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Entries in Judy by the Numbers (48)

Wednesday
Sep142016

Judy by the Numbers: "I Could Go On Singing"

by Anne Marie

We have reached the end of Juy Garland's film career. From this point forward, this series will be focused exclusively on her television appearances. So, why not play Judy out the way she's remembered best, belting a big number in glorious Technicolor? But the hopeful title and Judy's brassy voice belie a darker truth. This week's number serves not only as the title song of the film, but also as a thesis for Judy Garland's later career.

The Movie: I Could Go On Singing (United Artists, 1964)
The Songwriters: Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg
The Players: Judy Garland & Dick Bogarde, directed by Ronald Nearne

The Story:  If A Star Is Born represents Judy Garland's image as a tragic, romantic figure in Hollywood, then I Could Go On Singing may be the closest Garland got to a public confession of how messy the tragic parts of her life coud be. Filmed in England while Judy battled for divorce (and custody of her younger children) with Sidney Luft, the film looked like life mirroring art mirroring life. The story of a concert singer whose relationships disintegrate even as she tries to shield (and connect to) her estranged son incorporated biographical details and observations straight from Judy herself. Co-star Bogarde reported rewriting large scenes with Garland to incorporate her own musings on celebrity, addiction and performance.

Perhaps most telling is the scene that happens directly before Judy performs this number. She's all smiles and charm while placating the audience she kept waiting. She looks restored just stepping onstage. However, just moments before, injured and recovering from a destructive bender, she destroys the idea that performing was a pallative:

"There's an old saying: When you go onstage, you don't feel any pain; and when the lights hit you, you don't feel anything...It's a stinking lie."

Wednesday
Sep072016

Judy by the Numbers: "Snowflakes"

What on odd year is 1963 in the history of Judy Garland. 1964 marks the last year of Judy Garland's film career, and the boom of Judy's television career. The first of Judy's final two movies reunited Judy Garland with producer Stanley Kramer and actor Burt Lancaster, with whom she'd worked only two years before in Judgment at Nuremburg. By the early 1960s, Kramer was establishing himself as the prestige producer of hard-hitting social issue cinema. A Child Is Waiting, about an institution for developmentally challenged children, was no different.

The Movie: A Child is Waiting (Universal, 1963)
The Songwriter: Marjorie D. Kurtz
The Players: Judy Garland, Burt Lancaster, Gena Rowlands, directed by John Cassavetes

The Story: While the majority of Judy Garland's career was dominated by Technicolor musical extravaganzas, the last few films of her career do signal an attempt at darker, "more serious" work. Surrounded by Method artists like Rowlands, Cassavetes, and (to some degree) Lancaster, Judy clearly embraced a more fluid, less "Studio" form of acting. Her improvisation with the students shows this transition. This scene, not a "musical number" in the conventional sense, sees Judy attempting to teach a song to her students through many tactics - banging on the piano, half-quiet mumbling, sing-shouting, etc - while playing a range of tensions in the scene, from timidity to irritation to joy when they start to get it right. It is a subtle musical performance.

Most of the drama in A Child Is Waiting happened behind the scenes between Kramer and Cassavetes, but ultimately no battles or cute children could save the film. It lost $2 million among mixed reviews, a frustrating end to an artistic leap on Judy's part.

Wednesday
Aug312016

Judy by the Numbers: "Let There Be Love/You're Nobody Til Somebody Loves You"

Anne Marie has been chronicling Judy Garland's career chronologically through musical numbers...

In 1957, a golden opportunity landed in Judy Garland's lap that looked, at first glance, like a lawsuit. In fact it was a lawsuit (and a counterlawsuit) concerning a contract she'd signed with CBS. Garland (on the advice of hubby Sidney Luft) had signed a $300,000 contract with CBS for three years of TV specials in 1955. However, only one special had ever aired. In 1957, Judy sued, which caused CBS to countersue. The result reads like something out of the rejected musical version of Adam's Rib: in 1961, Judy & CBS decided to put aside their differences (and lawsuits) to sign a new contract for two new specials. The first of these aired just a year later in 1962.

The Show: The Judy Garland Show (CBS, 1962)
The Songwriters: Lionel Rand (music), Ian Grant (lyrics)
The Cast: Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, directed by Norman Jewison

The Story: Norman Jewison (soon to be famous for directing, among other things the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof) got one thing very, very right about this TV special: when you have three legendary talents onscreen, you don't need much else. The whole series featured a very pared down aesthetic: little choreography, few costume changes, and a set featuring random pillars and lights that flew out to reveal an equally mustard yellow void. Of course, when you have Judy, Dean and Frank clowning around and stepping in time, you don't need much more.

The series would be nominated for 3 Emmy Awards and net huge ratings for CBS. This was good news for both network and star, who decided to continue to put aside their differences in order to do a weekly TV series.

Select Previous Highlights:  
“Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” (1938), "Over the Rainbow" (1939), "The Trolley Song" (1944), "I Don't Care" (1949), "Get Happy" (1950), "The Man That Got Away" (1954)

Wednesday
Aug242016

Judy by the Numbers: "Take My Hand, Paree"

This week's number is hands down the weirdest entry in Judy's filmography. It doesn't fit neatly into Judy's biography or star image; it really appears to be one of those things that happened because the timing was right. In 1962, Warner Bros released a UPA animated feature called Gay Purr-ee. It's a movie about Parisian cats that feels like An American in Paris meets The Aristocats as played by the Looney Tunes. In a bit of early celebrity stunt casting UPA cast two big voices for its dimunitive feline leads: Judy Garland and Robert Goulet. 

The Movie: Gay Purr-ee (WB, 1962)
The Songwriters: Harold Arlen (music) & E.Y. Yarburg (lyrics)
The Cast: Judy Garland, Robert Goulet, Red Buttons, Hermione Gingold, Paul Frees, Mel Blanc, directed by Abe Levitow.

The Story: Gay Purr-ee really needs to be seen to be believed. Done in the limited-animation style of UPA, the movie sets jittering characters against beautifully drawn backgrounds. As the casting of Mel Blanc may have tipped some readers off, the movie was actually produced and co-written by famous Looney Tunes director Chuck Jones. (Jones was fired from Warner Bros after making this film as he had violated his contract with them.) However, though the movie is occasionally stunning, it lacks the focused insanity of Jones's animated shorts.

Judy is credited with having brought her "Over the Rainbow" songwriters onto the film. Despite this, neither the film nor the soundtrack did well. When the film fizzled, Judy continued her successful touring schedule. However, another new opportunity was about to present itself to her.

Wednesday
Aug172016

Judy by the Numbers: "When You're Smiling"

I know, I know. I'm cheating again. Last week I presented you a picture with no singing, and this time I present you singing with no picture! However, the difficulty of a short series devoted entirely to musical numbers from TV & film is that it ignores the vast breadth of a performer's capability. Last week was devoted to Judy Garland's acting ability, a talent overshadowed by her incredible musical gift. This week is about Judy Garland the performer, an entertainer who captivated audiences live and via vinyl. This week, I have just one question:

When is the first time you heard Judy At Carnegie Hall?

The Album: Judy at Carnegie Hall (Capitol Records, 1961)
The Songwriters: Larry Shay, Mark Fisher and Joe Goodwin
The Cast: Judy Garland, Mort Lindsay and the orchestra

The Story: When it was released in November 1961, Judy At Carnegie Hall went gold. Not only was it Judy's highest-selling record, it also won her 4 Grammy awards the next year, including Best Concert Album. In the ensuing decades, it would inspire copycats, homages, and new generations of fans. 

If you have an opportunity today, I encourage you to listen to the full album. It's a mix of new songs and classics. For Judy fans, it definitely lives up to the hype of "the greatest night in showbiz history." On a stage stripped bare of sets or ornate costumes, Judy sang a full set of two dozen songs in peak form. But it's more than form or technique or Judy's sparkling voice. It's the emotional power of her performance. Judy doesn't speak a lot between numbers - though the anecdotes she does share are amazing - but she communicates her gratefulness, sadness and joy through each song. An album with such emotional range is a good companion no matter what your mood.

Wednesday
Aug102016

Judy by the Numbers: "Judgment at Nuremberg"

Apologies, gentle Judy fans. While I intended to bring you the usual dose of morning Garland sunshine, I failed in meeting either the requirement for sunshine or the morning deadline. In this case, however, that’s probably for the best. Considering the subject of this film, it is probably better that you have a cup of coffee and a bite to eat before you sit down to watch it. This week, I’m breaking with tradition slightly. While Judy Garland does not sing any numbers in Judgment at Nuremberg, this is a performance and a movie that must be seen.

The Movie: Judgment at Nuremberg (UA, 1961)
The Writer: Abby Mann (screenplay)
The Cast: Maximilian Schell, Burt Lancaster, Spencer Tracy, Marlene Dietrich, Richard Widmark, Judy Garland, directed by Stanley Kramer

The Story: When Stanley Kramer decided to adapt Abby Mann’s dramatization of the Nuremberg trials, Judy Garland was not his first choice for Irene Hoffman, the woman accused of miscegenation under Nazi law. However, after seeing Garland in concert, Kramer was impressed by her emotional range, and agreed to take a risk on the star who hadn’t made a film in over half a decade.

The risk paid off. Judy Garland’s performance, though only 18 minutes long, remains one of the most devastating of the film. While Irene is only one example of the many ways unjust laws persecuted and destroyed lives in Nazi Germany, Judy’s short performance elevates Irene from symbol to human being. Framed in closeup, Judy plays Irene’s grief in many keys: dignified mourning, frustrated confusion, disdain, defensiveness, fear, until it builds to a crescendo of anger and and injustice that almost renders her speechless.

This would be Judy’s only foray into “legitimate” drama (as opposed to the musicals and melodramas of her past), and it stands as a testament to her what might have been. Judy would receive her second and final Academy Award nomination for this performance (losing this time to Rita Moreno in West Side Story). But while Judy’s career in films was waning, her star was about to rise on a new medium: television.

Select Previous Highlights:  
“Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” (1938), "Over the Rainbow" (1939), "For Me and My Gal" (1942), "The Trolley Song" (1944), "On the Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe" (1946), "I Don't Care" (1949), "Get Happy" (1950), "The Man That Got Away" (1954)