Around New England

How A Liza Minnelli Movie Changed the Law in Massachusetts

December 13, 2018

On July 31, 1969 Liza Minnelli took off most or all of her clothes in Blue Hills Cemetery in Braintree while acting in a scene for a movie she was making.

That didn’t sit well with a Randolph widow whose husband was buried there. Margaret Fornaro, 48, had lost her husband suddenly six years before, when he was 43.

Fornaro took out criminal complaints against Minnelli and director Otto Preminger for desecrating a cemetery.

When the Preminger case went to trial in Quincy District Court a year later, two police officers who were at the filming testified that Minnelli had been wearing a body stocking. From their vantage point behind her, they said, they couldn’t tell if she had actually removed all clothing, according to a news story in the October 1, 1970 issue of The Boston Globe.

The story’s account of Preminger’s testimony is ambiguous as to whether Minnelli was actually naked in the cemetery. But Preminger said he had gotten permission from one of the cemetery’s owners to film in the cemetery, had shot scenes early in the morning and at night to minimize crowds, and had hired Braintree police officers to keep order during the filming.

Preminger’s lawyer, George McLaughlin Jr., argued in court that the term “desecration” is a violation of the free-speech guarantee in the First Amendment of the federal constitution.

Judge James Mullhall found the director not guilty.

The criminal charge against Minnelli apparently never made it to trial, according to the Patriot Ledger, which ran an item on the case earlier this week.

By the time of Preminger’s trial, the movie, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, had already been released in theaters (May 1970) and had flopped. Most critics didn’t like it. (TV Guide:  “A scarred young woman, a paraplegic homosexual, and an epileptic decide to throw in their lots together in this earnest comedy-drama. Sound like fun? It isn’t.”)

Preminger, who directed the better-known Anatomy of a Murder in 1959, died in 1986 at age 80.

Minnelli, the daughter of Judy Garland, went on to become a movie star two years later when she appeared in Cabaret, for which she won the Academy Award for best actress. She is now 72 and lives in Los Angeles.

One of Minnelli’s co-stars in Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, Ken Howard, went on to star as a basketball coach at a mostly black high school in the television show The White Shadow (1978-1981). He died in March 2016 at age 71.

Preminger’s counsel, George A. McLaughlin Jr., a prominent Boston lawyer whose clients once included Boston Mayor Kevin White, died in 2005 at age 73.

Fornaro, the Randolph resident who brought the criminal complaints for desecrating Blue Hills Cemetery, died in 2000 at age 79. She is buried in Blue Hills Cemetery.

So how did Liza Minnelli’s movie change Massachusetts law?

According to the Patriot Ledger:  “In 1970, the state passed a law sponsored by State Sen. James McIntyre (D-Quincy) called the “Liza Minnelli Law” which requires approval from local officials for filming in cemeteries.”

McIntyre, who served in the Massachusetts Senate from 1965 to 1971 (and as mayor of Quincy from 1966 to 1971), died in 1984 at age 53.

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