“I don’t know why, but a child can bring you to believe in yourself again,” said Judy Garland. “Perhaps it’s because of the way they believe in you.”

It’s been 55 years since Judy’s passing, but her daughter Liza Minnelli still believes in her mother’s goodness and misses her every day. “As I grew up, we became incredibly close,” says Liza, 78, who adds that she only has wonderful memories of the woman she called “Mama.” “I became her best friend and confidante. We would laugh and talk for hours. Sometimes in person, sometimes on the phone, depending where we were.’’

The child of the Wizard of Oz star and director Vincente Minnelli entered the world already famous. According to the new documentary Liza: A Truly Terrific Absolutely True Story, the third person to hold her after she was born was Frank Sinatra. “She came from one of the most talented women of the 20th century, Judy Garland, and one of the most talented men, Vincente Minnelli,” director Bruce David Klein exclusively tells Closer. “She was taught to tap-dance by Gene Kelly.”

Some of Liza’s happiest childhood memories are of dancing for her parents as a little girl. “When I was older, like 11, she’d sing ‘Swanee,’ and she made me dance to it,” remembers Liza. “She got such a kick out of it. It was like, ‘Look what I made.’ And I was so happy whenever she was happy.”

Judy and Liza Were United by Love

In 1959, Judy was hospitalized for acute hepatitis. The years of prescription uppers and downers first forced upon her as a teenager by her studio minders had begun to do irreversible damage to her body. “They’d give me and Mickey Rooney pills to keep us on our feet long after we were exhausted,” Judy told biographer Paul Donnelley. “Then they’d take us to the studio hospital and knock us out with sleeping pills. Then after four hours, they ’d wake us up and give us the pep pills again so we could work 72 hours in a row… It was a way of life for us.”

Early on, Liza remained oblivious to her mother’s health struggles, but she observed that no matter how bad Judy felt, she would always rouse herself in time for a performance. “She had drive and she had guts,” says Liza. “She had huge ambition, a great sense of resilience, and a simply wonderful sense of humor. I like to think she passed those three traits on to me.”

By the time her half-siblings Lorna, 71, and Joey, 69, entered the family during Judy’s marriage to Sid Luft, Liza functioned as her mother’s confidante and helper. “It was as though Liza had become the mom and Judy the child,” says Mike Selsman, who worked as a press agent for the star in the 1960s. “It was sweet, kind of nice to watch, but a little disturbing.”

The circumstances made Liza grow up quickly. “Liza would often help her mother to bed and try to talk her out of taking pills, but it was futile,” says an insider. “Meanwhile, Judy would tell her that they only had each other to rely on. That’s a lot of pressure for a young adult.” It broke Judy’s heart when she was unable to cope with the demands of motherhood herself. “If only she could have given them as much care as she did love,” Anne Edwards, author of Judy Garland: A Biography, tells Closer exclusively. “She wanted more than anything else to be a good mother.”

Fortunately, children are often more resilient than adults. The difficulties Judy’s family suffered were just facts of their lives. “There were no middles, no times when I was just tranquil,” admitted Liza. “I was used only to screaming attacks or excessive love bouts, rivers of money or no money at all, seeing my mother constantly or not seeing her for weeks at a time.”

Liza Minnelli and Judy Garland's Secrets Kept From the World
Screen Archives/Getty Images

​Liza Became a Rising Star

Liza’s decision to enter the entertainment business remained strictly her own. “Mother doesn’t give me any advice,” she said in 1968. “She doesn’t believe in it. She says she trusts me. That’s a good feeling.” Despite watching her parents struggle with the fickleness of fame, income that flowed then dried up, and the lack of privacy in the press, Liza never wanted to be anything but a performer.

She made her Broadway debut in 1965 at age 19 in Flora the Red Menace. On opening night, Judy cheered proudly from the audience. “The hardest part was getting to be known as myself as opposed to somebody ’s daughter,” admits Liza, who did it in spades. She is one of the few performers to become an EGOT winner, recipient of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. “Her journey is inextricably connected to her mother’s,” says Klein, “But Judy dies, and Liza comes into her own…. Within three to five years, she was winning a Tony, an Oscar and on and on: a mind-blowing accomplishment.”

Unlike so many children of legends, Liza has never tried to cash in on her mother’s legacy by releasing a scandalous tell-all book about what she witnessed in her youth. Fiercely protective of Judy’s memory, she is at peace remaining the keeper of her mother’s secrets. More than anything, she prefers to remember the good times with her Mama. “We had such fun because she was so funny. She was funny, and she loved her kids so much,” says Liza. “She was protective and very strict. She wanted you to do the right thing, like any mother. It’s that simple.”