JUDY: “ONLY ONE OF ALL OUR MILLIONS . . .”
[Above: Whether gazing across the Kansas prairie or contemplating the Ozian countryside, Judy Garland’s Dorothy Gale always took every viewer right along with her into the adventures depicted in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture of THE WIZARD OF OZ.]
Welcome to our fifth blog for 2022!
This month and next, we’re – halfway -- departing from our declared theme for the year. The topics for our past four entries have been split between a celebration of the centennial of Judy Garland (“Dorothy Gale” in MGM’s film classic, THE WIZARD OF OZ) and acknowledgements of some of the other actresses who have played that character in diverse media during the last 120 years. We’ll return to the dual homage in the postings for July through December, but we’re exclusively devoting May and June to Judy herself. As was noted in the April text, her one-hundredth birthday anniversary “hits” next month on the 10th, and no one and nothing else more warrants the happy heralding than she and that event. 😊
So – and although the story has often been told -- let’s take this occasion to reflect on some of the facts behind her casting, “testing,” and realization of the role of Dorothy.
In autumn 1938, sixteen-year-old Frances Ethel Gumm had to her motion picture credits just six feature films and a little more than two active years in front of a movie camera. MGM, however, had earlier that year cast her in the central role of (what would eventually be) a $3.7 million Technicolor musical fantasy, THE WIZARD OF OZ. It was an extraordinary opportunity and challenge for the girl, but there were those at the studio who fervently believed in her, and their faith dated back to the moment Metro signed her to a long-term contract in September 1935. Among these advocates were two of the lot’s preeminent “creatives” – a couple of gentlemen who were particularly aware of the fact that Judy possessed an immeasurable talent for song, dance, comedy, acting, and audience communication/identification: ace songwriter Arthur Freed (who’d already penned lyrics to – among others -- “Singin’ in the Rain,” “You Are My Lucky Star,” “Broadway Rhythm,” and “Broadway Melody”) and the majorly gifted arranger/composer/lyricist Roger Edens, who’d first accompanied Judy at the third of her three MGM auditions. (That’s the one that got her the contract!)
They’d been quietly guiding her career since her arrival at MGM: Roger with vocal arrangements for her network radio appearances and first films, Arthur as one of those who wrote songs for Judy to sing in BROADWAY MELODY OF 1938 and THOROUGHBREDS DON’T CRY. Arthur’s ambition, however, was to step up in status. He wanted to become a full-fledged producer of movie musicals, and at Arthur’s request in autumn 1937, MGM chieftain Louis B. Mayer gave him permission to seek a property for Judy Garland. Within a few months, the studio bought THE WIZARD OF OZ as her showcase; the rest is happy history for Hollywood, film musicals, MGM, and Judy. Of the next twenty-one films Judy Garland made in the dozen years between 1939-1950, Arthur Freed produced fourteen of them. “I made my bet on Judy,” he later said, “and she helped me as much as I helped her.” (They are shown here together on the set of the Garland-starring and Freed-produced LITTLE NELLIE KELLY -- two years after THE WIZARD OF OZ.)
The arduous task of turning Judy-into-Dorothy has been told many times, and ironically, all of MGM’s masterful, initial efforts to make of her a storybook heroine were as wrong as they could be. The Kansas farmgirl depicted in L. Frank Baum’s book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (1900), was a diminutive lass in light brown braids. The subsequent Oz books in the series, however – thirty-one titles, whether by Baum or his successor, Ruth Plumly Thompson – described and pictured the child with shorter blonde hair. In Judy’s initial wig tests for OZ, MGM went the latter route (at least in terms of color); several of these test photos -- along with wildly out-of-character test costumes -- may be seen in the vlog for May: https://youtu.be/xZlxO2lSRAo. Meanwhile, here’s another:
By the time OZ began its initial principal photography in October 1938, Dorothy’s hair – although still aggressively blonde -- was stylistically much refined. Unfortunately, those highly-coiffed tresses, the baby-doll make-up, and the poofy party frock were far from the correct appearance for a prairie girl of 1938. Director Richard Thorpe shot two weeks of this Judy before he was fired from the film; you’ll notice that Margaret Hamilton’s visage and hairstyle were also far from the hatchet-y Wicked Witch of the West horror they became:
Even with Thorpe out, however, interim OZ director George Cukor could only spend a week trying to “fix” aspects of OZ before he had to return to his own preproduction work on GONE WITH THE WIND. Cukor was not a fan of the OZ book, but he had both the artistic savvy and creative soul to correct the earlier mistakes. These included new make-up treatments for Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West and Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow, as well as a “repaving” of a certain bright yellow road. (Under Cukor and subsequent OZ director-of-record Victor Fleming, the road finally appeared as if it has been made of bricks, and not fashioned from oval-shaped patio tiles.) Yet Cukor’s main contribution was his reconfiguration of Judy. He later said he was well aware that -- in real life -- “she WAS Dorothy”: a Midwestern girl from Minnesota, swept off to Hollywood by her talents. As such, all she had to do to embody a girl from Kansas (swept off to Oz by a tornado) was to be herself. Of course, the MGM hair, make-up, and costume departments again went into overdrive to test more natural looking wigs for the young actress:
In the changeover process, another element of Dorothy’s appearance was exchanged as well. On her left foot in the picture below, Judy wears the plain, unadorned ruby slipper she’d modeled during the first two weeks of filming. It was decided that this, too, should be abandoned before OZ was begun anew, and designer Gilbert Adrian crafted a more ornate “Arabian”-style shoe for consideration by the OZ honchos. She displays one of those slippers here on her right foot. Ultimately, both these styles were abandoned, and the original design for the slippers was maintained, with the addition of a glamorous and multi-jeweled bow. The Arabian footwear, of course, was never seen in THE WIZARD OF OZ film, and only two photographs of it remain from the single day Judy Is known to have posed in the one shoe. (The best of these pictures is that presented here.) Even with that limited pedigree, however, the pair of Arabian “test” slippers was auctioned by actress Debbie Reynolds in June 2011 and brought a final winning big of $627,300!
THE WIZARD OF OZ finally went before the MGM cameras “for keeps” during the first week of November 1938. There would be yet another change in directors; an additional choreographer or two; and accidents on the set that imperiled Margaret Hamilton, her camera double, a couple of the Winged Monkeys, and Terry – the Cairn terrier who played Toto. But major photography was completed by early March 1939, and the film then progressed through musical underscoring, the addition of special effects, the melding of live action footage with scenic, crayon-colored backgrounds, editing, sneak previews, further editing, a massive press campaign, and its premieres.
In Los Angeles, OZ was launched at a star-studded event at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on August 15th, 1939. An even more superlative debut came two days later at the Capitol Theatre on Broadway in New York. Not only was THE WIZARD OF OZ being screened for the first time – accompanied by a newsreel, a couple of short subjects, and “trailers” (previews of coming attractions) – but those who occupied the 5,230 seat auditorium also saw a thirty-three minute “live! in person!” song, dance, and comedy “personal appearance” by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. The kids were accompanied by a vocal quartet and MGM music man Georgie Stoll, the latter conducting a twenty-three piece orchestra.
So potent was the package of OZ, “Dorothy,” and “Andy Hardy” (Rooney’s signature screen character) that anywhere up to ten thousand people at a time continued to surround an entire New York City block, waiting for admission to the theater. This human “moat” began lining up at the Capitol box office on the southwest corner of Broadway and 51st Street, continued west to Eighth Avenue, south to 50th Street, and then back east to Broadway. This went on every day for two weeks, and when Rooney then had to return to Hollywood to make the next “Judge Hardy’s Family” picture, Judy was joined onstage instead by Scarecrow Ray Bolger and Cowardly Lion Bert Lahr. The three former vaudevillians played another seven days with OZ; each did solo turns during their act, and the trio concluded each of their five daily shows by singing a number that they explained had been filmed for (but cut from) THE WIZARD OF OZ. Here they are at the Capitol as they performed “The Jitterbug”:
THE WIZARD OF OZ was, of course, an auspicious launch for the superstar Judy Garland quickly became. Her towering successes continued for the next thirty years, although there was an undeniable “roller coaster” aspect to her life and career – unexplained at the time and still confusing to most who remain unaware of the reasons behind the heights of triumph and the turmoil caused by overwork and her personal life. (That’s a saga of duplicitous managers and husbands and not to be recounted here.) By 1966, Judy’s countless highpoints on stage or television were sometimes followed by a random “bad night” that decimated her reputation – all caused by the physical toll of having had to work (and find the strength to work) almost ceaselessly since she was a preteen. Even under those circumstances, however, there were those who sympathized, even when they couldn’t comprehend or realize her back story. One such gentleman was journalist Dr. Max Rafferty, whose editorial press article was syndicated in conjunction with that year’s then-annual CBS telecast of THE WIZARD OF OZ film. He wrote, in part:
“WIZARD’s little star . . . has grown older and graver, like all of us who watched her skipping down the Yellow Brick Road . . . so long ago. It’s not easy to be the center of a classic, to become in a very real sense immortal when one is still a child. It haunts you down the years. . .. Moments like that come seldom, if ever, to us ordinary mortals. When they come to a child . . . they may create such problems for that child grown to womanhood as few of us have ever had to face. And yet . . . I think there may be harder fates than skipping down the winding road of time, arm in arm with Love and Wisdom and Kindness, forever young, forever welcomed by the laughing hearts and bright eyes of childhood. Only one of all our millions, Judy, could bring our greatest fairy tale to everlasting life . . ..”
Dr. Rafferty’s estimation – “only one of all our millions” – says in six words pretty much anyone needs to know about Judy Garland’s Dorothy. The phrase can and should be applied as well to many other outstanding achievements of her career, and we’ll discuss those (and Dorothy Gale’s “presence” throughout) in next month’s vlog and blog. 😊
[Above: Hand-on-chin once again – photographed twenty-two years after the picture shown at the top of this month’s blog. Whatever might have been happening in her personal, professional, financial, or marital lives, Judy Garland invariably went out on stage and imbued virtually every performance with a limitless commitment of joy, faith, and hope. These were the qualities she transmitted to her audiences; they responded, regardless of age, creed, or color. And always --- always – there was her unspoken encouragement: “We all must keep trying for the rainbow.”]
Article by John Fricke