Remembering Judy and Liza’s Biggest Fan -- Scott Schechter

by Kevin Scott Hall

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday June 24, 2009

Scott Schechter might well have been Judy and Liza's biggest fan, and certainly one of the few who turned his passion into a celebrated career in his own right.

Beginning in the late '90s, Schechter almost single-handedly brought Garland back to new life, as a co-producer of the highly regarded Judy four-CD Box set, in which the New York Post praised his extensive liner notes.

In the years that followed, he wrote Judy Garland: The Day by Day Chronicle of a Legend, The Liza Minnelli Scrapbook, was a consulting producer on the award-winning E! True Hollywood Story about Garland, and was an important force in the re-release of an uncut Judy at Carnegie Hall CD, Liza's Capitol Records Collection and the DVD release of the 26 episodes of The Judy Garland Show. In addition, he wrote numerous articles about the mother and daughter.

His efforts eventually brought him into Minnelli's coveted inner circle and he ran her website. She was known to frequently call him for accuracy about events in her family's life.

In early May, he met with record executives to discuss a release of the concert of Judy and Liza at the London Palladium.

Schechter would not see that project come to fruition, nor see his beloved Liza triumph at this year's Tony Awards.

Tragically, Schechter died suddenly of a heart attack at age 48 on May 14. On June 13, he was fondly remembered by a large group of friends in a memorial service at Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, where he lived with his partner of eight years, Russell Klein.

While obituaries spoke of his work on behalf of the Garland estate, friends recalled a gentle soul who loved animals, was active in the renaissance of Asbury Park, had been an editor of Rainbow Room/Tri-City News, and as one who had a short career in New York cabaret clubs himself in the early '90s.

Klein recalled how they humorously met on a rainy, windswept night in March 2001, after an unsuccessful Date Bait at New York's Gay Community Center. They shared an umbrella to the subway and talked by phone for two weeks straight after that. They moved to Asbury Park in 2003.

Best friend Jeannie Potter said, "It was truly magical, the world that Scooter [his nickname among those closest to him] created." She told of how they had seen Liza at the Palace in December and walked outside to a beautiful, snowy evening, and how happy they were. "I will always remember him on that night."

Publicist Scott Gorenstein had known Schechter since they were about 14 and living in Philadelphia, having joined a Liza Minnelli fan club at the same time. "We always thought it was such a great gift that we shared this passion." He paused, then said, "I have never loved her without him."

Linda Amiel Burns, founder of The Singing Experience, said he had taken her workshop several times between 1989 and 1992, eventually doing his own show and appearing in a revue of Peter Allen's music. For that show, he insisted on singing Quiet Please, There's a Lady on the Stage, which Allen had written for Garland (he was once married to Minnelli).

"I was very upset to learn about Scott's death," Burns said. "He was a terrific guy and a good friend." She recalled that he had once sent her tapes that he had secretly recorded of LIza's show and also Lorna Luft at the Rainbow Room.

"Scott's passing is such a great loss to his family, his life partner and to his work and research-but mostly to his friends," she said.

Minnelli had been in Paris working with Charles Aznavour when she heard of Schechter's death and was working in Germany at the time of the memorial service.

In a statement read by one of her staff members, she expressed her grief and shock, and had a fond memory of seeing him at the Bistro Awards in February. She expressed her gratitude for his efforts in keeping her and mother's music relevant and current for her fans.

She closed her note by saying, "I will miss this kind and gentle man who was well-loved by all of his friends."

The irony was not lost on his friends that he died at a time when Liza was reaching another career pinnacle and the 40th anniversary of Garland's death was approaching, and that he died at about the same age as Garland at her death.

It's a loss, one friend pondered, that was extremely tragic and yet somehow poetic. "Perhaps he's talking with his idol right now."

Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).