Saturday, June 11, 2011

Screen Gem Saturdays: Happy Belated Birthday, Judy!

Yesterday was the 89 anniversary of Judy Garland's birth. Despite the fact that she has a huge body of work for her brief 47 years, she will always be best remembered as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939). Many have attempted her signature song from that movie, "Over The Rainbow," but nobody has even come close to topping her heartfelt rendition.

Along with the effervescent Mickey Rooney, Judy was part of one of the most famous screen duos of all time. Here are the two MGM stars in 1941's "Babes on Broadway." Between 1939-1941, Rooney was the top box-office star, eclipsing even Clark Gable. Today though, Garland's star shines as bright (if not brighter) as it did back then, while Rooney's standing has definitely slipped. Why is that?

Garland's performances are timeless; her characters are still beloved today. As someone who never felt she quite measured up to her peers, Judy's performances radiated that heartbreaking vulnerability, endearing her to audiences even more.

"Meet Me In St. Louis" (1944), under the loving direction of her soon-to-be-husband Vincente Minnelli, was her first truly adult role. 60+ years later it is still great entertainment, despite its simplistic plot revolving around the day-to-day machinations of a family who might be uprooted (albeit briefly) from their home in St. Louis for a new life in New York City. Racy stuff, indeed! Here, Judy lovingly observes the World's Fair with Tom Drake:

This postcard shows Judy in period costume as a Harvey Girl waitress in 1946's "The Harvey Girls." Her rousing rendition of "On The Atchison Topeka & The Santa Fe" propelled it to Oscar-winning glory.

Despite these career highs, Judy is also known for a number of bumps along the way. One wonders of all the fantastic things she could have done with the role of Annie Oakley in the musical "Annie Get Your Gun" (1949) if she had been well enough to finish the film. Here she is, looking lost in a costume test:

"A Star Is Born," the 1954 musical directed by George Cukor, is almost as well known for what was cut from it as it is for what still survives. Here's a still from the "Lose That Long Face" number that was deleted shortly after release so that the film could be shown more times per day. Fortunately, the majority of the cut footage has been found and reinstated.

"The Valley of the Dolls," 1967, most certainly would not have earned Judy an Oscar, but it would have been a delicious dollop of campy fun. All that survives of her brief time on the project are a few costume tests, a few minutes of footage, and a lackluster Andre Previn song, "I'll Plant My Own Tree."

What actually happened during filming is still up for debate. According to Modern Screen Magazine's August 1967 issue: "There would be mornings, and gradually there became too many of them, when the assistant director would knock on the door of her elaborate dressing room suite and call, 'Miss Garland…they're waiting for you on the set. Rehearsals are starting….' No answer from within. 'Judy! Are you all right?' he'd call again. No answer. The assistant would try the door. It was locked. Yet the workers at 20th Century-Fox knew she was there. She had been checked through the car entrance perhaps hours before. Puzzled, bewildered, the assistant would report back to the Valley of the Dolls company that Judy was 'unavailable.'"

The last photo for today is a shot of Judy in Chicago at the Ambassador Hotel, September 13, 1967, posing with her son, Joey Luft.

Here's a painting I did, based on an image used on the back cover of Gerold Frank's outstanding biography of Judy:

Follow my Daveland updates on Twitter. See more Judy Garland photos at my regular website.


William Bezek said...

Typo Dave, she lived to 47 and her career spanned 45 of those years. I think headquarters will be contacting you about your punishment. Ha Ha

Connie Moreno said...

Nice post! I just added The Harvey Girls to my Netflix list.

Crosby Kenyon said...

I like the painting. My favorite photo is the one from "Annie Get Your Gun"--not much confidence there.

Daveland said...

William - Can't wait - bring it on!

Connie - It's enjoyable; not as fun as "Meet Me In St. Louis" but still enjoyable.

Crosby - The lack of confidence is not surprising; she was having marital problems, having to work for her least favorite director (Busby Berkeley), and in bad need of a vacation. MGM was not exactly sensitive to her situation.