Saturday, November 05, 2011
Screen Gem Saturdays: Making Over Judy Garland
Much has been written about Judy Garland and the poor self-image she had of herself, thanks to the MGM top brass. She was too fat. She wasn't young enough; she was too old. Her teeth were crooked. Her nose was wrong. Hearing those things as a teenager can be devastating; being put up on the big screen and being scrutinized by the public can make those insecurities even worse. Judy eventually got the plum role of Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," but only after it was made abundantly clear to her that the studio wanted Shirley Temple. Just in case she didn't get the message that they didn't want her, the makeup wizards put Judy in a blonde wig, a false nose, capped teeth, and a ton-o-makeup. As Judy later jokingly recalled, "I looked like a male Mary Pickford!"
Under the guise of Director Richard Thorpe, filming actually got underway with the real Judy Garland buried under this layer of Hollywood artifice. Once the rushes were watched, it became painfully clear that Thorpe didn't have the right touch for the movie and that something had to be done.
Thorpe was canned and George Cukor was asked to take over the project. Not really interested in directing "Oz," Cukor turned the film down, but stayed around long enough to make a few key decisions. Cukor wisely realized that the Dorothy role was the key to the film's success, and that if Garland wasn't believable, the entire movie would flop. He had her scrubbed clean and given a makeover that more closely resembled the real Judy. With a Tinman, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Witch, it was essential that Dorothy be a real live person, otherwise the audience would have nobody to identify with. Here you can see the results of Cukor's advice:
Fifteen years later, Judy scored another triumph with "A Star Is Born." She and her husband Sid Luft put everything they owned on the line to make sure that the film was a top-notch musical. Here you can see what Judy looked like in the opening scene (with Tommy Noonan), showing off the famous Garland legs.
Recalling what happened to her during her early MGM days, there is a scene in the movie where the studio makeup team does their initial assessment of her. Talking right in front of her, they discuss each flaw of her face and hair, and bemoan the "miracle" they'll have to perform to make her presentable. Somehow, Judy was able to make a joke out of the pain of her childhood; knowing what happened to her as a child makes this scene somewhat uncomfortable to watch.
Norman Maine (played by James Mason) comes to pick up Esther (Judy) after the makeover, and initially doesn't even recognize her. Once he does, he begins to laugh out loud at the unnatural look that the "beauty" experts have slathered onto her.
Taking her into his private dressing room, Norman examines the situation.
Tapping around her face, he attempts to find out what is real and what is not.
Norman begins to peel away the artifice and restores the natural beauty that Judy Garland was able to exude without the assistance of a team of makeup artists. It is definitely one of the most touching scenes in the movie.
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