Screenings from the Paley Center for Media Collection
Judy Garland: The Television Years
August 11 and August 18, 2011 [festival runs July 20-August 18, 2011]
25 West 52nd Street
event web site: http://www.paleycenter.org/judy-garland-the-television-years
Last night, the screenings at the Paley concluded with a set of classy and classic and sometimes just goofy segments from a number of episodes of The Judy Garland Show television series (“compilation #2”) crafted specifically for this retrospective festival as well as the final complete aired episode of the series, including unaired outtakes. I am not quite prepared emotionally or intellectually to sum up the almost 40 film and television events I attended over the past month at this time (and I feel called to “sum up” as last night was the final night of all the festival events). This review effort will wait for another day. Now I shall focus instead on a set of little moments that a few recent Paley Center screenings illuminated for me.
The large screen projections focus my attention, remove my ability to fast forward to my “favorite parts” that I exercise freely while playing the same content on DVD. I allow the moments to accumulate, allow shades of meaning to accrue, experience new details brought forward. In short, I pay attention to many moments I have just glided by in the past.
Facets of Garland. Playful. Loving. Determined. Noir-y. All stage images from particular segments of particular episodes that just made me smile and occasionally gasp. In this post I shall discuss a few small cherished “ah” moments for me from two different days of screenings that included content from The Judy Garland Show show #6 (with June Allyson), show #16 (with Ethel Merman and the show that culminates with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”), show #20 (a concert episode perhaps best known for being the episode where she sings to all her children — “Liza”, “Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe”, and new lyrics by Johnny Mercer create a lovely ballad “Lorna” out of the Mort Lindsey-crafted series musical theme), and show #26 (the final episode).
August 11. Treats this day include Jack Paar show visits from 1964 and 1967, a stunning 1968 visit to the Philadelphia-based Mike Douglas show, and show #20 of The Judy Garland Show, recorded in early 1964.
Playful. Impish Judy, full of beans and having riotous fun with a familiar arrangement, full orchestra and her beloved conductor Mort Lindsey on stage with her, gets up close and personal in a moment in show #20. Garland had been singing the arrangement of the tune for years at this point. Initially as part of what we all know as the Carnegie Hall repertoire, in concert halls around the country and in many parts of the world, Garland would open her program’s second act with a rousing version of “That’s Entertainment”, the 1953 Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz tune written for the movie The Bandwagon. Garland has great fun with it in show #20, comfortable in her slacks and loose-fitting top and flats, moving freely around the stage. And as noted in the screen capture images here, she swans around the stage during an instrumental vamp and says howdy to Mort Lindsey in her own sweet way.
August 18. As noted above, the last screening at the Paley provides a true pastiche of Garland show moments, from silly to poignant to stalwart to nostalgic chirping with Ray Bolger. Loving, determined, noir-y.
Loving. Moments from show #6 with June Allyson, when both women are silly and incredibly adorable during a singing “tea for two” segment has a final moment that generates from me an audible sigh and gasp of sympathetic pleasure. I recall from Steve Sanders’ fabulous book about the series Rainbow’s End that June is still grieving the death of her husband at the time of this appearance. Judy is very gentle with her, and some lovely moments of television gentle sweetness result.
Determined. John Fricke provides information also included in Rainbow’s End related to Garland’s fight to construct a patriotic tribute show after her friend President John Kennedy is assassinated in November 1963. When this idea is vetoed by the network honchos, Garland goes ahead on her own steam and includes a version of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as the final number in her show #16 with guest Ethel Merman (recorded December 13, 1963 and aired January 12, 1964). This number in itself is a case study of a number of things — emotion in performance, capturing a time in cultural and political history, presenting power through pain. What I focus on anew as the image is projected on the large Paley screen is the unique (in the course of the series) exit Garland makes after delivering this powerhouse performance. She acknowledges the applause and the then-rare standing ovation offered at the conclusion of this number (captured with a few also-rare in this show camera shots of the audience standing and applauding), thanks her guests over the applause, does not sing “Maybe I’ll be Back”, and turns and strides upstage, around the left side of her center stage trunk, and moves off camera while the credits roll.
Noir-y. Garland’s last show, her last concert, her last dance, is included complete this Paley evening as presented to the American public watching CBS television on March 29, 1964. The show as broadcast is filled out with songs culled from earlier concert-themed shows (no guest stars, just Judy and the band on the stage) when other ideas are not realized, including a mimed clown sequence (filmed but not shown) and a new performance of the “Born in a Trunk” medley from A Star is Born that is not completed. My comments that follow are based on a few of the new numbers recorded for the final show, part of a mini-concert in a way, with their own distinct feel and theme and flow.
Several of the new numbers recorded for this show are striking both in the performance and in the noir-y look of the dark dark stage. Sometimes musicians are barely discernible in the background darkness, and at other times musician silhouettes are etched starkly against the illuminated far upstage wall.
And the tune that makes your heart hurt and leads me to this adventure today. “The Last Dance”, with lyrics I listen to with enhanced concentration this evening. “They’re wondering just when will we leave / but till we leave / Keep holding me tight / Through the last dance, each beat of the last dance / And save me the first dance in your dreams tonight.”
© Martha Wade Steketee (August 19, 2011)