Judy Garland on Judy Garland: Interviews and Encounters
(Chicago Review Press)
US: Sep 2014
One of the many pleasures of listening to the iconic recording of Judy at Carnegie Hall are the interludes in between songs, where she talks about events ranging from her catastrophic appointment with a hair stylist who kept making her hair go higher and higher to more introspective moments, in which she muses about life and love. To anyone listening to this album, it would seem that there were few people on Earth as self aware as Judy Garland, and yet the truth is that she died with more secrets and demons that anyone would have been able to imagine, including a disastrous monetary situation.
Living in the time when celebrities tweet, Instagram and discuss their every move (if some tabloid isn’t already doing it for them), it’s difficult to fathom that there was a time when celebrities appealed to the public because they were out of reach. In Garland’s time, of course, there was no such thing as selfies with your favorite movie stars, no tweets from your favorite musicians and the closest you could expect to get to a celebrity was the autograph a quarter mailed in an envelope would get you (and then one had to wonder of the authenticity of that autograph). Studios decided what their stars wore for which occasion they would attend, who they would be seen with, and sometimes even who they’d marry.
One of the very first things we learn in Randy L. Schmidt’s Judy Garland on Judy Garland is that it was her husband, Sid Luft, who set up and signed Garland’s autobiography after realizing that “his wife would not be fit to return to performing and touring anytime soon.” Garland, it seems, didn’t even get to choose whether she wanted to share her life or not.
Garland recovered from her ailments at the time and the book never happened. She died in 1969 with her life story being largely an enigma, despite people having seen her onscreen in cinemas and televisions throughout most of her life. “[This book] is the closest we will likley come to experiencing and exploring the legend’s abandoned autobiography,” explains Schmidt in the preface, before providing us with quotes from her“official” biography published by Metro Goldwyn Mayer in 1940, “she claims that when she is twenty-five, she will leave the screen, marry, settle down and have at least six children and do her own cooking,” explained a passage that evokes heartbreak when one realizes that she was force fed diet pills as a teenager, and might have even lied when she affirmed in an interview that “when a girl has an appetite, she has to eat, doesn’t she?”
An exemplary work of research and editing, Judy Garland on Judy Garland consists of dozens of interviews through which Schmidt tries to paint a whole portrait of who this woman really was. Garland was a firecracker who threw zingers with gusto and seemed to have invented self-deprecation. We see her always making fun of herself and being completely aware of the image she was creating for herself. She confesses about the dates her studio set her up with and even gives away the names of others who had to endure “studio romances”, but where the book really succeeds is in revealing the endless contradictions within her.
“Honestly, I don’t know why, but all the gossip writers keep painting me as if I’m boy crazy,” she revealed to James Carson of Modern Screen in 1940, “maybe it’s because of the songs I sing. Yes, it must be. Those songs give the wrong impression. But gee, I’m not that way at all.” Garland didn’t only carry the “boy crazy” moniker until the end of her life, she also seemed to have never found the love of her life, which makes reading her hopeful remarks from the ‘40s absolutely devastating, “but one day I am going to fall in love—and it won’t be a rumor,” she said.
Schmidt aptly structures the book chronologically, which by default makes it the greatest Judy Garland encyclopedia out there, in terms of search-ability, as such also becoming a fascinating chronicle of how media focus has changed throughout the years, with the first interviews being too polished for their own good, and the last ones being messier, almost morbid in a way. “Did you cry?” asks Barbara Walters in 1967, after Garland attended the wedding of her daughter Liza Minnelli to Peter Allen. “Did you give Liza any advice about marriage” continues Walters, “No. I don’t think so. I don’t think I can qualify because I have not been too successful myself about marriage,” she explains. It’s a heartbreaking contrast to the girl who, in the ‘40s, went on and on about how hopeful she was about love.
The book ends with Garland’s final public interview in 1969. “I traveled in her orbit only for a while, but it was an exciting while and one during which it seemed that the joys in her life outbalanced the miseries,” said her A Star is Born co-star, James Mason. Schmidt’s beautiful Judy Garland on Judy Garland makes those words ring truer than ever.
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