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Entries in Judy Garland (52)

Wednesday
May112016

Judy by the Numbers: "The Joint Is Really Jumpin' in Carnegie Hall"

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

Judy Garland was wrapping production on one movie and starting production on another when she filmed a cameo for the WWII wartime musical, Thousands Cheer. Despite the fact that Garland was one of MGM's biggest stars, this cameo with José Iturbi was the first Technicolor movie she had made since The Wizard of Oz four years previous. The films between Oz and Thousands Cheer, though large in spirit, were small in budget due to Great Depression constraints. However, the onset of World War II brought about an audience boom - everyone was going to the movies to catch a newsreel and escape the fears of the war. As a result, budgets were about to skyrocket as MGM began to give Judy Garland big and colorful sets, costumes, and scenery to match her big and colorful voice.

The Movie: Thousands Cheer (1943)
The Songwriters: Roger Edens, Ralph Blane, and Hugh Martin
The Players: Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, Mary Astor, Jon Boles, directed by George Sidney

The Story: The man playing both jazz and classical music as Judy swings is (as previously mentioned) José Iturbi, a Spanish conductor and pianist. Surprisingly for a classical musician, Iturbi also started an improbably successful parallel career as a character actor in MGM movies of the 1940s. While composers and musicians would show up periodically in films to "class it up" (or "brass it up," depending on whether it was Bob Crosby or Oscar Levant), none was quite so prolific onscreen as Iturbi. From 1943 to 1949, Iturbi appeared in about a picture a year, with small but noticeable parts. After all, it's hard to find a pianist with enough personality to pleasantly play for a put out Judy Garland.

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)

Wednesday
May042016

Judy by the Numbers: "Caro Nome/When I Look At You"

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

With Judy Garland now such an established hit, MGM worked overtime to make the most of its musical star. This meant that while Arthur Freed and the Freed Unit "made" her by crafting her star image (and arguably used her to her best advantage), Judy couldn't work with them exclusively. She was too valuable a commodity for that. So, MGM also put her under the watchful tutelage of another producer well-known for his musical mojo: Joe Pasternak. 

The Movie: Presenting Lily Mars (1942)
The Songwriters: Walter Jurmann (music) and Paul Francis Webster (lyrics)
The Players: Judy Garland, Van Heflin, Fay Bainter, Spring Byington, directed by Norman Taurog

The Story: Had Judy's fateful short with Deanna Durbin turned out differently only six years previous, she might have met Joe Pasternak earlier. For most of the 1930s, Pasternak was a top producer at Universal Studios, with major Marlene Dietrich titles such as Destry Rides Again to his credit. However, where Pasternak really made his name was in his big "get" for Universal; he was the man responsible for bringing Durbin to the studio after MGM rejected her. Under his production and guidance, Deanna Durbin became one of the biggest singing stars of the 1930s.

However, the fact remained that Universal was small potatoes next to MGM, so when Pasternak became a major musical producer it was only logical that MGM should hire him. Presenting Lily Mars was his second film for the studio. It was originally bought as a dramatic script for Lana Turner, but Pasternak convinced the studio to recycle some songs and turn it into a Judy Garland musical. Unsurprisingly, it was another hit, grossing over $3.5 million at the box office. What is surprising is that Pasternak and Garland only worked together one more time. After the near-miss six years before, it would take another six years for Judy to work with the high-spirited Hungarian again. And much would change for Judy in that six year period.

Wednesday
Apr272016

Judy by the Numbers: "For Me And My Gal"

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

 In 1942, Judy Garland met a man who would come to be one of her biggest onscreen costars and supporters at MGM. When he was cast in For Me and My Gal opposite Garland, Gene Kelly was as upstart Broadway star, hot off Pal Joey and trying to make the transition to Hollywood stardom. According to Kelly, Judy Garland eased that transition; she was gracious, she was giving, and she was a consummate professional. Gene Kelly, stage dancer, learned how to perform for the camera by watching Judy Garland.

The Movie: For Me And My Gal (1942)
The Songwriters: Edgar Leslie & E. Ray Goetz (lyrics) and George W. Meyer (music)
The Players: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, George Murphy directed by Busby Berkeley

The Story: The title number of For Me And My Gal shows off the unique partnership Garland and Kelly shared. The two costars sing at the piano, a staging familiar to Garland fans who'd watched her share a similar scene with Mickey Rooney many times in the past. But Kelly is no Rooney. Where Mickey would mug, Gene floats. Where Mickey would riff, Gene croons. This isn't to say that Kelly can't be funny, but his relationship to Garland is different. Mickey and Judy were a couple of firecracker kids; he gave her zing and she gave him class. Judy and Gene are two contrasting talents; his dancing complements her songs. Each provides where the other is weak, creating a harmonious musical union. It's no wonder than Judy and Gene would go on to share another three movies together.

Wednesday
Apr202016

Judy by the Numbers: "Chin Up! Cheerio! Carry On!"

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

1941 was a year of beginnings and endings for Judy Garland. It was the year of Judy's last Andy Hardy film (Life Begins for Andy Hardy, wherein nobody sang). And she wasn't just growing up on film - 1941 was also the year of Judy's first marriage: to David Rose, the musical director of the Tony Martin Radio Show. At only 19, Judy Garland was transitioning from child sensation to full fledged star.

 

The Movie: Babes on Broadway (1941)
The Songwriters: E.Y. Harburg (lyrics) and Burton Lane (music)
The Players: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Virginia Weidler, Fay Bainter, Margaret O'Sullivan, directed by Busby Berkeley.

 

The Story: As the country entered World War II, the Freed Unit was lining up a series of nostalgia-inflected new hits starring Judy Garland for MGM. While Babes on Broadway looks at first glance like the typical "let's put on a show" backyard musical of 30's Mickey and Judy, some palpable differences manifest. First, there's the emphasis on Americana and patriotism, from Judy urging young British youths on in "Chin Up Cheerio!" to the (racist blackface) closing number, "Robert E Lee." This was the influence of World War II. Though Pearl Harbor happened mere days before Babes on Broadway was released, national sentiment was already turning towards the patriotic messages that would define wartime Hollywood. However, the movie's bigger hit was a more conventional Judy Garland number "How About You?"

In many ways, Babes on Broadway looks and sounds like the old Judy and Mickey - the two doe-eyed lovebirds sing to each other at a piano or on a stage while Mickey pulls faces. However, there are two marked differences: First, Mickey is no longer the focus of the movie - the two actors share camera equally. Second, Garland has graduated from the giant lace sleeves and tulle-lined skirts of "in-between" childish Judy, instead dressed fashionably in the latest style. Ziegfeld Girl and Little Nellie Kelly had proven Judy's talent was mature. Now it was time for her star image to reflect that transition, too.

Wednesday
Apr132016

Judy by the Numbers: "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows"

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

Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. revolutionized entertainment. Though he was best known for the Vaudeville showgirls in the musical review that bore his name, but his reach extended beyond the Follies. He legitimized Vaudeville and funded the show that would spawn the modern American musical. Though Ziegfeld died in 1932, MGM continued glorifying - and profiting from - Ziegfeld's legacy.  In 1936, MGM released a biopic, The Great Ziegfeld based on the life of Ziegfeld and his wife, Billy Burke. The success of that film led the studio to announce a spiritual successor in 1938: Ziegfeld Girl, set to star Joan Crawford, Eleanor Powell, and Virginia Bruce. But when the movie was finally made 3 years later, the cast had changed a bit. 

The Movie: Ziegfeld Girl (1941)
The Songwriters: Joseph McCarthy & Harry Carroll, from a tune by Chopin
The Players: Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr, Jimmy Stewart, directed by Robert Z Leonard & Busby Berkeley.

The Story: After the success of Little Nellie Kelly, MGM had another collaboration planned for young Judy Garland. This time, instead of Mickey Rooney, her costars were two other young starlets: Lana Turner, and Hedy Lamarr. Ziegfeld Girl was Judy Garland's first adult melodrama, though Garland still played a child. The plot might have inspired Valley of the Dolls.* As one of three showgirls trying to make it in the Follies, Judy is mostly relegated to musical comic relief while Hedy cries and Lana nearly dies. Still, the movie allowed young Judy to stretch her talents dramatically and vocally. Ultimately, that stretch mattered. The movie wasn't the success MGM had hoped for, but Judy got stellar reviews. 

*I have no evidence to support this claim.

 

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?