Call For Judy Garland Fans
Judy’s always been a hard sell with straight men. In fact, not only do straight men generally dismiss (if not dislike) Judy, they tend to prefer that their friends do so as well. Here are variations on that sentiment as they have been expressed to me over the years ---- "I’m not exactly a fan of Judy Garland, are you?" (always with a bit of an edge to it) ---- "I don’t like Judy Garland! You don’t, do you?" (as though the continued friendship may hinge upon your answering properly). Must real men conceal their pleasure in Judy? Must we renounce her in order to qualify as heterosexuals? The conflict only deepened for me when I brought the issue before my girlfriend this morning. "Too hard", said she, "… not feminine… you’d never want to take her home to meet the family". Well, there’s an understatement to be sure, but what’s the Judy cult coming to when even the sisterhood turns against her? So, we pose this query to our readers --- what do you really think of Judy Garland? For myself, I pondered that weighty matter today as I watched I Could Go On Singing for the first time.
This was Judy’s last feature ("sadly", as Maltin’s TV review says), and it was released in 1963, six or so years prior to her death. It’s surprisingly plush for a star who’d not had a hit movie in nearly a decade, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to. Of course, Judy sings her lungs out, but I found all that less interesting than the drama, and she’s really good with the drama (plus, I didn’t think the songs were all that hot). Say what you like, but this woman could act. She had a spontaneity that’s really effective when it isn’t going overboard, and I found her a lot more restrained here than in A Star Is Born, where you always have the feeling of George Cukor sitting behind the camera going, "Wonderful, Judy, more! More! MORE!" The only thing with Judy is the intensity. Once she’s switched on, she’s gonna take you with her all the way to the breakdown, particularly in these post-MGM things where you always have the feeling she’s getting ready to crack up and flee from the set. Apparently, that’s very nearly how it was, according to what I’ve read. In I Could Go On Singing, she essentially plays herself, and the show’s full of those backstage moments designed to give us a glimpse of the real Judy. Her fans must have gone nuts over this one. It’s not like Gay Purr-ee of the previous year, where she gave voice to a Chuck Jones cartoon cat (and had to endure one of those hellish New York opening weekends where Warners put her on a sweltering bus and sent her to every crumbling neighborhood theatre in the five boroughs for personal appearances). I Could Go On Singing is 100% Judy, as the ad shown here will attest, and good as she is, that can be a little exhausting. The story is one of those mother love things, and I kept waiting for a Stella Dallas ending which never really arrived. In fact, the whole thing just kind of stopped instead of ending. Judy really looks her age too, bless her heart. You wonder if Ross Hunter could have done anything for her the way he did for Lana Turner. Probably not.
Based on our research, this picture really went into the tank commercially. After all the trouble they’d had with Judy (and the pic was barely finished at all, thanks to her misbehavior), United Artists went down to a crushing defeat in every market. One observer said they might as well have hung a sign in the boxoffice reading, "Smallpox Inside". Domestic rentals were a horrific $301,000 (UA had sci-fi and strongman fodder that did almost as well), and foreign was only marginally better at $455,000. There were only 4,339 bookings --- even Vincent Price in the black-and-white Tower Of London did better than that. People wanted to see Judy in person. That’s what hooked UA in the first place. What got them snake-bit was the realization that no one wanted to go see Judy on the screen anymore, unless it was The Wizard Of Oz on a TV screen.
One more anecdote about Judy, though not a personal one. This I’d find hard to believe were it not for the unimpeachable first-person source, a life-long Garland fan and not a man given to prevarication. It seems that during the early sixties, when Judy was often as not broke (sneaking out of hotels to avoid the tab, that sort of thing), she would sometimes econimize by crashing with fans during her concert travels. During one such layover with an acolyte who later dealt autographs and became an acquaintance of mine, Judy decided to entertain this guy, and a couple of his friends, with an impromptu concert in the living room of his apartment. Singing along with her Judy At Carnegie Hall on the phonograph, she belted out every single number on that now legendary double album, all for the benefit of three fans who must have thought they’d died and gone to Judy Heaven. This is one story I’ve picked up in collecting travels that really freaked me out. Totally incredible, but I believe every word of it.