Monday, August 22, 2016

LIZ SMITH: The Saga of Judy Garland

Garland performing on her TV series — too intense, too intimate for its era, but full of brilliant moments.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

The Saga of Judy Garland — Heading Back To Broadway? ... Michael Bublé — a New Record, a New Fragrance, a Femme Fatale to Come Home To!


“IF I am such a legend, why am I so alone?”

That was a familiar refrain of Judy Garland. It was a good line. She made people believe it. She came to believe it herself.
What Becomes a Legend Most? At this point (1968) Miss G. would have said: "Money, dammit — rainbows and happy little bluebirds ain't cutting it!!!"
The reality of the situation was that Judy Garland was never alone. She was almost always surrounded by people — adoring friends ... brilliant co-workers ... bewildered but besotted children ... an ever-present on-tap entourage. Husbands and lovers — sometimes overlapping. (Despite crushing insecurities about her physical appearance, Judy’s wit, charm and sex-appeal were such that she didn’t miss out on much in matters of amour. Men adored her.)
Judy — MGM's glorious young box-office bonanza.
She was one of the most celebrated, worshipped and honored entertainers of the 20th century.

The Last Hurrah — Judy at New York's Palace Theater, 1967.
If, toward the end of her life the crowd around her thinned, it was Judy herself who had done the winnowing. Garland was never quite the victim of her self-generated legend. (“Sympathy is my business” she told her daughter Liza Minnelli. And her business was her life.)

Several years ago, the dark, white hot/ice cold finale of Judy Garland’s life was regurgitated in the Broadway show “End of the Rainbow.”

This was Judy in extremis, circa London, 1969. Her voice shattered (again) ... her career on the precipice (again) ... involved with an inappropriate man (again) ... fighting with agents and musicians and nightclub owners (again)!

It was not a nice time, those months in London, and “End of the Rainbow” was an odd, unpalatable subject upon which to base a two-hour and ten minute play-with-music. Supremely unappetizing, a grisly wallow, it was fascinating theater nonetheless.

It was a niche play for a niche audience about a niche moment in Garland’s life.
Tracie Bennett as Garland, did her volcanic best to make sense of the ravaged, latter — Judy.
BUT NOW, perhaps, a less sordid theatrical work on Miss Garland in wending its way to our shores.

Earlier this year, in London, an ambitious project titled “Through The Mill” played, to excellent reviews at Southwark Playhouse. There are now rumors that the show, written and directed by Ray Rackham will arrive perhaps sooner rather than later, in New York.
Lucy Penrose, Belinda Wollaston, and Helen Sheals in "Through the Mill." Photograph Courtesy of Darren Bell.
“Through the Mill” presents Garland at three significant points in her career. It opens in 1963, as Judy prepares to star for CBS in a weekly variety show. (Garland had been warned by one or two people around her that such an effort was unrealistic; she could not keep up with the tight schedule, and her dramatic, often jittery persona was “too much” for viewers every week. But the star had been promised millions; an end to debt and the grind of literally singing for her supper. She felt it was her last chance.)

There are then flashbacks and forward peeks into Judy’s life. She is seen as a young MGM star, fighting the discipline imposed on her by the studio and her mother, and later, in 1967, at the Palace Theater in New York, her last major — if controversial — hurrah.
Lucy Penrose as Young Judy.
Three actors, Belinda Wollaston, Helen Sheals and Lucy Penrose enacted Judy at these various crossroads. From what I’ve read, each was superb, modulating Garland’s mannerisms and vocal prowess (or lack thereof) through the years. The staging according to critics was superb.

I feel, generally, that stage, movie and TV re-enactments of the lives of Garland and (certainly!) Marilyn Monroe, are pointless, usually sordid and/or simplistic and not exactly telling us anything new. I mean, at this point, there’s nothing new to tell, one way or another. (It is important to note that the truth about the lives of Garland and MM are especially difficult to pin down, because both were similarly inclined to dramatize in a negative way. The truth was quite bad enough, but gilding the lily in more misery always seemed a good idea to these two volatile ladies. In time, both came to believe the most extreme aspects of their self-generated mythology.)
Belinda Wollaston as Palace Judy.
The result tends to be like watching a car crash. Then you go home and pop in a DVD of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” or “The Prince and the Showgirl” or play one of Garland’s innumerable recordings or movies. (Judy’s body of work is so immense and varied one has many choices as to which Judy one is in the mood for!)

But, “Through the Mill” sounded somewhat promising, and perhaps less cynically exploitive. We shall see, if we ever do get to see it.
Helen Sheals as CBS Judy.
Cooper and Gaga revving their engines for “A Star is Born."
OH, and after all this, you thought we wouldn’t mention the “definite” news that Lady Gaga has been cast in the third remake of “A Star is Born”? This has been a “definite” project for a long time, with various ladies, including Beyonce floating in and out. But now it seems settled. Bradley Cooper will direct and also star as the fading, drunken actor who discovers a young singer/actress. She rises while he continues to fall. Misery follows. Lady G. will compose the original score.

Oh, why not? Gaga will certainly not erase the memory of Janet Gaynor or Garland or Streisand, so let her at the material. (And, truthfully, none of the previous films are perfect, not even Judy’s, and all are sometimes risible examples of their time, place and sensibilities.)

I still say the roles should be reversed — show the man as the rising star, the woman fading. Although I suppose that would cancel out Gaga doing much singing, and the male character would likely have to be younger. Still, it would be different.
BIG DAY, this Wednesday, August 24th, for our old friend, the great singer Michael Bublé. He’s launching a fragrance for women, with an “intimate” live performance at the Edison Ballroom in NYC (240 West 47th Street). If you can’t attend — and most of you can’t — you can catch Michael as he does his swoony stuff on Facebook. The name of the scent is ... I can’t tell. Not until after the launch. This is called obeying the press rep. (Liz Rosenberg.)
What will Bublé intimately perform? Songs from his upcoming album, “Nobody But Me,” which lands in stores and in the iTunes air on October 21st. What, you expected ditties about perfume?

There’s also a Bublé concert movie, titled “Tour Stop 148” that is going to be shown in theaters, one night only on September 27th. This is called cross-promoting, I think. I’ll ask Liz R.
Michael will likely roll out classics from the new album such as “The Very Thought of You,” “God Only Knows” “I Wanna Be Around” and the title track, “Nobody But Me,” which is the first single.

Michael says he “wanted to sound better than I’ve ever sounded before” on this CD.

If he does, the heads of millions of fans might actually explode.
Some of the beautiful "notes" that inspired Bublé's new perfume.
P.S. Michael’s gorgeous wife, actress Luisana Lopilato (mother of their beautiful children, Noah and Elias), is preparing — or perhaps even now filming — a new movie, in which she is called upon to be a great femme fatale, one of those powerful, compelling film-noir types. You know — a fur coat, a gun and an attitude.

Apparently, she’s gone all Method, studying the great gals of the past. I’m sure it has made home life even more exciting for Michael: “Luisana, darling, breakfast, or ... what is that under your fur coat? And where did you get that fur coat?”
Michael and Luisana.

Contact Liz here.