Court cabaret of Minnelli, the bitter 'man beater'

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The Independent US

When Liza Minnelli stepped into a New York courtroom last week for the opening of hearings into her divorce from her estranged husband, David Gest, she asked a court artist to make her "look pretty". That was maybe possible. But disguising the ugliness of this celebrity break-up will not be so easy.

And the war has barely started. True, the judge in the case did rule that the two parties have agreed to abide by a pre-nuptial agreement, signed just eight days before their March 2002 wedding, to divide up their assets. Where it gets nasty, however, is in the lawsuits they have filed against one another.

Mr Gest, an entertainment promoter, is suing Ms Minnelli for $10m (£5.4m), alleging she repeatedly beat him in fits of drunken rage during the 15 months they were together. He claims that he has sustained lasting injuries, including migraines. She is countersuing for $2m, saying he stole from her.

The unhappy couple, who wed in a star-studded ceremony in lower Manhattan with Michael Jackson holding the bride's train and Elizabeth Taylor on hand as maid of honour, are due back in the same courtroom on 20 February. The question, however, is whether either will bother to turn up.

The absent party last week was Mr Gest, 50, detained in Hawaii by his injuries, insisted his lawyer, Raoul Felder. "He had to have 20 injections in his head," he told the judge. "The problem is he can't fly."

That was odd, countered Ms Minnelli's lawyer, Frederic Siegel, given that he managed to host a New Year's Eve television special without apparent difficulty. (And they have the videotape to prove it.) "Either he should come here and be deposed or withdraw his actions," Mr Siegel declared to the court. "There is no reason for him not to be here."

Mr Gest, who had never been married before, was introduced to Ms Minnelli, 57, who had already had four failed marriages, by Michael Jackson during the making of a television tribute to Jackson's career that he was producing.

That both were not present to face one another did little to stem the flow of bile. In fact, Ms Minnelli left quickly after signing papers for the judge. On her behalf, Mr Siegel let the world know of the allegedly cruel and bizarre ways of Mr Gest.

He called his new wife a "slob", Mr Segal said, and forced her to wash her hands before she could touch him. Likewise, he would ask for the phone and the TV remote to be swabbed with alcohol after she used them, presumably to remove her germs.

Mr Felder objected to references in Ms Minnelli's court papers, including an allegation that Mr Gest had sold her piano - given to her by Marvin Hamlisch and played by Janet Jackson, Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne - on the internet auction site eBay.

Proceedings became especially heated when Mr Felder implied that Ms Minnelli had acted "criminally" by withholding details from Mr Gest of an illness that she had. He demanded that the star of Cabaret and daughter of Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli submit to a blood test so the alleged medical condition could be brought into the open.

Only later, when both sides were called into chambers, did Judge John Stackhouse declare that that issue had been resolved. He also warned that Mr Felder would be fined $3,000 if he tried to raise it again.