The Judy Garland Wars – Chapter 1 – “My Early Years”
CHAPTER ONE – MY EARLY YEARS
It’s always best to start at the beginning. – Glinda in The Wizard of Oz.
Wise words from the always wise Glinda. I’ll take her advice. The beginning of this series starts at the beginning of my awareness and idolatry of Judy Garland.
I was first introduced to Judy Garland as most people of my generation: the annual television showings of The Wizard of Oz. I was born in the last few years of the Great American Baby Boom (1946-1964). 1960 to be specific. The first of the annual showings (it had already been shown in 1956 as a single event) was in 1959. This means that I was just the right age for those annual showings to be the major event of childhood. And what an event it was! All of us kids anticipated it for weeks on end. The only event that was bigger was Christmas. Even Halloween came in second to Oz. I recall being very impressed one year when a kid in our neighborhood took a very long roll of brown butcher’s paper and drew out the entire Land of Oz from memory, in linear format beginning with Munchkinland then on to the Emerald City and the Witch’s Castle. He laid it out on our yard and it seemed to go on forever. We sure were impressed. I have often wondered if he kept it all these years. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that The Wizard of Oz was (and still is) the gateway drug to becoming a Garfan or a Garfreak. When you’re not yet ten-years-old, you only know that you like something. You never ask “Why?”
These were, of course, the years before home video, cable, satellite, and that little thing called the Internet. All we had were the annual showings on TV, the random theatrical re-releases, and the MGM Records soundtrack album. And books. I voraciously read (and later bought) any and all movie books that had any and all mention of the film, preferably with photos. Every tidbit of information I could find I soaked up like a sponge.
The first chance I got, I used my allowance money to buy the MGM Records album of the Oz soundtrack. It didn’t matter that it was heavily abridged. I loved “Over the Rainbow” and Judy’s voice when she sang it. Judy Garland enchanted me. I used my little cassette tape recorder to record, via a microphone taped to the speaker of our small TV set in the spare room, the entire soundtrack of the movie. I had it memorized in no time. Decades later I found out that I was not alone. Garfans did this exact same thing not just for The Wizard of Oz but also for all the Garland films that didn’t have soundtrack albums. OK, we recorded the films regardless of soundtrack status. We were pretty intense in having complete soundtracks – we still are!
My first inkling that Judy Garland wasn’t just “Dorothy” was when I was eight. I was outside playing with friends when my mom called us inside. She wanted us to see an event on TV. It was Judy Garland’s funeral. For the first time I saw the now famous footage of Judy’s casket being taken out of Campbell’s Funeral Home. I remember asking what was going on. My mom said “That’s Judy Garland. The girl who played Dorothy.” “But she’s a little girl” I said, “how can she be dead?” Mom: “That movie was made a long time ago, she’s an adult now.” My little mind was effectively blown away because I had no idea about the adult Garland. That summer of 1969 was a biggie. Twice my mom ensured we witnessed major events. The first was Judy Garland’s death. The second was the moon landing. That’s right. My mom was a Judy Garland fan as well, having grown up with her movies. Judy Garland was one of her favorites, along with Lana Turner, Betty Grable, and Tyrone Power. To her, Judy’s death was every bit as important as the moon landing. The apple didn’t fall far from that tree!
I soon graduated from my Disney/Oz records to the more adult film soundtracks. I was a soundtrack record fan for sure! I saved my allowance money for records and records only. Suddenly, and I don’t know the exact impetus, maybe it was that funeral footage, I was acutely aware of Judy Garland and wanted to find out more about her. I grabbed the first “Judy Garland” record I could find. She was still relevant at the record stores and still had her own section, or at least she was under “G” in the greater vocals section. That first record was the 1970 Pickwick compilation “Judy Garland – Her Greatest Hits!” Imagine my surprise when I listened to my first album of the adult Judy Garland. Wow! This was before the biographies came out, so there wasn’t much info out there about her. Not to a 9/10-year-old at any rate. That record was a revelation. That voice. That mature voice in that fabulous 1950s stereo sounded amazing in my big 1970s headphones. My immediate favorite was “Old Devil Moon.” I just had to hear more of that voice. When I found my way to “Carnegie Hall” it was even more of a revelation. This was the original stereo LP version without all the dialog. To paraphrase Judy’s own words, it was “two records of POW!”
At this same time – actually before I had my first Garland albums in hand – a local TV station (probably PBS) ran a Garland concert. I remember watching the whole show in grainy black and white, waiting to see her sing “Over the Rainbow.” I was disappointed because she didn’t. I enjoyed the show, but it was a bit of a letdown due to the bad print the station used. To this day I’m not 100% sure what show it was. I know it wasn’t one of the specials because it was Judy solo. The bad print and the lack of “Over the Rainbow” didn’t diminish my fan status. By this point I was far enough down that yellow brick road of being a Garfan that there was no turning back.
There were no biographical books out about Judy during those first years of my ardent and solo fandom. Mel Torme’s book was the only one that had been released and thankfully I wasn’t aware of it. I didn’t know any other Garland fans either. Kids my age weren’t into her outside of the annual Oz telecasts. Once we moved overseas (Bahrain, to be exact) my entertainment world shrank even more. All that was available to me were the records and books in the Publisher’s Clearing House catalog. The only Garland records they had were the MGM soundtrack re-releases. The “two-fers” as they were nicknamed. They were far from complete when compared to the later CD releases, but they were glorious nonetheless. We had one English TV station, a British station that was very limited but sometimes showed American films. During our time there they never once showed a Garland film. They did show Vincente Minnelli’s 1953 masterpiece The Band Wagon, but I won’t digress into the history of my love of MGM musicals.
That’s Entertainment! came out in 1974 and was a huge hit. I didn’t get to see it until 1975 due to the delay in the films getting to our military installations overseas. We always got the records almost immediately, so no matter the film I always knew the score before seeing it. I still have my “double cassette” and double LP of that watershed soundtrack. Being able to see so many clips of Judy in her golden MGM years was another revelation. It seemed as though there was no end to the delightful Garland treasures waiting out there for me to discover. Anytime we came back stateside, I would scour the stores for records. I would scour the TV guide for any showing of a Judy film that I could hopefully watch. Once we were back overseas, the well was dry again. A high school senior trip to London yielded a huge treasure trove of the UK versions of the MGM Records soundtracks. That was fun because although the U.S. versions were in mono these versions were in “enhanced stereo” so I thought they might sound better. My obsession with collecting records was in full bloom!
In 1975 we had settled into our overseas life. That’s when Gerold Frank’s biography “Judy” was released. Another revelation. Her incredible, amazing life fascinated me. I learned so much from that book, regardless of the fact that now some of it is known to not be entirely accurate. That didn’t diminish my awe of her as a person nor did it diminish the fact that Frank had given us the first real intelligent look into her life. The few minute details that people harp about today when trying to discredit the book didn’t affect what I got from the book as a whole: Judy Garland was not just a great singer-actress, she was an incredible person who lived an incredible life. The whole point of the book was to give the best representation of Judy’s life and career as a whole. It accomplished that feat a hundred times over. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to see all of these movies and TV shows Frank spoke about.
Thanks to That’s Entertainment! (and its sequel) and Frank’s biography, more books about Judy and The Wizard of Oz hit the market in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was a great time to be a Garfan because we were learning so much more about Judy Garland and her complex life than ever before. Books, magazines, bootleg records, legitimate records, and early video discs seemed to constantly be released. Each biography was written from a different point of view or had a different approach so it was easy to get a well rounded idea of Judy’s life and career. Double checking conflicting information against other sources meant happy trips to the library. We were lucky in that we didn’t even think to rely on one person to tell us what we should think or what was right or wrong. We had too much fun finding out on our own by doing real research. Meanwhile, we were listening to and watching Judy’s performances along the way.
THE GOLDEN DECADE: THE 1980s
As noted, the early 1980s were a great time to be a Garfan. For me, after having left Bahrain for high school in Naples, Italy (again, little access to American media in those days) then finally getting back to the States for college in 1980, the access to Garland media was like being given the key to Willy Wonka’s candy factory. It was at that time that I made my very first Garfan friend.
Andy England and I met in Phoenix in 1981 and became instant best friends. He was a huge Garfan as well, plus he was a huge Grateful Dead fan. Believe it or not, Judy Garland memorabilia and Grateful Dead memorabilia actually go quite well together. This prompted us to joke: “Judy goes with everything!” We would listen to Judy records and tapes constantly while playing endless games of acey-deucey (a form of backgammon). We were young and poor, just starting out, and we had a blast. Whenever we would go on vacation with our partners we would always look for some Garland related item to get each other. It became a kind of tradition, scouring cities for Garland memorabilia to share with each other. And yes, we each had our own “Judy Rooms” – albeit his was, as noted, part Grateful Dead.
The 1980s saw the rise of the home video market and compact discs. Naturally Andy and I collected everything we could. Ted Turner purchased the MGM film library and via MGM/UA we were treated to video and laser disc releases of Judy’s films. We were seeing them unedited and commercial free for the first time ever. Now we could watch and re-watch her films whenever we wanted. How great was that?
The big event of the early 1980s was the American Film Institute’s restoration and premier of Judy’s masterpiece A Star Is Born. Lost footage for the cut film had been found and lovingly restored by Ronald Haver (read about it here). What an experience, and what a thrill for Garfans everywhere! By the time the initial theatrical run got to Phoenix I was overseas again, this time in Frankfurt, Germany, so when the video came out (in pan and scan format – this was before the days of letterboxing), I practically wore it out.
Upon my return in 1986, the home video market was really flying high. By the time the 50th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz came around in 1989, MGM/UA & Turner Entertainment was moving into providing special extras with their videos, and they gave us a special VHS and laser disc edition of Oz featuring a new print of the film, outtakes, and a booklet. That special edition was as big a deal as the annual telecasts had been twenty years before. There was also a special 50th anniversary book, the television special hosted by Angela Lansbury, and tons of other memorabilia and events.
The late 1980s and early-to-mid-1990s saw the rise of the special collector’s VHS and laser disc boxed sets of films for collectors to go nuts over. The 1993 Wizard of Oz set titled “The Ultimate Oz” led the way, and became the standard boxed-set format (even for Disney) for years to come. Was there no end to these riches that seemed to keep coming and coming? Apparently not because this is when the Internet exploded onto the scene, forever changing the face of memorabilia collecting, fan trading, and fan communications. Sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad. The world of Garfans and Garfreaks was about to go into hyperdrive.
© 2015 Scott Brogan, The Judy Room & Judy Garland News & Events