JUDY – “HOW DO YOU MEASURE MIRACLES?”
[Above: Here’s “Dorothy Gale, from Kansas,” as portrayed by the most recognizable, legendary, and iconic entertainer ever to play that role. This month, we present a special blog in her honor, so . . . Tympani roll! Ladies and gentlemen – and as the announcer introduced her on the ABC-TV show, THE HOLLYWOOD PALACE on Saturday, November 13, 1965: “The incomparable Miss Judy Garland.” 😊 ]
As many (perhaps most!) of you by now know, our 2022 vlogs-and-blogs series is duo-devoted to a celebration of Judy Garland’s centennial and to reflections about -- and acknowledgements of -- many of the other actresses who have played the role of Dorothy Gale. (It’s been exactly 120 years since L. Frank Baum’s character was first dramatized.) Last month and this month, however, we’ve departed from that specific format, and we’ve let the spotlight shine solely on Judy.
Because last Friday, June 10, 2022, was The Actual Event Itself: June 10, 1922 – June 10, 2022!
So let’s begin our 100th birthday/anniversary Garland commemoration by asking: “How Do You Measure Miracles?” That five-word quote is taken from a Toronto TELEGRAM newspaper review of Judy’s December 1961 concert at Canada’s O’Keefe Centre, and it’s the same basic popular and professional reaction she garnered virtually all of her performing life. As a child in 1930s vaudeville, she was defined as "the little girl with the great big voice." As the preeminent female star of musical motion pictures in the 1940s, she was known as "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's greatest asset.” (And this happened, in fact, at the peak of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and when MGM rightly boasted and promoted that they employed “More Stars Than There Are in the Heavens.”) In the 1950s -- when Judy returned to revue work on stage, began appearing on television, and was cutting classic “concept [record] albums” – she was billed as "Miss Show Business." And when she began to tour in concert in 1960, the posters simply read, "JUDY/World's Greatest Entertainer."
Even now, decades later – and with several score years for pondering or reevaluation -- it would be difficult to argue with any of those declarations.
As noted above, it was on June 10, 1922 -- at 5:30 a.m. -- that seven-pound Frances Ethel Gumm was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. She made her formal stage debut thirty months later and thereafter sang in vaudeville with her two older siblings; they were billed as “The Gumm Sisters.” By age ten, "Baby" Gumm -- as she was nicknamed by her family -- was the show-stopper of every performance. Entertainer George Jessel first heard her a couple of years later and marveled at her vocal power, quality, and ability to interpret lyrics: “She sang with the voice of a thirty-year-old woman.”
[Above: As promised in this month’s vlog – the link to which may be found on the Oz Museum’s Facebook page – here are some glimpses of THE WIZARD OF OZ: Behind-the-Scenes! The first, up top, shows Judy in a welcoming pose with Pat Walshe, the “little person” and veteran vaudeville animal impersonator who played Nikko – Winged Monkey sidekick and familiar to Wicked Witch Margaret Hamilton. (Note: This photo was taken during the first two weeks of OZ filming under director Richard Thorpe. Judy sports a long blonde wig, different and heavier make-up, and an alternate Dorothy dress. All the footage that depicted her in this manner was junked after Thorpe was fired from the film.) The subsequent still shows Judy, “new” Tin Man, Jack Haley (who took over the role when originally-cast Buddy Ebsen became seriously ill), and Scarecrow Ray Bolger. This day’s work – and two more along with it – had to be junked, as well, when it was realized that Haley’s costume was supposed to be tarnished and rusty – not a sparkling silver. Judy then posed with him again, after the actor’s garb had been suitably sullied and stained; she, however, wears lined, quilted footwear – a more comfortable (if only momentary) substitute for the ruby slippers. Finally, the quintessential Dorothy Gale takes a break outside an MGM soundstage in Culver City, CA. She’s wearing the same little booties here, and perusing a December 1938 issue of LIFE Magazine, Meanwhile, three of her coworkers peruse her!]
The by-then renamed Judy Garland was signed to a long-term Hollywood studio contract at age thirteen, and MGM's composing/arranging mainstay Roger Edens ultimately declared, "Judy was the most important thing to happen to the MGM musical." Edens wrote "Dear Mr. Gable" for her, and when that song was included in BROADWAY MELODY OF 1938, it both established her as a screen personality and became a hit record.
Such popularity also increased her already regular appearances on network radio and launched a movie career that would encompass twenty-seven motion pictures in fifteen years: 1936-1950. These included such timeless or contemporary classics as THE WIZARD OF OZ (last month’s blog, accessible below, specifically discussed Judy’s Ozian adventure), LITTLE NELLIE KELLY, ZIEGFELD GIRL, PRESENTING LILY MARS, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, ZIEGFELD FOLLIES, THE CLOCK, TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY, THE HARVEY GIRLS, THE PIRATE, WORDS AND MUSIC, IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME, and SUMMER STOCK. Opposite Mickey Rooney, Judy costarred in three of the "Andy Hardy" series and four more major musicals: BABES IN ARMS, STRIKE UP THE BAND, BABES ON BROADWAY, and GIRL CRAZY. Gene Kelly made his movie debut – at Judy’s request -- as her leading man in FOR ME AND MY GAL, and film veteran Fred Astaire came out of retirement just to work with her in EASTER PARADE.
[Above: MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) was Judy’s top grossing MGM film . . . until EASTER PARADE came along four years later.]
Across those same fourteen years, Judy cut eighty singles for Decca Records, made more than two hundred coast-to-coast radio appearances, did three circuits of servicemen’s camps to
entertain during World War II, participated in a sixteen-city, all-star tour that sold more than one billion dollars in war bonds, and sang in countless benefit shows.
Such effort made Judy Garland an unquestioned, major star while she was still in her teens. (She was among the screen actors listed as “Top Ten” box office in 1940, 1941, and 1945 – and just below the top ten in five other years.) By the time Judy was twenty-seven, however, the workload had taken its physical and emotional toll on her sensitive, vulnerable psyche and four-foot, eleven-inch frame. Her perceived – and eventually publicized -- unreliability stemmed from overwork, exhaustion, and a dependence on prescription medication. Such pills were then considered “miracle drugs,” and they were freely supplied by MGM’s own (and many other) doctors. The studio finally dismissed her in 1950; Judy was considered unemployable by the entertainment industry and branded as "finished" by much of the media of the day. She was twenty-eight years old.
[Above: The Tony Awards ceremony, March 1952. Legendary Broadway leading lady Helen Hayes (left) congratulates four of that season’s winners: Yul Brynner (as best featured actor in a musical, THE KING AND I), Gertrude Lawrence (as best lead actress in a musical, THE KING AND I), Phil Silvers (as best lead actor in a musical, TOP BANANA), and Judy (“for an important contribution to the revival of vaudeville through her recent stint at the Palace Theatre”).]
There followed a two-decade span in which Judy proved again and again how incorrect had been the naysayers’ estimations. Across these years, there were eleven-hundred "live" appearances. She returned to the stage in triumph at the London Palladium in 1951, scoring further triumphs in England in 1957, 1960, 1962, 1964, and 1968-69. In 1951-52, she reopened New York’s Palace Theatre -- bringing vaudeville back to its flagship playhouse on Broadway -- and played there for an unprecedented nineteen weeks; she was presented a special Tony Award for that achievement. (Judy returned to the Palace again in 1956-57 and 1967, breaking box office records on each visit.) In 1956, she became the highest-paid entertainer ever to appear in Las Vegas, and the desert supper clubs welcomed her back in 1957, 1958, 1959, 1962, 1965, and 1967. In 1959, she was the first popular singer to play a week's engagement at New York's Metropolitan Opera House. Her 1954 return to motion pictures brought an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress for A STAR IS BORN, a three-hour production in which she gave what TIME Magazine defined as "the greatest one-woman show in modern movie history.” CBS presented her television debut a year later, and the ninety-minute program attracted the largest TV audience for a "special" to that date. Beginning in 1955, Capitol Records released a series of lauded popular song "concept" albums by Judy, teaming her with such orchestrators as Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, Conrad Salinger, and Jack Marshall.
[Above: In 1954’s A STAR IS BORN, Judy sang “Born in a Trunk,” a semi-autobiographical, special-material medley, written and arranged for her by Roger Edens and Leonard Gershe. In addition to the songwriters’ title song, the fifteen-minute mélange adapted such standards as “Swanee,” “I’ll Get By,” “You Took Advantage of Me,” “Black Bottom,” “The Peanut Vendor,” “My Melancholy Baby,” and “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street,” although the last of these was cut from the film prior to release.]
Understandably, her work pressures of the 1950s had their ill effects, as well. In late 1959, Judy Garland was hospitalized with a case of hepatitis so severe that doctors despaired of her life. She unexpectedly recovered but was told that she was “a permanent semi-invalid” and could never -- under any circumstances -- work again.
As one of her album titles had already proclaimed, however, Judy was “born to sing.” She was also -- and pretty much constantly -- the sole support of her three treasured children, Liza Minnelli and Lorna and Joseph Luft (born, respectively, in 1946, 1952, and 1955). Thus, seven months after her near-fatal illness and hospitalization, the revitalized Judy Garland began her concert career in 1960, ultimately touring with unprecedented success to scores of venues -- from London and the United Kingdom to Paris, Amsterdam, Sydney, Stockholm, Copenhagen, the Newport Jazz Festival, the Hollywood Bowl, the Houston Astrodome, and the Boston Common. (For the latter outdoor performance in 1967, she drew her largest live audience: 108,000 people.) The legendary highlight of her concert years came on April 23, 1961, and the live JUDY AT CARNEGIE HALL recording of that evening’s twenty-eight song repertoire went on to win five Grammy Awards, including "Best Female Vocal Performance” and "Album of the Year"; she was the first woman to be recognized in the latter category. The two-disc set was on the charts for ninety-five weeks -- thirteen of them at Number One -- and from vinyl to tape to compact disc, it has never been out-of-print.
[Above: On April 23, 1961, Judy Garland made her first appearance at New York City’s Carnegie Hall – and received a minute-long standing ovation on her entrance. She tried to wrap up the concert after her twenty-fourth song, but the audience stormed the edge of the stage, calling for more and requesting favorite numbers. She silenced them with the joyous declamation, “I know . . . I’ll sing ‘em all, and we’ll stay all night!” Four encores later, she bowed off, having achieved what is ofttimes described as “the greatest night in show business history.”]
Those final nine years of Judy’s life also brought further motion picture success, including acclaimed dramatic roles in A CHILD IS WAITING and I COULD GO ON SINGING (both 1963) and another Oscar nomination (as Best Supporting Actress) for JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (1961). Highly-rated and acclaimed television specials in 1962 and 1963 led to the weekly JUDY GARLAND SHOW series in 1963-64. In total, her own TV work and her programs won a total of ten Emmy nominations between 1955 and 1964.
Judy remains the youngest recipient of the Golden Globes’ Cecil B. DeMille Award (1962); that organization had previously honored her with a Golden Globe as Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical for A STAR IS BORN (1954). Even earlier, her 1939 film performances in THE WIZARD OF OZ and BABES IN ARMS garnered Judy a special Academy Award for the year’s Outstanding Performance by a Screen Juvenile.
[Above: On February 29, 1940, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences selected Mickey Rooney to do the honors and present Judy with a special approbation for the preceding year’s “Outstanding Performance by a Screen Juvenile” – particularly with regard to THE WIZARD OF OZ. She later drily referenced her special miniature Oscar as “the Munchkin Award.” 😊]
Judy Garland died in London on June 22, 1969, but to say she has remained omnipresent in pop culture history is a colossal understatement. Very few stars of her era have been able to provide an exciting, emotional entertainment touchstone for each succeeding generation. As a result, she is constantly rediscovered, embraced, and venerated for an undeniably and singular talent, joy, and communicative power unequalled to this day.
It's for all of this – and for her humor, courage, and faith – that she receives such ongoing recognition, and for which (despite eternal and frequently distorted tabloid journalism and the greatest excesses of social media) she deserves to be remembered.
Better still, ENJOY her: THE WIZARD OF OZ, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, EASTER PARADE, A STAR IS BORN, and all the rest. Revel in the magic of her television specials and TV series on home video or in YouTube excerpts. Listen to her commercial recordings from 1935-1967. Marvel at the comedy timing in her talk show and vintage radio appearances, many of which are also available on YouTube.
Just . . . experience her magic and sincerity and electricity and heart and outreach and love for any and every audience – of all ages.
And then ponder: “How do you measure miracles?”
[Above: Headliner at the Las Vegas Sahara. She opened a three-week engagement there on September 18, 1962: one show per night at 8 p.m. As there was never an empty seat -- and ever a vast waiting line for any canceled reservations -- the management asked her to remain for a fourth week. Then, as other star names were already booked to follow her and play the show room (two shows a night: 8 p.m. and midnight), the Sahara asked Judy to continue on for two more weeks . . . one show “overnight”: at 2:30 a.m.! Forty-two nights in a row, forty-two shows -- and all of ’em sold out.]
Happy birthday, Judy! Here’s to the next 100 years of your supremacy – and your heart.
Article by John Fricke