by Dorothy Kilgallen
Judy Garland sat on the apron of the stage, dangling her legs into the orchestra pit, lifting her face to the balcony.
And the stage was the Palace Theater in New York City.
She looked like a small boy playing hobo on Halloween. The trousers she wore were baggy and full of patches, the coat so big she had trouble finding her hands. Her hair was hidden under a rumpled fright wig and one tooth was blacked out. her cheeks were smeared with dirt. THe only thing beautiful about her was her eyes, and they were enough to make everybody in the audience cry.
Her upturned face in the spotlight, Judy began to sing:
Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high,
There’s a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby.
Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.
There was no microphone to lift the girlish wistful voice to the top of the house–but it soared there. And although everyone knows there’s a stony heart for every light on Broadway, not one could be found in the Palace that night. All the sophisticated first nighters were beating their damp palms, all the hard-boiled cynics were having a good cry.
It was a wonderful moment for the rumpled little girl up on the stage–a woman, really, but she seemed like a little girl–and for the people in the seats. What had started out as a performance had become an emotional experience–an exchange of affection between Judy and hundreds of people who wanted her to know how much they loved her.
And this was the girl who just a little over a year back had been so unhappy, confused and despondent over her career troubles that she suffered a severe emotional crisis and despaired of life itself.
She had come a long way to find the rainbow. But there it was, shining over the stage where everyone could see it.
Afterwards I asked Judy, “what were you thinking as you sat there in the spotlight and sang that last song?”
Her soft brown eyes glowed and she said in the breathless, rushing little way she has, “I was thinking how lucky I was. That’s why I wasn’t nervous after the first couple of minutes. It was just as if I knew every person out there, and I stopped being scared. It was like singing to a roomful of friends.”
That night Judy Garland became the toast of the town. She started breaking the old box office records set by Eddie Cantor, George Jessel, and Burns and Allen. Famous personalities from all fields–theatrical, literary, social, military–began making pilgrimages backstage to pay tribute to her in her all-green dressing room, specially decorated for her from ceiling to carpet because green is her favorite color.
The draperies that cover one wall of the dressing room are a floral print in green and white, and she is childishly proud of them, but she is theatrically sentimental, too, so they are completely covered with good wishes that arrived opening night. When Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift visited her backstage Judy said, “They really are beautiful. I’m sorry you can’t see them, but I pinned all my telegrams on them.”
Marlene Dietrich, Irving Berlin, Moss Hart, Jack Benny, Marlon Brando, Broderick Crawford, and Phil Silvers were just a few of the scores of celebrities who couldn’t resist calling on Judy in her dressing room. Even Gen. Douglas MacArthur dropped back one Saturday night.
“You’re wonderful,” the general said with feeling.
Judy smiled her little girl smile. “You’re wonderful, too” she said.
Half a dozen performances at the Palace did more for Judy than all the years of stardom she knew in the movies. She was a money making actress from the time she was a child wonder on the MGM lot; she made pictures fast, one after the other and she made money and got fan magazines spreads and had all the material props of success. But she had no conception of the devotion people all over the country felt for her.
Even going to England and playing the Palladium didn’t completely lick her feeling of insecurity, although she was a great hit there and that gave her the courage to tackle New York. The Palladium experience was grand, but it was after all, England. New York is a terrible, wonderful test.
No wonder Judy had a light in her eyes every time she stepped out on that stage. She was getting an inexplicable, but somehow tangible, feeling of contact with people–that electric thing so valuable to her. So necessary, really, to a girl who spent such a long time feeling alone and confused while most of the world thought of her as glamorous [sic], enviable and loved. The audiences that brought their tickets to the Palace sat there breathing their affection for her and more for Judy’s health and spirit than all the doctors who had charged thousands to psychoanalyze her and treat her when she was so nervous and despondent. She looked wonderful even though she was putting on a one-woman show twice a day, with the usual star’s rush of fittings, photographers, appointments, and interviews.
She even grew slimmer; within three weeks of her opening night she was down to something between size 10 and size 12–and she had been a plump 14. Most wonderful of all, she could sleep like a baby once she got to bed, something that hadn’t happened to her with regularity for years.
She had one setback that frightened her friends and scared Judy, too. She began to have pains in the chest, and during a matinee the pain was so great she was barely able to go through with the performance. Her own doctor was unavailable when she called him, but his assistant rushed to the theater and an hour before she was due onstage for her evening show gave her a shot to kill the pain.
It knocked her out completely. The doctor then administered something else to bring her back, and the panic-stricken theater management stalled the show to give her more time to revive. Whatever the doctor had given Judy began to take effect and she felt pepped enough to go on.
She did her first number feeling, as she said later, “halfway between the sky and the floor.” But she got through it. During the second song she began to forget her words–something she’d never done before. She felt as if she were fading away. But her accompanist, Composer Hugh Martin, threw her the lyrics, and she faked through the end and stumbled offstage.
As she started to stagger on again for her bow, hands grabbed her. The next thing she remembers she was on the couch in her dressing room and ambulance men with a stretcher were waiting to take her to the hospital.
As they carried her out the stagedoor, through the crowd waiting on the sidewalk, Judy smiled sleepily at the fans, tried to wave her hand, and said heerfully: ‘I’ll be back. Don’t worry, I’ll be back.”
She was, too. Hospital tests proved there was nothing wrong with her heart, as had been feared; the pain apparently had been caused by a nervous spasm due to over work and perhaps too much playing. Thrilled with her success, Judy had been staying out late at night, enojoying the excitement of being a hit in New York, an the late hours just didn’t combine with the heard work. But the Place offered to ut the number of shows, and after a few days Judy was back, good as new.
Her New York-found happiness even made her mellow about the autograph hunters who crowded around the Palace to see her–5,000 on opening night, even more the night she “came back” after having her collapse. For years Judy had shared Cary Grant’s scorn for the bobby-sox type of fan–and with rason, because she had some pretty unpleasant experiences with fresh kids who hurled insults at her and heckled her. But as all her other troubles disappeared over the rainbow, so did her strained relations with the fans; she began to fear them less, and like them a little more.
She was so grateful for their interest and support that on opening night, when she knew the crowd opposite the theater in Duffy Square was waiting for her to leave the theater, she refused to go out the stagedoor on the side street. She walked out through the front lobby, under the marquee with “Judy Garland” in big electric light letters, smiling gratefully at the cheering people on the sidewalk. And because she was so happy herself she couldn’t bear to disappoint anyobody, that was the exit she made every night thereafter.
The man in Judy’s life, Sid Luft, seems to be another reason for her happiness. He is the big bruiser type–a sharp contrast to her last husband, the quiet, sensitive, brilliant Vincente Minnelli with whom she will always remain friends–and he seems to be the right personality to complement Judy’s sometimes uncertain moods. He is her personal manager as well as fiance, and he shields her from annoyances, advises her on everything, and bolsters her ego at the right moments.
Her little girl Liza is another of Judy’s joys. Liza has Vincente’s eyes and Judy’s personality, and everyone who knows her believves she will be one of the great talents of show business when she grows up.
All this, and all that has happened to her recently, should make Judy one of the most confident, joyful women in Christendom. Wherever she goes from here–into a Braodway musical comedy or back to the Hollywood movie sets–she should go on wings, like the bluebrids in her song. Because now she should know beyond all doubt what many others have known for a long time.
Judy has the magic gift of making people love her.
If she can always remember that, she will never be really unhappy again.
[Note: With all due respect to Miss Kilgallen, she has almost everything down perfectly. I think there was more joy in Judy’s life than she conveys, but other than that–she’s got Judy down]