CHAPTER TWO – GETTING ONLINE
I went to 35 years of age without being exposed to the bizarre underbelly of Judy Garland fandom (the Garfreaks). That fact didn’t make my enjoyment or her performances (whether on video, record, TV…) any worse. I had one best friend, Andy, who was as big a fan as I was. It wasn’t until I got online around 1995 that I had my first exposure.
1995 was the year in which it seemed everyone was getting online. The very first Judy Garland website, “The Judy Garland Page,” appeared. Created by Scott Fisher, it stayed online until recently. That same year saw the rise of the phenomenal “Judy Garland Database” (www.jgdb.com), created by Jim Johnson. The Database (it’s still online but hasn’t been updated in years) was the place to get Garland information. Johnson managed to get a library full of information online in a very short period of time. The site had everything. Even though it hasn’t been updated in a long time, it’s still a valuable resource tool.
Why hasn’t Jim updated the site in eons? He got tired of the Garfreaks constantly trying to pull him into their bickering drama-fests. So, he stopped communicating completely and stopped updating the Database. Thanks to those Garfreaks, we now have a hugely outdated resource just sitting there, an early casualty of The Judy Garland Wars.
FIRST EXPOSURE TO A BIG FAN
In 1997, I was able to use my boyfriend’s, Tom, computer and personal email to start communicating with other fans. Although it’s hard to imagine these days, I didn’t have a home computer yet. I had been online at work for a long time, but because it was all so new our activity was closely monitored. I could browse the pages of the Database and peruse the popular Judy List (established in 1996) discussions, I just couldn’t sign up for anything or contribute.
It was via Tom’s email that I was able to take advantage of the Database’s feature “John’s Page” and contact Garland hagiographer John Fricke. I loved his book “Judy Garland – World’s Greatest Entertainer” (I still do – I think it’s his best work) and wanted to tell him so. I also noticed his dedication to his late partner. I had lost my longtime partner just a few years after he lost his and I wanted to give my condolences, survivor to survivor. Fricke was quite nice and we had some pleasant emails back and forth. He asked me if I could send a photo of myself. I had Tom scan a recent snapshot. Fricke emailed back “Nice chest you got there kid.” I think he thought I was younger than I really was because even though I was 36 I looked a lot younger. I got a kick out that comment which is probably the reason why I remember it. I found out later that he likes them young. Very young. A phrased used is: “Barely legal.” The joke is: “He thinks he’s Judy Garland but he’s really Frank Gumm.”
What happened next was very strange. He sent me a photo of himself (that image is at the right) and a separate photo of his penis (NSFW)! Yes, you read that right. His penis! Fully erect, too! Rather, it was a photo he claimed was his penis. It was a crotch shot without the rest of the body or face. Even in those early Internet days I knew enough to think to myself: “Uh huh, just how do I know that’s really you?” Keep in mind that he was in New York and I was in Phoenix, and I was using my boyfriend’s computer and email, a fact he was very aware of. There wasn’t any romantic or sexual talk between us. No provocation. I found it incredibly tacky and tasteless of him to send that photo knowing full well (again) that I was using my boyfriend’s computer and email. In other words, he didn’t give a crap about my being with someone or that his picture could possibly cause problems if that someone saw it? Maybe he hoped it would cause a break up? Who knows? “Da Noive!” as the Cowardly Lion would say. I honestly do not remember what I said in response. Probably “thank you” and maybe a “lookin’ good” or “that’s impressive” type of comment. Luckily Tom and I were above such things and just laughed it off. Fricke and I stayed in contact after that because I attributed his behavior as someone being, perhaps, a little over anxious. Maybe he just wasn’t “all there.” Maybe he was drunk at the time. Again, who knows?
Not long after the penis pic incident, Tom and I broke up (amicably) and I was offline until much later when I bought my first home computer. Back online, I emailed Fricke and explained why I had not been in contact. No response. I emailed a couple of times after that, but still no response. It wasn’t until several years later that he decided to email me again once my website, “The Judy Room,” had become popular. By that point, the popularity of my website put a big target on my back. Fricke was one who had his sights aimed at that target. Obviously, the honeymoon was over and I didn’t receive anymore penis pics or complimentary comments. Oh well. I found out later that I’m not the only one who received that penis pic.
What I find very telling is this: Here is someone who to this day claims to be completely inept with all manner of modern technology. He claims to not have a cell phone (crazy for a “journalist,” don’t you think?); modern home media like HDTV or Blu-ray; Facebook or Twitter accounts; or be able to do anything computer related except attached photos to emails. Yet in the mid-1990s when we all were getting online, what’s one of the first things he does? He finds a way to get a photo of his penis developed and scanned. Not an easy task back in those days when scanners were expensive and there were no digital cameras. Priorities. We all have our priorities.
THE CUBAN JUDY GARLAND
After that exposure, and thanks to burgeoning “The Judy List” discussion digests, I was lucky enough to connect with other fans as online pen pals, making lasting friendships. One person I was in contact with early on was David DeAlba. DeAlba was a retired female impersonator who was a very popular performer at the legendary Finnochio’s in San Francisco’s North Beach district. David, like all the performers at Finnochio’s, sang live. They didn’t lip sync. That was one of the appeals of Finnochio’s. David’s main character was one of his own design, “BoyChic,” but he also performed as Judy, Edith Piaf, and Liza Minnelli.
By the time we were in contact with each other, David had settled into retirement with his partner Paul in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. I lived in Phoenix so we made arrangements to meet up there on the Arizona/Nevada border.
We met at a casino in nearby Laughlin, Nevada and my boyfriend and I followed them back to their house in the suburbs. As soon as we walked in, David quickly pointed at a few Garland memorabilia items before whisking us into their den where he proceeded to perform, out of drag, Garland song after Garland song. It was pretty hysterical. His heart was in the right place and we know he meant well. We were polite and sat and listened. I’ll tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard “Judy” singing with a thick Cuban accent. Think of her faux-French accent during “Someone At Last” in A Star Is Born. Only this time, it was: “I’m gonnas lohves JEW, like nobohdie’s lohved JEW – Cam rain or cam JINNNNNE!” That was an experience. Once he finished his mini-concert he popped in videotape after videotape of rare Garland clips, singing along with most of them. We hadn’t even had a chance to catch our breath or even get a glass of water. We were a captive audience. Even David’s partner, bless his heart, gently tried to stop the proceedings with a “David, give them a break…”
In spite of that unintentionally funny bit, David and Paul were gracious hosts and we had a lovely time. Paul barbecued while we chatted and swam in their pool. They’re both very sweet people. David regaled us with stories from the “old days” of dealing with Garfans and Garfreaks. He sure had some great stories! I don’t remember them all. There was the collector in Florida who charged huge amounts of money to make videotape copies of Garland TV appearances. There were the clusters of Garfreaks in New York and Los Angeles who were cutthroat with each other —- always in competition. Allegedly when any of them would have a dinner party, they would hide or put under lock and key any rare Garland items for fear of their disappearing during the night. I was appalled. I said to him “Really? I can’t imagine that.” There were people who would say and do anything to destroy the project of a competitor. He talked about the big Judy Garland costume showing in New York (I think that was 1992) and how the little groups of Garfreaks were huddled together pointing at and talking about the other little groups. Crazy stuff! He made sure to warn me about certain Garfreaks who would stoop to any level to get some kind of fame or attention or self identification from hurting others in one way or another. Little did I know that it wouldn’t be too long before I would find myself dragged into their horrible mud fights.
David showed us his wonderful Garland collection, including items he purchased at the now-famous (to Garfans anyway) 1978 Sid Luft auction of Judy Garland memorabilia. Among the posters and photos and other neat collectibles, David had a gorgeous pair of black Ferragamo shoes she wore. She sure had tiny feet!
David and Paul were quite helpful with my initial attempts to get “The Judy Room” website going. Personal web “pages” (as they were usually called back then) were all the rage. I had my immense Judy/Zen room that everyone said I should show off online because it was very unique. Knowing absolutely nothing about web design or coding, I bought some html coding books to learn as much as I could. There weren’t any “WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get)” programs at that time. We had to hard code our pages. Before long, and thanks to the help of David and Paul and a few other friends, I was up and running and announcing my fledgling website, “The Judy Room,” on “The Judy List.”
© 2015 Scott Brogan, The Judy Room & Judy Garland News & Events