Saturday, June 22, 2019

The 50th Anniversary of Judy Garland's Death

It was fifty years ago today that legendary movie star Judy Garland died. Miss Garland's husband, Mickey Deans, found her dead in the bathroom of their house at Cadogan Lane in Belgravia, London. The cause of her death would be ruled a "an incautious self-overdosage" of barbiturates by Coroner Gavin Thurston. He stressed that there was no evidence for suicide and that the overdose was unintentional. Judy Garland was only 47 years old.

For me Judy Garland's death would be significant as the first celebrity death I can remember. I was six years old at the time and, like many (perhaps most) people in my generation I had already seen The Wizard of Oz (1939) multiple times. Of course, at the time, Miss Garland's death puzzled me. At that point I was only familiar with Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale. I had yet to see her in any other roles. It is for that reason that I was under the impression that she was still only fifteen to sixteen years old. I asked my mother how someone so young could die, and she simply explained that The Wizard of Oz was made many years ago and Judy Garland was much older now. I guess Mom didn't want to explain to me that Dorothy Gale had died of a drug overdose or that 47 was still a terribly young age at which to die.

Of course, much of the reason that Judy Garland's death had such an impact on me is that she was the first classic movie star to whom I was ever exposed and The Wizard of Oz was the first movie I would ever see that was a classic at the time I first saw it. Beginning in the late Fifties, The Wizard of Oz aired every year on broadcast network television. This was a tradition that would last into the late Nineties. As a result, I was not alone in The Wizard of Oz being the first classic film I ever saw. It was also the first classic movie ever seen by many younger Baby Boomers, many Gen Xers, and many Gen Yers. While I can't speak for the Boomers or Gen Yers, I am guessing it is the rare Gen Xer who wasn't drawn to Judy Garland's performance as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

As I grew older I would see Miss Garland in films other than The Wizard of Oz. In the days before cable television and Turner Classic Movies, many local television stations would show movies on the weekend and other times. As a result I would see many of Miss Garland's movies before I reached adulthood. Given the frequency with which the local TV stations showed the "Andy Hardy" movies, I probably saw Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940), and Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941) while I was still very young. I know that I saw Babes in Arms (1939), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Easter Parade (1948), and Ziegfeld Girl (1941) before I became an adult. Judy Garland was then not only the first classic movie star to whom I was ever exposed, she would also become one of my favourites while I was still very young.

I would not be the only one for whom Judy Garland would number among his favourites. Miss Garland has maintained a following to this day. In fact, she is recognised by many people who might not recognise any other classic movie stars beyond such big names as Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe.While much of this is due to having starred in The Wizard of Oz, it seems to me that the general public outside of classic movie fans are aware of her other movies as well. I know people who aren't necessarily classic movie buffs, but who are aware of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and A Star is Born (1954) nonetheless. While her status as a gay icon is well known, I believe her appeal goes well beyond the LGBTQ community. I know for a fact that I am not the only cisgender, heterosexual male who is a Judy Garland fan. Quite simply, love for Judy Garland cuts cross the lines of gender, sexual orientation, age, race, and religion. Judy Garland fans come in a wide array of people.

Of course, beyond being the first classic movie star of whom I was aware, Judy Garland would have an enormous impact on my life in another way as well. Quite simply, the first classic movie my darling Vanessa Marquez ever saw was The Wizard of Oz, which she saw when she was only three or four years old. While Vanessa often joked that she wanted to be an actress as soon as she left the womb, it was The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland that really made her want to become an actress. Indeed, Judy Garland would remain one of Vanessa's favourite actresses for the rest of her life. Had Vanessa never become an actress and chose some other profession instead, it is quite possible that I would never have met her. In the end, I largely owe finding the best friend I ever had and the love of my life to The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland.

While I don't remember a lot about Judy Garland's death in 1969, even at the time I knew that it was major news. I seem to recall it was the lead story on our local evening newscast (I can't recall if we were watching KOMU or KRCG that night). I know for a fact that it was a front page headline on such  major newspapers as The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, and many others. It is a mark of just how popular Judy Garland remains that the anniversary of her death has been observed by such media outlets as The Independent, The Los Angeles Times, PBS, Time magazine, and many others.

What is more, I have seen more social media posts pertaining to Judy Garland today than I believe I ever have. I read that many fans have left memorials at Miss Garland's grave in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery today, and Judy Garland's daughter, Lorna Luft, even left a very sweet letter for fans there. I cannot think of many stars whose death would be so observed fifty years afterwards. Miss Garland remains one of the best loved movie stars of all time.  Judy Garland was a superstar in her lifetime. She remains a superstar fifty years after her death.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

Thank you for your tribute to The Supreme Goddess of All Entertainment! I too only knew her as Dorothy, until the news of her death showed me how much More there was to this incredible performer.
From that moment on, there was nothing to stop me from a life-long obsession! It continues...50 years later!
I can only hope for 50 more!

Dennis Bedard said...

She represented innocence and all that is good in life. I was 12 when she died and still as naive as a virgin in a brothel and was rather shocked that she overdosed on pills. I was heartbroken to hear that she died because I never separated her role as Dorothy from the real Judy Garland. If she had never starred in that role, her death would have been a footnote in the Times' obituary section. RIP