A Star Is Born
- Sid Luft set about producing Judy
Garlands 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
- Those two alley-cats cant
make a movie, Arthur Freed commented, but Jack
Warner admired Judys 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 its for her, Ill do it, no matter
what it is.
Judy: I wanted George. The
picture had to be the greatest; it couldnt 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
- 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: Hes one of the original guys
who promised his parents hed 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.
- Judys 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.
Im about to shoot myself and Im asked if
- George Cukor explained: When
Judy didnt think she was ready for a scene, she
wouldnt do it. Thats good sense not
temperament. When he quietly expressed his awe at
her powerful screaming in one particular take, she
replied: Oh, George, thats 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
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
- 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 its a
good picture. Its a great picture. Masons
great, the score is great, Im great, the
photographys great, its a great picture . . .
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: Shes
always saying that the trouble with her is that
shes honest and direct, and everyone lies to her.
The fact is that when shes in this state the truth
isnt in her, shes devious and untrustworthy .
. . but shes a very original and resourceful
- 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 Whos 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:
Its a wonderful thrill because of the
wonderful Judy Garland. Its the greatest thing we
have done since we brought out the first talking
- Warners instructed theatres to run the
film on a continuous basis without an intermission in
order to quickly recoup the films 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 years 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 Warners
- 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
wont make another picture, but this triumph is one
they cant 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? Wasnt
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.
- Ive got my Oscar
already, she exclaimed but the babys 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 Judys permission, NBC
installed equipment to televise her re-action if she won
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, theyre 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,
dont 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 wasnt like any other
performer. There was so much emotion involved in her
career - in her life - it was always all or
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 Lufts
multi-picture deal with Warners.
- Garland had signed a contract with Capitol Records, who had revitalised Frank Sinatras
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: Talents no good in the living room,
youve 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. Im 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
its been a serious romance.
- Sid began to find Seconal and
Benzedrine pills under carpets, behind books, in the hems
and seams of Judys dresses, in her slippers -
everywhere. You missed your calling, Sid, she
would say. Youre a gumshoe.
Liza Minnelli: We travelled with
charisma . . . There were never less that twenty-six
pieces of luggage, and Im 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
didnt mind, because mother almost always made it
fun. She was truly one of the funniest people Ive
In September 1955, Judy appeared in a special television
show for CBS, The Ford Star Jubilee, the first spectacular to be
broadcast in colour. Ill 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.
- Judys first recording with Capitol, Miss Show Business, was issued to coincide with the Ford Star Jubilee show and using Roger Edens
vocal arrangement as a guideline, Nelson Riddle created
Garlands classic Come Rain or Come Shine as well as Last Night When We Were
I just prayed to God that shed be able to
- Variety: Nothing
else mattered when she was on . . . that ol black
magic and magnetism came through all its treasured
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 werent going to hold the
audience. Theyre 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 Judys 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.
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 dont
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
- 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 wouldnt be surprised if its because she
thinks shes terribly fat.
- Six days later, CBS
tore up Garlands 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 didnt do much for Garlands
- 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 wasnt available. I have to be
better than Ive ever been tonight - its a
debt I owe. London gave me back my faith in myself,
- Judys 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
- Obviously moved, she nervously
fingered the microphone and couldnt 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
Rainbow as only she
- 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
- 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 wasnt time and she walked off
stage to a further ovation.
- At the line-up afterwards, the Queen
Mother told her: Im sorry you werent
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
- 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
Ive been working to support somebody.
- She played Las Vegas, Brooklyn, Los
Angeles Cocoanut Grove, Miami, New Yorks
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.
Judy was so sick, and the show so complicated and
so demanding of her, I dont know where the energy
hated the way I looked. I cried for no reason, laughed
hysterically, made stupid decisions and couldnt
tell a kind word from an insult.
Shed put too much trust in somebody, then
theyd do something slight, and shed 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!