Judy would have celebrated a birthday today. I celebrate her always. This one’s my heart.
There are people whose work we enjoy and by virtue of that alone we deem them irreplaceable or unforgettable. There are people with whom we forge an unbreakable, often inexplicable connection because one day they touched us. Then there are those who are that and more. These are the ones whose very talent, the core of their being, comes through in all manner of ways to reach the very depth of our soul, the ones about which we can never doubt what they were put on this world to do.
Ladies and gentlemen, Judy Garland.
“I was born at the age of twelve on an MGM lot.”
As Dorothy Gale in the most beloved movie of all time, Victor Fleming’s THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), she has warmed our hearts for over seven decades. An irrepressible talent even then, she’d’ve been a legend for that alone.
“I’ve always taken ‘The Wizard of Oz’ very seriously, you know. I believe in the idea of the rainbow. And I’ve spent my entire life trying to get over it.”
As the girl next door and love interest in movies with pal, Mickey Rooney, her talent eclipses her cherubic face. She was a beloved staple on the silver screen. An MGM treasure. From Busby Berkeley’s BABES IN ARMS (1939), “Good Morning.”
As the first of her two unforgettable Esthers in Vincente Minnelli’s MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), she turns a song about a trolley into movie magic.
All aboard “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” Judy leads an elaborate number only the magical MGM could produce in George Sidney’s THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946). In the height of her career with MGM, despite the studios’ impressive array of talent, the famed lion roared loudest, more robust for Judy Garland – its brightest star.
(Note: This is a recorded version since access to the video clip was removed, which I have issue with by the way.)
As farmer-turned-musical/variety star the likes of which a barn has never seen in Charles Walters’ SUMMER STOCK (1950). Jane Falbury unexpectedly falls for her sister’s intended, Joe Ross, played by the wonderful Gene Kelly. She sings to a “Friendly Star,” wondering when and where her true love is.
In George Cukor’s A STAR IS BORN (1954), perhaps the best musical drama ever made, in her Best Actress Nominated role as Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester. An Oscar, by the way, that she deserved to win. People forget or dismiss, it seems to me, she didn’t just sing a song. She lived it, acted it, breathed it. I discuss Judy’s performance in A STAR IS BORN, her best, in one of the first blog posts I ever did. You can access it here if you’re interested. As actress and as performer Judy is unforgettable in this film.
As host of her own musical/variety show, The Judy Garland Show, which was shown on CBS on Sunday nights for two seasons (1963-1964). Only in her forties, Judy often looked tired but her heart shined bright and her voice remained a wonder.
I own the collection of her TV shows on DVD and watch them as often as I can. I know her gestures, inflections and the words by heart. And yet the wonder and awe never cease as in each viewing I see and hear a new facet of this star’s enduring legend. Her connection to an audience is palpable. What she gives in each performance is blood and guts. Never anything less. Power and vulnerability the likes of which I have never seen in any other entertainer. If I were granted one wish where I could possibly go back in time to watch one performer live, it would be Judy Garland.
As I’ve shared a few of her standout moments in film, I must share one from her television variety show. I debated which of the many songs she performed on the show to share here. Standard after standard performed in the incomparable Garland style. It’s not an easy task to choose just one. The Judy Garland Show featured a concert segment each week where the star simply sang – an intimate affair between the star and her audience. I might mention the segment’s only prop or decoration (in many installments) was a trunk, a direct connection to her “Born in a Trunk” medley in A STAR IS BORN. Not surprisingly, the concert portion of each show is my favorite. Just Judy singing.
Following is the performance I chose to share because of its interesting back story. Judy sings the torch song, “As Long As He Needs Me,” from the musical, Oliver! Part of the song’s lyrics go like this…
…The way I feel inside.
The love, I have to hide…
The hell! I’ve gone my pride
As long as he needs me.
In reviewing the line-up for that particular week’s show, the censors took note of the word “hell” in the song and demanded Judy sing an alternate version of the lyric or face a hefty fine. Be aware that at the time Judy Garland was all but broke, a result of mismanagement and abuse by several who should have been looking out for her interests. She needed the show. She needed the money. She agreed with the censors, stating she wouldn’t sing the original lyric – to their face, that is. Here is that performance where, she not only sings the lyric as originally written, but gives the censors a distinct, if ever so brief, dirty look right into the camera. Just one more reason to love her as an artist. I dare you to not get chills as you watch and listen – simply standing behind a trunk, living each word, when that music swells and her voice sores. This is Judy. My goodness.
Finally, recognition of Judy as the legend – the concert years…
Hailed “The Greatest Night in Show Biz History” – Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall, 1961.
I have to admit I’ve been nervous about today’s tribute, about what to mention versus what to omit and about facing the difficult task of expressing what this beloved entertainer means to me. If what I’ve presented didn’t do the trick, let me state it simply – I love Judy Garland, an artist whose extraordinary talent barely fit in her 4’11” frame. As I watch the work she produced toward the end of her career, the television shows in particular – I hear her voice crack, watch intently as she tugs at her hair, listen closely as she leaves no note un-perturbed by that voice – and I am invariably reminded of words I heard in a documentary, “is she falling apart, or am I?” I can’t help but feel it simply should not have been possible – what she could do – the sheer power of the talent that was Judy Garland.
Judy Garland will always go on singing for me and her legion of fans. I like to think that wherever she is she’s found her rainbow.