judy-garland-new-york-1961.png

The Story Of...Judy Garland

TSO...Judy Garland
00:00 / 15:43

50 years after her death at the age of 47, Judy Garland remains one of Hollywood’s true icons. She is the legend that transcended the sordid facts of her tragic life – the child star brutally denied a childhood; the destructive behaviours fuelled by a lifelong addiction to prescription medication and, later, alcohol; the stream of husbands and hangers-on that abused her fragile trust.

 

I went to see Judy, the biopic starring Renée Zellweger based on Peter Quilter’s play, which deals with her up-and-down residency at London’s Talk of the Town club, where she performed ostensibly to earn enough money so that she could finally afford a proper house in which to raise her beloved children, Lorna and Joey.

 

A series of flashbacks to her early days at MGM set in place the tragedy that she would later inhabit – the cold, abusive Louis B Mayer looms as the studio head who crushed her spirit and sexually molested her.

judy-garland-color.jpg

It’s heartbreaking stuff, because Garland’s whole life was incredibly sad. But the film barely touches on her own addictions and her own self-destructive behaviour, which she was incapable of controlling, despite her own efforts. No mention of how she’d developed a reputation for staying in hotels and never paying the bills; barely a nod to her infamous tantrums and her inability to commit to any kind of schedule, which cost her any chance of recouping a movie career that was extinguished when she was fired by MGM in 1950 and flickered brightly but briefly after her superb performance in 1954’s A Star is Born.

Her own failures notwithstanding, Garland remains a hugely admirable and sympathetic figure. A few years ago I created this radio piece on her life, and my overriding conclusion was that she was, despite everything, a remarkable person: hugely talented, driven and indomitable. She was also needy, fragile and impossible, characteristics made monstrous by the appalling childhood she was forced to endure, first by her fame-hungry mother and then by a studio system that abused her talent and then cast her aside when she could no longer perform as they demanded.

 

After seeing the film, I re-edited the piece, whose insights are largely based on Gerald Clark’s superb biography of Garland, Get Happy. I hope you enjoy it.