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Judy Garland


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Hi Guys and Dolls, why not start out a tribute to Judy Garland  with the title of a classic Broadway musical (not to mention a pretty decent film).  Frank Sinatra once said of our subject, "She's the only one they'll remember, the rest of us will be forgotten."  I don't know if Frank really said that but I like to think he did.  I know I will never forget her and have been a star struck fan ever since my youth when I first watched her in "The Wizard of Oz."  Of course it may go back even earlier when I was just an infant of six months when my mother used to watch "The Judy Garland Show"; I was in the cradle beside her possibly absorbing the genius of Judy while just a babe in arms.  I obviously don't remember that time but I do remember her in "Wizard."  I recall thinking even at the tender age of six or seven feeling this little girl is in trouble (well she did have a wicked witch after her!) and I need to help her.  Maybe I could not articulate that but I like to think I was on a Judy wave length intuitively sensing her hurt and vulnerability.  But like the Frank Sinatra story maybe it is just a myth, a wish, a distorted memory.  Like so much that concerns our girl, stories are distorted, truths are memory realigned, and reality drifts into myth.  I watched "Thoroughbreds Don't Cry" this morning, one of the few Judy movies I have not seen.  It is just a so so film its only merit in cinema history is that it is the first pairing of Judy and Mickey Rooney-and the chemistry between them is palpable.  I will save my detailed review of that less than a movie masterpiece for another time, I am hear to discourse fondly, wax adoringly on my favorite film personality, my absolute favorite live performer, the greatest entertainer of the twentieth century Miss Frances Ethel Gumm!  What can I say  about this woman that won't cry out: "Cliché!"  Why did she become to Gay men of my generation (and the generations before) such an important, meaningful icon who resonated and in some wildly absurd way spoke for us?  I can't speak for the other "friends of Dorothy" (code for Gay) only myself.  I respect, venerate, admire and stand in awe of talent. And boy did this broad have it!  I  never saw her live (I was six when she died) but we have enough representation of her enormous, out of this world, awe inspiring gifts as a performer in film. Thank God for MGM! Whatever else they may have done to her(the pills, the relentless work load) they gave her a milieu,, a platform, literally  a (sound ) stage  to unleash the tremendous life force, the almost limitless and  all encompassing spark that was Judy Garland.  It is there before "The Wizard of OZ" (I caught glimpses of this morning) but "Oz" was the perfect forum to let it unfurl. It is 77 years later and she still owns THAT SONG. I used to get into verbal spats with my friend Ray.  He insisted Patti Labelle did a better job.  Hah! I love Miss Patti and she does a strong, stirring rendition at singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" but it lacks the gravitas, the unspoken meaning and history that Garland brings to that ballad.  She is the little girl who needs protection and the young woman that yearns for a kinder, safer world.   That's it!  I wanted the same thing as a young gay boy.  Safety and protection.  The mystery has been solved!  Judy and  Danny wanted the same damn thing...Okay I better CDG (code for calm down girl!) and resume the trajectory I  began: Judy's talent in film.  After "The Wizard of Oz" she continued to dazzle us, beguile us bewitch us and bother us in an oh so wonderful way.  There were the Mickey/Judy musicals (I saw "Babes in Arms" in  a library in Manhattan a few years back and the audience was enchanted), "For Me and My Gal" (Gene Kelly was forever grateful for the kindness and patience Judy displayed toward him on his first movie.  Gene would return the favor eight years later during the making of "Summer Stock" when a very sick Judy needed his help).  Some of my favorites: the opening ballad in "The Harvey Girls", and the crowd pleasing Oscar winning song "On The Atchison,Topeka and the Santa Fe, the heartbreaking Christmas song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in "Meet Me In St Louis", her pairing with Fred Astaire in "Easter Parade" (she is his absolute equal and you better believe Fred knew it!), all of "In The Good Old Summertime" not because it is her best movie but because she is much better than her leading man Van Johnson; the director wisely hands all the musical numbers over to her-and she delivers.  Let's stop at the aforementioned "Summer Stock", her last film for MGM.  As I mentioned before she was not well while making this movie.  Plump, puffy and fairly worn out, never the less after "Oz" and "A Star is Born" it is my favorite Garland film. Tarnished truth meets celluloid fiction here and the result is fascinating. Judy was winding down ,her days at the fantasy dream factory were numbered.  MGM would not tolerate her misbehavior and Garland herself was out growing the stifling studio system.  A six week shoot turns into six months.  Judy is late! Judy is sick! Judy is AWOL! Judy is still effing brilliant!  She manages to keep up with Gene Kelly in the dance numbers, breaks our hearts with another mournful ballad, "Friendly Star" and finally kicks butt with her swan song to MGM the fantastic, rousing, stunning "Get Happy." From rainbows to railroads to cheeky farewells, Judy never fails to disappoint.  she is the ultimate Gay icon, a superbly talented lady with a real life story of triumph and heartbreak, comebacks and failures, resilience and finally a well deserved eternal rest.  Yes she finally succumbed; the internal demons won but that is almost besides the point.  She gave us her most precious gift: herself.  And I will always cherish it.  Thank you Frances Ethel as a performer you offered the world your soul and I am grateful and honored to be  one be of the many who is  a privileged keeper of that priceless gift. Adieu 

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