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Entries in Judy Garland (47)

Wednesday
Apr062016

Judy by the Numbers: "It's A Great Day for the Irish"

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

Have you heard the good news? April is Judy Garland month on TCM! Check your local listings to see the movies surrounding the numbers we've discussed, and the ones we haven't gotten to yet!

Before the end of 1940, young Judy Garland got two major kudos from Metro Goldwyn Mayer. First, her weekly salary was increased from $600 to $2,000. Second, MGM made her the top-billed star of another Freed Unit musical. No longer just Mickey Rooney's mooning gal pal, Judy Garland would finally get to play another leading role - in fact, in this movie she'd do it twice!

The Movie: Little Nellie Kelly (MGM 1940)
The Songwriter: Roger Edens
The Players: Judy Garland, George Murphy, Charles Winniger, Douglas McPhail, directed by Norman Taurog

The Story: Little Nellie Kelly was based on a hit George M. Cohan musical from 1922. However, any Cohan fans looking for a trip down memory lane would have been sorely disappointed - the movie only contained 2 of Cohan's original songs. The rest of the film was filled to the brim with the Freed Unit's usual tricks: a few well-loved showstoppers (including "Singin' in the Rain"), a smattering of the original show's material, and of course a Roger Edens song handcrafted for Judy Garland's talents.

Little Nellie Kelly had Judy Garland working double duty - literally. Judy played two Nellie Kelly's, a young mother (with a questionable accent) from Ireland, and later her starry-eyed daughter. Judy sings as both (mostly as the daughter) and even includes a rousing parade song with her Babes in Arms costar George Murphy. Fortunately for MGM, Judy Garland proved that even without Technicolor or Mickey Rooney, she was a star in her own right. Little Nellie Kelly grossed just under $1 million in the US (a solid gross then) proving Judy Garland could carry a movie. She could even do it twice.

Wednesday
Mar302016

Judy by the Numbers: "Our Love Affair"

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

By 1940 it was undeniable: Mickey and Judy were a success. Even more, Mickey and Judy with the Freed Unit behind them were a bona fide hit machine. Babes in Arms, the first Freed Unit collaboration, earned over $2 million domestically and $1 million abroad. With the promise of another blockbuster and the rise of patriotic sentiment on the verge of WWII, Louis B. Mayer dusted off an old, patriotic-sounding title and set his hitmakers on a new project: Strike Up The Band.
 
The Movie: Strike Up The Band (MGM, 1940)

The Songwriters: Arthur Freed & Roger Edens
The Players: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, directed by Busby Berkeley 

The Story: The original Strike Up The Band was a George & Ira Gershwin political musical satire from the early half of the 1930s. However, the new patriotic musical produced by Arthur Freed & company bore no resemblance to the show from which they took their title. With Mickey Rooney now the confirmed box office champion - unseating Shirley Temple at last - the majority of the movie was geared towards his talents. Rooney sings, dances, acts, plays piano, and even plays the drums. However, Freed and Edens didn't overlook young Judy. They wrote "Our Love Affair" especially for the 18 year old singer. Though Mickey introduces the song, it doesn't come alive until Judy sings it, and her song is the musical theme used throughout the movie. 

Ultimately, the movie was another smash success for MGM. It garnered another $2 million domestically and $1 million abroad, as well as 3 Oscar nominations (including one for "Our Love Affair" and rave reviews from critics. Mickey, Judy and the Freed Unit were an undoubted blockbuster force. But how would Judy Garland do on her own?

Wednesday
Mar232016

Judy by the Numbers: "I'm Nobody's Baby"

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

Today's clip is a plea for the importance of audio preservation. Unlike last week's short, which survives as only 3 minutes of grainy footage of Judy Garland singing to a statue, Andy Hardy Meets Debutante has been remastered and restored several times since its 1940 release. However, Judy completists who watch the movie may be surprised at what a musical it's not. That's because two songs are missing from the film.
 
The Movie: Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (MGM, 1940)

The Songwriters: Benny Davis, Milton Ager, and Lester Stanley
The Players: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Lewis Stone, Ann Rutherford, directed by George B. Seitz

The Story: Judy Garland only sings two songs in the entirety of her second Andy Hardy film. Unlike most Mickey/Judy pairings, Andy Hardy Meets Debutante does not follow the "let's put on a show" plotline. Instead, the film follows Andy as he goes further and further into debt trying to woo the heart of a New York debutante. This means two terrible things for Judy Garland fans: less Judy, and less singing. In fact, the movie was originally supposed to have four songs by Little Iron Lungs. Unfortunately, "Buds Won't Bud" and "All I Do Is Dream Of You" were recorded, but cut before being filmed. (Both were eventually reused in later films: "Buds Won't Bud" was sung by Ethel Waters in Cairo, while "All I Do Is Dream Of You" used as Debbie Reynold's excuse to pop out of a cake in Singin in the Rain.) Here's the good news: both Judy versions were saved as studio recordings, and have since been remastered and released. Sometimes even restoration stories get a happy ending.

Wednesday
Mar162016

Judy by the Numbers: "If I Forget You"

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

Click to embiggenToday's clip is a plea for the importance of film preservation. The following 3 minute clip is all that is currently known to survive of a short called "If I Forget You" starring Judy Garland and Bette Davis. That's right, two of Classic Hollywood's biggest stars once shared the screen and we know virtually nothing about it.

The little we do know about this teeny number and the tiny short surrounding it comes from reviews and an ad (pictured left) that ran in a few trade papers circa April of 1940. The short was part of the third annual tribute to Will Rogers, who passed away in 1935. It featred Kay Kyser and his Kollege of Musical Knowledge, then Judy singing the title song, then Bette Davis stepped onscreen to ask audiences to donate to the Will Rogers Memorial Commission (which benefited the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital).

The Movie: If I Forget You (MGM short, 1940)
The Songwriters: Irving Caesar (music & lyrics)
The Players: Judy Garland, Kay Kyser, Bette Davis, director unknown.

The Story: On the surface, a one reel ad for a charity seems underwhelming enough (and certainly Judy's performance, while sweet, is standard fare for the starlet), but when taken in context, If I Forget You shows how powerful one star's image can be even after death. The comedic cowboy had been gone 3 years, but the charity bearing his name could sway a week of exhibition ("Will Rogers National Theatres Week") and get two uncooperative giants (MGM & WB) to lend major talent for a brief cameo. This is even more impressive when you consider the fact that Will Rogers was a 20th Century Fox star. Will Rogers's image had the power to cross studio lines and exhibition rules. It probably didn't occur to Judy Garland as she sang Caesar's song that her image may one day become as powerful as Rogers's had been. Nonetheless this small (nearly forgotten) short reminds fans and academics that the aura of studio system stars can have tangible effects even after their deaths.

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), "Good Morning" (1939)

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)