THE BLOG
09/14/2011 04:59 pm ET | Updated Nov 14, 2011

Judy Garland Was Too Pure for This World

Some people are just too pure for this world. By that I mean they are never truly understood because they are too kind, too nice, too sweet, too genuine, too giving, and just too good to really be appreciated.

They are called pollyannas, goody-two-shoes, and the girl next door. They are called easy, wimpy, and their good natures are often taken advantage of. My belief is that those who don't understand these kind souls choose not to because they are jealous or not spiritually mature enough themselves to get the gift of purity these folks are offering.

One such well known pure one is Judy Garland. That may sound strange considering her reputation for having a turbulent private life that included addictions, divorces, money issues, and suicide attempts in her later adult years.

But if you follow her life as I have done and get glimpses of her as a child, teen, then adult star, you begin to see the essence of Garland. Sometimes it's hard to know where the screen persona ends and the private person begins.

Judy was typecast her whole life. But the characters she played were actually an extension of herself. MGM never allowed her to be seen smoking or drinking on screen, which is quite extraordinary because everyone was doing it back then. The studio knew it would hurt her image.

But the truth is she was her image. She was a great actress because she made every character she played real. She made us believe she was a 12 year old in The Wizard of Oz although she was 16 when she filmed the movie. The irony is that in the films leading up to that she played young girls yearning to be older. (Think the song "In Between" from "Love Finds Andy Hardy." )

She grew up fast. Her films with Mickey Rooney defined a new generation of teenage ideals. Every role she played opposite Mickey was a young teen with good morals, values, talent and forgiveness (for Mickey was constantly giving her the runaround.)

In fact, out of all the Garland movies I have seen, she has never played a bad person. I don't think it is in her DNA. And that good nature is what allowed MGM and her mother to abuse her by giving her amphetamines and barbiturates to keep her stamina up to make all those films. Judy, I am sure, had a lot of natural energy and loved to sing, dance, and act. She was born with such talent. However, taking pills that speed up your metabolism eventually catches up with you as it did for Judy at the ripe old age of 19.

She collapsed while making Girl Crazy. Instead of taking her off the pills they gave her more and had her rest for three weeks. I have read that Judy's mother actually started her on the pills when she was only eight years old.

Many can fault Judy for her pill addiction but at the time she trusted her mother and the studio and no one seemed to think it was a bad thing. In fact, all the stars were doing it.

Could be that she began to not only have a physical addiction but a psychological one as well, thinking she needed the pills to provide her the energy to perform.

In addition, Judy never had a normal childhood or adolescence. Her life was consumed with making pictures. She never had a chance to process any of the terrible emotional experiences that happened to her in her young teens.

She was in a car accident where she broke several ribs and punctured a lung at the age of 14. Her father died of meningitis in 1935 when Judy was 13. She was slated to sing a radio broadcast the night he took a turn for the worse and the Studio insisted on her staying so she sang "Zing! Went the Strings Of My Heart" for him as he listened from his hospital room. He died the next morning before she got to see him. This left Judy devastated as she was very close to him.

She was attracted to Bandleader Arte Shaw but MGM and her mother felt she was too young for romance and Shaw eventually eloped with MGM actress Lana Turner. This broke young Judy's heart. While married to her first husband, composer David Rose in 1941, Judy was forced to have an abortion by her mother and MGM because they felt being pregnant would be bad for her career.

Louis B. Mayer and the MGM studio at first had a hard time finding an image for Judy. She was too old at 13 to be a child star and too young for adult roles. They changed her appearance by inserting nose discs in her nostrils and caps on her teeth. They called her an "ugly duckling" and "hunchback" and chubby. This caused her to have great insecurity about her appearance throughout her life. Even though, she transformed overnight from an awkward ugly duckling tween to a ravishing beautiful swan in Meet Me In St. Louis in 1944, she never considered herself glamorous.

Yet I believe these insecurities are what made Garland so real to audiences. They could relate to her. She was not some untouchable, beautiful screen goddess. She was down to earth, the girl next door, another mere mortal with problems and heartaches and emotional pains like the rest of us.

She had a self-deprecating sense of humor about herself that lasted her whole life. Legends in the same field of entertainment would heap praises on her for her extraordinary talent. She was called "the entertainer of the century" for her work in films, TV, recordings, and the concert stage.

Yet, she would make fun of herself as is evident in her comments during the Carnegie Hall concert in 1961 (called "the greatest night in show business history" by those that were there): "If I'm known for anything at all, it's tragic songs or holiday songs or marches." Known for anything at all? Is she kidding? Another time she said "I always wish I had something brilliant to say. I have more stage waits than anyone." This after she shared three hilarious tales of a hairdresser expanding her hairdo in Paris only to have it fall as she sang, a London reporter kissing up to her by telling her how marvelous she looked only to write a scathing article the next day saying she was fat, and then a story about how a safety pin came loose and stuck into her derriere while she was singing causing her to sing so high and fast that she sounded like Vivian Della Chiesa. If those aren't funny and brilliant stories, I don't know what are.

Another time she said that sometimes at parties she is asked to sing with a piano and "some people like it." Some people? How about most people? How about the whole planet?

Johnny Carson, when he had Judy as a guest on the Tonight Show kept marveling at the audience reactions Judy would get when she performed. He asked why they loved her so. She said because I love them first.

Maybe that is why her concerts seemed like revival meetings. Many in the audience were fans that grew up with her. They followed her career. The loved the roles she played, the songs she sang, the dances she danced.

They appreciated the blood, sweat, and tears she put into each performance. Because even though Judy went through so much personal turmoil it never showed in her professional work. No one would know the backstage health problems she endured while filming The Pirate or the agony she was feeling when she sang for her father that night on the radio or the physical breakdown she experienced while doing a dance routine in Girl Crazy. None of that shows up in her pictures or music.

No one knows the many hours of training, rehearsing, and memorizing lines she did in those 15 years for MGM. In addition to her films, she was featured on the radio with Bob Hope, made recordings, and also sang for the troops during WWII.

But all of these accomplishments do not tell the whole story of why Judy Garland was and will forever be beloved by the public. It gets back to my original premise. She was pure of heart and she had an indomitable spirit that would never die. It says something that her greatest successes came right after her greatest lows. Just when people thought she was done, washed up, she would come roaring back, better and stronger than before.

After she was released from MGM and fired from Annie Get Your Gun in 1950, she began a new career singing on the stage and had critical acclaim to sold out crowds at the London Palladium and the Palace Theater in New York for which she won a Tony Award.

This lead to the greatest film of her career, A Star is Born in 1954 when she won an Oscar nomination and sang her heart out in what TIME magazine called "The greatest one woman show in history." The film turned out to be quite autobiographical, even mimicking the nose discs and changing of her hair color she endured at MGM.

Two years after doctors told her she may die and should never sing again, she gave the greatest concert of her life at Carnegie Hall in 1961. This led to a critically praised TV show featuring some of Judy's best musical moments captured on tape.

Judy threw herself into every film, every tour, every TV special, and every project she ever did. At times, her health could not keep up with her spirit. But she was the consummate professional. She put her art first.

In some ways it may be a blessing that she had a hard time financially because otherwise she may not have done that TV series and we wouldn't have her performing those classic renditions from The Judy Garland Show I was able to rent on Netflix or see on YouTube. Some of the magical moments capture her with her daughter, Liza Minnelli, another musical icon who is bravely carrying on the legacy left behind by her mother.

As a musician myself, it is hard to put into words how moving it is to hear and see Judy perform for a live audience. I try to learn from her phrasing, her expression of the lyrics, the power of her voice, the range of her dynamics.

She may have had her personal insecurities and emotional problems, but when it came to performing, there was no one more confident, more totally engrossed in the music, more transcendent than Garland.

Maybe it is because that is where her purity of soul was expressed. That purity that made her so loved but also so vulnerable. That vulnerability also comes through her music.

I take comfort in that her last interview she seemed so happy. She was madly in love with her new husband, Mickey Deans and said that she had at last found love and happiness. You deserve it, Judy. You suffered so for your art. Your legacy and legend and music will live on forever.

As Lorna Luft, Judy's daughter said in the CD The Concert Years while holding back tears: "I think what Judy Garland loved most was that people wanted to hear her sing. And they always will." I am one who always will and I am grateful that this pure, kindhearted soul graced us by sharing her amazing talent with us all.

Subscribe to the Entertainment email.
Home to your favorite fan theories and the best movie recs.