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Judy, Judy, Judy:
The Legend's Legacy Reaches Yet Another Peak
By Scott Schechter
"People always ask me 'how does it feel to make a comeback?,' and I don't know where I've been; I haven't been away, I've been working all the time." Judy Garland, from her last known interview, March 26th, 1969, in Copenhagen, the day after her final concert triumph, and only 3 months before her passing.
Spanning five decades over a 45-year period, from 1924 to 1969, Judy Garland's career touched countless millions of people. From the time she was two, until her death 12 days after her 47 birthday, the heart, soul, and magic that poured out of this tiny, 4'11" force of nature astounded the public and media. Unlike many of Garland's contemporaries who have also passed on, this "living legend" remains that: a "living," working entity, who not only had multiple comebacks during her lifetime - most notably in 1951 at the Palace, and 1961 at Carnegie Hall - but who has actually continued to have astounding successes in the 30-plus years since that sad day in 1969.
While Bing Crosby is only now finally getting some much-deserved attention via a massive new biography, Judy Garland is currently a major media darling, as her life and talents are reexamined in a slate of new and recent projects in the recording, home video, publishing, film, and television industries.
"I'm a woman who wants to reach out and take 40 million people in my arms." Judy Garland, in 1963, during an interview for her TV series.
Judy will easily be reaching that desired number this month, as the legend takes over the airwaves. This most ambitious of all the TV projects is the $12 million dollar four-hour miniseries that ABC is scheduled to air on Sunday and Monday nights, February 25th and 26th, from 9-11 PM : "Life With Judy Garland: Me And My Shadows" is based on daughter Lorna Luft's 1998 memoir with the same name as the mini's subtitle (which only recently switched places with the main title of the film).
"Life" is the first movie made about Garland since the two-hour 1978 NBC-TV telepic "Rainbow," directed by her first Hollywood boyfriend Jackie Cooper, looked at the first 17 years of her life, ending in "Oz." Unlike Luft's book, "Life" ends after Garland's funeral instead of following Luft through her own addictions and failed attempts to reach the level of popularity her mother and sister achieved, which was a wise move. As it is, Judy's life was jam-packed enough to fill seven nights worth of programing, let alone 2 hours and 53 minutes worth minus commercials and end credits. The need to thus consolidate must be why many events which occurred over a few years are pushed together as if they occurred mere days or hours after one another. For example, Garland's 1962 fleeing to London with her children; in the movie, this scene is depicted as having happened the day after her legendary April 23rd 1961 Carnegie Hall concert. There are also several "artistic licenses" taken and other inaccuracies such as showing Luft and her brother Joe living here in NYC at the time of their mother's passing, when they were actually residing with their father in California; and a photo of what appears to be baby Lorna hanging on the mirror of Garland's 1951 Palace dressing room, a year before Luft was born, etc.
I also found it interesting that Luft's stance in her book that Judy's father was definitely not gay or bisexual is immediately discarded, when we see Frank Gumm holding hands with a handsome man backstage at his theatre within the first moments of the mini. Those complaints aside, the makers of this movie have indeed crafted a lavish, quick-paced and event-filled mini-epic that attempts to explain why life turned out the way it did for Judy Garland. Along the way, we hear 23 songs, most of which are sadly excerpted instead of being heard in their entirety. A few of the numbers have been dubbed by other singers, including Ms. Luft, who has admitted to filling-in for her mother, when recordings could not be found of the desired songs or the songs were not of a required high-enough audio fidelity, which must explain why Garland's existing circa-1950 radio rendition of "You Made Me Love You" was not used for a 1947 party scene; likewise why her 1935 radio performance of "Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart" was passed-over for a 1938 MGM version for which stereo tracks actually exist.
Those few cases aside, it is Garland's voice heard coming out of the mouths of the two actresses who play Judy (aside from the opening scene of two-year old "Baby Gumm's" stage debut). By now, everyone must know that the acclaimed Judy Davis plays Judy Garland for the majority of the miniseries starting at the age of 21, when Garland was filming "Meet Me In St. Louis" at MGM in 1943 - 1944. Davis is certain to get an Emmy nomination for her portrayal, which picks-up depth and intensity as Garland gets closer to Davis' own age (45).
There are several scenes and many moments where Judy Davis does almost make you believe you are watching Judy Garland, but these are inconsistent (as is the script, which has it's best lines courtesy of Garland herself, as quotes from interviews and tape recordings for planned memoirs were culled for use here). Also, Davis' weight doesn't always accurately reflect Garland's up-and-down battle with the bulge; the actress is extremely slim as Garland herself often was, but no attempt is made at padding Davis for Garland's early 1950s and middle1960s pleasing-plump period, and the body suit and face makeup given Davis to represent Garland's 1959 180-pound peak falls short at representing just how large the legend loomed during that sad time of ill-health, just before her remarkable early 1960s transformation.
Davis astoundingly looks just the right weight on-stage at Carnegie Hall (although the hair could have been a little higher), but off-stage she already appears to be the svelte Garland of 18 months later. Those reservations aside, Davis is breathtaking, perhaps most notably in a scene where Garland has a meeting with CBS executives; Just like the real Garland's work in "I Could Go On Singing," Davis soars through a multitude of emotions - from humor, vulnerability, strength, and one-upmanship - all in the span of two minutes. But Judy Davis has some stiff competition.
In fact, I must agree with US Magazine's review that Tammy Blanchard's portrayal of the 13-to-20-year old Garland is the true heartbeat of the movie. While Blanchard's body (like Davis') isn't always an exact replica of Garland's, there are numerous close-ups where the "gasp" factor even out-rates the gasps Davis' own appearance generates during several of her scenes. Most importantly, Blanchard wears even more of Garland's heart on her sleeve, and her humor, warmth, and awareness is jaw-dropping in a more consistent way than I found Davis to be. Still, it's rare that a miniseries has one heart-stopping lead, let alone two, so this one will be remembered for many years to come, no doubt helped by the home video/DVD version which has already been confirmed by Alliance Atlantis, who produced the mini in conjunction with IN-motion AG, and Storyline Entertainment's Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who did the acclaimed "Gypsy" and "Annie" musicals for TV.
"Life" ultimately left me feeling incredibly sad and its tacked-on "Get Happy" ending didn't pick-me up from one of the film's final scenes: Did we really need to see Judy Garland dead in her London bathroom?, and I would have preferred all the songs be heard in their entirety. Still, "Life With Judy Garland: Me And My Shadows" does present a reasonably balanced portrait of an unworldly talent.
There is still the thought that as good as Davis or Blanchard or anyone could be, "why bother?" (as Bette Midler asked on her famous "Mud Will Be Flung Tonight" comedy album) when the real Garland still exists on film and videotape?! Thus, two new TV documentaries join one from year's past to present the "reel" and "real" Garland herself. A&E's 1997 two-hour "Biography" has been airing repeats this month to capitalize on the miniseries. While vastly entertaining, the show did little to explain how or why Judy wound-up with nothing but her talent at the end of her life.
Lifetime's "Intimate Portrait," premiering on Monday, February 26th from 7 to 8 PM, features some heavyweight rare talkers (such as Tony Bennett and Lauren Bacall), but all this footage was culled from a BBC bio done last year, and the trailers to Garland's films are all speeded-up. Nothing new here, but no harm done either.
E! Entertainment Television's 2-hour "True Hollywood Story" presents a repeat broadcast of "The Last Days of Judy Garland" on Tuesday, February 27th, which followed it's highly rated and critically acclaimed January 14th premiere. This show cannot be accurately judged by it's name, as it spans the entire length of her life and career. Since I served as the production's consulting producer I won't comment on how I feel the show compares to it's TV bio counterparts. I will only point out that USA Today, Liz Smith, and TV Guide gave it favorable reviews, with "Guide" giving it a 9 out of 10 rating. There are (as Smith noted), many rare clips and footage that have never been seen before, and I do feel that Judy's career is not neglected, even starting and ending with her singing, nor are the problems she faced glossed-over. Producer Eric Shepard, who also wrote the script, performed the same duties for the recent E! two-hour "True Hollywood Story" on the beloved "All In The Family" series, and approached the Garland show from the same respectful, journalistic viewpoint that earned him kudos for the "Family" show, and his other bios. After spending two nights watching re-enactments of Garland's life, you might enjoy seeing the actual 40 years worth of "pow" on E!
"I want to be back up there." Judy Garland, after leaving the screening of
a film in a movie theatre, in 1968.
The small screen isn't the only one Garland is making yet another "comeback" on; current theatrical motion picture projects abound. From the Oliver Stone Fox Searchlight film about the production of the star's TV series, to the film adaptation of playwright Tom O'Neil's 1994 off-Broadway hit "Judy At The Stonewall Inn," for which yours truly will be one of the producers and Garland consultant, the lady looks to again be "in" in Hollywood.
"They tell me I must write it." Judy Garland, on writing her autobiography.
While Miss G never did get to finish her life story, despite signing with Random House in 1960, and the numerous sessions in front of a tape recorder throughout the 1960s, a multitude of books have tried to do just that over the years. From "The Films And Career of Judy Garland" that came out one month before her passing, to last year's NY Times' Bestseller "Get Happy : The Life of Judy Garland," there is something out there from almost every angle and aspect of JG's life. Author Rita E. Piro attempts the one angle not tried before in her brand-new tome "Judy Garland : The Golden Years," that Judy's first 28 years on earth were actually quite wonderful, and it's only after she left MGM that her troubles started. Whether you buy that premise or not, you will want to buy the book itself for at least the nearly 600 rare images that appear throughout its 300 pages.
"I can't even buy a print of The Wizard of Oz." Judy Garland circa 1965, during an interview, on her attempts to get a film print of her most famous
Judy certainly wouldn't have that problem today. In fact, if she had a DVD player, she'd be able to see more of "Oz" than ever before. The recent release of The Wizard of Oz on digital video disc (Warner Home Video; $25) has more material crammed into it than almost any other disc I can think of. That might help alleviate the pain felt when a DVD-lover realizes that there's only two additional Garland movies available on the current best home video format, and one is a bootleg of Till the Clouds Roll By (various labels, and prices, but always lousy quality). The other is Garland's masterpiece A Star is Born (Warner; $25), which was released last Fall in a new letterboxed transfer, that is sparkling and near-perfect, which it would be if it weren't pressed onto a doubled-sided duel-layer disc (a D18), which reflects artifacting and other digital problems more than a standard (D9) disc does. These minor flaws aside, which might not be caught by every eye, this is the greatest version of the greatest movie of all time. (One other theatrical film on DVD: The outtakes from Garland's attempt at Annie Get Your Gun can be seen on Warner's dazzling-disc of said film.)
Judy's TV work fares better and is available in abundance on DVD. "The Best of The Andy Williams Show" disc (Image; $25) features a 1965 clip of Garland's guesting with her host in a nonmusical comedic scene. Judy's 1962 TV special with guests Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin is a part of a Sinatra disc "The Man and His Music" (LaserLight), although the show is taken from a 1988 colorized transfer that isn't always pleasing to the eye. Most important, however, are the digital discs of "The Judy Garland Show" (Pioneer Entertainment/Classic World Productions; $20 and $25 for single Discs, and $120 for a Deluxe Box Set "Collection") This 1963-64 TV series hasn't largely been seen since the original airings, and certainly have not previously been drawn from their original two-inch videotapes - fans have had to suffer for years through faded film print transfers. These dazzling discs are not only eye and ear opening for their quality, but also represent the single greatest body of work from Garland's long career. Just as Milton Berle was noted for selling lots of early TV sets, so has Judy Garland helped convert many to DVD since these TV series discs first started appearing in June, 1999. I'm pleased to have been one of the people responsible for getting this project off the ground; To be helping to get Garland's best work seen again after nearly 40 years is something I'll always be proud of.
"I must make more records." Judy Garland circa 1967, on a List Of Things To Do pad that she wrote as reminders.
"More" is a cry that has come from Garland fans since 1924, and as you look through her bin at your favorite HMV or Virgin Megastore, you'll see a quite a large number of CDs. In 1995, there were approximately 40 discs issued alone, including box sets, soundtracks, and others. Some of her greatest work can be heard on both the 1994 MCA box set "The Decca Masters - Plus," that gathers all of her 1936-1947 releases for the label (plus alternates), and in the 1998 4-CD set "Judy" (32 Records; $79.98 List Price) which also contains a 32-minute VHS, and a 100-page color book that features interviews with Judy's musical director Mort Lindsey, and Arthea Franklin on her love of "the original diva." I feel this box set is a must for those looking to have only one set on Miss G, and I don't say that because I served as the project's co-producer, but because this is the only release that spans the length of JG's entire career, from her first known solo recordings at age seven in 1929, up to one of her last in 1969, mere months before her passing. It includes tracks from all her various labels and studios (Decca, MGM, Warner Brothers, Capitol, CBS, as well as rare radio, concert songs, and outtakes, etc.)
For those who may desire a taste of what Garland might have done with a song she never recorded, you'll want to pick up the remastered CD release of the 1986 album "Mostly Mercer" (Harbinger Records) to hear the great Jim Bailey eerily get into your ear and your heart with his take on Judy doing "Out Of This World" - and it is! Bailey should record an entire album as Judy doing songs she never recorded - these are always the highlight of his Garland concerts - including "I'm Still Here" and "If He Walked Into My Life."
For those who don't want to spend money on a box set to get "Judy," then I strongly suggest you go for the new "Judy at Carnegie Hall - 40th Anniversary Edition" out on February 27th (Capitol Records; $23.98 List Price). Completely remixed and remastered in 24-bit from the original 3-track remote session tapes made that legendary April 23rd, 1961 night at Carnegie, you'll hear every song in the right order and all the patter and interplay. It's the entire Event, and still the greatest live audio representation of the greatest "live" performer of all time.
There is still much more to come this year, including the DVD of the Garland/Streisand TV show, and at least "three or four or more" (as Judy sang in "For Me And My Gal") CD releases. I'm proud to be a small part in getting Garland's work restored, remastered and released. The lady left us so much, and it's criminal to think of it stored away in vaults instead of being in our homes to enjoy forever.
There are few things in life we can be sure of. One thing for certain is that Judy Garland will continue to be rediscovered again and again. For all time, the world will revel in the greatest body of work ever, from the greatest performer the world has ever known or ever will know, "The Legend's Legacy."
Scott Schechter is a noted Judy Garland historian, who has produced Garland CDs - including the Judy Box set from 32 Records, consulted on TV shows, plus the DVDs of The Judy Garland Show, and has written on Minnelli and Garland for the Advocate as well as the essay in Capitol Records' Judy At Carnegie Hall - The 40th Anniversary Edition that hits stores February 27th. He also is the editor and publisher of the Garlands For Judy: The Legend's Legacy tribute magazine. Liz Smith recently broke the news of his first film project, the movie version of Tom O'Neil's acclaimed off-Broadway play Judy At The Stonewall Inn. For additional information on these and other projects, send an SASE to Schechter at PO Box 2743, New York, NY 10163-2743 or an e-mail to GARLANDS63@AOL.COM)
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