Judy Garland would have been 100

“Forget your troubles, c’mon get happy”

Since Judy Garland was about to turn 100, I decided to see The Wizard Of Oz at Albany’s Spectrum Theatre in early April, and my wife accompanied me. We had never seen the film in a cinema before. There were only the two Tuesday showings, at 4 and 7 pm, so I figured it would be packed; there were less than ten of us there at the latter.

My wife said more than once afterward, “She could really act,” and I concurred. Her performance was vivid on the big screen. Of course, I had seen the movie on CBS-TV annually for several years in the 1960s, though only the last two times on a color TV. I had missed the “horse of a different color” joke.

My, those ruby slippers really sparkled when she ran. I did not know that one of the iconic dresses was missing until 2021. Nor was I aware that there was a black and white dress for the Kansas scenes and a blue and white dress for Oz. Movie magic. 

It was strange, though. In the same timeframe that I’m watching the teenage Judy, I’d also see her on her eponymous show (1963-1964) or guesting on Ed Sullivan or another program. Also, I’m sure I watched the television special Judy and Liza at the Palladium (1964). Liza, of course, was her daughter Liza Minelli, about 18 at the time. (Liza’s 1972 movie Cabaret was shown at the Spectrum the week after The Wizard of Oz.)

Only two score and seven

I never paid much attention to the tabloids at the time, so I was very surprised when Judy Garland died in 1969 at the age of 47. I’ve viewed documentaries about her life since, though I never saw Judy, the 2019 biopic with Renée Zellweger.

One last thought. When I was in the play Boys In The Band in 1975, there was a specific cue for the lead character Michael to be playing the Judy Garland track Get Happy. So that song has had a soft spot in my heart ever since.

Here’s a clip of early films from when Frances Gumm was seven until Judy Garland turned 17.
Waltz With A Swing/ Americana -Every Sunday, 1936
Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart  -Listen, Darling,  1938

Somewhere Over the Rainbow – The Wizard of Oz,  1939; plus a discussion of the isolated vocal 
Our Love Affair,  with Mickey Rooney
The Trolley Song – Meet Me In St. Louis, 1944
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Meet Me In St. Louis, 1944

Get Happy – Summer Stock,  1950
Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy , with Barbra Streisand, 1963?
The Judy Garland Show with Peggy Lee and Jack Carter (November 1963)
By Myself, 1964

She was accidentally slapped at the 1954 Oscars

Judy Garland would have been 100 today.

40 Years Ago: How “Boys in the Band” saved my life

I didn’t know there WAS a gay bar in Binghamton.

boys in the bandWhen I was a janitor in Binghamton City Hall, cleaning up after the cops, and living in my Grandma Williams’ shack of a house, there was very little to look forward to. I’d see my friend Carol a few times a week, and a good thing too, because I would have been totally crazy otherwise.

My sister Leslie was in town, but she was busy in college and spending time with her boyfriend Eric, whom she would marry on Halloween of that year, 1975.

She was also in a few productions, including “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum,” at the Civic Theater. The lead in this play was a guy named Charlie.

Charlie’s next theatrical gig would be directing a play called Boys in the Band. It was first performed in New York City in 1968, and made into a movie in 1970. The storyline was about a birthday party one gay man named “Michael,” was throwing for a friend of his, “Donald.” One of the characters, “Bernard,” was specifically black.

When I met Charlie after a performance of “Forum,” he wondered if I were a thespian, like my sister, and asked me to audition. I hadn’t acted since high school, five years earlier, but I got the part; I suspect there was little or no competition for the role.

The six weeks of rehearsal were great. I had time to memorize my lines; because I really had little else going on in my life, the play became the primary focus. The cast hung out a few times, once at someone’s house, where a debate of the strength of Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon album raged; I probably should have played side two first.

We went to a gay bar in Binghamton, only a couple blocks from where I went to high school. I didn’t know there WAS a gay bar in Binghamton; it might have been established while I was away in college. In any case, a few guys there seemed interested in me, and I was oddly pleased.

The lead character “Michael” was played by a guy named Bill, one of the straight men in the cast. He usually gave me a ride home after rehearsal, and we often talked about the nascent sociopolitical gay rights movement, which in its own small way, the play was part of; and stereotypes.

We probably discussed the fact that “Bernard” was supposed to greet “Emory” with a kiss. I acknowledge that I resisted this the first four weeks of rehearsal, but not the last two, or the two or three presentations, by which point it was no big deal. I’m sure it helped that I had gotten to know the other actor, a guy named Mickey.

There’s a lengthy scene between “Michael” and his old friend “Alan”, while “Bernard” was passed out, drunk. I would feed Bill lines during rehearsal from memory because I was just lying on the stage. At one point, director Charlie, perhaps flattering me, or annoyed with Bill, said he wished I could have played the lead but couldn’t because he needed that black supporting character. I was perfectly happy with my relatively small part.

As I recall, the review in the local paper was less about the play or the performance, and more about the “cultural phenomenon of gay life” writ large on stage. One of my high school friends told the aforementioned friend Carol that it was “too bad” I was gay; Carol retorted, “He’s not gay!” But this perception was pretty widespread, as there was a black minister I met subsequently who expressed an unrequited interest in me.

There were guys I knew in high school who were gay, but only one who I knew was out. Performing in “Boys in the Band” was not only a great way to spend a few weeks but was a tremendous learning experience for me.

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