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