked the character based on her, she never retaliated – and with good reason. Jean was a political activist in her later years, marching for rights and fighting against injustices.

Jean’s daughter pointed out: “She never cared enough, however, to be moved to any public rebuttal. She did from time to time settle down conscientiously to write a letter, intending to explain to Isherwood the ways in which she thought he had misunderstood her; but it seldom progressed beyond ‘Dear Christopher…'” She added: “It was interrupted, no doubt, by more urgent things: meetings about Vietnam, petitions against nuclear weapons, making my supper, hearing my French verbs.”

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Sarah went on to say: “It was in Isherwood’s life, not hers [Jean’s], that Sally Bowles remained a significant figure.”

Isherwood never responded to Jean’s criticisms, but he was quick to point out how “wrong” for the Cabaret movie Minnelli was.

Isherwood noted that Minnelli was far “too talented” to play Sally Bowles. The author explained that Sally was “under the delusion” that she had star quality.

Minnelli – or “Judy Garland’s daughter” as he would call her – was far too good to be considered a delusional amateur with no hope of breaking into the industry.


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