Judy Garland: A Portrait in Art and Anecdoteby John Fricke, Lorna Luft
In a career that spanned five decades and encompassed stardom in every medium, Judy Garland's professional achievements remain unsurpassed. Now her timeless joy comes alive in Judy Garland: A Portrait In Art & Anecdote. Hundreds of rare and previously unpublished photographs, studio memorabilia, and personal mementos from the family archives, along with scores of anecdotes drawn from interviews with her professional colleagues, friends, family, and Judy herself, showcase her on- and off-stage "talent to amuse." Decade by decade, her incomparable accomplishments on stage, film, television, radio, and recordings are lovingly illustrated and remembered by those who knew her best. Often funny, sometimes poignant, but always fascinating, this book singularly conveys the happiness that Garland's own great and buoyantly emotional performances have brought to hundreds of millions of admirers. Anyone who ever enjoyed a Garland song will revel in this glowing, lavishly illustrated tribute.
Author Biography: John Fricke is the leading authority on the life of Judy Garland. He is an Emmy Award-winning producer and best-selling author of The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History. He lives in New York City.
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By John Fricke
Bulfinch PressCopyright © 2003 John Fricke
All right reserved.
IntroductionIn June 1998, New York's Carnegie Hall paid tribute to the music of Judy Garland in two special concert performances. Veteran actor Robert Stack served as cohost for those sold-out evenings; he'd first met Judy in 1935, prior to the onset of either of their feature film careers, and their friendship continued for many years.
To kick off the Carnegie Hall event, Stack offered a thought-provoking and ultimately riveting perspective attendant to Garland's place in the entertainment pantheon. Judy Garland, he noted, would today be a show business legend if she had only played Dorothy in the 1939 film classic, The Wizard of Oz. Or if she had only performed as the preeminent female musical motion picture star of the 1940s and early 1950s in such vehicles as Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, and A Star Is Born. Or if she had only achieved her stage and concert career at the Palace Theatre, the Metropolitan Opera House, and Carnegie Hall in New York; the Palladium in London; and the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Or if she had only appeared on her celebrated television specials and TV series for CBS, or on her many recordings for the Decca and Capitol labels.
But, as Stack concluded, in a career that spanned nearly forty-five of her forty-seven years, Judy Garland did all of that and much more.
A prodigious amount of rapturously acclaimed multimedia accomplishment is, of course, not unique to Judy Garland. The preservation and presentation of visual and vocal ability was first made possible by the technical discoveries of the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Since then, there have been a number of other entertainers-among the very best in their fields-who have left a remarkable legacy in a varied body of work or who continue to enrich their already exemplary professional reputations.
However, only a very few of those performers have flourished across seven decades, their powers oblivious to changing tastes in entertainment and music. Arguably, the most transcendent of all of them is Judy Garland. Her penchant for professional "comebacks" during the last two decades of her life was something the press never failed to exploit (and which she herself never failed to self-deprecatingly mock: "I'm the Queen of the Comebacks!"). But even given the inherent hyperbole and show business overkill of Garland's sobriquets, there was very little verbal or media challenge when she was described and billed during her lifetime as "a living legend" and the "world's greatest entertainer."
What is further unique to Judy Garland is the frequency and level of rediscovery continually inspired by her talent. Since her death in 1969, her abilities not only have been repeatedly remembered and embraced but have proved to be powerfully, emotionally timeless and, as they were during her career, cross-generational in appeal. Some of the ongoing praise for Garland comes from her peers, her contemporary critics, and the fans who grew up with (or at least watching) her. But an equal amount of jubilation now rises as well from the much younger but maturing reviewers and audiences of today. Millions have come to Judy in the decades since her passing; their initial, unforgettable encounter invariably occurred with Dorothy Gale from Kansas, but-in the new millennium world of cable and satellite transmission, home video, compact disc reissue, and the Internet-they can more quickly than ever discover that the Yellow Brick Road led to an overwhelming series of triumphs for the four-foot-eleven-inch girl from Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Those who experienced her live theater work correctly argue that one needed to see Judy Garland perform in person to experience the full impact of her charisma. Such magnetism stemmed from an uncommon, singular amalgam of ability coupled with what a Garland coworker once appreciatively described as "a force field around her that was so powerful, it would reach the back of the house." Yet that potency-both during her lifetime and since-remains remarkably undiluted as well in its ability to impact even through the "cold" media of film, video, disc, and audiotape. As a recorded image, Garland continues to explode: an unsurpassed presence and a deeply felt emotional experience.
As such, she still reaches even the most stringently critical audiences. In autumn 2000, a Manhattan inner-city high school teacher showed Garland's rendition of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" to a United States history class immersed in studies of the Civil War. The performance had double relevance; as the teacher explained, Judy had performed it on a January 1964 episode of her CBS-TV series in unspoken tribute to President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated the previous November.
Raised in the quick-edit, lip-synched era of MTV, the students were initially disconcerted but ultimately electrified at the sight of someone standing and singing so passionately, alive and unencumbered. They knew Dorothy Gale; they were unprepared for Judy Garland. When she finished, there was an almost religious hush in the sometimes rowdy room. Then one student quietly ventured, "Is she dead?" A classmate rhetorically and almost omnisciently answered, "Who could sing like that and live?"
Judy Garland sang with richness, purity, and power. Her acting possessed equal sincerity, which made her real and believable in even the most lightweight of musical comedy scripts. She danced with such flair that critic Judith Crist once defined Garland as the only partner of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly who was capable of drawing audience attention away from those extraordinary men. Her intelligence, ebullient personality, and comic timing made her even more entertaining onstage or on television than she was in the context of a film role.
Though motion pictures provided her worldwide fame, Garland had her heart and heritage firmly rooted in stage work. Excerpts from three contemporary critiques of her theatrical performances provide both a time capsule of that aspect of her career and a fair approximation of the professional reverberation her appearance could elicit-even during an era when professional critics were very seldom given to overstatement:
She sang in a way that produced in the audience sensations that haven't been equalled in years. She has the divine instinct to be herself on the stage, along with a talent for singing, a trick of rocking the spectators with rhythms, and a capacity for putting emotion into her performance that suggests what Sarah Bernhardt must have been ... simple, sincere feeling that reaches the heart.
Her sense of rhythm and projection is simply amazing. Hundreds of people fought their way down the aisles to get a nearer look. After the last number had been repeated, and the entire audience seemed to move forward as in a gigantic ocean wave, the lights were finally lowered to an accompaniment of quasi-hysterical cries and shrieks.
We found her last evening to be an enchanting entertainer, an exquisite artist.... Her distinctive personality was intact, her mode of delivery strong and glowing, her personal charm indisputable. Her voice was bright with infectious vitality-it struck sparks. All the spectators arose and cheered; people streamed down the side aisles to applaud as near to the star as possible. She had a great triumph.
Perhaps even someone reasonably familiar with Judy Garland's history would consider the foregoing reviews as accompaniment to such a signal success as her first Broadway stage triumph in 1951 or her concert resurgence in 1961. True, Garland's working career covered five decades: the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. And there was indeed an almost laughably frequent Mount Everest-like range of performing pinnacles throughout many of those years. But 1951 and 1961 are generally conceded to be apex moments.
Remarkably, those three critical estimations are drawn from three different decades and span nearly thirty-five years of journalism. The first, excerpted from the appreciation of a Los Angeles journalist, describes his exposure to the twelve-year-old pre-Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Garland in 1934. The second encompasses quotes from the Philadelphia critics, reviewing Judy at age twenty-one in her very first concert appearance, held at the outdoor Robin Hood Dell (where 15,000 people crowded into an amphitheater meant to hold 5,000, and 15,000 more were turned away). The final comments summarize the reactions of critics in Denmark, preconditioned by years of adverse publicity, who were, on the evening in question, getting their first glimpse of "Judy Garland live." She was forty-six; that Copenhagen performance in 1969 would be the final concert of her career.
Naurally, there are thousands of similar quotes from professional journalists-and perhaps a like amount from the hundreds of coworkers, friends, and family members who knew Judy Garland personally and professionally. Such opinions create an extraordinary portrait of her capacity to care and share, as well as an understanding of her inability to hold anything back, onstage or off.
Of course, the sensitivity that was paramount among Garland's personal and professional hallmarks could sometimes distance her from those viewers or listeners who were unable to deal with the authenticity and actuality of that kind of emotion. Additionally, the vulnerability that made her an original as both performer and human being left her infinitely more susceptible to the pressures of life in show business-even while such stress was readily absorbed by many of the more impervious souls around her. Regrettably (if understandably), Judy's emotional fragility would lose the battle again and again when pitted against the manipulative, sometimes abusive, and overwhelmingly commercial world of entertainment.
As a result, the decades of Garland's accomplishments have often been overshadowed by the media's disproportionate concentration on her consequent personal travail. Illnesses and hospitalizations, overwork and battles with prescription medication, canceled concerts and aborted film roles, multiple marriages and premature death were all described in detail as they happened. Since her passing, Garland's reputation has been further dragged through the muck by a score of biographies and documentaries, many grossly inaccurate and lacking in perspective.
But if these have been read and watched, they have also to some extent been dismissed. In this more informed era, the public can bring its own perspective to the family dysfunction, financial mismanagement, and substance abuse to which Garland fell prey. (They would also support the rationale put forth by one of Judy's wiser biographers, who pointedly told an interviewer in 1969 that there are many people who marry more than once, have emotional problems, and die young ... and contribute nothing else to the world.) Given the pleasure Garland's work continues to provide-and as more and more accurate information becomes available about the reasons behind Garland's problems-her audiences, young and old, are ever more able to draw their own conclusions about both the human being and the performer, well beyond any media muckraking.
During her lifetime, Garland made monumental efforts to rise above and carry on despite any problems or rumors. (As early as 1959, she sagely dismissed a lot of conjecture with the blithe observance "So much hooey about me has been published ...") While she would at times privately rant and rail about the vicissitudes of her day-to-day life, she seldom offered any public complaint. Judy was more likely to burlesque that aspect of her public image, kidding about herself in the third person as she impersonated an imaginary friend: "Judy? Oh, she's marvelous. A marvelous lady. Poor girl. What's she doing now? I feel so sorry for her. I can't wait to see her again.... I hope she doesn't fall down."
For Garland, saving emotional grace often came in the presence of her three children; Judy was always acknowledged by family and friends as someone who did the best she could to support her children with love. She was more successful at some moments than others, but she was also a working-and often single-mother, long before society would generally comprehend the difficulties of such a role. Despite the sometime hell of their experiences together, all three of Garland's children are on public and private record with respect to the unwavering affection and laughter they shared with her. As daughter Lorna Luft has definitely pronounced in recent years, "Yes, tragic things happened to my mother. But she was not a tragedy."
Whatever the misbegotten media image of "poor Judy" over the past decades, Garland's talent and truth in performance have never failed to re-establish her. In 2001, journalist Matt Roush accurately summarized Garland as "the mercurial entertainer whose personal, financial, and physical calamities always threatened to eclipse her reputation ... until she sang." In the past fifteen years, Judy's prestige has been additionally well served by the work of archivists and historians and their discovery of hours of Garland audio and visual rarities, unheard or unseen for decades. Such findings have included many of the original prerecordings for her films, covering material from the 1930s to the1960s; home movies of her live performances from the 1950s and 1960s; and the master tapes (including outtakes) from her 1963-64 television series. Ironically, but happily, the vast majority of this material gives the lie to any negative Garland legend or temperamental behavior. The very few comparatively minor flashes of frustration are self-directed; what is again and again apparent is the work ethic she possessed and Garland's quiet determination to better herself and her performance. As one producer noted with satisfaction, such findings "belie the Hollywood mythology that surrounds her career.... What we hear is a consummate professional, having a great time and connecting with her innate, brilliant musicianship."
The litany of Judy Garland's professional achievement is traced in the ensuing pages, but it should be noted in brief that:
From age two until age thirteen (even before going to M-G-M) she performed in hundreds of vaudeville and radio shows with her two older sisters.
She appeared in thirty-two feature films, did voice-over work for two more, and was featured in at least a half-dozen short subjects. (For her screen work, she received a special Academy Award and was nominated for two others.)
She starred in thirty of her own television shows-Garland and those programs garnering ten Emmy nominations-and she guest-starred on nearly thirty others.
Excerpted from Judy Garland by John Fricke Copyright ©2003 by John Fricke . Excerpted by permission.
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