Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rant #282: Judy, Judy, Judy

Forty-one years ago today, Judy Garland died.

I think that even today, most people, including youngsters, know who Judy Garland was, even if it is through just one thing--her starring role as Dorothy in the film, "The Wizard of Oz."

But she was much, much more than that.

I only found out about her when I got married. My wife is a avid Judy Garland-Liza Minnelli-Lorna Luft fan, and I really didn't know how complex Garland was until I met my future wife, got married, and listened to her albums and watched her movies.

Garland lived a rock star life before there were any rock stars. She married and divorced several times, had numerous affairs, abused pills and alcohol, got kicked off films because she was ornery and oftentimes drunk, etc., etc., etc.

As much as she abused herself, the system abused her too.

A hoofer basically from the time she was born, Francis Gumm performed in a group with her older sisters. The problem was that her older sisters' talent (or lack thereof) was completely overshadowed by Garland's incredible talent. She could sing, dance, tell jokes, and look cute all at once.

She broke away from her sisters, and this led to Hollywood, where MGM didn't know what to do with her. They knew they had an immense talent, but how can you showcase such talent?

They put her in a few horrid movies and film shorts, but this teenager deserved better.

As she started to mature into a woman, they started the pill pushing to her, to keep her awake and to keep down her weight.

As legend has it, she wasn't supposed to even be in "The Wizard of Oz," but MGM could not get Shirley Temple--and this fortuitous bit of luck helped propel her to world stardom. Her segment where she sings "Over the Rainbow"--which was thought to be a pace slower than the rest of the film, and was supposed to be excised--became her theme song, and the theme of her life.

She starred in a succession of big hits for MGM, but always with the spectre of drunkenness or drug abuse hovering over her.

Somehow, through it all, she married several times, had three children, and was truly the most famous woman in the world during the 1940s.

She had breakdowns, made comebacks, was nominated for an Academy Award (for "A Star is Born"), starred in her own network TV show, made records, and was a greatly in-demand concert attraction until the day she died.

And in death, she became a gay icon. Somehow, her death was tied into the Stonewall incident, where I believe gays were rounded up in a bar for being what they were, and this became a rallying cry for the entire then-burgeoning movement. Her daughters have since carried that torch during their own lives.

Anyway, 41 years ago today, her body couldn't take anymore abuse, and just stopped working.

She was just 47 years old.

To this day, Judy Garland is a show business icon that few can top. She did it all, probably not the way she wanted it, but she did it all anyway. She is as revered in 2010 as she was 50 years earlier.

Books have been written about her life, movies have been made, and she is in that pantheon of show business legends--including Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and Elvis Presley among them--whose images are as popular today as they were when they were alive.

But, if anyone was a tragic figure in Hollywood lore, she is the one.

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