Judy Garland‘Playing the Palace’

Garland had to be cured of her addiction but she did not have the money to pay for treatment. She had never understood the value of money and her finances were in a mess. Taxes, doctor’s bills and maintenance were owing.
A hospital in Boston closely associated with Harvard Medical School was recommended and the studios agreed to pay her hospital bill. “I’m learning to sleep all over again without medication,” she told the Press but weaning her off drugs was not easy and withdrawal symptoms were painful. Minnelli, Mayer and Freed visited her. Frank Sinatra telephoned her every day.
As she improved, she sent for Liza and for a while they took a cabin on the coast where they swam and sunbathed. Overwhelmed by her greeting when she visited a nearby Children’s Hospital, she said: “I loved feeling I could help somebody else for a change.”
Over the next few years her garden was often thrown open in the cause of deprived or sick children.
Louis Mayer: “I love you like a father.”
Dr. Augustus Rose:
“If you need pills, this hospital is full of them. But if you can get over it, fine. If you can’t, I’m going out to buy Christmas carols. We’d better start rehearsing now.”

After leaving hospital, she lived once again with Minnelli, largely for the sake of Liza. Her friends had told her: “Call us anytime,” and she did at all times of the night. Quickly learning who would listen and who would not - Marc Rabwin was always available to her and often drove over to see if she was all right - she picked up the phone and called, whatever time of day or night, sometimes to laugh and joke, and sometimes to whine and bask in self-pity. Her calls became a lifetime habit.
Minnelli: “I’d obviously failed Judy. Those periods in her life when she’d been least able to cope with the world coincided with the years of our marriage. It was an indictment I couldn’t ignore.”

Summer Stock Arthur Freed found Judy so much like her old self that he offered her the co-starring part with Gene Kelly in Summer Stock. Kelly agreed to do the picture as a personal favour to Judy, and anxious to see Judy on her feet, other old friends were on hand - Joe Pasternak as producer, Chuck Walters as director, and included in the cast was Phil Silvers with Saul Chaplin in charge of the music.
Billy Rose: “I found your portrayal of a farm girl in ‘Summer Stock’ as convincing as a twenty-dollar piece, and when you leveled on Harold Arlen’s old song, ‘Get Happy’ - well, it was Al Jolson in lace panties.”
Joe Pasternak: “I had to handle her differently than anybody else. Delay with Judy is something that is within her - something you know she can’t help. Everybody at the studio said to me: ‘How can you stand these delays?’ I replied: ‘When I look at the rushes, I pray she’ll come back any day.”
Heartily eating again, Garland was overweight and ordered to reduce - a prelude to disaster since she began taking pills again. Feeling the picture was below her talents, she became depressed and began to come in late or not at all. Shooting dragged on till no one on the lot believed the film would ever be finished. Pasternak wanted to abandon it but Mayer told him: “Stay with it, no matter what it costs.”
The cast and crew were very patient. Gene Kelly and Chuck Walters helped Garland through the filming. Though she rehearsed the difficult finale, ‘Get Happy’, just once, and recorded it in under four takes, the film took six months to complete.
Gene Kelly: “Judy only worked when she thought she was going to be good. If she felt she wasn’t up to giving her best, she didn’t appear on the set. It was as simple as that.”
Judy:
“Gene encouraged me to forget what people might be saying, laughed with me, helped keep down the friction.”
 
Doctors recommended she take eight months off after completing Summer Stock but three weeks later Garland was called back to work. Freed needed a replacement for June Allyson, who was again pregnant, to co-star with Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding.
Judy later explained: “That was when I made one of the really classic mistakes of my life. I reasoned that I had been so humiliated by the studio and the Press that if I returned, maybe everything would be all right.”
Within a few days she had started to come in late complaining of the usual nausea and migraines. Even when on set there was no guarantee she would perform. Once again she was warned, threatened and cajoled to no effect. Awaking one morning with a migraine, she telephoned that they would have to manage without her. The studio decided to do just that and fired her.
Judy Garland was severed from the M-G-M payroll on 7 June 1950, a week after her twenty-eighth birthday.
She believed things could be sorted out but the studio had decided she was a pain in the neck and no longer an asset. It was the end of an era.
M-G-M Studio: “This is to notify you that for good and sufficient cause and in accordance with rights granted to us . . . we shall refuse to pay you any compensation . . .”
Harry Warren: “She was just too much trouble and too costly, so Metro let her go. But she was treated better at M-G-M than she would have been at any other studio.”
Joe Pasternak:
“Wish her well, return her love, all who cherish talent and genius and a great heart. For myself, I am lucky to have had the privilege of working with her.”
 
Though Judy was no longer a star at M-G-M, other options were open to her such as a Broadway show, so it was not the end of the world. Judy thought it was and only three days after being fired by M-G-M she gashed her neck with a broken glass in her bathroom.
Minnelli broke down the bathroom door to find that her wound was not life-threatening but the suicide attempt made front-page headlines.
Friends rallied round. Ethel flew from Dallas; and her private turmoil generated sympathy and passion with the press and the public.
New York Daily News: “Judy Garland Fails In Suicide Attempt”
Dr. Ballard:
“Several minor scratches on Judy’s neck . . . required no treatment.”

Just as many people at M-G-M studios felt responsible as believed she had brought it all on herself. Louis Mayer was baffled and asked Katherine Hepburn if she could help. Hepburn spent several hours talking with Judy, mentioning her own problems with Spencer Tracy’s drinking. “Now listen,” Katherine told her. “You’re one of three greatest talents in the world. and your ass has hit the gutter. There’s no place to go but up. Now, goddamit. Do it!”
Fred Finklehoff: “Dear Judy: So glad you cut your throat. All the other girl singers needed this sort of break.”

The newspapers also discovered that after a dozen years of stardom Judy was virtually broke. Taxes and medical expenses had eaten into her capital and she was without a salary from M-G-M. She confided her financial problems to Louis Mayer but even the old movie mogul himself couldn’t persuade the studio to make her a loan since he was being eased out himself. He offered to pay her hospital expenses personally.
Much public sympathy was generated and Garland was soon seen out and about in public with Vincente and Liza.
Louella Parsons: “Judy is an appealingly wonderful person when she is not harassed by worry and fear.”
Hedda Hopper:
“Hers is the greatest talent ever developed in this town, and I’ve known them all. So much talent, so much pressure, so much bad advice.”
 
On a visit to New York in September 1950, she sneaked into the Capital Theatre on Broadway where Summer Stock was showing. Recognised when the lights went up, she found herself surrounded by people calling out messages of support. A crowd followed her through the lobby to her car shouting, “Judy! We love you, Judy! Keep making pictures!”
She shouted back: “I love you.”
Exciting and frightening at the same time, Judy found it: “So astonishing and so wonderful, so encouraging. It wasn’t like a mob, it was like a lot of friends.”
Garland was no longer little Dorothy from ‘Over the Rainbow’ - that little scratch on her throat had transformed her into a cult.
 
“I’m suspended so often, my feet are practically never on the ground,” Garland quipped to the Press in New York. On her return to Los Angeles she was released from her contract with M-G-M by mutual consent. There was speculation that she would replace Mary Martin in the Broadway production of South Pacific but she returned to radio - Bing Crosby had faith in her. “He called me up one morning. Bless him - he was cute: ‘Judy, I know how busy you are (Me busy? That was a laugh!) but I was wondering if I could get you on three shows?’ He could get me for thirty shows, or three hundred!”
She appeared on Bing’s radio show with Bob Hope and the three of them did comedy skits. When Al Jolson died she did a tribute on the show by singing ‘Rockabye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody’.
NBC vice-president: “We all love you and would make things enjoyable for you.”
Bing Crosby:
“She laughed infectiously, you know. The weeks we did together on radio were the best I ever had.”
A radio reviewer:
“If radio is to be saved, such shows as this will do the trick.”
 
Her private life was as complicated as ever. Judy had already had taken up with Sid Luft, a man who was significantly different to Vincente Minnelli. Blunt, uncomplicated, Sid was aggressively charming. He had been a test pilot, produced a couple of films, and was interested in breeding thoroughbred racehorses. Though he was married to actress Lynn Bari, they were heading for divorce when he met Judy.
Confident that he could lift Judy’s career to new heights, Luft became her manager and encouraged her to work on her stage act.
Garland and Minnelli were divorced March 1951 and Judy was granted legal custody of Liza, though Liza could spend six months a year with her father. Vincente agreed to pay child support and Judy and Vincente remained friends.
 
Though Variety in Britain was dying, the London Palladium kept it alive by featuring American film stars. Danny Kaye and Betty Hutton had successful seasons and early in 1951 Judy Garland was offered a four week engagement.
Roger Edens and Oscar Levant helped her assemble her act, and after some self-doubts, she sailed to England on the Ile de France. When the ship docked at Plymouth, sirens from nearby ships Morse coded J-U-D-Y to her in salutation.
“They told me people had a warm feeling for me in England, but I never thought it would be anything like this,” she told the waiting Press.
Newspaper accounts referred to her as ‘tubby, plump and jovial’ and she commented: “I feel like the fat lady from Barnum & Baileys . . .”
Val Parnell: “We love you as much as ever. Come and appear for me as soon as you are well.”
Fanny Brice:
“You’re going over there and, with the voice and the talent God gave you, you’re going to make everybody proud of you.”
Hoagy Carmichael:
“Ladies and gentlemen, as you all know, a great little star from America who entertained you with her marvellous pictures is opening on Monday, and she hasn’t been feeling too well - so be good to her: Miss Judy Garland!”

London Palladium PosterThere were to be two shows nightly and on the eve of opening Judy’s nerves were bad: “I kept rushing to the bathroom to vomit. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t even sit down.”
A young comedian, Max Bygraves, concluded the first half of the bill and after two more turns in the second, a great roar greeted the orchestra’s ‘Over the Rainbow’.
Garland later recalled: “My knees locked - like Frankenstein’s wife - and they wouldn’t bend. So I walked on with two stiff legs . . . and just stood there in terror.”
She looked older and stouter than the audience expected but they didn’t mind - they just cheered. She was frozen to the microphone through her first medley of songs and then, as she explained afterwards: “Well, I began one little curtsy, and one nerve undid, and I just kept going! I wound up sitting on the floor - for no reason . . . I was blushing like a baby and feeling a fool. I wanted to cry, but I laughed instead - and the audience laughed with me.”
Her accompanist, Buddy Pepper, hoisted her to her feet and she quipped: “That’s one of the most ungraceful exits ever made.”
The audience laughed again and then applauded. They were in the palm of her hand and she sang a second medley of songs, leading off with a tribute to Al Jolson, ‘Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody’, and concluding with ‘Over the Rainbow’.
Reborn was ‘Hollywood’s Singing Sweetheart’.
Noel Coward: “You’re a very great artist, my darling.”
Daily Telegraph: “She gave a more vital performance than anyone I have heard since Sophie Tucker, making me aware that what I imagined to be a fortissimo was merely a forte. It was not only with her voice but with her whole personality that she filled the theatre.”
 
The four weeks of her run were sold out within three days and she was the toast of the town, receiving celebrities in her dressing room. Winston Churchill came, and so did Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh who invited her to their home.
After a fortnight’s rest she did a short tour of the provinces organised by Sid Luft.
Five-year-old Liza, whom she hadn’t seen for three months, joined her at the Hippodrome, Birmingham, and watched her from the wings as the audience stood up and sang to her ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Judy just “howled into her roses”.
Interrupting her tour, she again appeared at the Palladium in a special midnight benefit performance for the family of late comic, Sid Field. Appearing with fifty other stars, including Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Danny Kaye, Orson Welles and Richard Attenborough, she was the evening’s highlight when her ‘Rockabye’ was greeted by a great roar from the audience.
Daily Telegraph: “Miss Garland’s charm is a complete absence of affectation.”
Richard Attenborough: “It wasn’t just the song, or the way she sang it; it had nothing to do with pathos or memories: it was just magic.”
 
The Palace, New York, once the goal of every vaudevillian, had seen better days. Years before it had starred the great names of vaudeville but by 1951 was unkempt, looking the worse for wear and showing dime movies. Owned by RKO, it was at the heart of New York’s theatre land and Sid Luft telephoned RKO vice president, Sol Schwartz, and asked him to take a look at it.
They both saw the potential and Schwartz immediately made plans to refurbish the theatre and re-open with Judy Garland headlining an all-star ‘two-a-day’, reserved-seat bill, for four weeks in October. Judy Garland would bring vaudeville back to the Palace.
Variety: “If anyone can do it, this bundle of talent can.”
A columnist: “Judy Garland’s idea for a flash return to Broadway has wiser heads wagging negative.”
 
Garland would more than sing, she would show her skills as a dancer with a chorus of Judy’s Eight Boy Friends, and with one of her Boy Friends perform ‘A Couple of Swells’.
Many were doubtful that Judy Garland could breathe life back into vaudeville - Time-Life did not even bother to send a photographer - but advance bookings were good and the first night could have sold out five times over. Police barricades had to hold back an estimated 5,000 people in Times Square and Garland, escorted by Chuck Walters, had to walk the last block.
Among the star celebrities waiting inside were Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson, Irving Berlin and General MacArthur.
Chuck Walters: “What’s this? Why can’t we get through?”
Cab driver: “
Well, Judy Garland’s opening tonight, and them’s the fans out there waitin’”
Policeman in Times Square: “I’ve been on this beat twenty years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
 
Palace, New YorkAfter the first half of five variety acts, the curtain went up on a chorus line of dancers in tuxedos known as ‘Judy’s Boy Friends’. Suddenly, like her original ‘Baby’ Gumm act, Judy slipped out from behind them to thunderous applause from the audience that rolled on and on till she finally had to cup her hands and shout: “Hello!”
Sailing into Roger Eden’s ‘Call the Papers’, she then sang the title song from M-G-M’s On the Town. The audience rose to her after every number, and after performing ‘A Couple of Swells’, she plopped down on the edge of the stage in her tramp costume with a dirty face, dishevelled wig, microphone forsaken and just a white spotlight on her face to sing ‘Over the Rainbow’ in what was a moment of unforgettable theatre. Applause rolled on for ten minutes, and as ushers brought bouquets up the aisles, Garland could only quaver: “Bless you all.”
This opening night was the biggest smash seen on Broadway in years. Critics stretched back into vaudeville history to find something to compare it with and the only name they came up with was Al Jolson.
Life: “Almost everyone in the theatre was crying and for days afterwards people around Broadway talked of it as if they had beheld a miracle.”
A. E. Hotcher:
“That night on the Palace stage Judy Garland took her place among the immortals of the theatre.”
 
New York went wild in its acclamation of Judy Garland but in spite of her excellent notices she began dieting again. Two shows a day, thirteen shows a week became a strain and she began seeing a new doctor.
During the fourth week, just before the Sunday matinee, she collapsed backstage. Her doctor gave her a sedative and told her not to go on. On hearing the slow hand clapping Judy said: “That does it. I’ve got to go on.” Appearing to be drunk, she managed to get through the opening number - “Halfway between the sky and the floor,” she later recalled - before her voice tailed off completely and she stumbled into the wings.
Vivianne Blaine, currently playing in Guys and Dolls, valiantly stepped out of the audience to take over, as did comedian Jan Miller who completed the show.
The Palace closed for four days and she returned to an ovation little short of the one she received on opening night.
Max Bygraves: “Anybody who was anybody wanted Judy at their party. All and sundry told her how great she was; you’ve got to start believing it if it’s said as often as it was said to her.”
Judy’s doctor:
“Nervous exhaustion, similar to combat fatigue.”
 
The Palace willingly cut back to ten shows a week and the show ran for an unprecedented nineteen weeks, grossing $750,000 - a record for vaudeville.
At the end of the last Sunday night, Lauritz Melchior, the famous opera singer, who was succeeding her on the bill the following week, joined her on stage for the finale. Still the audience frantically asked for “one more” with some shouting for ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Judy folded her arms and said: “Okay . . . let’s see you do it.” The orchestra started up and Melchior led the audience into singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to Garland. The entire house rose for the final bars and Judy left the stage in tears.
Life: “The girl with the voice meant equally for lullabies, love songs and plain whooping and hollering deserved the most overworked word in her profession - great.”
Betty Hutton: “The audience is in tears before she opens her mouth, and when she sits down without a microphone and starts ‘Over the Rainbow’, you can hear people all over the audience saying: ‘God bless you, Judy.’ Who can follow that?”
 
Luft and Garland took a holiday in Palm Beach before opening the show at the Los Angeles Philharmonic on 21 April 1952 and the entire four-week run was sold out in advance.
All Hollywood was on hand for another opening night triumph. At the close of the show she said: “I think you know how much it means to me to be singing for you. I’ve missed you.”
On 27 May, the show moved to San Francisco where a doctor confirmed that Garland was pregnant and in a secret ceremony on 8 June, Judy Garland married Sid Luft.
The world learned of it two days later in a newspaper headline: ‘Judy Garland’s Secret Marriage Revealed.’ Six-year-old Liza learned of it from a TV news bulletin.
Other headlines followed about her personal life - she and Luft had been in and out of court over his child-support payments to his ex-wife Lynn Bari for their son; and it was also revealed the Judy’s mother Ethel was working as a clerk at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica for ‘a little over a dollar an hour’.
Ethel: “He’s a bad guy. I’ve been hoping it wouldn’t happen.”
 
Judy with George BurnsThe Friars Club, involved in show-business charities, honoured Garland at a formal testimonial dinner at the Biltmore Bowl in Los Angeles (pictured right with George Burns). The only other woman to receive this accolade was Sophie Tucker, and dubbed ‘Miss Show Business’, Judy sat tearful-eyed as Frank Sinatra sang, ‘Dear Miss Garland, You Made Us Love You’.
Judy put a full-page ad in the trade papers: “Can you possibly know, each and every of you, the good you have done my heart. I am very honoured, I am very grateful, and I am very proud.”
Judy repaid Bing Crosby’s earlier kindness by replacing him in his radio programme when his wife Dixie Lee was dying of cancer.
Homer Dickens: “The list of celebrities who honoured Judy that night is long enough to fill the Beverley Hills phone book.”
George Burns to Sid Luft:
“I married a girl with talent, too. It’s wonderful.”
 
Judy with Lorna LuftLorna Luft (pictured right) was born 21 November 1952 and joined Liza and John, six-year-old son of Sid from his previous marriage, in the Luft household.
Once again Judy suffered from post-natal depression and began taking pills other than those prescribed by her doctor. Well-meaning people supplied her. When Judy wanted something badly enough she could be both charming and intimidating.
The Garland-Luft marriage was a stormy one. Their large home in Holmby Hills, south of Bel Air, could not hide their battles which were loud and inventive.
The couple gave and went to a lot of parties. Always gay, witty and exuberant, Judy took joy in her singing for no other reason than to please her friends. Drinking into the small hours, she would then bend anybody’s ear about ‘the son-of-a-bitch Sid’. More than one divorce suit was brought and then dropped.
The Holmby Hills neighbourhood was also the home of the Rat Pack - the Bogarts, Sinatra, David Niven, Peter Lawford and the rest. The name came into being after a chance remark by Laureen Bacall when she entered Romanoff’s restaurant one evening, looked around, and said: “I see the Rat Pack is all here.”
The Lufts spent a great deal of their leisure time with the Rat Pack who described themselves as being against everything and everyone, including themselves. At their centre, Bogart loved to argue, banter and above all drink, and as much as he liked Sid and Judy, he often became fed up listening to their family problems. “You’ve got no class, Sid, that’s your problem,” he once told Sid when he bought a Rolls Royce. “You can’t buy it and you can’t acquire it like a suntan.”
In general however, Garland’s friends liked Luft who had charm and intelligence.
 
Ethel spent Christmas with her daughter Virginia and her husband in Texas before returning to Los Angeles. On 4 January 1953 she was found dead in the Douglas Aircraft parking lot, victim of a heart attack. The Press made great play of the contrast between the life of a highly paid actress and her humble mother who was a clerk in a factory. It was rarely mentioned that Ethel had received a portion of Judy’s salary during her fifteen years at M-G-M.
Theirs had been a volatile relationship. Ethel had been extremely ambitious for her daughter and Judy always had, from the age three, that craving for an appreciative audience. Judy never found it easy to blame herself for the things that went wrong in her life and she blamed those nearest to her. Ethel became a convenient scapegoat.
Ethel Gumm: “Judy has been selfish all her life. That’s my fault. I made it easy for her. She never said ‘I want to be kind or loved’, only ‘I want to be famous’. She worked - that’s all she ever wanted - to be an actress. Judy and I never had a quarrel, she just brushed me off.”
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
Shewrwood Times