Meet Me In St. Louis ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’

Impressed with his talent for mounting shows on Broadway, Arthur Freed invited Vincente Minnelli to Metro without any specific assignment. When first choice George Cukor was conscripted into the army, Freed appointed Minnelli as director of Meet Me in St. Louis.
Judy was not too keen to play in the film since she would be playing an adolescent again. Mankiewicz also felt she should be playing sophisticated comedy because of her wit, and Vincente Minnelli only convinced Judy to take the part after she was promised a dramatic role in her next film.
 
Though the film would be in Technicolor, Minnelli decided that there would be no gleaming sets for dancers, not even a theatre, but the film would emphasise naturalism in reproducing the atmosphere of Midwestern bourgeois comfort around the turn of the century. An entire new street was built with sloping lawns, a gothic villa with porches, gables, bays and gingerbread trimmings.
Used to flippant, wisecracking dialogue, Judy was uncomfortable with the script. Unsure whether she could carry the film, Garland complained about her role. Looking at Minnelli “as if he was planning an armed robbery against the public”, she asked questions like: “This is awful, isn’t it?” and “This isn’t very good, is it?” When Mary Astor advised her to just go along with it, Judy retired to her dressing-room with a migraine.
Mary Astor: “Judy, what’s happened to you? You were a trouper - once.”
Judy: “
I always have to be my best in front of the camera. You expect it of me too. Well, sometimes I don’t feel my best. It’s a struggle to get through the day . . . I use these pills. They carry me through.”
 
Late more often than not for production - some days she failed to show at all - the film became a contest between M-G-M and her psyche. The atmosphere on set only improved as shooting progressed and Garland began to understand Minnelli’s approach. The ice gradually melted between the couple and they began to get on extremely well. They even began to meet socially. Arthur Freed insisted on a song about a trolley and inspiration only came to songwriters Blane and Martin when they saw a picture of an old St. Louis trolley with the caption underneath: ‘Clang, Clang, Went the Trolley’.
They had no trouble with the ‘The Boy Next Door’ and ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ which later made the charts. Minnelli had made a new kind of musical and Garland had never looked better on film.
Meet Me in St. Louis broke box-office records - M-G-M’s top money-maker after Gone With the Wind.
Variety: “Miss Garland achieves true stature with her deeply understanding performance.”
Kay Thompson: “Do you want a rehearsal, Judy?”
Judy:
“We’ll run it through once.”
Kay Thompson
: “It was a perfect take . . . when she worked, she worked.”

With the film’s shooting completed, Garland filed for divorce from David Rose on the grounds of ‘incompatibility and clash of careers’. She began to live with Vincente Minnelli but the affair only lasted a few weeks - she really wanted to marry Joe Mankiewicz but he wouldn’t leave his wife. Judy appeared with Bing Crosby and Jimmy Durante in a radio sketch for the troops entitled: ‘The Groaner, the Canary and the Nose’; and she also appeared several times with Frank Sinatra on his radio show.
Judy: “Joe was the greatest love of my life. I almost had his child, except that I wasn’t pregnant by him.

For the film Ziegfield Follies, Kay Thompson and Roger Edens had written a satirical number for Greer Garson called ‘Madame Crematon’, the inventor of the safety pin. The idea was to show that Greer Garson, who had played Madame Curie, was not as starchy as was generally perceived. When Garson turned it down, Garland jumped at it and Minnelli filmed it over three days in July 1944.

The ClockFred Zinnemann was brought in to direct The Clock featuring Garland in her promised dramatic role. Unfortunately, they didn’t get along. Once again Garland was worried about her part and Zinnemann couldn’t convince her that she could play an ordinary New York working girl.
After everybody’s life on the set had been made a misery for twenty-four days, production was shut down. Despite walking out on their relationship, Garland asked Minnelli to take over production of The Clock and he agreed only after he had extracted a promise that she would do as exactly as he told her. Judy told an interviewer: “You take your life in your hands, but it’s fun to see what you can do. I like taking a crack at something different.”
Zinnemann: “I thought her a great talent and looked forward to working with her, but she just didn’t like me.”
Fred Astaire:
“Vincente’s so good - if I just knew what he was saying.”
 
Filming was not easy. Minnelli had to accompany Garland to make-up every morning to reassure her that she could play the part, and all his tact and patience were needed when she was nervous on set.
If Minnelli was helping Garland, so Garland was helping her co-star Robert Walker who was in a far worse state. His marriage to Jennifer Jones had fallen apart and he was drinking heavily. Garland did everything she could to nurse him through the filming, even rescuing him from a bar when he was on a bender and getting him into shape for the next day’s shooting.
The Clock received excellent reviews and surprisingly, despite Garland’s honest performance, didn’t receive a single Academy Award.
New York Daily Mirror: “To say she is superb is an understatement in two syllables. She need never sing or dance again.”

The Clock completed, Garland gave up her rented house in Beverley Hills and moved in with Minnelli. Vincente explained: “We both know that a marriage can be the most wonderful thing on earth, or it can gum up your life and spoil everything. We’re thinking it over.” Immediately the studio sent them both to New York for the premiere of Meet Me in St. Louis where Judy showed Vincente off to the Press, and he escorted her to the Metropolitan Opera House, to the musical Oklahoma!, and introduced her to his artistic friends including Richard and Dorothy Rodgers.
 
Judy found New York an exhilarating place, full of important people in the arts and society but back in Los Angeles her interest in the arts soon waned. Not working she didn’t know how to channel her energies. Unable to cope on some days, she would resort to pills and Minnelli would return home “to find her speech and gestures going double time”.
Minnelli: “I was ecstatic when Judy told me she wanted to marry me as soon as her divorce was final. I let go of my emotions, feeling needed for the first time in my life. We would face all problems together.”

Oklahoma! revolutionised the musical. Liberated from its theatre settings, the show’s songs were sung by players other than the star performers and Arthur Freed envisaged The Harvey Girls, a vehicle for Judy Garland with music and lyrics by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer, in this new mould.
During shooting, Garland was missing for eleven days and was late on forty other occasions. With the years her insecurities had grown, not lessened. Continually keeping people waiting on the set, she would then turn up as if nothing untoward had happened, laughing and joking, being the adorable Judy Garland most of them had long known.
Her costume designer, Helen Rose, remarked: “She was slim and talented but strung like a violin string - quite different from the little roly-poly who sang her heart out at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.”
Angela Lansbury: “What an education to work with Judy; I loved her. I was like a sponge in those days and picked up a lot of wonderful stuff from her. She was a total pro and her talent was the one thing that saw her through.”
Judy: “I was a nervous wreck, jumpy and irritable from sleeping too little. I couldn’t take the tension of the studio. Everything at M-G-M was competition. Every day I went to work with tears in my eyes. Work gave me no pleasure.”
 
Problems with filming abounded. Virginia O’Brien was pregnant and her scenes had to be rushed through; Ray Bolger was burned by steam from a train; John Hodiak and Preston Foster were hurt in a fight scene; and eight writers toiled on the script causing Judy to joke: “They couldn’t come up with one plot; we had seven plots - one plot per person.” Garland’s performance gives no hint of the trouble behind the scenes. The entertaining movie scored a success at the box-office and Judy’s recording of ‘On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe’ hit the charts.
Liberty: “Move over, Broadway, and make room for a great, wide, wonderful musical comedy. It’s a certainty that if Judy gets any more talented, she’ll probably explode. .”
On 15 June 1945, Judy Garland married Vincente Minnelli at her mother’s home. Ira Gershwin was best man, Louis Mayer gave away the bride, and the newly-weds left the same day for a New York honeymoon.
Judy told her many fans in New York: “This is my husband. His name is Vincente Minnelli and he’s a very fine film director.”
At 23 years of age, Judy Garland had already starred, or co-starred, in 12 films, made 75 radio appearances, cut 35 record sides for Decca, and performed in hundreds of benefit shows for the Armed Forces. Yet her increasing absences and lateness, fluctuating weight, and dependence on pills were a cause for concern. Some believed that the gentle, gifted Minnelli would assuage some of her insecurities.
 
By the time the couple returned to Los Angeles in September, Judy was pregnant and Minnelli’s house in Beverley Hills was extended to include a nursery. If it was a boy, they decided, he would be called Vincente Jr.; if a girl, Liza, after the name of the song written by the Gershwins and sung by Al Jolson.
Before her pregnancy became obvious, Judy began work on Till the Clouds Roll By, a fictionalised biography of Jerome Kern with an all-star cast and Kern played by Robert Walker. Minnelli had agreed to direct Judy’s sequences and wrapped up four musical numbers and three brief scenes within five weeks. Playing legendary Broadway dancer Marilyn Miller, Judy was much amused by her third number entitled ‘Who?’. She laughed as she said: “What a song to sing in my present condition?” Dancing up to most of the men, she sang: “Who - stole my heart away? Who?”
One of M-G-M’s big successes of 1946, the film established box-office records everywhere.
Hollywood Review: “It’s the greatest work Garland has ever done. she is radiantly beautiful, winsomely appealing and for twenty minutes, the picture is all hers.”
 
Garland took on her new role of domesticity not too successfully. The house staff’s patience was sorely tried as they watched their new mistress’s attempts to clean the floor, or when her attempts to make a cake left the kitchen looking like a battlefield.
Liza May Minnelli
(pictured right), born on 12 March 1946, had Judy’s petite, upturned nose and Minnelli’s large eyes and generous lips. Judy adored Liza, as did Vincente, and she applied herself to being a mother with some resolution.
Determined to avoid overwork and dependency on medication, she decided to work independently, planning to do one picture a year and perhaps a radio series. Not wanting to lose their valuable asset, M-G-M went into action, offering Judy financial rewards, artistic control, continuing work with her husband, and films created especially for her.
The studios persuaded her to accept their offer guaranteeing $300,00 annually for ten pictures over the next five years.
She began work in December on
The Pirate, a pet project of her husband’s and directed by him. Immediately she regretted her decision and her feelings of insecurity increased. Wracked with post-natal depression, she was unable to eat and lost weight. She dropped out of the Academy Awards ceremony where she was programmed to sing ‘On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe’ which won an Oscar for the best song.
Vincente: “Judy’s desire for constant approval was pathological.”

The PirateThe Pirate was a sort of fanciful, costume burlesque set in Martinique in the 1830’s. Co-star Gene Kelly did most of the choreography and Cole Porter wrote the songs. Despite being supported by some of the finest talent in show business, Garland feared that the film would not appeal to her grass-roots public. The frilly costumes could not hide the fact that she was woefully thin but her worst fear was that Gene Kelly, working like a demon on his dancing, would take the film away from her. Minnelli tried to assure her that he could bring her through if she would just trust him, but she grew paranoid about his close working relationship with Kelly.
Gene Kelly: “Judy had periods when she didn’t show up. This was my first indication that something was wrong.”
 
It wasn’t long before Garland resorted to pills, and as often as not, she was absent from the studio. No amount of warnings or surveillance could prevent her from getting pills and Minnelli found he had no control over her at all.
Railing against Ethel and others, she repudiated those trying to help her and demoralised the whole crew. A psychoanalyst was called in by the studio to advise her and her colleagues. “I lied again,” she would confess after a therapy session. “I lied so much today I don’t know any longer what is true and untrue.”
At home and at the studio, Minnelli’s patience was stretched beyond endurance, though the quarrels were kept from Liza who had her own room with a nurse.
Judy even ‘had a go’ at Cole Porter whom she adored. Going way over budget, the film took 135 days to shoot, and for 99 of them Garland was absent.
Judy: “I won’t be good enough today, I know it in my bones.”
Vincente:
“Just dress and make up and come down and see how you feel.”
Cole Porter:
“Judy pointed out that there were hardly any laughs where I had attempted an infinite number. It was very embarrassing to have it pointed out.”
Hedda Hopper
: “She was shaking like an aspen leaf and went into a frenzy of hysteria, shouting that everyone who had once loved her had turned against her.”
Gene Kelly:
“Judy only worked when she thought she was going to be good. If she wasn’t up to giving her best, she didn’t appear on the set.”

Kelly later explained his enthusiasm for the film: “Vincente and I honestly believed we were being dazzlingly brilliant and clever, that everybody would fall at our feet and swoon clear away in delight and ecstasy.” The public did not. Too rarefied for the average taste, it was the only M-G-M Garland picture to lose money.
Cole Porter: “A $5 million picture that was unspeakably wretched, the worst that money could buy.”

There was no question of Garland starting another film. Her erratic behaviour - paranoia, irrational fears and moments of remorse, were those of a classic drug addict. She herself declined to give up her vast assortment of pills and take a cure so the studio took advice from doctors and sent her to a sanatorium at Las Campanas in California.
M-G-M Studios: “We have 14 million dollars tied up in her.”
Judy:
“It was dark when I arrived and these two burly attendants helped me across the grounds. I kept tripping over; I couldn’t control my feet; I kept stumbling and they kept picking me up. ‘This had to be the end of me,’ I thought. Next morning I saw that I had been tripping over croquet wickets in the lawn!”

After two weeks and desperately wanting to see her daughter Liza, she was released from what she described later as “the first of my nuthouses”. She spent another two weeks at a sanatorium in Massachusetts before checking herself out and returning home. She easily and quickly completed re-shoots for The Pirate.
Vincente: “Between the two of us, we shielded the unhappy truth from Liza until she was old enough to cope with it.”

Undaunted with the failure of The Pirate, M-G-M contracted Irving Berlin to write a musical called Easter Parade with the same team of Freed, Minnelli, Garland and Kelly.
Minnelli, unable to help his wife in what he described as “the reality of our often sweet, occasionally bitter, life”, was on the point of casting the supporting roles when Freed informed him that Garland’s psychiatrist, Dr. Kupper, thought it better all round if he did not direct the film. “He feels Judy doesn’t want you as director,” he explained. Judy hadn’t said a word to Vincente.
Minnelli was replaced by Charles Walters, who had been friends with Judy since they worked together on
Presenting Lily Mars. Walters knew Judy loved to growl and pretend and true to form she greeted him on set: “Look sweetie, I’m no June Allyson, you know. Don’t get cute with me. None of that batting-the-eyelids bit, or the fluffing of the hair routine for me, buddy! I’m Judy Garland and you just watch it.”
One time in rehearsal, Irving Berlin offered Garland some advice on singing a song, so she backed him against a wall and waved a forefinger at him: “Listen, buster, you write ‘em. I sing ‘em.” Berlin howled with laughter.
 
Easter ParadeRehearsals were under way when Kelly fell playing touch football at home and broke his ankle. Fred Astaire was asked to replace him, Kelly didn’t object, and Astaire came out of retirement. Straightaway, Astaire and Garland hit it off together, sharing jokes and reminiscences of their childhood. Fred even managed to quell Judy’s fears about the enterprise.
The movie was peppered with Irving Berlin songs, including ‘A Fella with an Umbrella’ and ‘A Couple of Swells’ which later became a high spot of Judy’s stage act. Easter Parade took record takings at the box-office.
Hollywood Reporter: “Easter Parade firmly establishes Judy as the screen’s first lady of tempo and tunes. It’s her picture, and it’s to Astaire’s everlasting credit that he let it be that way.”
Tramp SceneFred Astaire: “An amazing girl, Judy could do things - anything - without rehearsing and come off perfectly. She could learn faster, do everything better than most people. It was one of the greatest thrills to work with her.” (Famous tramp scene pictured right).
 
Before Easter Parade was released, Astaire and Garland went into rehearsals for The Barkleys of Broadway. Garland hadn’t been given the long rest she had been promised and it was not long before she was taking pills, at first to increase her weight, and then to reduce it. She often sought refuge at the home of agent Carleton Alsop who was married to actress Sylvia Sidney.
When Judy failed to show up at the studios four days running, Freed consulted her doctor who advised: “It would be a risk for her to start work.”
 
Freed replaced Judy with Ginger Rogers, restoring a partnership broken with Astaire in 1939.
Suspended by the studio, Judy was at home and miserable on a steady diet of amphetamines and in a state where she could hardly make a decision to move from one room to another without bursting into tears, or throwing a tantrum.
Believing she was being punished by the studio, she lashed out at whoever was nearest, usually Vincente, though never Liza. She told everyone that her marriage was over, and too kind to desert her, Vincente was at a loss as to what to do.
She told her mother Ethel in no uncertain terms to keep away.
Judy: “Hollywood is a strange place when you’re in trouble. Everyone is afraid it’s contagious.”
Lee Gershwin:
“If you hadn’t married Vincente, you wouldn’t have Liza.”
 
There were plenty of people wanting to help her - close supportive friends such as Humphrey Bogart and Laureen Bacall; studio allies such as Kay Thompson and Roger Edens; and old family friends like Marcus Rabwin.
Closest to her were Sylvia Sydney and her husband Carleton Alsop who managed Judy’s moods better than most. Alsop acted as a go-between in the frequent disputes between Judy and her husband, and her disputes with the studio.
Under doctor’s care, Garland was again gradually weaned away from medication.

M-G-M had withheld $50,000 of Garland’s salary because of the difficulties incurred during The Pirate, and Mayer, looking for a way of easing her back to work, agreed to pay her $50,000 if she appeared in Words and Music, a film biography of songwriters Rodgers and Hart. She sang ‘I Wish I Were In Love Again’ in a duet with Mickey Rooney to such good effect that she was asked to return for an encore, ‘Johnny One-Note’. In between shooting the two numbers, she had gained over thirty pounds in an eating binge.

Some of Garland’s confidence was restored after she appeared on two radio broadcasts with Al Jolson and Bing Crosby, and in September 1948 she informed M-G-M that she was ready for work.
June Allyson, set to star with Van Johnson in the film In The Good Old Summertime, became pregnant and Garland replaced her. Despite being absent sixteen days with illness, Garland breezed through the shooting and the film was finished five days ahead of schedule.
When asked by Mayer how this miracle had been wrought, Johnson answered: “We made her feel wanted and needed. We joked with her and kept her happy. There was never a word uttered in recrimination when she was late, didn’t show up or couldn’t go on. Those of us who worked with her knew her magical genius and respected it.”
The young child seen in the final scene of
In The Good Old Summertime was the first screen appearance of Liza Minnelli.
Joe Pasternak: “A great artist is entitled to a lot more latitude.”

When in full flow, Garland had a wonderful ability to learn quickly. By simply just glancing at a script, she could say the lines without fluffing; and after watching a stand-in go through a number once or twice, she could get up and do it herself. A second take was seldom necessary.
Saul Chaplin: “To work with her was indescribable - like a Xerox machine. You played something to her, and she sang it right back the way you did. She ate up music like a vacuum cleaner.”

Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun had completed a run of over a thousand performances on Broadway and plans were made for its filming with an unprecedented budget of $3 million. Garland would play Annie Oakley and Howard Keel, virtually unknown to American audiences, would play Frank Butler. Most people at the studio thought Arthur Freed was crazy appointing Busby Berkeley as director and Garland was furious. She had difficulty working with people she liked, let alone Berkeley with his brusque way of giving orders. She knew it would mean utter exhaustion and dependence on medication just to keep going.
Judy: “I had seen the show on Broadway and had my heart set on doing it. Rehearsals started and I knew I wasn’t good. I was so very, very sick. I’d begged them to postpone the starting date but they wouldn’t. I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I hadn’t slept one night in fourteen.”

Judy’s attendance on set soon became erratic, as did her performance. Hopeless one day, she would deliver the next. Personal problems didn’t help. After fours years of marriage, Judy and Vincente had separated. The love between the two couldn’t overcome the shortcomings on both sides.
Freed decided that Berkeley, who was shooting the film like a stage play, “had no conception of what the picture was about” and called in Chuck Walters as replacement. But Garland admitted to Walters: “It’s too late; I haven’t got the energy or the nerve anymore.”
Things had gone too far. Suffering from insomnia and taking pills to control her fluctuating weight, she had difficulty in performing at all and the studio suspended her. Production was closed down and re-opened four months later with Betty Hutton as Annie Oakley.
Charles Walters: “None of Berkeley’s footage was usable. The rushes were awful and Judy had never been worse. She couldn’t decide whether she was Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Martha Raye or herself . . . Her nerves were shot, there was the weight thing, everything. We never knew what time she would come in - or whether she was prepared for anything when she did.”
Howard Keel:
“The studio should have waited for Garland. Letting her go was the only tacky thing I knew M-G-M do.”
Judy:
“I don’t believe it. After the money I made for the sons of bitches.”
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
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