Lester Anthony Minnelli was born into a family of touring entertainers, performing with his brothers from the age of three, much like his first wife Judy Garland, who toured with her sisters at the same age.
He was the youngest of four sons - only two of whom reached adulthood - of Vincent Charles Minnelli, the conductor of Minnelli Brothers Tent Theatre, and Marie Emilie Odile Lebeau, whose stage name was Mina Genell. The family toured Ohio, Illinois and Indiana before settling permanently in Delaware, Ohio. Minnelli was brought up by his paternal grandmother Nina Picket while he attended school and his parents were touring their shows.
During summer holidays, whilst working as a billboard painter, he showed a talent for drawing and, on leaving school, joined Chicago's Balaban and Katz motion picture theatre chain, as an assistant stage manager and costume designer for its live pre-feature programme. In 1933, he was appointed art director of The Radio City Music Hall in New York, at which point he took on the name Vincente, starting to direct two years later. The first play he directed was a musical revue for the Shuberts called 'At Home Abroad', which opened in October 1935. This was followed by 'The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936', 'Hooray for What!', 'Very Warm for May' and 'The Show is On'.
After staging successful Broadway musicals including Ziegfield Follies, he was invited to Hollywood by MGM producer, Arthur Freed, in 1940. His first screen work was staging isolated musical numbers for Judy Garland in Busby Berkeley's 'Strike Up the Band' (1940) and 'Babes on Broadway' (1941), and he soon began directing features, his first being the all-black musical 'Cabin in the Sky' (1943). Minnelli is famed as an outstanding director of musicals, known for their lavish visual style, striking use of colour, surrealist sequences, use of ballet and clever integration of songs with the narrative theme.
'An American in Paris' (1951) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and 'The Band Wagon' (1953) and 'Gigi' (1958) won both best picture and best director respectively. His other musicals included 'Brigadoon' (1954) and 'Kismet' in 1955. His non-musicals were also successful, including comedy, 'Father of the Bride', drama 'The Bad and the Beautiful' and the Van Gogh biopic 'Lust for Life'. His memoirs, 'I Remember it Well', took their title from a charming duet in 'Gigi'.
During the course of his career he directed seven actors in Oscar-nominated performances such as Spencer Tracey, Gloria Grahame, Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn, Arthur Kennedy, Shirley MacLaine and Martha Hayer. In 1986, just weeks before his death, he was awarded France's highest civilian honour, the Commander Nationale of the Legion of Honour.
Minnelli married four times, most notably to his first wife, Judy Garland, whom he married on 15 June 1945. They divorced in 1951. Their famous daughter, Liza Minnelli (the first of two Minnelli daughters), was born in 1946 and was also the star of his last film, 'A Matter of Time' (1976). She later won an Oscar making the Minnelli's a rare family as father, mother and child had all won an Academy Award.
In 1954, he married Georgette Magnani, with whom he had daughter Christaine in 1955. They divorced in 1957. Minnelli then wed Danica Radosavljiev in 1960 before divorcing in 1971. He married his last wife Lee Anderson in 1980.
He died in 1986 after struggling with emphysema and pneumonia that caused him to be hospitalised several times in the last year of his life. He was interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park.