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Entries in Judy Garland (43)

Wednesday
Mar092016

Judy by the Numbers: "Good Morning!"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...

Freed, Garland, & Edens c. 1930s

After the whirlwind that was The Wizard of Oz, it may seem like a letdown for Judy to return to the Mickey & Judy musicals of before. However, she returned with two things she hadn’t had before: A-level star status, and the Freed Unit. The former made her a major box office draw, which meant that her movies had bigger budgets and better material. The latter meant that Arthur Freed - a writer turned producer who’d flitted in and out of Judy’s career since she started at MGM - could use those budgets and material to put on shows unlike any MGM had produced.

The Movie: Babes in Arms (MGM, 1939)

The Songwriters: Nacio Herb Brown (Music), Arthur Freed (Lyrics)

The Players: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Charles Winninger, Guy Kibbee, directed by Busby Berkley

The Story: At its inception, The Freed Unit consisted of 8 men: Arthur Freed, director Busby Berkley, Roger Edens, dance director Chuck Walters, music director Georgie Stoll, art director Cedric Gibbons, writer Fred Finklehoffe, and cameraman Ray June. These eight (minus Finklehoffe) created the four biggest Rooney/Garland musicals by ingeniously recycling popular material (like the Rogers & Hart musical Babes in Arms) with new material (written or borrowed from elsewhere), lavish musical numbers, and a fairly conventional backstage musical plot. Berkley and June added a visual element that hadn’t been seen in teen musicals before. But despite this increased complexity, at their heart the movies still relied on the unbeatable chemistry of Mickey & Judy.

previously: "The Land of Let's Pretend" (1930), "The Texas Tornado" (1936), "Americana" (1936), "Dear Mr Gable" (1937), "Got a New Pair of Shoes" (1937), "Why? Because!" (1938), "Inbetween" (1938), “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” (1938), "Over the Rainbow" (1939)

 

Wednesday
Mar022016

Judy by the Numbers: "Over the Rainbow"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers…

How do you talk about this movie? How do you talk about this song? Sure, there are star-turns. There are underdog stories. But there is nothing in Hollywood legend so powerfully wedded as Judy Garland and The Wizard of Oz. It's the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle marriage of star and song that comes once every couple of generations. This was the number that would define Judy Garland as she defined it. It would be her biggest hit; one she recorded and re-recorded. It would follow her throughout her career, and outlive her when she died. Every moment before and after in the story of Judy Garland, MGM, and Studio System Hollywood lives in the shadow of "Over The Rainbow."

The Movie: The Wizard of Oz (MGM, 1939)

The Songwriter: Harold Arlen (Music & Lyrics)

The Players: Judy Garland, Margaret Hamilton, Billie Burke, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert LahJack Haley, directed by Victor Fleming

The Story: Louis B. Mayer did not take gambles. When he bought the rights to The Wizard of Oz, he wanted it to be the biggest, most expensive, most profitable musical in MGM’s history. Mayer started by assembling the best talent he had: producer Arthur Freed, director Victor Fleming, a cast of A-list comedians, and that no-fail, bonafide box office guarantee, Shirley Temple. By the time production was underway, 9,000 extras were dancing past cutting-edge special effects played on 65 sets built on all 29 MGM soundstages, totaling in a budget just under $2 million.

Of course, Fox wouldn’t release its tiny tapdancer, so Mayer had to resort to his second choice: Judy Garland. Since she was the new star of MGM’s biggest film, Judy’s studio education was put into high gear. Her teeth were capped, her hair was dyed, she was enrolled in dance and poise classes; all designed to polish down the rest of her rough edges. What this regimen couldn’t do was dull what made Judy unique.

Judy singing “Over The Rainbow” is the perfect distillation of star and studio power. She’d shown signs before of what would make her great - vocal power in “Americana,” joyful musicality in “Got a pair of New Shoes,”  deep longing in “Dear Mr. Gable,” - but with “Over The Rainbow,” the rest of the pieces fall into place. Judy loses her adolescent awkwardness, though she keeps her deep yearning. Accustomed to lip synching, she is able to act throughout the song - wistfulness, sadness, restlessness, hope. Judy Garland wasn’t even old enough to vote, but a combination of raw talent and rigorous training matured her into an exemplary performer.

previously: "The Land of Let's Pretend" (1930), "The Texas Tornado" (1936), "Americana" (1936), "Dear Mr Gable" (1937), "Got a New Pair of Shoes" (1937), "Why? Because!" (1938), "Inbetween" (1938), “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” (1938)

Wednesday
Feb242016

Judy by the Numbers: "Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart!"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...

The Movie: Listen, Darling (MGM, 1938)
The Songwriter: James F. Hanley (Music & Lyrics)
The Players: Judy Garland, Freddie Bartholemew, Mary Astor, Walter Pidgeon, directed by Edwin L. Marin

The Story: No rise to stardom is without its setbacks. Despite Judy Garland's continuing success teaming up with established stars like Mickey Rooney and Fanny Brice, Listen, Darling marked Judy's first box office disappointment. 

 

Though Judy and Freddie were stars in their own right, when starring in a film together, their chemistry was nil. As a result, the thin 70 minute musical comedy fizzled at the box office, ultimately losing $200,000.

Nonetheless, Listen, Darling did introduce the public to another Judy Garland standard. Though young Judy had been singing "Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart" for years - she actually auditioned for MGM with the song - this 1938 film and a 1939 Decca record added the song to Judy's public repertoire. Judy made the Hit Parade, and would go on to perform and re-record the song throughout her career. Even if Listen, Darling wasn't a hit, Judy Garland and her zing-y song were.

 

previously: "The Land of Let's Pretend" (1930), "The Texas Tornado" (1936), "Americana" (1936), "Dear Mr Gable" (1937), "Got a New Pair of Shoes" (1937), "Why? Because!" (1938), "Inbetween" (1938) 

Wednesday
Feb172016

Judy by the Numbers: "In Between"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...


At age 16, Judy Garland already had six pictures and three years as a studio contract player under her belt. Judy's seventh picture would reteam her with Mickey Rooney for her first in many guest appearances in the wildly popular Andy Hardy series. Judy was worked hard - rumors of how hard include studio "medication" and rigid diets - and over the course of her MGM career she would average 3 pictures per year. The result was studio stardom at the expense of self. But incredibly, she never showed it when she sang.

The Movie: Love Finds Andy Hardy (MGM 1938)
The Songwriter: Roger Edens
The Players: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Lana Turner, Lewis Stone, Fay Holden directed by George B. Seitz

The Story: Young Judy was on a roll, but her biggest smashes were still to come. After the success of Thoroughbreds Don't Cry, it became clear to the studio that Judy and Mickey had something together--at least onscreen. Their lifelong friendship translated to innocent romance on celluloid, though offscreen Rooney was busy chasing the newly-minted "Sweater Girl" Lana Turner, who was only a year older than Judy. Turner plays a naive proto-vamp in Love Finds Andy Hardy too. It's telling that even though there's only a small difference between their ages, Turner was an overnight sex symbol while Judy was dressed in frills and sang about being "too young for boys." It was a false formula, but it worked. Judy would continue to play young and naive for the next 8 years.

Wednesday
Feb102016

Judy by the Numbers: "Why? Because!"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...

With Judy Garland's growing success, MGM decided it was time to have her star in her own feature. The studio dusted off some musical numbers (arranged by Roger Edens) as well as a handful of contract players and Ziegfeld stars. Judy played a young aspiring actress stuck in a conservative school. Supported by her zany Russian maid (Fanny Brice), the young girl decides to join a musical. The result was another hit for Judy, and a delight for future Vaudeville nerds and historians.  

The Movie: Everybody Sing (MGM 1938)
The Songwriters: Harry Ruby & Bert Kalmar
The Players: Judy Garland, Fanny Brice, Allan Jones, Reginald Owen, Billie Burke, directed by Edwin L. Marin

The Story: In Everybody Sing, Judy was joined by not one but two famous Ziegfeld women: Billie Burke (aka Mrs. Florenz Ziegfeld, who we'll see again later), and Fanny Brice, a Jewish comedienne whose life would eventually inspire the musical that would launch Barbara Streisand's career. At the time of Everybody Sing, Brice had successfully transitioned from Vaudeville to radio, and this musical number was based on one of her characters, Baby Snooks. I'll admit that this week's clip isn't so much Judy by the Numbers as Fanny by the Numbers, but there are so few films of Brice. Watching Fanny Brice in action, you see the blueprint being laid out for future funny girls like Barbra Streisand, Lily Tomlin, and Gilda Radner.

Wednesday
Feb032016

Judy by the Numbers: "Got a New Pair of Shoes"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...

Though nobody guessed it when she was cast, Judy Garland’s fifth movie would be the first in a series starring the most famous child actor team in Hollywood history. Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry, a Freddie Bartholomew vehicle sadly missing its intended star, saw the first team up of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Though both played supporting parts, their onscreen chemistry is clear. These kids were a hit!

The Movie: Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (MGM 1937)
The Songwriter: Arthur Freed (music and lyrics)
The Players: Ronald Sinclair, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, directed by Alfred E. Green

The Story: This bizarre little musical number perfectly encapsulates what would become the Mickey and Judy dynamic. Mickey is busy working at a project – in this case, trying to take Ronald Sinclair’s pants off (just in case you needed your daily dose of unintended homoerotic subtext). Meanwhile, Judy flits and flirts in and out of the scene, trying to get Mickey’s attention through accolades, through annoyance, through anything so long as it makes him notice her. She dances around him, he gives her a swat – it’s schoolyard flirting with song and dance. This formula would define the two child actors together until long after they had put away childish things. But for the moment, it’s dimples, music, and fun.

Wednesday
Jan272016

Judy by the Numbers: "Dear Mr. Gable"

Anne Marie is charting Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...

In 1936, 14 year old Judy was selected to perform at Clark Gable's birthday party. Gable, the biggest MGM star at that time, was to have an all out bash. For Judy's performance, Roger Edens wrote an intro lyric to an old MGM property, "You Made Me Love You," which directed the 1917 song specifically at Gable. At the party, Judy jumped out of a cake and sang the star his song, charming not only the birthday boy, but also his boss, Louis B. Mayer.

The Movie: Broadway Melody of 1938 (MGM, 1937)
The Songwriter: James V. Monaco (music), Joseph McCarthy (lyrics), Roger Edens (new title & intro)
The Players: Eleanor Powell, Robert Taylor, Judy Garland, Clark Gable's photo, directed by Roy del Ruth

 

The Story: The result of her hit at the birthday party was that Judy Garland was cast singing her new song in  Broadway Melody of 1938. The Broadway Melody series was designed for MGM to try out up-and-coming talent; Buddy Ebsen made his debut there, and it helped make Eleanor Powell a star. Judy was no exception. All of the reviews raved about her: NYT called out her "amazing precocity" while The Hollywood Reporter asked why she'd been kept under wraps so long. "Dear Mr. Gable" would become her first single, too. Judy Garland was an overnight hit, but it would take her 2 more years and 5 more movies to become a star.