A Star Is Born‘A Star Is Born’

Sid Luft set about producing Judy Garland’s next film. The rights to A Star Is Born, a 1937 Janet Gaynor- Fredric March classic, were held by Edward Alperson and in exchange for the rights to remake the story, Luft gave him 20% interest in his new company, Transcona Enterprises.
Apart from two more screenplays the only other asset of Transcona Enterprises was Judy Garland.
“Those two alley-cats can’t make a movie,” Arthur Freed commented, but Jack Warner admired Judy’s work and ambitious to outdo M-G-M, made a nine-picture deal with Transcona Enterprises that included A Star Is Born.
George Cukor, a fastidious, cultivated man, had always wanted to direct Judy and jumped at the chance to direct A Star Is Born: “If it’s for her, I’ll do it, no matter what it is.”
Judy: “I wanted George. The picture had to be the greatest; it couldn’t merely be good - I had too much at stake.”
George Cukor:
“She showed the emotional ability to be a great actress.”
 
The role of leading man was offered to James Mason, who liked Judy as a person and an actress, even though others told him: “Judy will never make it!”
Mason was not the first choice. Among the stars considered were Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Tyrone Power and Stewart Granger. Cary Grant actually turned it down.
James Mason: “In the end I grabbed it before it slipped away.”
Jack Warner on Sid Luft:
“He’s one of the original guys who promised his parents he’d never work a day in his life - and made good.”
 
A nervous Garland failed to show up on the starting date - she was dieting. There were further delays when the new wide screen burst upon Hollywood and shooting was changed from WarnerScope into CinemaScope.
Judy’s behaviour was little different from when she was at M-G-M - she either did not come in at all, or left after an hour. All too often Cukor had to coax her out of her dressing room. When asked if anything was wrong, she snapped: “This is the story of my life. I’m about to shoot myself and I’m asked if anything’s wrong.”
George Cukor explained: “When Judy didn’t think she was ready for a scene, she wouldn’t do it. That’s good sense not temperament.” When he quietly expressed his awe at her powerful screaming in one particular take, she replied: “Oh, George, that’s nothing. Come over to my house any afternoon. I do it every afternoon.”
Ina Claire: “This girl should do just one take a day . . . then take an ambulance home.”
Jack Warner:
“I am worried about all the delays and nervous tension, and we want to get this picture going.”
James Mason:
“Judy was essentially a witty, lively, talented, funny, adorable woman. If the film went over budget, only a small fraction was due to her erratic timetable.”

Shooting took ten months at a cost of over $10 million and at three hours running time with an intermission it was the longest film since
Gone With The Wind.
Three songs written by Arlen and Gershwin were rejected and Luft turned to Roger Edens and Leonard Gershe. They came up with the ‘Born In a Trunk’ sequence that Jack Warner loved and it was added in at a cost of a quarter of million dollars.
Doris Day visited Judy on set and later wrote: “She was one of the funniest, wittiest ladies I have ever known who would set me laughing until I actually doubled over.”
Judy: “Of course it’s a good picture. It’s a great picture. Mason’s great, the score is great, I’m great, the photography’s great, it’s a great picture . . . isn’t it?”
Judy with James Mason
James Mason (pictured with Judy in scene right): “She was a party-goer, almost too eager, some may have thought, to join whoever was at the piano and sing along, while the hostess made sure that her medicine cabinet was safely locked.”
George Cukor:
“She’s always saying that the trouble with her is that she’s honest and direct, and everyone lies to her. The fact is that when she’s in this state the truth isn’t in her, she’s devious and untrustworthy . . . but she’s a very original and resourceful actress.”
 
Warners Bros. hustled as only they knew how and the premiere of the uncut A Star Is Born was televised live for the first time nationally by NBC at Pantages Theatre on the night 29 September 1954. An entire Who’s Who of Hollywood turned out and a crowd of 20,000 lined Hollywood Boulevard. At the end, Judy walked down the aisle to a standing ovation and was heard to ask: “Do you think they really liked it?”
Evening News: “In this case a star is re-born, because Hollywood had written off Judy. Yet she gives a performance which far outshines anything she did at the height of her triumphs.”

On 11 October in New York, the film was dual premiered at the
Paramount and Victoria Theatres to accommodate the expected crowds. Times Square was blocked off and fans broke police cordons when Garland arrived.
Albert Warner announced: “It’s a wonderful thrill because of the wonderful Judy Garland. It’s the greatest thing we have done since we brought out the first talking picture.”
Warners instructed theatres to run the film on a continuous basis without an intermission in order to quickly recoup the film’s expenses and one theatre in San Francisco scheduled seven showings a day. The film grossed $700,000 in its first week of release.

The triumph of A Star Is Born became diluted down. A shorter version would mean more lucrative showings per day and Harry Warner ordered it cut by 27 minutes. The cut pieces were destroyed and the film was arbitrarily reduced to an imbalanced, less rich and less satisfying film. Business drastically fell off and by year’s end it was far from earning back its production cost.
Sid Luft: “We were so enthusiastic, we did too much of everything - wrote too many songs, too much movie, too much music . . . but it was a great too much.”


The British had always loved Garland and their leading actors and actresses were in the foyer of Warner Cinema, Leicester Square, when the cut version of
A Star Is Born was premiered in London. Live radio and newsreels were on hand and the event made the front page of the Evening News. The reviews were triumphant and could have been penned by Warner’s publicity department.
At the end of the year A Star Is Born featured in the Ten Best list of every virtually every British critic and readers of Picturegoer voted Judy Garland, by an astounding margin, as best actress for 1955 - Grace Kelly for her performance in The Country Girl came sixth.
Picturegoer: “Maybe Judy won’t make another picture, but this triumph is one they can’t take away from her.”
 
In Hollywood no one cared what British critics thought. The Academy Award for Best Actress was between Grace Kelly, ‘born in a Philadelphia mansion’, and Judy Garland, ‘born in a vaudeville trunk’.
Garland was once again pregnant which added to the tension engendered by the contest. Judy told the Press: “I feel great. But I really think Grace Kelly will win. Have you seen Country Girl? Wasn’t she just wonderful in it?”
Two days before the awards ceremony, where she was scheduled to sing ‘The Man That Got Away’, Judy suffered labour pains prematurely. Rushed to the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, she gave birth to a son.
“I’ve got my Oscar already,” she exclaimed but the baby’s left lung had failed to open and he had to be placed in an incubator with a 50-50 chance of survival.
Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart and Laureen Bacall were on hand with their support and by the following afternoon, Joseph Wiley, the name his parents had decided upon, was out of danger.
 
With Judy’s permission, NBC installed equipment to televise her re-action if she won the Best Actress Award - one camera was inside her bedroom and another outside the window looking in. The idea was that Judy would talk to Bob Hope from her bed. “My God, they’re wiring me up like radar, under my bottom, up my front, and down my nightie,” she joked.
The ceremony, as usual, was interminable, especially as A Star Is Born went unrewarded even among the minor awards. When the big moment came and Grace Kelly was announced as the winner, the camera crew at the hospital immediately wrapped up. Judy wanted to cry but as she was quickly disentangled from the wires she saw the funny side: “Boys, don’t short me!”
She told Sid: “Forget it, darling. Open the champagne. I have my own Academy Award.”
Of all the thousand telegrams and letters Garland received, the one from Groucho Marx summed them all: ‘Dear Judy, this is the biggest robbery since Brinks.’
Laureen Bacall: “She carried it off beautifully, saying her son, Joey, was more important than any Oscar could be, but she was equally disappointed - and hurt. It confirmed her belief that the industry was against her . . . Judy wasn’t like any other performer. There was so much emotion involved in her career - in her life - it was always all or nothing.”
Gordon Jenkins:
“Miss Garland has done more for the Kleenex people than the common cold.”

Hollywood had turned its back on
A Star Is Born; Garland had failed to re-establish herself in Hollywood; and it brought the end of Sid Luft’s multi-picture deal with Warners.
Garland had signed a contract with Capitol Records, who had revitalised Frank Sinatra’s career, but the income was insufficient to pay her bills.
She claimed that she had more goddamn talent than anyone else in town but Humphrey Bogart told her: “Talent’s no good in the living room, you’ve got to get out there and do it.”
A concert tour of California and Pacific Northwest was arranged which included a benefit for retarded children in Long Beach. Frank Sinatra bused in friends from Los Angeles to cheer her on but Frank refused a request to sing. “I’m not going to follow this kind of act,” he explained. This was followed by a national tour which ended with a two month run at the Winter Garden, New York. She was simply singing for her supper.
Still suffering from the agonies of stage fright, she could still say: “I fell hopelessly in love with audiences. I still love them, and it’s been a serious romance.”
Sid began to find Seconal and Benzedrine pills under carpets, behind books, in the hems and seams of Judy’s dresses, in her slippers - everywhere. “You missed your calling, Sid,” she would say. “You’re a gumshoe.”
Liza Minnelli: “We travelled with charisma . . . There were never less that twenty-six pieces of luggage, and I’m talking about checkable luggage. The hand stuff, forget it: shopping bags, food bags, medicine bags. I was always in charge of her personal ice bucket which she had to have . . . But I didn’t mind, because mother almost always made it fun. She was truly one of the funniest people I’ve ever known.”

In September 1955, Judy appeared in a special television show
for CBS, ‘The Ford Star Jubilee’, the first spectacular to be broadcast in colour. “I’ll probably come out on the stage, take one look at those three-eyed TV monsters and faint dead away,” she prophesied, but despite her nerves and a touch of laryngitis, ratings were good.
Forty million people tuned in - the largest audience in history for a special. Despite vowing never again to endure the agony of live television, Garland signed an exclusive three-year contract with CBS for one colour special a year.
Judy’s first recording with Capitol, Miss Show Business, was issued to coincide with the ‘Ford Star Jubilee’ show and using Roger Eden’s vocal arrangement as a guideline, Nelson Riddle created Garland’s classic ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ as well as ‘Last Night When We Were Young’.
CBS Production supervisor: “I just prayed to God that she’d be able to appear.”
Variety: “Nothing else mattered when she was on . . . that ol’ black magic and magnetism came through all its treasured nuances.”


Judy in TV Special
Scheduled for 8 April 1956, ‘Judy Garland In Concert’ was the first of her TV shows (pictured right), contracted with CBS - a special presentation of the ‘General Electric Theater’. Despite Nelson Riddle conducting his own orchestral arrangements, Garland was hampered by nerves and medication that impaired her singing. Judy humorously recalled: “One man kept worrying during rehearsals that we weren’t going to hold the audience. ‘They’re gonna get beer,’ he repeated constantly. After a few days of this I was ready to shoot him.”

Garland made her cabaret debut at the
New Frontier Hotel, Las Vegas, guaranteed $55,000 a week.. On opening night every other major club in Las Vegas closed down so that her fellow entertainers could attend.
Her five week run broke all house receipt records and she followed this with a repeat run at the Palace, New York, opening to a rapturous star-studded audience on 26 September 1956 Despite recurrent laryngitis, she triumphed again just as she had done five years earlier. A big hit in the show was comic Alan King who was moved from the first act to closing the first half after Judy had told him: “You can close my show any time you like.”
With her own children on stage it was often more like ‘a family party’ that weekend audiences saw: Liza in a duet of ‘Swanee’, Joe in Judy’s arms for ‘Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe’, and Lorna in appreciation of ‘Rockabye’.
By December the strain of giving eight all-out performances a week had become too much and she closed with a Gala Farewell Show on 8 January.
Sol Shwartz: “A gold plaque with your name on it will be put on the door. From this night on, your dressing room will be called ‘The Judy Garland Dressing Room’.”
 
Judy with Sid LuftDuring her final week at the Palace, (pictured right after with husband Sid Luft), Garland rejected CBS proposals for her to do another televised variety show: “I don’t care for big production numbers, and I think it would be wise next time to try and use music in the most intimate way - because you are singing to people in their homes.”
Marie Torre, New York Herald Tribune columnist, quoted an anonymous CBS executive as saying that Garland ‘is known for her highly developed inferiority complex’ and that she did not ‘want to work because something is bothering her, but wouldn’t be surprised if its because she thinks she’s terribly fat’.
Six days later, CBS tore up Garland’s contract, claiming she had not performed as requested. Garland sued CBS for libel. Litigation dragged on for three years while Marie Torre refused to name her source at CBS. Held in contempt by the judge, Marie Torre was sent to jail for ten days which raised much sympathy and where she was called the ‘Joan of Arc’ of her profession. It didn’t do much for Garland’s image.
 
After playing for three weeks at the Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas, Garland made a much-anticipated return to England in October 1957 where she opened at the refurbished 3,000 seater Dominion Theatre as the Palladium wasn’t available. “I have to be better than I’ve ever been tonight - it’s a debt I owe. London gave me back my faith in myself,” she said.
Judy’s Boy Friends’ sang of all the great falls in history, Troy, Babylon, the Roman Empire and the Bastille before Gordon Jenkins began the overture. When the curtains parted there was Judy sitting flat on floor - a reminder of her fall on her Palladium debut - and as she was drawn to her feet she was greeted by a storm of applause. As it died down someone shouted: “Welcome back, Judy.”
Obviously moved, she nervously fingered the microphone and couldn’t speak for a few minutes. It was much the same Judy Garland who had appeared at the Palladium six years earlier, only plumper and more polished.
After her grand finale, ‘A Couple of Swells’, in outsize shoes, a grubby face with a cheeky gap-toothed grin under a ‘fright’ wig and battered and dirty top hat, she sat on the apron of the stage, legs dangling into the orchestra pit, and sang ‘Over the Rainbow’ as only she could.
At the end, baskets of bouquets of flowers were presented to her on-stage by Donna Reed, Petula Clark and Vera Lynn. She played four and a half weeks without missing a show despite continuing insomnia and severe vocal problems during the last two weeks.
Judy: “I sound like Sophie Tucker’s grandmother.”
 
Two nights after closing at the Dominion, she appeared on the Royal Variety Show along with Mario Lanza and Gracie Fields. Max Bygraves introduced her as ‘The First Lady of American Show Business’ and she stopped the show. The audience shouted: “More, more!” but there wasn’t time and she walked off stage to a further ovation.
At the line-up afterwards, the Queen Mother told her: “I’m sorry you weren’t allowed to sing another song.”
Ned Wynn: “If there is an error in my thinking, it is that people love Judy in spite of her excesses - I think they love her because of them.”
 
Judy still lived as extravagantly as she had done in her days at M-G-M and her engagement in London did little to improve her finances. A mother of three, with no fixed income, owing back taxes and with a damaging track-record of quarrels with film and television studios, broken contracts and cancelled appearances, she depended on others to keep her finances in order: “Ever since I was three years old I’ve been working to support somebody.”
She played Las Vegas, Brooklyn, Los Angeles Cocoanut Grove, Miami, New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, Chicago Civic Opera House, San Francisco, Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium, and by autumn 1959 weighed more than 180 pounds. So obese now she waddled when she walked. Liza, just twelve years old, acted as her nursemaid and dresser.
Kenneth Tynan: “The engagement was limited; the pleasure it gave was not. When the voice pours out, as rich and pleading as ever, we know where, and how moved we are - in the presence of a star, and embarrassed by tears.”
Alan King
: “Judy was so sick, and the show so complicated and so demanding of her, I don’t know where the energy came from.”
Judy:
“I hated the way I looked. I cried for no reason, laughed hysterically, made stupid decisions and couldn’t tell a kind word from an insult.”
Liza:
“She’d put too much trust in somebody, then they’d do something slight, and she’d take it as a slap in the face.”
 
Judy had consistently refused to see a doctor and it was a long time before Sid, convinced there was something seriously wrong with her, eventually persuaded her to go into hospital on 18 November 1959.
She had acute hepatitis. After years of abusing her body with pills and alcohol, her liver was found to be four times its normal size. Twenty quarts of fluid were slowly drained from her body and doctors told her: “For the rest of your life, all physical activity must be curtailed. You are a permanent semi-invalid. It goes without saying that under no circumstances can you ever work again.”
Judy fell back among her pillows and uttered a weak, but gleeful: “Whoopee!”
The Gumm Sisters
 
Over the Rainbow
 
Meet Me In St. Louis
 
Playing the Palace
Judy Garland

Judy Garland

A Star Is Born
 
Judy at Carnegie Hall
 
The Judy Garland Show
Sherwood Times