Interview with Stevie Phillips – Author of “Judy & Liza & Robert & Freddie & David & Sue & Me…: A Memoir”

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Stevie PhillipsStevie Phillips‘ new book, Judy & Liza & Robert & Freddie & David & Sue & Me…: A Memoir has caused quite a stir in Garfandom and become somewhat controversial.  Here at The Judy Room and Judy Garland News & Events, we like to hear from everyone, including those who’s opinions or viewpoints might not be “popular.”  Everyone has a story, and everyone should have a chance to give their side of their story.  We’re happy to give Ms. Phillips a chance to answer some questions and address some of the controversies surrounding her new book.  Thank you Ms. Phillips!

Stevie Phillips began working for Freddie Fields and David Begelman at Music Corporation of America (MCA) under the glare of legendary über-agent Lew Wasserman. When MCA blew apart, Fields and Begelman created Creative Management Associates (CMA), now International Creative Management, and Phillips went along, becoming head of the theater and the motion picture department. Fields convinced Judy Garland to come on board, and Phillips became, as she puts it, “Garland’s shadow,” putting out fires — figurative and literal — in order to get her to the next concert in the next down-and-out town. In her new tough-talking memoir, Judy & Liza & Robert & Freddie & David & Sue & Me..: A Memoir (St. Martin’s Press, 2015), Phillips paints a portrait of a Garland that was at times a nightmare. Phillips says, “She became my teacher,” showing her “how to” and “how not to” live. As an agent, Phillips represented Garland’s fiercely talented daughter, Liza Minnelli, as well as Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Henry Fonda, George Roy Hill, Bob Fosse, Cat Stevens, and David Bowie. She produced multiple award-winning Broadway shows – among them, Doonesbury, Loose Ends, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Open Admissions – and film productions, and counted her colleague, the legendary agent Sue Mengers, among her closest confidantes. She lives in New York City.

Stevie Phillips" Judy & Liza & Robert & Freddie & David & Sue & Me...A Memoir

The Judy Room: Your memoir describes painful personal memories of Judy Garland, but also shows great respect for her work. Overall, which weighs more: her memory or her talent?

Stevie Phillips: I wrote a chapter in the book entitled “Sometimes”. It’s still the word that best sums up my feelings. Sometimes it’s the awful things that happened that weigh most heavily, and sometimes I remember a voice that was liquid magic, that could wrap itself around any note and engage your sympathy. It’s never all one or the other.

JR: Why did you wait so long to publish your memoir?

SP: I started it over many times, and put it away often, sometime for years. First it was going to be a screenplay, then a novel, and finally a memoir. And time has a way of collapsing. Suddenly I’m 79 and I don’t know how I got here so fast.

1968 Mar 6 - Gail Martin's opening at Persian Room CROPJR: Are there things about Garland that, for whatever reason, you left out?

SP: I told about the things that impacted me. Yes, of course, I left things out that were not a part of my growth, but they were mostly more of the same rather than anything different.

JR: You were no longer personally involved with her when she died, and you mention her death after the fact. What was your reaction when you learned she died?

SP: I was incredibly saddened but certainly not surprised.

JR: Garland died broke. How is it possible for a woman so rich in talent to have wound up so poor after a 45-year career?

SP: She didn’t care about her money, and so she didn’t take care of it. And then there were the two awful men – David Begelman and Sid Luft – that stole her money, spent her money, and used her.

JR: Recently, there is a school of thought which idolizes Garland and everything she did during her career. There is another school which treats her as a human being, frailties and all. Where do you stand?

SP: Clearly with the latter. She was not Dorothy Gale in real life. I tried to humanize her.

JR: Fans have pooh-poohed your book for showing a negative side to Garland, and for revealing intimate details, including sexual, that might better be left unsaid. They even doubt the accuracy of your memories. What do you say to them?

SP: They are entitled to believe what they wish, and if they’re comfortable disliking the book and me, I’m okay with that. I told my own story, and I have no regrets about that.

David Begelman 1976JR: Do you have anything nice to say about David Begelman or Sid Luft?

Not a thing.

JR: Nowadays stars take care of themselves. That is, they eat well, exercise, get enough sleep. Why do you think Garland took such poor care of herself?

SP: Her addiction got in the way of her common sense and self concern.

JR: On a 1964 Jack Paar program, Garland said that “Things happen to me, or I bring them on. I couldn’t care less.” In your opinion, did things happen to her, or did she bring them on?

SP: Judy always had options. She made poor choices that contributed to terrible results.

JR: Garland is often portrayed as a victim – of her mother, Louis B. Meyer, husbands, managers, the system. Is she at all to blame for what happened to her?

SP: She was certainly victimized as a child so far as I know. I wasn’t there. As a mature adult, she always had the opportunity to grab the reins and run her life. Either she wasn’t capable (and I don’t believe that) or she chose not to.

JR: Your memoir depicts a kind of permanent anarchy as the norm in her life, a permanent anarchy that she thrived on. In your opinion, did she not grasp that this anarchy would be her ruin? Or did she not care?

SP: It was both. There were times when I thought she didn’t realize it and we talked about it, and it was in those very moments she convinced me she didn’t care.

JR: It has been stated that Garland’s short life was a long suicide. Do you agree?

SP: I think the description is a little convenient, but addiction is completely suicidal, in my opinion. Having said that, I don’t think that she wanted to die during the time I knew her. Had that been her wish, she would not have called me so often at three in the morning to come save her.

Judy Garland at the wedding of Liza Minnelli & Peter AllenJR: You worked with Garland in the early 1960s, when she was robust, and saw her for the last time in 1967 at Liza’s wedding, where you state you were shocked at how frail she had become. It should be noted she looked healthy in 1967 compared to 1969, when she died. She seems to have aged very quickly. Do you think she was aware of her physical decline?

SP: Yes. She wasn’t stupid by any means.

JR: Composer John Meyer, who lived with Garland in late 1968, has stated that when Garland got up – usually in the afternoon – her breakfast was vodka and Ritalin. Does this surprise you?

SP: Yes. She had been told, when we were together, that drinking high proof liquor would kill her. Perhaps she had a hyper-extended death wish toward the end.

JR:You saw Garland perform many times in the early 1960s. Can you tell us what it was like to see her on stage?

SP: It was magic. She could wring such incredible meaning out of lyrics. I’ve never again seen anyone capable of the same thing. Her performances were deeply touching, exciting, and delicious. So filled with the best ingredients.

JR: Your descriptions of Garland’s bloody self-mutilations are shocking even to the most hardened reader. In hindsight, would you say there was self-hatred there, a desire to die, or just a need to get attention?

SP: I’ve spent a hundred pages and 50 years trying to understand it. When I first met her it seemed like a great need to get attention, but later on it had to have turned to something more pitiful: wanting to die.

JR: You begin and end the memoir by talking about Garland. Today, so many years after her death, fans carry a passion for her that is boundless. Why is it that she has haunted your life, and that of others, to this day? Why exactly was she so unforgettable?

SP: I think because she was on screen the living incarnation of many of our dreams. For a dreamer like me she was the epitome of all good things. I didn’t want my dreams to decay. Who does?

JR: Do you think Garland was a strong woman?

SP: Absolutely not! To me, strong means wise, and self-protective.

JR: Garland thrived on chaos. Can one therefore conclude she had a happy life?

SP: Of course not. But there were many happy moments, and none of those were chaotic.Rainbow - The Stormy Life of Judy Garland by Christopher Finch

JR: Christopher Finch, in his landmark 1975 biography of Garland, Rainbow, writes about the end of her life as such: “Her behavior in this penultimate phase of her life was so erratic that it’s easy to believe that her excesses […] may have caused some kind of brain damage. We are no longer talking about someone who is driven to bizarre behavior by the circumstances of her life; we are talking about someone who at times was probably certifiably insane.” Do you agree?

SP: I wasn’t there at the very end. I’m glad of it. I couldn’t have watched it without trying to change it, which had never been possible when I was there.

JR: By the way, have you ever drunk Liebfraumilch, Garland’s favorite white wine?

SP: I have and I hated it.

© 2015  Scott Brogan, The Judy Room & Judy Garland News & Events

Judy & Liza & Robert & Freddie & David & Sue & Me…: A Memoir can be purchased at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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16 comments

  1. Only slightly off-topic, but I thought what the author had to say about Liza was enlightening as well.

    Phillips also managed Liza during her early career, and she talks quite a bit about that in the book. And you know—it’s Liza that I really felt sorry for, after reading it. Oh, Liza has always spoken of her parents in the most glowing terms, but the fact is that they had both pretty much abandoned her by the time she was in her mid-to-late teens. Judy by that point was too unstable to do much parenting, and Vincent had remarried, with a new wife that didn’t seem to like Liza at all. So, Liza ends up as a teenager in New York, basically homeless—and Phillips talks all about those early years. Specifically, how she helped get Liza’s career and life on track, how she managed it all.

    Now, I think it’s apparent that perhaps the author still does feel some resentment about the way Liza dropped her (as an agent), though Phillips repeatedly says she’s long since gotten over it. Ah, and here comes the interesting bit, the what-could-have-been. Because Phillips also says a few words about how she personally would have managed Liza’s career after her success in “Cabaret,” in comparison to how Liza’s new agency handled things.

    It’s difficult to remember, all these years later, just how red-hot Liza was in the early 1970s, how extremely popular she was, with her career firing on all four cylinders. A couple of highly respected early film performances were capped by her Oscar win, plus her “Liza with a Z” television special was a huge success, and she was doing some extremely well-received concerts. She was very much of the moment, very much in demand… but that would change….

    And yeah, I think her new management was almost completely responsible for tanking Liza’s film career. Oh, considering the great success Liza has had, all the awards she has won, it seems kind of ridiculous to say that her career turned out to be a disappointment in some ways, and that she missed out on a lot of opportunities. However, just like her mother, it’s kind of a case of “what could have been.” Yes, her actual career was pretty great in many ways—but on the other hand, very early on she found herself trapped into doing an endless round of concerts—show after show after show, singing the same songs over and over again. Yes—just like her mother.

    And this was due in part to the fact that her film career was totally destroyed after Cabaret; her agent made some incredibly bad decisions in that regard. Liza may have been hard to cast; she was so quirky, so individualistic, that she couldn’t play just any part. But in the right parts, she really was an excellent actress (this is very evident in her early film roles), and I think if handled correctly she could have built up a successful long-term film career. But… no, things didn’t go that way. The concerts that started right after Cabaret delayed her work in films, and the next couple of films she did do were simply terrible; her film career was already on life support by the time “New York New York” came around, and that film just about killed it entirely. Also, on a personal level, it appears that it was during her initial run of concerts in the early seventies that she first became hooked on drugs; the concert “lifestyle” really encouraged that sort of behavior, and that later turned into a huge problem that would plague her for the rest of her life. Perhaps the drugs wouldn’t have become such a huge issue if her career had made a different turn early on, who knows?

    Well, it’s all speculation…. But, it’s interesting to hear what Phillips has to say about Liza in this book too, in addition to the material about Judy.

    And of course there are other celebrities mentioned as well. So—no, it’s not a classy book, and in many ways the content is depressing, but I also found it fascinating to read, and I’m glad I did so.

  2. Here’s my much-delayed response to the book, which I only read in the past year….

    I confess I had a sort of morbid fascination with this book when I first heard about it; can’t resist those behind-the-scenes stories of the Hollywood celebrities (or at least, those celebrities I’m interested in to begin with). And man, in that sense this book did not disappoint—plenty of dirt here!

    My first impression, upon reading the book, was that the entertainment industry in general is a disgusting cesspool, bringing out the very worst in everyone involved with it. It’s full of horrible people doing the most morally reprehensible things. Oh, I guess this has always been the case, as far back as the silent days, but reading this book just brought it all home. I don’t know how anyone can be involved in this business and remain the least bit “normal,” living a respectable and healthy drama-free life. I know some people manage to do it, but I think a greater number are absolutely destroyed by the industry; countless lives are ruined. It’s all rather sad, but—that’s just the way the business works.

    If I had read this book when I was in my teens, at the young age when I was an ardent Garland admirer, I think I would have been devastated to hear these stories. Now, all these years later, I can look upon it with some detachment, along with a great deal of interest. I’ve heard enough about Garland’s later life that yes, I absolutely believe everything in this book; I have no reason to doubt the truth of the tales the author relates here. I think it’s a great tragedy, though, to know how Judy’s life spiraled out of control at an ever increasing rate as she got older.

    Hmmm, that makes me wonder…. at what point did Judy pass the point of no return, in regard to her addictions? When did she finally go too far, that she couldn’t have gotten clean with no major repercussions to her physical or mental health? (Because yes, I really do think the drugs destroyed her mind in the end too; her brain chemistry was permanently altered, with no hope of things getting better.) I’m thinking that she probably passed that point by the mid-1950s, because by the early sixties (when much of what happens in this book takes place), she was already pretty far gone, much more so than was known by the general public at the time.

    I don’t know… Here’s my little amateur analysis. No one could have saved Judy but Judy herself, period. Only she could have overcome her addictions and stayed on the straight and narrow, in regards to both drugs and alcohol. And in the end, I don’t know that it ever would have been possible for her to do it, once she became addicted. Her personality, her will, simply weren’t strong enough to get clean.

    That said, it certainly would have been helpful if she had surrounded herself with people who had her best interests at heart, but that certainly wasn’t the case, ever. Heck, even her management (for whom Stevie Phillips worked) cheated her terribly; totally ripped her off. Come to think of it, Sid Luft exploited and cheated her as well, before she left him for her new managers. She just never had anyone in her corner who really stood up for her, in the long term.

    I think Judy had three major interrelated problems working against her. First off, she had a basic emotional immaturity and instability that were caused by her early upbringing and her years at MGM. This, well, she perhaps could have overcome with the right sort of help and therapy…. Second, of course, were her extreme addiction issues. And third, was the fact that it is possible that she suffered from a very real mental illness; namely, manic-depressive disorder. I have no idea what sort of treatment would have been available for that back in the 1940s through the 1960s; certainly nothing nearly as effective as the treatments available today. (And today being bi-polar is still a tough problem to deal with.) I think it’s likely that her use of drugs was at least partially a response to the bi-polar ups and downs she experienced….

    Okay, anyway…. I thought the book’s depiction of the behind-the-scenes management of Judy during this time period was enlightening. Publicly, professionally, she was doing fairly well in the early sixties—a whole bunch of concerts, the television series, several movies. Oh, she wasn’t always in perfect voice, but she was working regularly and seemed to be on track in regards to her career. But yikes, in private—it was all a total mess, and this books shows some of that, in the limited role that Phillips had with managing Judy for the firm. It’s very sad, but it’s also rather fascinating to read about.

  3. I have always said she was human and Steve Phillips can say what she likes its her story believe it or not ! We weren’t there .

  4. The questions raised above were excellent!

    Unfortunately, the memoir was not as good as the interview above. It is most disappointing in the memoir that Ms. Phillips does not discuss in depth the Garland concerts.

    Ms. Phillips was essentially the stage manager for scores of concert performances, yet the memoir fails to disclose anecdotes or reminiscences of Garland’s performances. In the interview above, Ms. Phillips describes the concerts as “magic.” Why couldn’t she have explored this topic more extensively in her book????

    The memoir would have been more successful with examples of the performing magic witnessed by Ms. Phillips. As it stands, the book offered nothing new about either life or the art of Judy Garland.

  5. I have chosen not to read this book; not because I don’t believe the stories about Judy Garland’s shortcomings and frailties but rather because I have read other books that often embarrassed me for their crudeness in details.Please note that I am not implying that this is the case in Ms. Phillips’ book. The last few years have seen writers intent on whitewashing Garland’s persona to the extent that she never took drugs or drank. It is worthwhile that writers who knew Garland keep the record straight as she obviously was a complex artist with many personal demons. Perhaps it’s personal demons of sorts that add an ingredient which often makes up a genius. My idols, who are labeled with the status of genius include Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, Billie Holliday, and Judy Garland. Each led troubled lives–self-destructive on some level–yet they persevered long enough to leave behind a body of work that is at once beautiful, touching, highly individual, and all encompassing, In Judy Garland’s case it is amazing that she accomplished as much as she did in such a short lifetime. Is it really surprising that she was a human being? The art of Judy Garland, like that of Picasso, da Vinci, and Holliday, is stamped with a personal statement which allows the viewer and/or listener to add his/her take which is also instilled with personal demons–some bigger than our icons and, thankfully, some smaller. Ms. Phillips is merely adding her take, which we can choose to take or leave. But kudos to her if she has accomplished what she set out to do.

  6. Mr. Iovinelli – Other websites can be used for personal attacks. This interview is about Stevie Phillips and Judy Garland, not me. All best.

  7. We are sick and tired to read your words, Laurence Schulman: you act like the Judy Room’s crutch. Nothing proves that Judy had “bisexual” desires. She had or not, this is only her business. Nobody owns rose-tinted glasses. Maybe it is you that live in a somber everyday. And nobody ever said all that she did and sang was perfection. Only brains intoxicated by envy can state that crap.

  8. You obviously don’t know me very well, Lawrence. One of the reasons I got kicked off TJGMB was because I didn’t hold ‘rose-tinted’ opinions of Garland; and I have little time for the more fawning and bigoted Judy fans out there, especially the so-called Gar-freaks.
    I also have little doubt that certain authors would glady ‘reveal all’ about Judy’s autopsy had they happened to be their at the time and thought they could make a few quid out of it.
    And no doubt certain people would read it too.

  9. I finished the book last weekend, it’s a short read and I have to say fascinating. Over the past 10 / 20 yrs, there has been this great effort to not only “whitewash” the story to tell the “idealized” story and remove all the “warts” the bumps the grinds. To me that leaves you with only the shell of a performer, not the woman the true inner woman who was way more “Frances Gumm” than the manufactured Judy Garland. I relish the unvarnished truth. This book is Stevie’s truth and It’s her truth to tell. It’s funny, the same people that accuse Fricke, and others of using Judy to make a living and validate their place on the planet and history are so quick to judge and point fingers and go out of their way to put others down for telling “their truth”. The truth of the story is this. Garland was by far, the greatest entertainer that has ever lived. She was gifted beyond imagination, she was intelligent, witty, she was also very complicated, tortured, driven, at first to just be heard and to be seen, and in the end to just survive. There is a lot to be learned from Judy’s story, how not to live for one thing, how to protect yourself from those that want to use and abuse you and I think the biggest lesson of all…you truly can not help anyone who doesn’t want to help themselves. This will get me yet one more black mark beside my name, somewhere out there in the dark, where the score keepers live…but the truth I have come to see is that Judy didn’t want anyone’s help really she certainly didn’t want to change, she wanted people around to enable her to live her life the way she chose to live.. No one chooses to be addicted to anything be it pills or carpets. However, I can’t even begin to list the times that it’s been reported that Judy was hospitalized to attempt to treat her problems, and in the end, she chose to go back to her “demons” the pills, the alcohol in an effort to cope with the mess that her life was. What she didn’t deal with is this….her choices are what made her life the mess it was in the end. Rather than to make the attempt to maintain her sobriety, she turned time and again to the comfort of the bottle, and the pharmaceutical cocktail that ruined her life. Other’s have touched on Judy’s “sanity” and I honestly think that after her “near death” experience in Hong Kong that she was “brain damaged”, From what I’ve seen on TV, and have read and just my own general observation, for the last 5 yrs of her life, Judy was “playing” the role of Judy Garland,a caricature the real Judy or Frances was dead, and it was the shell that went on and went forward trying to convince herself and the world that she was in fact Judy Garland. In the end, when she was alone at night, I think she knew, she was washed up and just playing out her hand. Yes, I’m guilty of saying it…Judy wasn’t always a victim, she was responsible for herself. She just had no clue how to be responsible for herself. I think her addictions ruled her every waking and sleeping moment. We all have addictions, maybe not to that degree but we all have them, and it’s how we deal with them that determine the out come of our lives. Sobriety is a one moment at a time existence, you make the choice, you take the risk.

    Please forgive my soapbox, I know that all of this is just an opinion, an educated guess. However all things being as they are. It’s it a great world that allows us all the ability to share and connect and treasure and still experience the greatness that was Judy Garland, warts and all. I think that the “real” Judy is way more interesting than Saint Garland would ever be. Good Job Stevie, I’m glad we have your book to add to the story.

  10. With all due respect, I disagree. Do any of the facts Phillips recounts – that is, if you have bothered to read the book – really surprise anyone, except for their graphic detail at times? So, Judy had bisexual desires… It’s been written about before. She was self-destructive… written about before. The details are new, but I have no doubt whatsoever of their veracity. One can admire the immense talent of Judy Garland, and also cringe at her long decline. I wish people would take off their rose-tinted glasses. Judy Garland was a human being with many extraordinary qualities and many repulsive ones too. I’ll take holistic Judy Garland to the naive viewpoint that all that she did, touched, and sang was perfection. Last, Phillips is 79. She has the right to tell her story, and I for one am thankful she did. I highly recommend the book.

    Lawrence Schulman

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