Best known as Judy Garland's third husband, Sid Luft build his Hollywood reputation by engineering his wife's triumphant comeback career in the 1950s, transforming her into a stage performer and producing her enormously popular concerts and one of her signature films, "A Star is Born" (1954).
The New York City-born native moved to Los Angeles in the late 1930s and started Custom Motors, a custom car company on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Luft, who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940 and later served as a World War II test pilot for Douglas Aircraft, was known as a heavy drinker and barroom brawler, who claimed to have broken four noses in various altercations. During the war, he also survived a near-fatal plane crash that caused severe burns to his legs and hands. A pugnacious onetime amateur boxer known for his penchant for gambling, Luft had worked briefly as a talent agent and produced the B-movies "Kilroy Was Here" (1947), starring Jackie Cooper, and its sequel "French Leave" (1948) when he met Garland in 1950. The same year, Mr. Luft divorced his second wife, B-movie bombshell Lynn Bari. When Luft met Garland, the chemically dependent and depression-plagued MGM star had just been released from the studio and was, in his words, "on the slippery slope to a fade-out." The couple married in 1952 and Luft became Garland's personal manager and producer, engineered her sell-out performances at the London Palladium and the Palace Theatre in New York City. They later formed their own production company to develop Garland's personal dream of playing the lead in a big-screen musical remake of the 1937 film "A Star Is Born," which went on to earn Oscar nominations for both Garland and her co-star, James Mason. The song from that movie, "The Man That Got Away," also earned an Oscar nomination for best song and became another of Garland's signature hits.
Rugged and streetwise, Luft was in marked contrast to Garland's previous two husbands - composer David Rose and director Vincente Minnelli - and prompted one media wag to sarcastically ask, "So, Sid Luft is what a girl finds over the rainbow?" He was criticized in Hollywood circles for having an almost hypnotic, Svengali-like control over his wife, who would do virtually anything he asked of her, though their union was often stormy. They had two children together: a daughter, the actress and singer Lorna Luft; and a son, J y, in 1955. Luft was also stepfather to the singer and actress Liza Minnelli. Though Luft had helped transform Garland into the performer that would eventually become a legend, the marriage ended in divorce in 1965. After he and Garland split, Luft married Patti Hemingway in 1970. That union also ended in divorce, with Garland telling a judge that Luft was a hard-drinking, physically abusive husband. He married an actress, Camille Keaton, in 1993.
Decades later, Luft made headlines when a federal judge in Los Angeles barred him from selling Garland's honorary juvenile Oscar for "The Wizard of Oz," or the replacement statuette she received in 1958 after she claimed the first one was lost. The judge also ordered her former husband to pay $60,000 to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to settle its latest lawsuit against him for repeatedly trying to sell the trophies, which the Academy argued it had the contractual right to buy back for $10. In 2001, Luft was portrayed by Victor Garber in "Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows," a TV movie based on Lorna Luft's memoir. Her father, estranged at that point, was not a fan of the book or the movie, which portrayed him as mismanaging Garland's money and abusing her.