[Note: This article was originally posted on judygarland.net (original website is no longer online) by Rita Piro––thought it was worth reposting and credit should go to her for collecting said article and scanning it to text]
WHEN SCREENLAND asked me, on the set of “The Harvey Girls,” to talk about what I believe about life, love, religion, happiness and immortality, I was flabbergasted by the immensity of the subjects covered. But after I caught my breath, I was glad that I was given this chance to express my ideas. Usually an actress is asked about nothing more vital than whether she prefers coffee with sugar or without, crystal ash trays to silver ones or blondes to brunettes. I realize that this subject takes a great deal of thought, but I will try my best to put on paper what I believe.
Life? I believe that happiness can be achieved if you don’t get in your own way. You should always keep your sense of perspective, both about yourself and about things outside yourself.
I believe you should be critical of yourself but not over-critical. The latter inhibits you too much. You avoid realism and wrap yourself in a cloud of misery. If another person is in a bad mood, you think it’s because of something you have done, when actually he or she may have had a quarrel with someone else and is not thinking of you at all. Or if you’re in a bad mood, you expect the whole world to share it, and take personal offense at everyone else who seems reasonably happy. You say to yourself, “Nobody cares how I feel.”
Such a perspective is completely distorted and selfish. Being over-critical of yourself brings it on. I remember between the ages of 14 to. 20, I went through such a stage. I was particularly sensitive about my nose and teeth. My teeth didn’t all grow in at the same time. I thought I was snaggle-toothed, and often used to put my bands over my mouth to hide my teeth. ‘I was like the girl in the ads who was afraid to smile.
Perhaps every girl goes through a period in adolescence when she is over-critical of her own looks. That viewpoint is just as bad as being too conceited. Actually it’s a form of conceit selfishness because it means you’re concentrating too hard on something about yourself that isn’t really terribly important.
An actress is apt to suffer from this over-sensitiveness. The average girl can look at herself in a mirror, and by picking the angle, see what she wants to see. But in the movies your face is magnified, every little defect shows up multiplied a thousand times. So being an actress is a terrific test of your ego. No matter how your face looks on the screen, however, have to remember that people are going to judge you by your personality and the way you act, as much more than by your looks. Certainly the girl who isn’t an actress is going to be judged more by her personality than by her looks. A boy once told me that when he goes to a dance he never tries to pick out the prettiest girl at the party or dance; he just picks out the one with the nicest smile.
Death? I don’t believe that dying is the end. There is too much preparation in life for something else.
Immortality? I believe that there is such a thing as personal survival. I believe in Heaven and that there is some- thing afterwards. I find it hard to believe that there is such a place as hell in the afterlife.
Prayer. Prayers are important, particularly in war time, and a great comfort to people at all times. When I was little and said my prayers every night, I once got the idea that if I prayed for somebody else each night I would appear unselfish. So I asked for nice things for other people, always adding, “But I don’t need anything” and hoping that I would get nice things as a bonus for my supposed unselfishness. Of course I was just little at the time.
Perhaps I shouldn’t tell this on myself, but once I didn’t get something wanted badly, and then I stopped praying for a while. Of course, I resumed my prayers again after a few days. Now I don’t say bedtime prayers every night, but pray at other times. I know now that some prayers are answered affirmatively by God and others are answered otherwise, because it’s God’s will, but no matter how they may be answered, there is still comfort in the prayer.
Religion. I believe that the real expression of your religious beliefs is shown in the daily pattern of your life, in what you contribute to your surroundings and what you take away without infringing on the rights of other people. I don’t disapprove of people who make a habit of focusing all their thoughts on religious ideas, unless they let religion become an opiate with them and do harmful things to other people. No one should feel that because he goes to church every Sunday he can do critical things which people are not ordinarily supposed to do and that God will overlook his bad behavior.
I like going to church at Christmas, Easter and when I’m not working, because it is peaceful there and a place of good will, where some the nicest people in the community congregate. But real religion is in your mind and in your heart and can’t be judged by the number of times you go to church.
War. You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out why God allows wars. Once I heard a group of women discussing this and one of them (not myself) said, “How can there be a God when these terrible wars go on? How could He permit it? My own attitude toward war is fatalistic. I feel that human beings create the machines of destruction; we make the troubles that cause wars. True, people are dragged into war who have no control over it, but man, not God is responsible. We haven’t progressed far enough from Neanderthal man to permit all craving for violence to disappear. Some day in the future, when beings are are born without tonsils, something we probably don’t need, and without appendices which we certainly don’t need, our physical brains may be developed to the point where all savagery has disappeared. But at the present time there is still something in man’s nature which permits the violence of war.
So much for my larger beliefs. All our lives we wonder about these things, but have to wait for that after-life, in which I believe, to find the answers. However, there are some things we all seek––success, love and friendships, about which an actress can speak up boldly, since everyone of us tries to achieve these things.
I believe that success is fun, but can be a burden if it is not handled right. If success is won along one line, that automatically requires the successful person to achieve it along other lines.
Successful people are often very versatile. Vincente Minnelli, my husband, for instance, besides being a fine director, paints exquisitely. Of course, I may be prejudiced, but I wish you could see the painting which Vincente did of a set he designed for Beatrice Lillie’s play, “At Home Abroad.” That painting hangs in my dressing room, and captures an atmosphere which is just as authentic as the family atmosphere captured by Vincente in “Meet Me In St. Louis.” Of all the pictures I have ever made, I think “Meet Me In St. Louis” is my favorite, because I felt that was the nicest family I ever met in pictures. They all fought together and had disagreements, but you knew that in time of trouble they would all stick to one another. I’ve been very lucky in my family life, I must say, both on and off the screen!
The man or woman who achieves a successful career must be successful also in his handling of his own mentality and ego. Being an actress is the most grueling test for the ego, for the success of being an actress floods you. When you are a success in some other line, your intimates know about it and the people in that line, but the world as a whole doesn’t necessarily make a fuss about you. An Einstein, whose success is actually much greater and whose work is much more important than that of any actor, isn’t followed by crowds of admiring fans. The success of an actress is seen. Her work is constantly exhibited. So if she loses her sense of perspective, she may begin thinking how great she is, when actually her success may be just a matter of luck and a few pretty close lips. But that kind of success doesn’t last long. To win real success as an actress, you have to learn to act. I didn’t learn in dramatic school but through making bad pictures. When I was giving some very bad performances, I got quite a bit of fan mail. I could have let things go at that, telling myself, “A lot of people like me just the way I am. I guess that’s good enough.”
An actress cannot afford to be fooled by a certain amount of public adulation. You have to have a perspective on yourself. And that’s true of men and women in every other line, too. I believe that a sense of perspective will help you more in getting the most out of life than almost any other quality.
One of the nicest things about success is the chance it gives you to do things for your family. I don’t like big fat expensive things or living on a grand scale, but it is pleasant to be able to buy pretty clothes, and to be able to invest your money so as to have some degree of security. When on top of that you can do things for your family, well, that as Tom Drake said in “Meet Me In St. Louis,” is ginger-peachy. My mother wanted a house in Hollywood, and I was very happy to be able to get it for her. My sister, now known as Miss Dorothy, is starting a career as a singer strictly on her own, but it’s nice to know that if she ever wanted any help, I’d be in a position to help her.
I believe that your family, (if you let them) can be a great comfort to you in time of trouble. Of course, if you get very dramatic about your best beau’s going out with another girl and lock yourself in your room, there isn’t a blessed thing your family can do, even if they want to. But if you learn to take family teasing in the proper spirit, well, I believe that families are wonderful.
I believe that fanily groups are really the basis of our whole country. You begin life as a member of a family, you go on as a member of a family, then eventually, if you’re lucky, you have a chance to start your own family. The kind of person you are throughout your whole life depends to a large extent upon the kind of person you are as a member of a family group. In a family you learn selfishness or unselfishness, consideration for others or lack of consideration––why, your whole future is mapped out by the way you treat your family and the way they treat you. That, I believe, is our American way of life.
However, no matter how wonderful your family is, no matter how much success you achieve in your career, you won’t be a really happy person unless you also achieve success as a woman. And for most women, that includes a happy marriage.
I believe that it is possible for a woman to have a successful career and a happy marriage, too. In the case of a career women marriage requires more patience, thought and understanding. But it can be done as witness the case of Helen Hayes who is one of our finest actresses and a great success as a wife and mother, too.
I imagine that it’s hard for a man to be married to an actress. He can’t feel, as most men like to feel, that everything depends upon him. He knows his wife is financially independent. She must therefore make him feel that even though she can stand on her two feet financially, she is emotionally dependent.
Since she can’t give her husband the satisfaction of feeling that she needs him financially, she must make him feel needed and wanted in every other way. and in no way shut him out from her life.
I think women get themselves mixed tip by making too many promises. There is something so romantic about promising your heart forever and ever to a person. Women are more honest about those things. Women often end up with guilty consciences because they have made too many promises to the men they love. They get carried away with themselves.
It’s always better to promise less and do more. So I believe in making as few promises as possible, even to myself. I’d rather do this than wind up with a guilty conscience because I hadn’t carried out all my plans. Make plans, certainly, but don’t be upset if something happens to make it impossible to carry them out.
We bear a great deal about love at first siglit, but I believe that a person is safer if love develops gradually. If people marry after knowing each other only a short time, they have to make all their adjustments afterwards. In the case of people, once they have known each other for some time, many of the adjustments can be made before they marry.
We know that a great many sudden war marriages have taken place, and often wonder how they will turn out. A minister who has made a study of hasty war marriages told me that he has seen many that have been very successful. I know of one personally. A friend of my mother’s married only three days after she met her husband and they are divinely happy. But I think the percentages are more apt to be in your favor if you marry after a longer acquaintanceship. It is safer if a lot of thought goes into your marriage. You should ask yourself: are you and the man you love going to match? How is your time going to work out, if you both have careers? Do you have similar religious ideas? Do you like the same kind of entertainment? How is the financial set-up? These things, when considered ahead of time, can do a great deal to start a marriage off right.
I believe that just being in love generally improves people 100%. They become happier, nicer, and more likable. There is a nice pink cloud over everything. A wonderful pink cloud! Everybody has some lovely moments in his life, but when you’re in love you don’t get lonely half as much, because you feel somebody’s standing by to help you, somebody with whom you can talk over everything, someone who cares.
I don’t believe in being too practical. Practicality balanced with a little imagination is more interesting. On the other band, I don’t believe you should walk around with Peter Rabbit under one arm. I believe you should see a vision over the rainbow; that you should keep a nice glow. No matter what your age, you can keep your youth in all its glory through your enthusiasm.