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Thursday, March 31, 2011


The time has come for some more cinematic "What ifs." Hope you like the latest lot:

Judy Garland, wondering where her latest part went...

Toward the end of Judy Garland's MGM career, there were many roles that were snatched out from under her. Or rather, several roles that she let slip away. As her disenchantment with the studio's slave-driving and her own personal and substance abuse problems increased, her work became less consistent-- in quantity if not in quality. Judy missed out on an opportunity to re-team with Fred Astaire in The Barkleys of Broadway. After their success in the triumphant Easter Parade, MGM was looking to put the duo back together again, a gig that both stars were looking forward to, since they got along swimmingly-- or should I say dancingly? (Interestingly, Gene Kelly had originally been slated to star in Parade, but his injured ankle called Astaire out of retirement). Sadly, a reunion for Fred and Judy was too not to be. Judy was still worn out from the previous film-- pale and gaunt, she lacked the energy to fulfill her obligations. In the end, it was Ginger Rogers who was called upon to take back her place as Fred's most famous waltzing partner. This would be the first time the two had appeared together since 1939's The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. A decade later, they were still a sight to behold (see left). It would be the last movie the famous pair made together, ending an 10 picture winning streak.

In 1949, Judy was also slated to star in Annie Get Your Gun, however there were several strikes working against her. She had recently and admittedly separated from her husband, Vincente Minnelli, and the realization of his true sexual tendencies was a crushing blow to her feelings of security as a woman. In addition, the film's director was to be Busby Berkeley, an arch nemesis who had driven Judy to the brink of collapse in her earlier, childhood roles. Judy too disliked the frumpy wardrobe (right), which further inhibited her already enormous physical insecurity. Judy's response was to arrive late or not at all. In addition, her health was poor as a result of the temporary electroshock therapy she was undergoing. As her weight dropped and her hair began to fall out, her one coup was having Berkeley replaced with her friend Chuck Walters, but even he couldn't save Judy. She was offered an ultimatum by the studio-- show up on time, or you're fired! Judy left in a huff and Betty Hutton, everyone's favorite, loud-mouth mug, stepped into Annie's stirrups. It remains her most famous role.

Betty Hutton, guns blazin'!

Errol Flynn is remembered as America's Favorite Swashbuckler. It seems that this Tasmanian Devil was destined for fame, for the beginning of his career was guided by a power greater than himself. His big breakthrough role as Peter Blood in Captain Blood was a phenomenon (left with Olivia De Havilland). Jack Warner took a big gamble in allowing the unknown Flynn to be cast in Michael Curtiz's epic pirate adventure. Originally, Robert Donat was slated to star as the doctor-turned-seafaring hero. After he dropped out due to illness, Leslie Howard, Ronald Coleman, and Fredric March were also considered. 22 other actors in total were given screen tests for the role.  It was Errol's own wife, Lili Damita (a bigger star at the time), who encouraged Curtiz (her ex-husband!) to cast him. He did, and the gamble paid off. The film was a box-office bonanza, and Errol Flynn was a star! Lili was in tears at the premiere, not out of joy but out of despair. She knew that Errol's rising star would mean the end of their tempestuous marriage. She was right.

This didn't mean everything came easily to him in the casting world. The role with which he is most synonymous, Robin Hood, was almost one he never got to play. It appeared for a time that James Cagney (right) was to be the eternal man in tights. However, due to professional disagreements, he walked right out of Nottingham, leaving the way free and clear for another leading man. Again, Errol was chosen, and he will forever be remembered as that delicious cad in green, fending off foes in Sherwood Forest. As one of Warner Bros. greatest films, it is impossible to imagine anyone else wooing Olivia De Havilland's Maid Marian. Besides, Cagney looked better with a gun than a bow and arrow... Errol's good friend David Niven was also supposed to step in as Will Scarlett, but he couldn't be torn away from his vacation in England, so Patric Knowles took the job.

Patric and Errol relax between takes in Sherwood.

William Holden's struggle for and with the role of Joe Bonaparte in Golden Boy is a story many love telling. The "rich kid" had been studying chemistry but had always had a penchant for the dramatics. He was on a high when cast in the role of a lifetime in Golden boy, but this unknown was immediately humbled when he found that he quite simply couldn't act under pressure. Bumbling around the set, flubbing his lines, and looking mighty awkward, director Rouben Mamoulian was shaking his head wondering why he had cast him in the first place. John Garfield too must have been pondering the same question, since he was the actor that author Clifford Odets had originally penned the role for when it was to go up on the New York stage. At the time, The Group Theatre chose Luther Adler to take on the role instead. In response, John quit the group and went to Hollywood. When word came that the play was to become a movie, John thought his time had finally come to take on the role that he had always wanted to play. This time the part went to the unknown Holden. After some help from Barbara Stanwyck, Bill got his grip on himself and the role of a lifetime and had his day in the sun as the Golden Boy (left). Garfield was ok, though. By this time he was a well on his way to becoming a big star too, having performed in the very popular Four Daughters the year before.

John Garfield would get to play a boxer later 
in Body and Soul. He would also play
a violinist opposite Joan Crawford
in Humoresque.

In struggling to choose the greatest romantic comedy of all time, I go back and forth between two films: The More the Merrier and Roman Holiday. It is hard to choose the greatest of them all, but often I veer toward the latter. The star-making performance of Audrey Hepburn, the amiable dignity of Gregory Peck, the fun and adventure of a Princess's day as a normal girl, and, of course, the heartbreaking end when she must return to a life of discipline and reserve. All of these elements came together so beautifully that it is impossible to imagine the film any other way. But, it very nearly was an entirely different film, one which was to star Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor. Oy! Though both of these performers were fantastic, the lighthearted innocence of the film would have been lost. Grant is both too sophisticated and too comically playful to take on the newspaperman next-door role that Peck created so gracefully, and Liz had too much maturity and sensuality to carry off the delicate and naive enchantment that Audrey delivered. Thus, the one-two punch of Greg and Aud' was the right combo, creating the profound chemistry needed to illicit love in 24 hours. Heart-- the most crucial element to any romance-- is very poignantly felt because of both actors' performances, and when Peck walks away from that empty silent hall at the end, it is completely clear just what he is leaving behind-- a love that could have been and a cinematic legacy.

Ahhh, movie heaven: Audrey and Greg 
in Roman Holiday.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

HOT SPOTS in CA: The Brown Derby

The easiest go-to for young lovers on date night has for some time now been the tried and true "dinner and a movie." However, if one happened to live in Hollywood in the glory days, occasionally this age-old ritual transferred to "dinner and a movie star." La La Land was, during the prime studio era, jam-packed with restaurants and eateries frequented by the glitziest faces in the biz. Chasen's, Googie's, Miceli's, The Cafe Trocadero... The list goes on and on. However, the most infamous of all these places, and the one that seems to come up as a reference in almost any Hollywood bio you read, is the The Brown Derby.

The original Derby at 3427 Wilshire.

Shaped like a hat and situated at 3427 Wilshire Blvd, the first branch of this illustrious food chain would open up in 1926 across the street from The Ambassador Hotel. It is said that the hat motif was the brain-child of co-owner Richard J. Cobb, who was once told by partner Harry Samborn (ex-hubby of Gloria Swanson) that if a restaurant was run well, the food could be "served out of a hat and you'd still make money." Cobb took this literally, and now that the duo had a hook for their diner, they set up shop-- or hat rather. Soon enough, business was bumping. While celebs like Mary Pickford and Bebe Daniels had more than a few meals at this branch, The Brown Derby didn't become synonymous with Hollywood until another restaurant was opened at Hollywood & Vine at 1628 N Vine Street in 1929. This eatery was not shaped like the famous hat, but it bore the same moniker, and since it was located in the midst of movie central, it became the go-to place for celebs and fans alike to grab a bite . Sometimes, actors would appear at the restaurant in wardrobe, because there was too little time on their lunch break to change. This restaurant is also credited with establishing the phenomenon of telephones at every booth, so that business could be conducted more efficiently by dining execs-- a tactic picked up by future eateries and clubs such as 21.

Hollywood Brown Derby at Hollywood & Vine

It was also at the Hollywood branch that the infamous "Wall of Fame" would be begun by a Polish artist, whose name was allegedly so hard to pronounce that he was referred to only as "Vitch," (first name Edward).  He started what was to become a restaurant trademark by offering to draw people's caricatures for a bowl of soup. His keen eye for accentuated facial features and his ability to capture the essence of a famous face in but a few broad strokes made him a celebrity of his own, and soon cartoonish, exaggerated pictures of Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, and Humphrey Bogart adorned and covered the surrounding walls (William Powell is seen left). (Other artists, most particularly Jack Lane, would continue the caricature tradition up into the eighties). Jimmy Durante would be the only star whose picture took up two pieces of paper, due to his notorious schnoz. Jimmy had a favorite corner booth, and if the table was taken when he came in for a bite, he would simply turn around and leave. Wallace Beery could also be counted on to sit in his favorite booth and order the specialty corned beef hash.

The menu at The Brown Derby was fancier than one may imagine. Offering much more than burgers and fries, the restaurant served a various assortment of ethnic masterpieces, salads, soups, and desserts. This is because various guests started adding their own favorites to the menu. Dorothy Lamour contributed her recipe for Shrimp Creole-- taste tested by her own mother-- and the different varieties of international foods can be attributed to the other universal clientele. The most famous meal perhaps is the Cobb salad, which Cobb himself is said to have haphazardly concocted on a whim. The story of its creation varies, and is the stuff of legend, but the accepted tale is thus: when he and Sid Grauman-- theater owner and showman-- were hanging around late one night, they both got hungry. Cobb took various leftover scraps of chicken, lettuce, avocado, etc, and added the famous House French Dressing. History was made, and the salad became a hit when Sid came in requesting it again the next day. The Cobb was even featured in an episode of "I Love Lucy" (right) when the gang finally goes to Hollywood and has a meal at the Derby. Seated between Eve Arden and William Holden, Lucy is, of course, star struck as she overhears the tasty Holden order the delectable Cobb. Needless to say, all Hell breaks loose and food winds up in Holden's lap and not his plate. (Watch hilarious clip here). Jack Warner was allegedly a huge fan of the salad and used to order it by the quart.

But the Derby represented more than a place to grab a bite. It was a kitchen away from home for many celebrities, many of whom have significant memories that occurred there. Here are a few worth mentioning:

The First Date
Prior to her big career breakthrough in I Wanted Wings, Veronica Lake was being wooed by esteemed art director John Detlie (both left).  After receiving bouquets of flowers from the anonymous admirer, John finally called Veronica up and asked her out on an official date. Wanting to impress the seemingly un-impressible Ronni, where did he take her? The Brown Derby- the meal locale of the who's-who of Hollywood. While Ronni was not easily flattered by superficial tomfoolery, she did enjoy her meal and was smitten enough to begin a romantic relationship with the man who was to become her first husband. Her mother, Constance, was also impressed, as she had tagged along to monitor her daughter's courtship. Love with a side of "Good-grief, Ma!"

The Proposal
Clark Gable and Carole Lombard (right at the Derby) had been romantically involved since 1936 when they bumped into each other at the Mayfair Ball. The two had appeared in No Man of Her Own together in 1932, but it wasn't until John Hay Whitney threw this little shindig that the two would click romantically. Carole was recently divorced from William Powell, with whom she remained friendly, but Clark was still very married to "Ria" Langham. Nonetheless, a love affair proceeded, during which legendary shenanigans involving doves, broken down cars, and Carole's usual pranks ensued. Soon, Carole was in over her head and head-over-heels in love. She pursued the man of her dreams with a vengeance, despite his shuffling and procrastination in obtaining a divorce: it was solely a monetary issue, for his marriage to the 17-year senior Ria had been in name only for some time. Even the studios tried to keep them apart, fearing that scandal would destroy both of their careers. Needless to say, many MGM faces turned bright red when the infamous "Hollywood's Unmarried Husbands and Wives" Photoplay article was published, insinuating Clark and Carole as two of the culprits, in the company of such others as Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor. Perhaps with so many obstacles between them, the relationship would have gone up in smoke,but Clark realized that he indeed loved his dizzy, blonde Tom-boy too. After three years of waiting, on March 7, 1939 Clark obtained his divorce. Now a free man, he placed a call to Carole direct from his current location-- The Brown Derby-- and asked her to marry him. After thinking about it for a millisecond, she said "Hell, yes!" They were married a couple of weeks later on March 29.

The Wedding
No actual wedding took place at the Derby, that I know of... But Judy Garland's first act of matrimony came pretty close. David Rose was a songwriter who had won Judy's heart through his sincerity and kindness (both left). Since Dave was over ten years her senior, Judy also thought that he was a man who could protect her from her overbearing mother, Ethel. The two had first met when Judy was to do a radio show for Bob Hope, for which Rose was also scheduled. However, love seemed like a long shot for the two. Judy was still smarting over the recent marriage of Lana Turner to Artie Shaw, a good friend of Judy's with whom she was very much in love. Crying hysterically and banging her head against the wall, it appeared that Judy would be unable to perform. Rose helped to calm her down, even bringing her a piece of his mother's chocolate cake, once she had stopped with the waterworks. Since Judy had been on a very regimented diet nearly her entire life-- again, thanks to Mama Monster-- she broke out in a big smile and said, "How did you know that this was exactly what I needed?!" Soon enough, the two were dating and became engaged, though the studios were trying to stall the nuptials for as long as possible. Judy was still playing teeny-boppers in movies like Babes in Arms, and having her publicly proclaim herself as a grown-up could severely affect box office. One night, while dining out at the Derby (June 27, 1941 to be exact), Judy and David decided that they could stall no longer. Perhaps it was the romantic lighting, perhaps it was the fact that, as David discovered, the way to Judy's heart was through her stomach, but after dinner, they grabbed the check, hopped a plane to Vegas, and said "I do!" MGM was not happy, and sadly Judy was to have no Honeymoon. Furious, the studio demanded that she return the next afternoon to finish shooting on Babes on Broadway. Luckily, Judy's box-office appeal went unharmed.

The Brawl
It wasn't always hearts and clovers, however. John Gilbert (right) had a very embarrassing incident happen to him at the Derby. In the late Twenties, as the glory days of the silent film were hanging on by a thread, so too was one of its leading men. John's destruction lay not in the nature of his voice, which history has incorrectly remembered as being too squeaky for Talkies. His true enemy was Louis B. Mayer, who-- little did John know-- was already laying the trap for his downfall. Many theorize that the publicity surrounding John's inability to transfer to sound films was initiated by Mayer, with whom he had a long-running animosity. Mayer planted the seed of doubt, and soon enough it was accepted as truth that John was a hack and a far cry from his macho, leading man persona. One piece of evidence to support this is the article that Mayer (supposedly) had Jim Tully write for Vanity Fair, in which he labeled John as a lecherous mama's boy. This poison pen article was specifically used to tarnish John's ladies' man image and serve as the first nudge to propel his career on its downward spiral. John, a self-made man who had a very tumultuous relationship with his mother, was disgusted when he read the article. So sickened was he, that he actually threw-up. Thus, when he came face to face with Tully years later at The Brown Derby, he started a fight with the author. However, because Tully had a background in boxing, it was John who was left lying on the floor, his ego bruised more than his eye. It was a humiliating experience, and the drunk and disorderly John had to be removed from the premises, while Tully returned to his meal. Years later, Tully would admit that he had nothing against John, and had in fact never met him when he wrote the article, therefore having to basis upon which to make his lewd statements. It was simply a job and a job too well done. John and his career would soon disappear under the heap of lies, but not until after the insult of all insults: he was forced to act opposite Tully in Way for a Sailor of 1930.

The Beginning and The End
The Brown Derby would finally serve as a macabre bookend for the remaining days of Thelma Todd (left).  Her introduction to and her last public meeting with the man who is most often labeled as the mastermind of her bizarre, untimely death would occur at none other than The Brown Derby. Thelma's marriage to Pat DiCicco, a Hollywood agent with mob connections, was well on its way to divorce court from almost the moment they said "I do." Pat was secretive and abusive, and it was becoming abundantly clear that his charms had been covering up a selfish and sadistic personality. Thelma was fed up with the lies and his emotional distance from her: Where did he disappear to all the time? Who was he with? And why? She got her answer one night when dining with friend and ex-lover Roland West at the Derby. Ironically, the two were discussing the creation of a restaurant of their own: Thelma Todd's Sidewalk Cafe, which would soon take root on the Pacific Coast Highway. In the midst of conversation, Thelma caught sight of her hubby across the way, talking to a man she couldn't see. She boldly walked over to give him a piece of her mind, or at the very least elbow her way into his life. She was shocked by what she saw: Lucky Luciano. Though far from handsome, Lucky and his power were intoxicating, hypnotizing, and Thelma found herself stuttering under his piercing gaze. He held out his hand, introduced himself, complimented her beauty, and then offered her a drink. Since Thelma was overcoming issues with alcoholism and a drug addiction, she refrained, but when Lucky insisted, one didn't refuse. This meeting would being the rapid countdown to her final days.

Thelma's own Sidewalk Cafe.

Apparently, all of Pat's secrecy had been for Thelma's protection. He knew Lucky (right) had an eye for his movie star wife, that he loved blondes, and that he was also a dangerous and far more abusive man than Pat himself would ever be. Yet, before he knew it, Pat and Thelma were divorced, and it was Luciano who had crawled into her bed like a serpent. The affair was not a joyous one. More physical abuse began, as did more sneaking, lying, and cheating. Thelma finally had her fill when Luciano tried to get his hands on her Cafe in order to use the upstairs room as a headquarters for his gambling racket. Thelma wasn't having it, and she tried to break off the affair. Again, Lucky never took "no" for an answer. He had already succeeded in sending Thelma back into her debilitating addiction to prescription pills, uppers, and booze, now he was trying to tamper with her business. One night, the duo met publicly, as Thelma had stipulated, at The Brown Derby. Again, Lucky tried to force his way into her business, but this time Thelma let it be known once and for all that she was through with him for good, even threatening to use the knowledge she had about Lucky's illegal business deals as blackmail. Legend has it that Thelma stood up to leave, shouting out, "You'll take over my restaurant over my dead body!" She made her exit, briskly and proudly. Under his breath, Lucky allegedly muttered, "That can be arranged." Soon after, on Dec. 16, 1935, Thelma Todd was found dead, bloody and bruised, in the front seat of her car in the garage above The Sidewalk Cafe. Cause of death: Accidental Suicide. Yeah, right...

Needless to say, the Derby was a busy place. And, for the most part, despite a couple of the aforementioned tales, it produced an attractive and positive atmosphere. Thus, two more branches would open, one in Beverly Hills farther West on Wilshire and a Drive-in version in Los Feliz (left). But, nothing good lasts forever. As times changed, the very first Derby was moved from 3427 to 3377 Wilshire, but a change of venue couldn't save it. All of these eateries were vacant by the eighties and half of them were demolished. The Hollywood branch, the most kickin' of them all, is completely vanished from Vine Street, perhaps the greatest loss. The space originally known as The Brown Derby in Los Feliz still stands as a Louise's Trattoria. Originally scheduled for demolition, this locale was saved by history buffs who made it a cultural landmark. The original was too destroyed, but the curious dome that was once the top of the giant hat still sits at the top of The Brown Derby shopping center at 3377 Wilshire. It is currently a Korean restaurant, so one can technically still eat in the Derbies of Los Feliz and Los Angeles, even if one is not technically at the Derby.

3377 Wilshire and the remnants of the giant ol' Derby hat.

As silly as it might be to want to hold onto something that represents but cannot bring forth the past, there is still a nostalgia felt for the most famous of Hollywood hats. The thrill of sitting at a table once enjoyed by Jean Harlow and William Powell would certainly be something any film buff would enjoy. As it is, we have to take refuge in the faded memories alone. For those hungry for more, you can still wander to that corner of Hollywood and Vine and imagine life as it was. You can even order your own Brown Derby cookbook, (I just made the "Cobb" and it was to die for) or a replicated caricature of your favorite star. Sadly, that's the most one can hope for, but perhaps it's enough. Even in Hollywood, you can't go home again. Too bad. I could really use a dish of Grable with a side of Grant...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

MENTAL MONTAGE: Ladies in a Man's World

The ultimate female objectification: Jane Russell and her assets
advertised in a 3D movie.

The battle of the sexes reached a fever pitch with the advent of cinema. Exploring gender roles on the silver screen was one thing, but it was the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that would take on much greater precedence in the history of He vs. She. The business of movie making, in a way, opened up a Pandora's Box of sexism, for as young ingenues came out to a land offering dreams-come-true and limitless possibilities, the consummation of ambition and corruption gave birth instead to what has commonly become known as "the casting couch." Sadly, it is not a myth. Hollywood itself, particularly in the early pioneering days and the apex of the studio system, was a glorified and gorified representation of a patriarchal society gone haywire. With large, wealthy businessmen and moguls holding the reigns and beautiful women running amok, it didn't take long for the well known game of quid pro quo to begin. As studio magnates got more and more powerful, their manipulation of the system, bloated egos, and inflated sensibilities of entitlement, resulted in a cat and mouse game, wherein more than one girl became the reluctant prey. In the eternal battle, many Virgins were sacrificed to the great Gods of Fame, Fortune, and Celluloid, but Rebels too came out swinging with a vengeance. Here are their stories.

LB at his throne of power.

MGM: "the dream factory." On the screen, it churned out delicious masterpieces for the eyes and imagination. Off camera, however, this iconic studio was a complete nightmare. Louis B. Mayer knew the business, he knew money, and he likewise knew how to cash in on his audiences. Yet, despite the fact that his job was to provide mass entertainment for the human soul, he seemed to lack one of his own. One of movieland's greatest hypocrites, he scolded his stars for their indecent behavior, while personally committing countless acts of debauchery and malevolence. In addition to controlling every aspect of his stars' lives-- his livestock-- spying on them, tapping their phones, intercepting their private letters and wires, he too abused his power physically. Some women, such as the strong Luise Rainer, never played into his trap and maintained enough control over their lives so that he was never able to infect their private business. Rainer (left) always made Mayer uneasy. He couldn't "figure her out." Read: she wouldn't play into his hands like an eye-batting simp. She came to work, did her job, and did not mix business with his pleasure. Actresses like Rainer, who didn't care about the fame but were invested specifically in the work, easily avoided the noose, and irritated the hell out of LB. Ava Gardner too could be lumped into this category. Fresh out of North Carolina, Ava was naive about the ways of the world when she was signed at MGM, which-- coupled with her beauty-- made her a prime target. However, Ava wasn't "that type of girl," and when she was nearly sexually attacked by a certain employee, she ran to Howard Strickling, MGM's publicity man, to protect her. Strickling ordered the man with happy hands to keep his "paws off." While Ava would later become more sexually adventurous, she was also a woman in control of her own life; she was calling the shots and not the other way around. For this reason, she was never played as a sexual pawn.

This is not to say that all women who fell prey to the man in charge were soulless fame seekers or women weak in spirit. Most girls were simply too young to understand how to fight back, nor in the days before the feminist movement did they know that they should. One such ingenue was Judy Garland (right), who in later years would recount being "felt-up" by Mayer a number of times when she was a young woman just starting to blossom. Mayer would call her into his office and have her sing for him. After she wowed him with her god-given gift, he would then say to her, "You know why you have such power in your voice, Judy? Because you sing from the heart. From here." He would then place his hand on her heart aka her breast. As an adolescent, Judy was awkward in these moments, not knowing how to react. Her instincts of course could feel that she was being abused, that something wasn't right, but Mayer was the man in charge. What could she do? (She joked in later years that she was grateful that she didn't sing from another part of her anatomy.) This type of occurrence repeated itself over the years, until finally, one day after Judy had matured, Mayer tried the tactic again. This time, Judy looked him straight in his bespectacled eyes and said, "Mr. Mayer, don't you ever do that again!" Mayer, who was known for lapsing into dramatic hysterics, burst into tears. "How could you say such a thing to me, after all I've done for you?!" Judy, shocked, suddenly found herself comforting him. At least he never laid another hand on her.

Mickey Rooney, Judy, and the "affable" Papa Mayer.

For all of the turbulence in their relationship, Mayer always had a soft spot for Judy, mostly because she proved to be such a huge moneymaker. This would come in handy later. Judy once had an encounter with one of Mayer's right-hand men, Ben Thau. When the stuffy, abrupt Thau surprisingly laid a kiss on the adolescent Judy, she was shocked. He then told her in no uncertain terms that she was to go to bed with him. Judy politely refused the flowery proposal, and Thau became angry, telling her that if she didn't obey, he would "ruin her." Judy by now had enough clout at the studio to hold her ground. She stared him down and said, "Oh, you'll be gone before I will." Indeed, he was. After the story was relayed to Mayer, Thau was out.

Another man who was known to throw his slovenly, repugnant weight around MGM was producer Arthur Freed. Judy had a hefty business relationship with Freed, whose name is present on the majority of the MGM pictures she made. Freed was another chronic womanizer who used his power for personal gain. His most infamous relationship perhaps involves Judy's co-star Lucille Bremer, who starred as Judy's older sister in Meet Me in St. Louis. She secured the job only because she was Freed's "girl." Sadly, her career didn't last much longer after the film's release. Another story involves Freed's meeting with Shirley Temple, the pint-sized actress who was one of cinema's greatest moneymakers (left). When she transferred over to MGM from Fox, the eleven-year-old was invited into Freed's office, where the pompous windbag told her that he was going to "make her a star," which, coincidentally, she already was. He then presented his... member to her. (That's right, I said 11-years-old). The young child responded with childish, uncomfortable laughter, which set off Freed's hairtrigger temper. He screamed at her "Get out! Get out!!!!" Honestly, what response did he expect? Despite the fact that this story in particular is unsettling due to Shirley's age, it is comical in that a pre-teen girl was able to emasculate the notorious lecher. (Temple's mother was also forced to fend off the wolves, who often tried to proposition her when she was trying to get her daughter ahead in the business. It is also speculated that Judy Garland's mother, Ethel, freely offered herself up on behalf of her daughter's career.).

Mayer's #2, Eddie Mannix, is a perplexing person in film history. A bruiser with mob connections, his experience and knowledge of cinema was null, making his high post at MGM... questionable. Publicly, he was Vice-President. In truth, he was a glorified spy who kept stars in line by keeping himself very knowledgeable about their private business. Needless to say, Mayer loved him, and Mannix loved his job, using MGM as his personal, sexual piggy bank. His favorite girl for a time was Mary Nolan, a former Ziegfeld Girl nicknamed "Bubbles" (right). When Mannix fell for her, she was suddenly cast in films opposite the likes of Lon Chaney and John Gilbert. However, she paid the price for fame. Attempting to prove his great machismo, Mannix was mentally and physically abusive. Sometimes he would beat Mary so savagely that she required surgery. Many would note her black and blue appearance when coming to set. It was only a matter of time before she, in addition, became addicted to morphine. (Ironically, she would play an addict in West of Zanzibar). When Mannix tired of her and tried to break it off, Nolan fought back and sued him in a court of law. Of course, being a high man on the totem pole with his hands in government pockets, Mannix never suffered the consequences for his actions. Mary was libeled as a "drug-addict" and a "tramp" in the press and quickly intimidated out of town by Mannix's henchmen. She died alone of liver disease in 1948.

One of the most horrific stories about the distorted misogyny of Hollywood can be learned from the story of extra girl Patricia Douglas. MGM held yearly sales conventions, during which Mayer entertained his multiple investors by showing off the fruits of their monetary contributions. Concocting elaborate parties that invited these men onto the back lots of the studio, wild and ribald behavior was endorsed and the wine flowed like... wine. The beautiful women and hopeful ingenues were too paraded before the slobbering lot-- dancing, singing, and serving them liquor. Eternal gentleman John Gilbert was so disgusted at the display at one particular party-- and the way Mayer was offering up "those poor little girls" like prostitutes-- that he stormed out, much to Mayer's chagrin. It seemed like harmless fun from the outside, but the truth was that once the gates of MGM closed, over a hundred girls were trapped and outnumbered by drunken, pawing men who felt they deserved a little "reward" for their lucrative contributions to the studio. On June 1, 1931, 20-year-old, Patricia was one of these victims. Growing up in Hollywood, the lovely young girl was familiar with the business and some of its players and took the job for a little extra money. It wasn't as easy a job as she originally expected, and soon things became rowdy and out of control. Actress Ginger Wyatt was also present at this affair, and would recall things getting so out of hand that actor Wallace Beery had to punch a few guys out in order to get her to safety. Patricia was not so lucky.

She was eventually asked to dance by MGM employee Dave Ross. She found him unsettling and creepy, but she found him difficult to avoid. At one point, he and an unnamed friend held her nose and poured a mixture of scotch and champagne down her throat. On the verge of vomiting, she stumbled outside onto the dirty fields of the Hal Roach lot. Ross came up behind her, pushed her down, threatened her life, warned her not to scream, and raped her. After she was discovered, bloody and bruised, she was taken to MGM's own hospital. Patricia expected something to be done, but the silence was deafening. She approached District Attorney Buron Fitts, but he of course gave service to the highest bidder, so Patricia's case went nowhere. MGM had to protect its reputation, so the story of their party had to be squelched. Despite the fact that Patricia was a young innocent and a virgin, a fact many testified to, she was labeled as a "loose woman" with unsuitable morals who was out for money. Her case was dropped, MGM was kept out of the papers, and Patricia never got her retribution. Her sad story meant nothing to Hollywood's biggest money machine-- she was just another commodity to be used as the men in charge saw fit. In court, Buron Fitts solidified MGM's defense with the mere comment, "Who would want to sleep with that?" That sentence would echo through Patricia's ears for the rest of her life. (Learn more from the film Girl 27 by brilliant author and filmmaker David Stenn).

But MGM wasn't alone in its sexual shenanigans. Darryl F. Zanuck of Twentieth-Century Fox was also a notorious lecher. In fact, it was well known on the lot that business with Zanuck was closed from 4-4:30pm each day. Why? Because that was always the time that a pretty, young actress was escorted into his office, where he would personally "audition" her. It was a free for all, and women who didn't perform off screen were told in no uncertain terms that they wouldn't perform on screen. The way these girls were paraded around led to more than one woman gaining a reputation. Carole Landis and Linda Darnell both allegedly suffered the humiliation of social judgment after various encounters. It was just the way of the business. Who were these young actresses to question it? Upon most of their initial introductions to Hollywood, they were told that this was just how things were. Not every girl was equipped with the same fierce and gamely antagonistic spirit of a Bette Davis, and some were a little too naive to simply say "No." However, Zanuck would learn that he wouldn't always get his way. When the young Betty Grable (right) entered his office at 4pm one day and was unceremoniously offered his appendage, she simply said, "That's beautiful. You can put it away now," and walked out the door.

Harry Cohn of Columbia was no prize either. The sadistic relationships he had with his actresses, especially the resistant ones like Rita Hayworth, Kim Novak, and Jean Arthur-- who opposed his power plays-- were legendary. He was labeled as "White Fang," a mental and physical rapist who left in his wake a landscape of discarded and humiliated women. He was said to have auditioned new actresses by sticking a pencil in their mouths to examine their teeth, lifting their skirts to look at their legs, and moving them over to his infamous white couch where they would "perform" before being escorted out the back door. After Marilyn Monroe appeared in Ladies of the Chorus for Columbia (left), she was invited to a meeting by casting director Max Arnow. Nervous about a possible new role, Marilyn prepped herself, crossed her fingers, and went to the appointment. However, Arnow wasn't there. A smiling secretary sent her instead into the office with Cohn, who beamingly showed off a picture of his yacht. He then invited Marilyn to come along on his next trip to sea, to which Marilyn responded, "What about your wife?" Cohn became enraged telling her to "leave [his] wife outta this," but any time he tried to redirect conversation to a rendezvous, Marilyn avoided the bait. Despite what is often said about her, Marilyn was a shrewd tactician and she knew better than to become yet another one of Cohn's walking wounded. Thus, as she made her way to the exit, Cohn blurted out "This is your last chance!" She exited nonetheless. Her Columbia contract was cancelled the following Monday.

The stories out there are endless, most of them experienced by the nameless women whose sacrifices never got them the opportunities they were promised when in a compromising position. Often, in recollection, women still protect the names of the men that so abused them on their rise to the top. One such woman is the spitfire Veronica Lake (right), who was never prone to gossip. BS maybe, but gossip no. Ronni's encounters in the extreme and sometimes rotten world of Hollywood are entertaining and eye-opening to say the least. She would recount in her memoirs mysterious auditions for various "films," which turned out to be pornographies-- one sort of movie she was not apt to make. She recalled being somewhat fearful in these situations. The casting director would try to intimidate her into accepting the job, leaving her nothing to do but run. The most hilarious of her appointments with sexism is also the most indicative of her character. She was once called in to meet a certain producer, whom she left nameless. After talking about a future role for her, this man took out his member (seemed to be a running theme) and laid it on his desk. Instead of batting her eyes at the great wonder of nature before her, or cowering nervously and searching for the exit, Veronica did what only Veronica would do. She threw a book at it. A heavy one. That had to hurt, and good riddance!

Mae West: an actress who put women firmly in a position of
power and took over Hollywood on her own terms.

One would hope that the aforementioned practices are a thing of the past and that the rise of feminism had abolished the submission of women in the Hollywood workplace, but the sad truth is that this kind of thing still goes on all the time. In a fame-hungry world, the need for power and celebrity to validate one's own existence only heightens a prospective star's susceptibility to such a cruel injustice. The hungrier one's desire for fame, the easier it is for a person in the position to give it to feed his (or her) own appetite. Luckily, there have always been those ladies who knew that their greatest service to society and themselves could not be performed on their backs. From those who suffered and those who triumphed, we can learn much: the cost of fortune should never be one's soul. Unfortunately, this truth was not blatant enough for all of these young women to see. In the game of sex, life, or business, if a girl isn't in control of her own moves, she is the one being played. Women like Lake, Rainer, and Grable had enough gumption to turn the tables and not be the pawn. Check mate, fellas.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

HISTORY LESSON: "The [Songs] That [Almost] Got Away"

Joots prepares to unleash her golden voice.

Judy Garland's singing career is indivisible from her acting career. When one hears the name "Judy Garland," it is likely that one will immediately conjure up images of her in the midst of song. With a powerful voice matched by a powerful personality, it is no wonder that the tunes Judy gave us over the course of her career are still ringing in our ears. Some of the most popular songs in film history, and perhaps of all time, were first christened by Joots. Her sad and endearing rendition of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" from Meet Me in St. Louis has caused it to become one of the holiday's most beloved melodies, and her duet "How About You?" with pal Mickey Rooney in Babes on Broadway can bring a round of smiles to even the most maudlin of occasions. However, some of Judy's most popular hits almost never came to be. Now that they are a part of our cultural and musical repertoire, history and life in general would seem incomplete without them. Here a three stories about three impromptu tunes.

1) "Over the Rainbow" is unarguably the most memorable moment from 1939's The Wizard of Oz. For generations, this film has maintained its endearing hold on the public via the tune that every human being, whether young or old, can relate to. We all still dream, still hope, and still possess some corner of our hearts where our youthful innocence takes harbor. Song writer Richard Arlen, one of MGM's greatest musical workhorses, had no idea how memorable his song would be when he wrote it. He got the idea when he stopped his car outside Schwab's Pharmacy on Sunset Boulevard and was hypnotized by the brilliant colors of the electric sign. When he teamed up with lyricist E.Y. Harburg, his inspiration took shape in a melody that would transcend time and send little Dorothy Gale (right) all the way to the mystical land of her imaginings: Oz.

But, "Over the Rainbow" almost didn't make the cut! After the initial previews in June of '39, the studio heads at Metro weren't sold on many portions of the film. It had been an arduous one to make, not to mention costly, and after all of the stress, they needed a clean, perfected hit to earn back their investment. First of all, the film was too long. An hour and a half was the acceptable length for a musical comedy or-- as the studio called this piece-- "a musical drama." A few minutes, therefore, had to be shaved. In addition to cutting some of the Wicked Witch's most scintillating and downright evil lines-- which, when screened in London, instigated the rule that no child could attend the horrifying film unattended-- a few odds, ends, corners, and even musical numbers had to be snipped. One Suit suggested that "Over the Rainbow" be cut. After all, it was a melancholy little number that merely delayed Dorothy's voyage to Oz, where all of the real action happened. In addition, having one of the studio's biggest assets singing in a barn surrounded by hay and hogs didn't seem like a keen selling point.

Off to see the Wizard.

When Harburg found out, he was furious! To him and nearly everyone else involved with the picture, Judy's rendering of this song was the most important moment of the fim. Not only did it establish her character, but it prepared the audience for what was to come, acting as a bridge to the unbelievable land where Dorothy would journey. King Vidor, who directed the scene, was called in to wrap up the unfilmed footage when Victor Fleming was called away to pick up Gone with the Wind from the ousted George Cukor. (Ironically, Cukor had been an advisor on Wizard after first director Richard Thorpe was fired and before Fleming was brought in). The last minute switch was kismet. Vidor was an alumni of silent film, and his interpretation of the scene, its poetry, the camera's movement, all lent to the beauty of Judy's longing voice. Out of the black and white of the scene comes the first true color of the film before the tornado ever carries Dorothy to Oz. Surprisingly, it was Louis B. Mayer who stepped up to the plate, convinced that the number had to stay. While he often himself appeared like the Tin Man, the sentimentality and wholesomeness of the song appealed to him. Apparently, he did have a heart. And so, the song stayed, and history was made.

2) "Get Happy" is the singular moment of Summer Stock, and one of the most brilliant moments of Judy's career. When watching the movie today, one often gets bored waiting for this one big scene amidst the drudgery and chaos of the surrounding, back-country plot. In fact, the charming Gene Kelly and the matronly Judy (right) seem like an unlikely fit, which makes their romance very confusing-- a far cry from their more suitable For Me and My Gal days. They perform better apart than together. Gene has his time to shine in his solo dance sequence, but even the incomparable, sexual dancer can't top Judy's pipes. "Get Happy" was the saving grace of the film, and it resulted almost by happenstance.

When Judy began work on the picture, she had picked up a little weight. After obtaining rest and relaxation at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, where she had been served three square meals a day, she did not look like the svelte beauty she had been in The Clock or Ziegfeld's Follies. In fact, she looked a great deal older than her 27 years. Being adorned in farm-girl attire only hampered her already less-than-startling appearance. After years of overwork, stress, and drugs, Judy was not in a good place emotionally when she started the film, and was also on the brink of a break with MGM. Going on a crash diet increased her edginess and ill feelings. Insecure, she often called in sick, arrived late, or used any possible delaying tactic to avoid coming to work, for-- as she relayed to musical director Saul Chaplin-- "I'm so ugly and untalented, they're going to find me out!" Director Chuck Walters, a constant collaborator with Judy over the years, was by now used to, if not immune to, her hysterics, and he knew how to work around them. He often distracted Judy with other business to keep her mind off work, knowing that if he could just get her up and in front of the camera, she would do her thing. His ploy often worked. He would tell Judy, "Oh, you look tired. Why don't you go home. But first, could you run through this song once for tomorrow?" Judy would agree, start to sing, and then "Whip, Boom, Pow!" She became the star everyone knew and loved, and Walters would turn the camera on to capture it.


After the film wrapped, the studio watched the initial cut but felt that there was something missing. The movie needed one more big number-- a la Judy, of course-- to seal the deal with viewers. So, Judy was called back from vacation in Carmel to begrudgingly film one more song. Her one condition was that it be "Get Happy," written again by Arlen with lyrics by Ted Koehler. It was one of her favorites and was an old piece that Arlen had penned back in 1929. When Judy arrived on the set, she looked quite different. Rest in Carmel had served her well! Trim, sexy, and with her swagger back, she looked ready to go! She pre-recorded the vocals for the song with no problem, but she received an attack of the jitters when it came time to call "action." So drugged up that she could barely stand, Walters had to postpone the shoot until the next day, which the inebriated Judy didn't understand. She found the delay unprofessional, not realizing in her mentally unwound state that she was the source. Nonetheless, she arrived the next day sober, on time, and gorgeous. The pro had stepped up her game. Walters, who had been forced to choreograph the sequence himself, put Judy in a black fedora, jacket, and heels, and let her go. Those legs deserve a song of their own! And when Judy tips that hat and saunters down the stage, it becomes the musical moment worth waiting for. Without it, the film wouldn't have remained as famous and beloved as it is today. "Get Happy" would be Judy's last song at MGM as well as one of the pieces played at her funeral.

3) "The Man That Got Away" is yet another Richard Arlen contribution, this time with lyricist Ira Gershwin. Unlike the aforementioned episodes, this song was purposeful from the get go. An important moment in the film A Star is Born, this piece was calculatingly crafted to relate several things: the character Esther Blodgett's talent, which then induces the fascination and passion of Norman Maine (played by James Mason), and a foreshadowing of the doom their relationship is to endure. The movie has many brilliant moments and memorable songs, including the lengthy "I Was Born in a Trunk" sequence, but "Man" is the one that remains synonymous with the picture. In fact, without this song or Judy's pained and intense performance, the film would have crumpled into an obsolete heap next to the original (starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March in 1937.)

No, the problem wasn't with the song this time... It was with filming it. It seemed that George Cukor, the director most remembered for his sensitive translations of the female heart, couldn't get this one particular moment right. In fact, he had to film it three times over before everyone, including himself, was satisfied. George adored Judy and was floored time and again by her boundless talent. Her character's painful conversation with Charles Bickford about her husband, Norman, and the emotional disease, obsession, and self-loathing that she can neither comprehend nor help, reveals to the audience a profound truth-- she is talking about herself, the real Judy, who is drowning, and unable to save herself. With such a force at his disposal, Cukor was excited to film the "Man" scene, as he was any musical number with Judy. The first attempt was made on October 21, 1953. Seeing the clip now, it is understandable why it was scrapped. Judy is adorned in an unflattering pink shirt against a pink wall, and she is surrounded by blue decor and musicians in blue suits. The color is garish, and Judy blends right in. The musicians often take precedence over her in the scene, her hair is fairly short and worn down, and the song is abrupt. It starts and it ends. Judy fills the moment with emotion, but it still comes off as anti-climactic. After Jack Warner and Judy's latest hubby Sidney Luft saw the dailies, they asked for a reshoot. Try number two, on October 27, was a bit of an improvement. This time, the instrumental introduction lasts longer. It gives Cukor time to cut away to Norman Maine, seen entering The Downbeat Club and witnessing the rag-tag group of performers and his latest fascination, Esther. The decor is dressed down-- the walls are still pink, but the trimmings are brown and dark. Too dark in fact. And when Judy sings in her now brown dress (as seen above), the audience still has trouble finding her. She looks a sight better than before, her hair half up, but she is still drab. 

 We have a winner!

The scene remained as it was until February of 1954. This time, Cukor attacked with a vengeance. The frumpy wardrobe designed by Mary Ann Nyberg was replaced by a respectable, blue Jean Louis suit-- simple, befitting the character, clean, and elegant. Judy's hair was pulled all the way back from her face, making her appear more youthful and pretty, and Cukor changed the camera angle from center stage to a side shot, more focused on Judy and her piano playing partner (Tom Noonan). The piano figures in as a deliberate prop. Judy moves around it, leans on it, and in one great moment grasps it as she tosses her other arm up in the throes of perfect melody. Another item is infused, for Judy's character is given more humility this time. In previous takes, she had always simply wandered about The Downbeat Bar with her friends before unceremoniously starting to sing. This time, Noonan prods her, "Come on... Take it from the top." Judy then peers down at the music, which makes the moment seem less planned and more serendipitous. Thus her natural, unbridled talent comes across with innocence and not with knowing agenda. With the light in place and in focus on her, she is no longer upstaged by the surrounding musicians, and Judy's accidental songbirg finally comes to life. Cukor too uses the camera to more effect, particularly in pulling back in a long shot during a climactic moment. This time, the greatest triumph is in having all eyes on Judy and her powerful delivery of a painful ballad. It was a sequence necessary to the rest of the film, for-- from this moment-- she has the viewer's sympathy and never lets go.

The almost divine intervention in all three of these films resulted in divine movie moments, and thus timeless, divine movies themselves. Certainly, Judy's voice would have enhanced and carried any film she was in, but the perfection of these three scenes made her work classic and eternal as opposed to merely acceptable. These three are also some of the songs she is most known for, so their absence from cinema would have been a severe detriment to, not only the lady herself, but pop culture in general. As it is, we keep the songs with Judy in our hearts. She is our eternal little girl lost, whom we find again and again in our favorite melodies.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


America's Eternal Sweetheart: Judy Garland.

The contradiction between the real and the reel life has always been stark. Still, despite the fact that we know that our stars and the drama and extravagance of the cinematic world are glamorized, we somehow come to identify a screen persona as the person herself. Judy Garland, therefore, remains a bashful, awkward, yet enchanting innocent. She represents the eternal, hopeful child within us, and her voice echoes the power and passion dwelling inside even the most silent or insecure of vessels. She was the Hollywood ugly duckling who blossomed into a beautiful swan, emerging as the personification of our own transformation of self-conscious youths to (hopefully) secure adults. Her humility in her roles and the profound grace of her musicality have made her eternal-- the girl unanimously loved and forever remembered. She is the only performer with the ability to gain our trust and carry us far and away, even over the rainbow. In front of the camera, Judy was at her best, but oh how different the tale of her personal life. As delicate and lovable as her Betsy Booth was, just as dark and tormented was her true nature. Judy Garland was ever-lovable. Frances Gumm, however, was plain shocking.

With good pal and constant collaborator, Mickey Rooney,
as Betsy Booth in Love Finds Andy Hardy.

A career in performance was almost inevitable for little Frances. Her father, Frank, who was said to have had an angelic, entrancing voice of his own, was notorious as an entertainer, singer, and theater manager. Her mother, Ethel, was an ambidextrous and driven, if not equal, talent who often played the piano while her husband sang. All three of the Gumm sisters would be pushed onto the stage, but it was the captivating presence and awe-inspiring voice of the youngest girl that would cause the most ruckus. After Ethel recognized the pint-sized girl's larger-than-life talent, all hopes for a normal childhood or a normal life were gone. Though Frances was a mug from the start, adoring life in the spotlight and the love of an audience, she was too young to be positioned as the family breadwinner. After her beloved father passed away, leaving her completely at her mother's mercy, things only grew worse. Smothered, ordered, and condescended to, she would grow up as many child stars do-- with brittle bones, never knowing the strength of independence or the liberty born of personal choice. Thus, the Judy Garland born at MGM in 1935 was destined for stardom and cursed with insecurity.

In her most famous role, as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz.

The more Judy's onscreen persona was solidified as the good-natured, shy girl-next-door in films like Love Finds Andy Hardy or Babes in Arms, the more she tried to create a vastly different identity in her personal life. In her early roles, she is the hopeless romantic who is always passed over, which was indeed reflective of reality. However, Judy did not sit waiting for Prince Charming to wake up and notice her; she made him notice. While contending with beauties such as Lana Turner, Judy-- who was referred to by LB Mayer as his "little Hunchback"-- hurled herself into romance after romance in the hopes of finding absolution-- to prove her screen self as false and find herself as a woman. Thanks to Mayer and her casting in dowdy roles, Judy didn't think she was beautiful, and she never would. She wanted to be Lana, Hedy, anybody. Becoming sexually active early, she tried to disappear into the arms of men who at least in their actions would insinuate that she was someone worthy, someone better. She never understood her appeal, but as she matured, her natural beauty was unearthed from her teenage awkwardness; a dark and intense young woman and a sexual dynamo in lamb's clothing can be seen in Girl Crazy, Meet Me in St. Louis and The Clock. Garland was gorgeous, and this coupled with her charm and humor endeared many men to her, as friends and/or lovers: Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra, Tyrone Power, Mickey Rooney, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, etc.

Dark Side of a Bright Star.

But Judy's sexual confusion translated to a great many of these romances. In her quest for a loving man to replace her father and establish her feminine identity, she indeed replicated her father-- a homosexual-- by becoming involved with many men who too were homosexual. She married Vincente Minnelli, with whom she birthed Liza. Another lost love of her life was Ty Power, who was bisexual. She also had, or tried to have, an affair with the closeted homosexual Tom Drake in Meet Me in St. Louis, and in later life, she became involved with Mark Herron, who too was gay. In between she had legitimate relationships with first husband, the good-natured but fairly bland David Rose, mostly as a means of escape from her tyrannical mother, and the imposing bruiser Sidney Luft, who was the antithesis of the sensitive, creative, and artistic men whose sexual natures had been deteriorating to her sense of self. (Ironically, Liza would continue the strange trend of impossible love started by her grandmother Ethel by marrying homosexual actor Peter Allen in 1967, at Judy's suggestion). Judy became far too dependent on the opposite sex for gratification, validation, and love. Bled dry emotionally and financially, Judy was never short of men who wanted to give her attention and affection, but she was lacking a strong and supportive man who could give her the freedom of herself.

Revelling in her inner clown in Easter Parade
with Fred Astaire.

Drugs too were a contributing factor. Pumped full of uppers and downers by her own mother by the age of ten, Judy didn't know how to function without the aid of chemical substances. Her emotions were erratic, undependable, and incredibly fragile. When not coddled-- like the child she was raised to be-- on the set, she was stubborn, uncooperative, and chronically late and/or ill. When shown support, favoritism, and friendship, she could forget her insecurities long enough to come to work energized, fresh, and willing. The triggers that set her off were as unpredictable as her nature. A harsh word from Busby Berkeley could send her on a crying jag; a kind word from Fred Astaire inspired one of her best performances in Easter Parade. To be near her was to live in constant fear, as her children could attest, and the need to walk on egg-shells for fear of upsetting her fragile psyche spawned tension wherever she went, which only added to her own nervous energy. In every still photo of Judy where she is not in the midst of singing, there is a barely discernible look of terror in her eyes-- something dangerous-- as if at any moment she may scream out and tear her own flesh off. Haunted, plagued, unglued, she could never seem to pull herself together. But then, she wasn't treated as a person. As writer J. Randy Taraborrelli so eloquently put it, she was MGM's favorite ATM: "deposit drugs-- uppers, downers, whatever-- and out comes money, and lots of it." Her welfare was not a prime concern.

In one of her elegant yet somehow fearful poses.

Raised in a dramatic world, Judy knew how to feed on the drama. She had several failed suicide attempts, which garnered public sympathy or antipathy depending on who was asked, but in each case her self-mutilations were barely injurious. She would cut at her throat with glass, just enough to draw blood, but not enough to do harm. These were not quests for death, but loud and resounding cries for help. Cries that went unanswered. Judy had to be her own defender, her own champion, but the only place she felt truly strong and secure was on the stage. After liberating herself from MGM in a bittersweet moment in 1950, she returned to public singing and underwent another transformation as the travelling, musical orator of all human love and pain. Judy wanted to be a dramatic beauty queen, of which she had the capability, but her gift was entertaining. When she hams it up onstage in "A Couple of Swells" in Easter Parade, she is magical in her absurdity. This is what audiences loved about her. This is what she brought to the stage, along with her supreme voice. Every time she sang "Over the Rainbow," no matter how old she got, it brought tears to her own eyes and the watching eyes of her fans. Up and down and up and down, with movie performances sporadically thrown into her older years, Judy journeyed, singing to whomever would have her and hoping that there would at last be an applause to embrace her and make her feel safe at each show's end.

In a brilliant shot depicting the dual nature of one of
Hollywood's most complicated ladies and the
mirror that haunted her.

Judy's show was over on June 22, 1969 when she died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 47. She was found hunched over on her own toilet. The little girl whose brightness and innocence had wooed us all the way to "Oz" had disintegrated under the pressures and clawing of a life gone haywire. How do you consolidate two such individuals? How can both exist from and within the same being? Such a thing seems impossible. There is one who lives on in wide-eyed wonder in an imaginary world of vibrant color and willful triumph, forever skipping on the yellow brick road, and there is another whose life was turned upside down by the ravages of the tornado and forced to deal with the wreckage left behind. One is a dream; another is a truth. Judy's final victory is that her fans have embraced the dream, and it is into this dreamworld that she continues to draw us like a nonthreatening siren quelling us with the lullabies and beauties a harsher world would otherwise not allow. Bless her for that.