Gay Purr-ee: The Obscurity Factor Screening

Clearview’s Chelsea Cinema 260 West 23rd Street
Hosted by Brini Maxwell, with special guest John Fricke
Monday, March 28, 2011
event blog post:

After a meeting of dramaturgs and archivists at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, I hop a subway for a quick journey to 23rd street.  [I delight in saying things like that now — hopping trains, popping to different NYC neighborhoods.  It’s the newbie Manhattan resident speaking. This will calm down eventually.]  My destination: The Chelsea Cinema and one of Brini Maxwell‘s “last Monday of the month” screenings of films that are various shades of “obscure”.  This week I know that the screening is to be Gay Purr-ee, an animated film featuring the voices of Judy Garland, Robert Goulet, Hermione Gingold and .. well, need I go on?  Worth a watch and a listen, of course.  As a Garland fan of long standing, I have never viewed this animated film straight through, and won’t view it entirely this evening either.  Yet I have seen and own digital copies of video and audio performances by Garland of several delightful ballads from the score.  And it all is time well spent.

I enter the theatre as soon as I am able after my midtown meeting, which means about a hour into the screening.  I follow the uncomplicated plot (at this point the animated feline stars Mewsette and Jaune Tom and Meowrice are in Paris … yeah, it’s that kind of story), and thrill to the big screen luscious  visuals (an art history lesson!) of the streets of Paris, and especially the rain washed somber water color swatches of light and dark that accompany the ballad performed by Garland’s voice as Mewsette in  “Paris is a Lonely Town”.

(L-R) John Fricke and Brini Maxwell. blurry photo by Martha Wade Steketee.

After the credits roll, the event host Brini Maxwell (a handsome man in drag) and audience members holds a Q and A session with John Fricke, Garland performance historian, published author, award winning documentary producer, and genuinely nice guy.  Fricke puts Garland’s performance life into perspective at the time of this 1962 animated movie.  In late 1960 and early 1961 she hones the concert repertoire in Europe and in the States that is recorded (and awarded and never out of print) as “Judy at Carnegie Hall” on April 23, 1961, and presents that concert over 40 times at different venues for the balance of that year.  The film Judgment at Nuremberg precedes work on Gay Purr-ee, which is soon followed by I Could Go On Singing filmed in London.  Television specials with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in early 1962 and Robert Goulet and Phil Silvers in early 1963 are great successes.

Between those appearances, a late 1962 television talk show visit promoting Gay Purr-ee shows the world and her confirmed fans a new version of Garland (newly slim, and relaxed and conversational and funny), and leads within weeks to a bidding war among all the networks for a Garland television series.  CBS wins that competition and produces The Judy Garland Show for a single season (1963-64).  The definitive history of that show and its context is by Steve Sanders titled Rainbow’s End.

In this 1962 Jack Paar talk show appearance, Garland performs several of the  delightful ballads from the movie’s score.  In black.  In one.  Ladies and gentlemen, Judy Garland telling the story in song of urban loneliness, to a jazzy band backbeat.  “Paris is a Lonely Town” for the first 4:30 of this clip .. and stick around for chatter and humor if you’re inspired to do so.  I’ll most definitely return for more of Brini’s taste in obscure movies.

© Martha Wade Steketee (March 29, 2011)

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