“The most talented woman I ever knew was Judy Garland.” – Bing Crosby
If you remove the “I ever knew” from Bing’s quote the statement stands true for me as well. Judy was a marvel, the biggest star at Hollywood’s biggest studio, a truthful performer, a life-long entertainer, and a natural talent who moves me immeasurably.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Judy’s birth in Grand Rapids, MN on June 10, 1922, I chose radio, “the theater of the mind.” I think you’ll enjoy these programs as much as I do in memory of Judy and any time you want to be entertained the good, old-fashioned way.
As with all else Judy Garland did, she gave her all on the radio and I plan to spend my Judy day listening to these broadcasts. I suggest you do the same if you are unable to watch her movies, which are featured on TCM every Friday in June in honor of Judy’s centennial.
I think too few people spend time with old-time radio and Judy’s appearances are perfect to make a fan out of them all. While Judy did not have her own radio program as many classic movie stars did, her comedic chops and incredible voice made her a guest in many variety shows that are supremely entertaining. She appeared in many too. At the height of her popularity at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), particularly between 1940 and 1941, Garland appeared in forty radio programs in addition to six motion pictures. In the mid-1940s MGM brass noted Judy its greatest asset. That’s not bad for the little girl with the big voice that studio did not know what to do with.
In line with MGM, I believe Judy is among our greatest assets. She was an entertainer who offered tears and laughter depending on what you see and hear from her incredible career. Judy gave her all at every turn. Ann Miller, who was also at MGM, said that Judy had a force field around her that filled the back of the house. That force field is felt with every performance, be it in her movies, on stage, or on the radio.
Let’s begin with the musical variety show, Shell Chateau, an episode hosted by Wallace Beery with a 12-year-old Judy Garland as a guest:
George Jessel hosts this Thirty Minutes in Hollywood with Judy as one of the guests in 1937:
The debut episode of Gulf Screen Guild Show in 1939 features an outstanding array of stars including Judy:
Judy and Mickey Rooney recreated their screen roles for this Screen Guild Theater presentation of Babes in Arms from 1941:
Here is Judy’s appearane on The Chase and Sanborn Hour from 1941:
In 1943, Judy joined Gene Kelly and Dick Powell in For Me and My Gal at Screen Guild Theatre:
The movie version of For Me and My Gal, directed by Busby Berkeley in 1942 proved consequential in Judy’s career as it was the first movie where her name appeared above the title. Thanks to Judy who rallied for him, For Me and My Gal was also Gene kelly’s film debut. This was the first of three movies they did together. In case you do not know, Gene Kelly went on to have a pretty darn great career himself.
From Lux Radio Theatre in 1942, Morning Glory with John Payne and Adolphe Menjou joining Judy:
Judy returned to Lux Radio Theatre in December 1942 to perform in A Star is Born opposite Walter Pidgeon:
Judy joins Bud Abbott and Lou Costello on this 1942 episode of The Charlie McCarthy Show:
With Groucho Marx, Betty Grable, and Judy Garland, you can say that this is a truly special Mail Call from 1943:
This 1944 presentation of Mail Call teams Judy with Jack Benny and his shenanigans:
Judy’s is just one of the big names in this star studded Command Performance from 1945:
This installment of Command Performance also from 1945 is particularly enjoyable. Judy wants Bob Hope to help her choose a leading man, between Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, to appear in a picture with her:
From 1946 Drive In, an epsiode of Suspense starring Judy. This is a rarity:
In this 1946 episode of The Philco Radio Time with Bing Crosby Judy sings a lullaby to her eight month old daughter Liza, among other wonderful moments:
Judy joins forces with John Hodiak for this Lux Radio Theatre presentation of “The Clock” from 1946:
This is a repeat Lux Radio Theatre presentation of Meet Me in St. Louis originally from 1946 and it is a must:
Lux Radio Theatre presents The Wizard of Oz in 1950:
Bing Crosby was incredibly supportive of Judy and had her as a guest on his radio program twelve times in five months following her release from MGM. Following are three of those episodes of The Bing Crosby Show with Judy Garland:
By some accounts, Judy’s success on Bing’s radio program built her confidence enough so that she followed those appearances with a concert at the London palladium. The legendary second act of her career began.
Capitalizing on Judy’s stage success led to A Star is Born, directed by George Cukor in 1954 and Garland’s greatest screen performance, a performance for which she should have taken home the Academy Award. “I really hated the Academy that year,” Judy’s riend June Allyson said, “Judy should have had that Oscar.” Allyson’s feelings mirrored throughout Hollywood and one has to wonder if taking home Oscar would have made a difference to Judy’s life and career. Still, as she’d done her entire life, Judy bounced back to continue her legacy as one of Hollywood’s greatest talents.
In 1955, Judy starred in a Ford Star Jubilee TV special based on her act from The Palace where she had broken all-time attendance records. She was so great, in fact, that Judy received a special Tony Award that year. She was the most celebrated live performer in the world. As for the TV special from 1955, you can catch it on YouTube here. By the end you will be sobbing with Judy’s heartwrenching, microphone-less performance of Over the Rainbow.
Judy Garland went on to become the highest paid Las Vegas performer, more successful tours, popular TV appearances, and her own TV series in addition to a few more movies. All of that including her Hollywood and radio work made for one of the most memorable careers in Hollywood. All of it conributed to her enduring legend.
To conclude this tribute to Judy, here is Recollections at 30 featuring Ginger Rogers, Judy, and several others in items recorded in the 1930s. This was compiled and re-broadcast together in 1956 for NBC’s celebration of its 30th year of broadcasting. Hosted by Ed Herlihy:
A friend recently asked if I thought Judy knew she was a legend. The answer is yes. I do not believe she had the opportunity to enjoy it much, but she knew it. Despite her many troubles, Judy had to know she was unique and that audiences loved her. Then – and still do now. She remains an inspiration to me and millions of others. If you ever visit me, don’t be surprised if we end up watching a Judy performance or two during which I will laud her extradinary way around a song. No one was like her. No one.
“Judy Garland was the most exciting sheer talent I ever worked with.” – Norman Jewison
“She was just simply wonderful.” – Fred Astaire