You have to love the woman. To a certain generation (mine) she was a childhood heroine, the little girl (though she was a teenager at the time) who simply was Dorothy. The enchantment of Oz is part of our American folklore, and Judy is our invention. She gave us all she had. She had a voice that raised the roof and a love of performing that was, sadly, her undoing.
One of the notorious stage moms of the twentieth century, Judy Garland's mother pushed the little Gumm Sisters in front of an audience almost from birth, but it was Baby who really had the talent. Singer, dancer and noted wit, Judy had it all. Arguably she damaged her voice early on by overuse, so that by the end of her rather short life, she had to stand in front of an audience - or sit at the edge of the stage - and croak or talk her way through the songs that had made her famous -- including the one that was her signature and probably will always be associated with her name: "Over the Rainbow." In retrospect, its poignant question seemed to embody Judy's lost hope for a simple, placid life: "If happy little bluebirds fly away beyond the rainbow, why, oh why, can't I?"
This book, a big, glossy production, more than anything a photographic tribute but liberally salted with the adulatory quotes from friends that Judy would have feasted on, is meant as pure worship of the cult goddess that was Garland. John Fricke has written two books about Judy and Oz, and produced an Emmy-winning special called "Judy: Beyond the Rainbow." His work bears the imprimatur of Garland's family in the form of an intro by her daughter Lorna Luft and many stories and comments from Liza Minelli and her brother.
Judy Garland: A Portrait in Art and Anecdote brushes only lightly upon the torment that Judy went through as a drug-addicted teen star in the racy, sordid pressure cooker of Hollywood in the '40s. We see through the camera's objective eye Judy's weight gains and losses, her lined face and depression showing through the big toothy grins. But causes are not addressed, nor is the subject of her death touched upon. She was alive, vibrant - then there was a funeral and a casket covered with yellow roses. She was gone. Obviously this is the streamlined version that family and intimates prefer, and Fricke has delivered it.
And why not? Why belabor the obvious? We know that the star machine ground up a thousand big and little hopefuls in its pounding jaws. Marilyn, James, and how many others fell victim to the fast life, driven by a need to please and a desire to be good, better, best that never let one sleep or, sleeping, never let one wake. Yet a personality like Judy's rose above it, with toughness and remarkable resilient humor.
She was a good mother. The pictures pronounce it and the children confirm it. And that wasn't easy, given the burdens of performing. As Fricke is correct in pointing out, even in her worst years, the last years when she struggled often for every note and was visibly intoxicated on stage, she logged hundreds of hours in front of audiences, live and on television. She danced, sang and goofed with just about every major star of the century, and earned their admiration if the many comments about her are to be believed.
Here's the best description in this colorful and artful book, of the talent that was Judy:
"The clincher came at the very end. Vocally drained, she found it impossible to sustain the quiet singing required for Over the Rainbow; after attempting the first eight bars, she said apologetically, 'I'll have to talk it.'...Judy spoke the words to her theme, summoning up a recitation that aligned acting ability, decades of performing experience, and uncanny knack of underplaying an emotional moment. When she reached the last eight bars of the song, she tentatively began to sing again. Every note emerged and when she sustained the final phrase, it was as if all 4,500 seats in the theater had been wired. The audience was on its feet as one, and as an eyewitness tried later to explain, 'They offered up this roar...this wall of sound...It was acceptance, approval, gratitude.'"