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Entries in Judy Garland (61)

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)

Wednesday
Aug032016

Judy by the Numbers: "The Faraway Part of Town"

After the critical and financial disappointment of A Star Is Born (1954), Judy took another hiatus from moviemaking. While she continued an active concert touring schedule, and began popping up on television on occasion, exhaustion, disappointment and illness kept her from another film. It took an old friend to coax her back into movies, in the weirdest cameo of her career.

The Movie: Pepe (Columbia, 1960)
The Songwriters: Dory Previn (lyrics), Andre Previn (music)
The Cast: Cantinflas, Shirley Jones, Dan Dailey, directed by George Sidney

(A cleaner version with proper aspect ratios can be found here.)

The Story: Cantinflas was already a beloved megastar of Mexican cinema by the time he made a splash in Around the World in 80 Days. Hoping to capitalize on a new opportunity, Columbia cast him in Pepe, and added cameos by 35 Hollywood stars just in case the Mexican comedian didn't pan out.

Judy was one of the 35 cameos. Originally coaxed on board by her former director, George Sidney, Judy was just recovering from hepatitus when the movie began shooting. Columbia reduced her cameo to a singing one, either for health reasons or because they were afraid she'd gained too much weight. At any rate, this may have inadvertently saved Judy - the movie bombed, but she ended up with an Academy Award nominated hit. 

Regardless of the rest of the film's legacy or reception, there is something truly trippy in the best way about watching a Mexican comedian dance with the current Hollywood "it" soprano (and future Mrs. Partridge) to a Judy Garland number. It sums up the strange transition period that was early '60s Hollywood better than any other clip I can think of. It worked in Judy's favor, too. The next year, Judy Garland was awarded a Golden Globe for lifetime contribution to American film. However, her contributions weren't over yet. She was about to give one of the most devastating performances of her career.

Wednesday
Jul272016

Judy by the Numbers: "The Man That Got Away"

When Judy Garland and George Cukor made A Star Is Born for Warner Bros, both Judy and the industry were changing. The Paramount Case and The De Havilland ruling had weakened the paternalistic power of the studio system by forcing studios to sell their theaters and release their stars, while widescreen technology changed the shape of the movies. Similarly, Judy's previously squeaky-clean MGM image had transformed. In the early 1950s, she divorced Vincente Minnelli, married Sidney Luft, survived a suicide attempt and rehab and launched a successful concert series and an even more successful concert album. It was no coincidence that in the middle of this maelstrom Judy Garland's comeback vehicle was a remake of a 1937 Technicolor classic.

The Movie: A Star is Born (Warner Bros 1954)
The Songwriter: Harold Arlen (music), Ira Gershwin (lyrics)
The Players: Judy Garland, James Mason, Jack Carson, Charles Bickford, directed by George Cukor

I'm breaking with tradition slightly, but today I want to show you three versions of Judy's famous version of "The Man That Got Away."

In the first, the restaurant is too brightly lit with too many patrons, though the number more closely resembles the MGM Judy Garland numbers that inspired it.

In the second clip, colors and lighting are more muted, but Judy blends in to the background and the band in her brown dress.

The final version is the one used in the film - Judy stands almost alone in the spotlight, belting a mournful song and somehow rejoicing in it.

It's easy to read into the success of A Star Is Born in tapping into Judy Garland's star persona. With her private life so publically on display, the story of Judy Garland lays neatly on top of the story of Vicky Lester as a meta text: when Vicky battles Norman's alcoholism, Judy could be fighting her own demons externalized. However, these three alternate takes show how carefully this image is constructed from well-placed lights, new staging, and one incredible performance.

No matter how iconic the scene was, as a movie A Star is Born was not the comeback vehicle Judy had hoped. Warner Bros heavily edited the film for runtime, and ultimately the movie didn't make much of a profit. At the 1955 Academy Awards, Judy Garland lost the Oscar to Grace Kelly. Judy would stay away from movies for another 5 years after that, but her career was about to get much more interesting.

Wednesday
Jul202016

Judy by the Numbers: "Get Happy"

In 'Judy by the Numbers' Anne Marie looks back at Garland's career through key songs

By the time Judy Garland turned 28, her entire adult life and her entire star persona had been a product of MGM. In 1950, Judy Garland's image - as cultivated by MGM and the Freed Unit - was of an exuberant talent, small in stature but big in heart and voice; a buoyant box office sensation. However, the reality was different. In the 13 months between the release of In The Good Old Summertime and Summer Stock, Judy Garland fought drug addiction, rehab, an increasingly strained marriage, an unsympathetic studio, and a suicide attempt that made headlines worldwide. Filmed before her attempt but released two months after it, Summer Stock is a record of the conflict between the image of Judy Garland and the reality of Frances Gumm.

The Movie: Summer Stock (1950)
The Songwriters: Harold Arlen (music), Mack Gordon (lyrics)
The Players: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Eddie Bracken, Gloria de Haven, directed by Charles Walters 

The Story: "Get Happy" is the number that shouldn't be from the movie that shouldn't exist. Neither Judy Garland nor Gene Kelly was supposed to be in Summer Stock.  Judy had just dropped from Annie Get Your Gun and entered rehab, and Gene's star was rising with Arthur Freed. However, Joe Pasternak coaxed them into another picture, a return to form based on the old Rooney/Garland "let's put on a show!" model. Though it was intended to be a triumphant return, ultimately Judy lags through much of Summer Stock, which needs her energy to carry through a plodding plot. She looks and sounds a little slower, though sources disagree on why - either she was recovering from rehab or further spiralling into addiction. 

In this context - and even out of it - "Get Happy" is a shock. Filmed months later at Judy's insistence, with design and directorial help from husband Vincente Minnelli, the number shows Judy shining like she hasn't in a while. She's sexy, she's witty, she's beaming, and she's urbane in a way that sticks out from her nostalgia-laced image. Even without the maelstrom of malady surrounding her, this would be a defining number for Judy. With this backstory, "Get Happy" takes on another meaning too - the "fix." If Summer Stock is the movie where Judy Garland's facade slipped, then "Get Happy" is the number that restored it, at least temporarily. Don't worry about the exhaustion! Judy's back, and better than ever. Forget your troubles!

The fix was a public one only. Though Summer Stock was a success, Judy and MGM parted ways in 1951. Divorced from the studio that had raised her, Judy Garland would find the 1950s to be both happy and heartbreaking. She would live out private struggles in public, and her image would change from child star to musical maiden to something more complicated. For some stars, the tragedies of their lives become as image-defining as their successes.

Wednesday
Jul132016

Judy by the Numbers: "I Don't Care"

Though nobody foresaw it at the time, 1948 was a major turning point in what would be Judy Garland’s last few years at MGM. After the one-two Freed Unit punch of Easter Parade and Words and Music at the beginning of 1948, Judy was supposed to head straight into her third Arthur Freed film,The Barkleys of Broadway. With Fred Astaire coaxed out of retirement, the duo of Astaire and Garland looked to be a new box office guarantee. Unfortunately, what wasn’t a guarantee was Judy’s health. After two months of rehearsal, Judy backed out of The Barkleys of Broadway, to be replaced by Ginger Rogers. This decision sounded the death knell for her partnership with Arthur Freed, the producer who had created the Judy Garland formula. Judy was too tired, too thin, and too weak to go on filming, until another producer from her past swooped back into the picture: Joe Pasternak.

The Movie: In The Good Old Summertime (1949, MGM)
The Songwriter: George Evans (music), Ren Shields (lyrics)
The Players: Judy Garland, Van Johnson, Buster Keaton, S.Z. Sakall, Spring Byington, directed by Robert Z. Leonard 

The Story: Joe Pasternak would end up producing what would be Judy Garland’s last two pictures at MGM. The first was In The Good Old Summertime. Pasternak used many of the Freed Unit tricks, including recycled music and a recycled plot, this time from the 1940 film The Shop Around the Corner (which would also be remade again into a Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks comedy and a Broadway musical that was revived just this year). Despite the title, In The Good Old Summertime was shot in Fall and set during Christmas. Such is Hollywood. It teamed Judy with the affable black hole of charisma Van Johnson, the (at the time) nearly forgotten Buster Keaton, and a cameo by three-year-old Liza Minnelli. This movie also gave us Judy Garland’s single most gif-able song.

There’s a lot to love about this number. Judy is healthy, smiling and sassy. With less focus on footwork, we get some great Judy gestures and a lot of broad comedy from the diminutive diva. (The foot kick is my personal favorite.) As is so often the case during these high-energy numbers, Judy looks like she’s having a lot of fun and by all reports that was really the case, because Joe Pasternak did one thing very different from Arthur Freed: he refused to overtax his star. No more pressure, no more forced slimdowns. And it worked! Judy finished the shoot incident-free. Unfortunately, MGM took this as a sign that her health and ability had returned, and immediately cast her in Annie Get Your Gun. Judy wouldn’t complete that picture, though the film she made after would add another iconic performance and sad chapter to the Judy Garland legacy.

Select Previous Highlights:  
"Dear Mr Gable" (1937), “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” (1938), "Over the Rainbow" (1939), "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" (1941), "For Me and My Gal" (1942), "The Trolley Song" (1944), "On the Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe" (1946), "I Love a Piano" (1948),  "Johnny One Note" (1948)