As a boy in Minnesota, Bob Dylan listened to a Minnesota girl sing the ballads of Harold Arlen and thought he could travel down the road taken by Dorothy and the Scarecrow. By the time he took up the guitar and changed his name, he had wandered so far into Woody Guthrie territory that a reader confronting an article in The Nation entitled “Woody, Dylan, and Doubt” could be forgiven for thinking that it concerned the singer’s relation to Arlo Guthrie’s papa on the one side and the condition of epistemological uncertainty on the other when in fact the piece addresses allegations that Woody Allen had misbehaved with his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow.
Judy Garland had to endure many an indignity in her star-crossed career but the heartache of child abuse wasn’t one of them. Born to sing America’s all-time favorite movie song, Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow,” Judy was as natural a Gemini as you will find – totally binary, loyal to a fault yet fickle, happy and proud yet sometimes suicidally desperate, given to coming late to the set fortified by drinking bottles of “Blue Nun,” “Liebfraumilch,” and similar white stuff, which tasted terrible but did the job.
On June 10, 1922, Judy Garland was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, at 6 AM. With her moon in Sagittarius, and her Mercury and Venus in Cancer (her rising sign), the great singer had the heart of a poet, the sensitivity of an eternal diva, and a really good voice. If only there had been more Virgo in her chart, the girl who embodied Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” might have had greater career endurance. The absence of earth signs doomed her to a nervous disposition and the likelihood of an early death.
Born Frances Ethel Gumm, Judy craved the approval of father figures, was easily bruised by criticism, sometimes affected nonchalance but really cared very deeply about other people and wanted to be included in group activities. Her Saturn in Libra helps to explain her outstanding musical talent, and her will to succeed in motion pictures may be inferred from her midheaven in Pisces conjunct Uranus.
The death of Judy's father at age thirteen stunned the young actress, who eventually broke off relations with her mother. The amphetamines helped in the short run. She had five husbands.
An old astrological adage: The stars favor the stars. From the moment the teeanage Garland sang to Clark Gable's photograph ("You Made Me Love You"), her astonishing rise to the heights of Hollywood glory was in the cards (Queen of hearts high) as was, alas, the inevitability of internal conflicts and demons postponed but not resolved by the habitual use of narcotics. She was still in her teens when she she and Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr sang as they danced along the yellow brick road leading to the wonderful wizard of Oz. That was in Technicolor. Already in the black-and-white of Kansas cornfields, she sang the anthem of eternal aspiration, “Over the Rainbow,” which was named the greatest song of the twentieth century in a survey conducted bythe National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America in 2001. She teamed up with Mickey Rooney and their versions of “Our Love Affair” and “How About You?” are the best out there. She did “The Trolley Song” in one picture and “Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” in another. She would have made a great Annie Oakley in Irving Berlin’s “Annie, Get Your Gun,” and we still have tape of one song she did (“Doin’ a What Come Naturally”), but she was too fucked up to do the movie and the part went to Betty Hutton.
In Chinese astrology, Judy was born in the year of the dog. Her element is water. This is consistent with her destiny. Her relation to Minnesota mirrors that of Dorothy to Kansas except that there was no home to go back to. The three farm hands in the dream were almost recognizably there, surrounding her bed, when she awoke in Hollywood. Why did gay men have a thing about her? Because (a) they had good taste, (b) they could identify with her suffering, (c) they could admire her indomitable will, (d) they could smell the tragedy on her breath, (e) even macho boys could identify themselves with Dorothy Gale, (f) where gossip and conjecture overlap, anything goes, or (g) all, some, or none of the above. And remember: she was the mother of Liza Minelli, and all you need to do is see the current revival of Cabaret (2014), good as it is, and compare Michelle Williams’s performance as Sally Bowles with that of Liza in the 1972 movie, and you will see the difference between an actress who is trying as hard as she can and a natural-born diva, with the vocal cords of a heroine and the soul of Judy Garland’s daughter.
In the 1960s Judy was hell on wheels to work with, if Mel Torme’s account in The Other Side of the Rainbow is to be trusted. Mel Torme was the music director on her short-lived television program, “The Judy Garland Show” on CBS, and Torme says she tormenting him. Judy would call you in the middle of the night, make you come over and hold her hand, make capricious decisions, stand up guest stars like Lena Horne, skip rehearsals, tell fart jokes on the set. On the other hand she was who she was, and you loved her when she lifted her glass and said “l’chayem.” She was so earnest you couldn’t help pull for her. “This television jazz is all new to me,” she said. “The Blue Lady helps to get my heart started.” She couldn’t stand what she called the Smothers’ Brothers “goyishe humor,” and the show had other guests of that ilk. But when Barbra Streisand was the guest star, it was incredible. The two divas did a duet of “Get Happy” and “Happy Days Are Here Again” that you can listen to over and over again – it is the ideal rendering of two of the Depression’s enduring hits.
Judy sang and danced with Gene Kelly (“For Me and My Gal”) and with Fred Astaire (“Easter Parade”), and the saints of St. Louis marched in and sang "The Trolley Song" in unison on June 22, 1969, the day of her death. At Carnegie Hall in 1961, with composer Harold Arlen in the audience, she sang "Get Happy," "Stormy Weather," "The Man That Got Away," and "Come Rain or Come Shine" in 1961. Five Grammy awards! She was dead at 46.
If Judy and Frank Sinatra had been lovers, they would have scored very high in passion, high in intimacy, average in synergy, and below average in commitment.
-- David Lehman