“They gave her the kind of flamboyant ovation that most stars never even dream of. And Judy didn’t disappoint them. The audience was squeezed into every available inch of space, hundreds of them behind posts or in side pockets where even the slimmest view of Judy was impossible. There were reports that tickets were being pirated for as much as $50 apiece.” – Stanley Eichelbaum on Judy’s opening at San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium, 1961
September 13, 1930: “The Gumm Sisters” performed as part of the “Big Brother Ken Show” at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, California. No other information about this engagement is known.
September 13, 1935: A milestone in Judy’s career and life. She successfully auditioned for MGM. She was 13-years-old.
When the call came to the Gumm home, Judy’s mom Ethel was out so her father, Frank, took her to the studio without having her change out of her play clothes or put on any makeup. Frank played the piano before Roger Edens stepped in at the urging of studio songwriter (soon to be a producer) Arthur Freed (“That guy is the worst piano player I ever heard … Roger, go over and do a song with the little girl”). Judy sang “Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart.” Eventually, MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer was successfully coaxed into walking over to the soundstage, supposedly on MGM’s Stage #1 which was, fittingly, the studio’s scoring stage). Judy sang “Eili, Eili” for Mayer. Edens later claimed that he knew Judy was great within the first few notes of her singing after he took over accompanying her and that Judy had “unbelievable control, full power in the high register and shimmering warmth in the low.”
The complete details of this audition are muddled. Over the years legends have grown about it, who was there, and what Judy sang. The legend of Judy’s audition grew to the point that it seemed as though everyone who worked at the studio at that time claimed to have been there and witnessed the now-famous audition.
As early as January 1936, the story that Judy had been signed to a contract without a screen test was printed in newspapers. The story is true however in recent decades this has been questioned. Director George Sidney claimed to have filmed Judy performing “Casey at the Bat” with mom Ethel at the piano. However, Sidney was remembering this event decades later. In 1935 he was the studio’s main director of screen tests and had seen Judy perform on stage nine months prior to that fateful September audition. It’s unclear if Sidney was remembering a test done at the time he saw her on stage (and wanted to sign her to a contract), or after Judy’s successful audition on September 13, 1935, of which he was not involved. What is known is that after being coaxed to leave his office and go to the spot on the lot where Judy was auditioning, legendary MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer heard her sing, went back to his office, and put out the edict to sign her to a standard studio contract. That contract read in part, “Please prepare contract for the services of Judy Garland as an actress.” It’s dated September 16, 1935, just three days after Judy auditioned, which does allow for time for a screen test. This first contract was the standard studio contract giving the studio the option to cancel after the first six months, then again in another six months on the one-year anniversary of the initial contract, then annually for the following six years (seven years total). Judy’s initial salary was $100 per week, increasing to $200 per week after the first six months.
It’s also been reported that this was Judy’s third audition for MGM. Allegedly she and her sisters auditioned for the studio around late spring 1935 and then a few months later Judy auditioned solo. Whatever the case, this possibly third audition is the one that did the trick, and Judy was signed with the studio, forever changing her life and career.
Photo: A photo from Judy’s first portrait sitting for MGM on November 6, 1935.
September 13, 1939: Columnist Hayden R. Palmer reported that Judy owned 3, 000 records in her private library of records. Judy was an avid record collector although it’s unknown just how many records she owned.
September 13, 1941: Another day of Babes on Broadway filming on MGM’s Backlot #2, the “New York Streets” section, specifically the “Block Party” and “Chin Up, Cheerio, Carry On” sequences. Time called: 9 a.m.; lunch: 12:30-1:30 p.m.; dismissed: 6:50 p.m.
September 13, 1939: Here is another article promoting the upcoming appearance of the two ponies, “Wizard” and “Oz,” and that carriage used in The Wizard of Oz, in Rushville, Indiana (see yesterday’s entry for more info).
September 13, 1939: From the trade magazine “Motion Picture Daily” are this ad (for Babes in Arms) and more details about the box office numbers for the week, showing that The Wizard of Oz came out on top in Milwaukee, Minnesota.
September 13, 1943: Thousands Cheer premiered at New York’s Astor Theater. Judy was one of the many guest stars who appeared as themselves in the big “Army Camp Show” that was the climax of the film. Judy sang “The Joint Is Jumpin’ Down At Carnegie Hall” with Jose Iturbi at the piano.
Judy was in Detroit on this day which was one of the stops on the Hollywood Cavalcade Bond Tour that she and many film stars took part in. Jose Iturbi joined the tour for a few of the scheduled stops and, naturally, accompanied Judy on “The Joint Is Jumpin'” and several other numbers in their real-life big show raising money for the war effort by selling bonds.
Thousands Cheer was a huge hit, grossing $3,751,000 which was a profit of $2,228,000 for MGM.
Some scans were provided by Kim Lundgreen. Thanks, Kim!
September 13, 1943: Here are some more articles and photos documenting the recent appearance of “The Hollywood Cavalcade” Bond Drive Tour in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania the day before (September 12). On this day (Sep 13) the cavalcade was at their next stop, Cleveland, Ohio.
September 13, 1950: Judy was on vacation in New York, enjoying the raves for the audience responses to her new film, Summer Stock (see article), when she attended Edith Piaf’s opening at the Versailles Club. Judy’s seen with Faye Emerson, Sonja Henie, Piaf, and Ginger Rogers.
September 13, 1954: Judy’s second, and last, cover for “Life” magazine with a feature about A Star Is Born on the inside.
Scans provided by Kim Lundgreen. Thanks, Kim!
September 13, 1956: Two articles. The first one claims that Judy discovered designer Elgee Bove when she played the Palace in 1951 (he was an usher). The second is a notice that Judy would return to the Palace on September 20th. Judy opened on the 26th.
September 13, 1961: Judy gave her “Carnegie Hall” show at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. 8,700 people attended. The show grossed $45,000 at a $7.75 top price. Judy was a smash hit, as the reviews below state.
September 13, 1963: “The Judy Garland Show” resumed taping. The production had been on a break since the end of July. The network (CBS) was unhappy with the first five shows that had been taped. They fired the producer, writers, and choreographer. Director Bill Hopin stayed as did the musical and scenic staff. At that same time, the current episode was canceled. Nat King Cole was the guest for that episode and its cancellation meant that he and Judy would never again get the chance to work together.
On this day, the dress rehearsal was from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., then one hour for dinner and another hour for notes and technical preparations, then the final taping. This was “Episode Six” of the show, taped as the previous ones had been on Stage 43 at CBS.
Judy’s guests were June Allyson and Steve Lawrence plus series regular Jerry Van Dyke. Judy sang: “Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries”; “Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe” “Be My Guest” (with Lawrence); “Just Imagine” (with Allyson); “MGM Medley” (with Allyson and Lawrence); and “San Francisco” for the “Trunk” spot.
Judy also taped a second “Tea For Two” segment with George Jessel which would be inserted into “Episode Twelve.”
The episode aired on Sunday, October 27, 1963. After the taping, Judy took her new executive producer Norman Jewison, Liza, her new writers, David Begelman, and others, to see Barbra Streisand’s closing night (the final show which was the late show) at the Coconut Grove.
September 13, 1965: The first night of a proposed week-long engagement at The Greek Theater in Los Angeles. Judy received raves for this opening night. Mort Lindsey conducted the 33-piece orchestra, 13 of which were strings. She was guaranteed $35,000 for the week, plus 65% of the gross above $70,000; there was an advance sale of $40,000.
Luckily a recording of this opening night exists, taken from the soundboard. Listen to that recording here (zip file).
Photos: Johnny Mathis, Mickey Rooney, and Martha Raye give Judy help on the second night (September 14, 1965).
September 13, 1967: Judy held a press conference at 11:30 a.m. at her hotel, the Ambassador West. She was an hour late, having arrived in Chicago around midnight. The press conference was in conjunction with her upcoming appearance at The Civic Opera House the following three nights and was facilitated by Bill Doll and Sid Luft. These photos were taken of Judy with her son Joe. During the press conference, Judy stated: “I think there’s really a certain time in your life when it’s too much of a hassle to have fears. You mature. You say, ‘What good is fear going to do me?’ Now life seems to be sort of a steady upgrade. I’m enjoying it. I think my children have helped a great deal.”
September 13, 1967: A reader asked the Indianapolis News if Judy had been blacklisted after her appearance on the Jack Paar show. The paper’s Richard Shull answered no, but thought that “Judy was either carried away by the occasion or perhaps a little high on something…”