Friday, June 10, 2022

The 100th Birthday of Judy Garland

Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm 100 years ago today, on June 10 1922, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Her parentswere vaudevillians who settled down to run a movie and vaudeville theatre. The family moved to Lancaster, California where young Frances Ethel Gumm and her sisters began their career in entertainment as the Gumm Sisters. The Gumm Sisters proved relatively successful. They toured the vaudeville circuit and appeared in short films. The Gumm Sisters would eventually become the Garland Sisters, with Frances Ethel Gumm taking the first name "Judy." It was in 1935, after Suzanne Garland (born Mary Jane Gumm) got married, that the Garland Sisters broke up as an act. It was that same year that Judy Garland would be signed to MGM. Four years later she was catapulted to superstardom in The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Judy Garland remains one of the most famous stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, as well as one of the most beloved. In their list of the Greatest Female Stars of All-Time, the American Film Institute ranked eighth, and one has to suspect many would have ranked her much higher. Indeed, she has been called "the World's Greatest Entertainer." Many of her movies, including The Wizard of Oz (1939), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), and A Star is Born (1954), are counted among the greatest movies of all time. Many of the songs she originated in movies, including "Over the Rainbow," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and "The Man That Got Away," have become standards. One hundred years after her birth, Judy Garland is still a superstar.

While Judy Garland made many films in her career, it seems likely that much of her continued fame is due to one film: The Wizard of Oz. Contrary to popular belief, The Wizard of Oz did do well at the box office (it was the fifth highest grossing film of 1939), it was simply a case that its production costs and other costs were so high that it did not make a profit. It certainly did well in its re-releases. More than its several re-releases to theatres, it was perhaps its annual airings on television that contributed most to Judy Garland's fame. It first aired on television on Ford Star Jubilee in 1956. Starting in 1959, The Wizard Oz would air annually on network television until 1996. Since then it still airs regularly on Turner Classic Movies, TNT, and TBS, and is available on streaming as well.

It is largely because of its annual airings on broadcast network television that many estimate The Wizard of Oz is the most viewed film in history. Indeed, it seems likely that because of the annual airings of The Wizard of Oz, not only is it the first classic film many younger Baby Boomers and the entirety of Generation X and the Millennials ever saw, making Judy Garland the first classic movie star to whom they were exposed. Of course, The Wizard of Oz was not the only Judy Garland movie that would air regularly on television. Meet Me in St. Louis would air on many stations on a regular basis, particularly at Christmas time. Easter Parade would be an annual Easter event for many local stations. It seems likely that a good swathe of Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials were all exposed to Judy Garland well before they turned 18.

Of course, even with annual airings of The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland would not have remained popular had it not been for her enormous talent. As an actress she was capable of displaying a wide range of emotions, not simply in her words but also in her expressions and body language. She was ideally suited to comedy and musicals, but she was capable of playing drama as well. Judy Garland was as good in Judgement at Nuremberg as she was Meet Me in St. Louis. Judy Garland was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress for A Star is Born (an Oscar many believe she should have won) and Best Supporting Actress for Judgement at Nuremberg. Judy Garland was also a fairly good dancer, displaying her talent in many musicals. As great an actress as Judy Garland was, it can be argued that she was an even better singer. Miss Garland was blessed with a powerful contralto over which she had perfect control. What is more, while singing Judy Garland could imbue her voice with a multitude of emotions. It is little wonder that "Over the Rainbow" would be counted by the American Film Institute as the greatest movie song of all time.

When discussing Judy Garland's popularity, her status as a gay icon really cannot be ignored. It seems likely she was already a gay icon before she died. More one than writer at the time noted a disproportionate number of her fans present at her 1967 engagement at the Palace Theatre in New York City were gay. As a heterosexual cisgendered male, I am not sure I can entirely explain how or why Judy Garland became a gay icon, but I think part of the reason may also be why she remains popular with audiences in general. Both in her films and in life Judy Garland was something of an outsider. In The Wizard of Oz, she played Dorothy Gale, a young woman who longs for life beyond the confines of her aunt and uncle's Kansas farm. She played a small town girl aspiring to dreams on Broadway in Presenting Lily Mars (1943). In The Harvey Girls (1946) it is Judy Garland's character Susan who leads the fight against Judge Sam Purvis's (Preston Foster)campaign to drive the Harvey Girls away to keep the town's saloon thriving. In real life Judy Garland was a bit of an outsider as well. While there is no doubt that Judy Garland is and was a star, she never fit neatly into the categories into which the studios liked to place actresses. Although she was very attractive, Judy Garland was never counted as a great beauty and she was never counted as a glamour girl. Although she was a great actress, she was never counted among such enormous talents as Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. In many ways Judy Garland stood apart from the Hollywood mainstream. Anyone who does not feel as if they fit into mainstream society, whether because of sexual orientation or some other reason, will probably feel some affection for Judy Garland for that reason.

Of course, Judy Garland would have an enormous impact on many. For me, The Wizard of Oz was the first classic film I can remember watching and as a result Judy Garland was the first classic movie star of whom I was aware. Judy Garland and The Wizard of Oz could then be counted as the start of my journey as a classic movie buff. By the time I was an adult I had already seen many of her movies, including Meet Me in St, Louis and A Star is Born. Judy Garland would have an even bigger impact on my dear friend Vanessa Marquez. It was after she saw The Wizard of Oz for the first time when she was three or four that she decided she wanted to be an actress when she grew up. The list of other celebrities inspired by Miss Garland is not a short one: Bete Midler, Freddie Mercury, Donna Summer, Janelle Monae, and many others. Judy Garland has had a lasting impact on pop culture and there can be no doubt she will continue to do so for the next 100 years.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Victim (1961)

Although it may not be well known among the general public now, Victim (1961) was groundbreaking upon its release. Directed by Basil Dearden and starring Dirk Bogarde, it was pioneering in its approach to homosexuality. In fact, it was the first English language film in which the word "homosexual" was mentioned.

Victim centred on Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde), a successful barrister who is on the verge of becoming a Queen's Counsel. Farr also happens to be gay. Jack "Boy" Barrett (Peter McEnery), a young man with whom Farr had a romantic, if platonic relationship, was being blackmailed. To play the blackmail he stole  £2,300 from his job and as a result is being pursued by the police. He wants Farr's help in leaving the country. Unfortunately for Barrett, he is picked up by the police, who wants to know why he was being blackmailed. Barrett ultimately hangs himself in a police cell to avoid revealing the reason why he was being blackmailed and compromising Farr as well. Farr then decides to take on the ring of blackmailers himself.

Victim emerged from the social and political climate in the United Kingdom at the time. The  Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 had made homosexual acts between men illegal. It was after the end of the Second World War that arrests and prosecutions for violating for homosexual offences had increased dramatically. Following the convictions of such high profile men as John Gielgud,  Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, Peter Wildeblood and others, that the government set up a committee within  Home Office and Scottish Home Department  to examine homosexual offences and prostitution. The  Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution was published on September 4 1957, and is often called the Wolfenden report after  Sir John Wolfenden, the chairman of the committee. The report ultimately recommended that "homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence."

Janet Green, the screenwriter who had written such films as Eyewitness (1956) and Sapphire (1959), read the Wolfenden report and as a result took in the reform of the laws regarding homosexuality. She and her husband John McCormick then wrote a screenplay originally titled Boy Barrett. Janet Green had previously worked with director Basil Dearden and produce Michael Relph on Sapphire, and the two men decided to forward with Victim. They decided to take an approach to Victim similar to that they took with Sapphire, which addressed racism against Afro-Caribbean immigrants in London.

Basil Dearden and Michael Relph would have some difficulty finding their leading man. Victim was offered to Jack Hawkins, but he turned it down. An offer was made to James Mason, but he turned it down as well. Even Stewart Granger was considered for the lead role. Finally, Victim was offered to Dirk Bogarde, then one of the United Kingdom's top matinee idols. He had starred in the successful Doctor series of films, as well as such movies as The Blue Lamp (1950), Cast a Dark Shadow (1955), and A Tale of Two Cities (1958). What was not well known at the time was that Dirk Bogarde was gay himself. He lived with his partner, Anthony Forward, and the two men would remain together until Mr. Forward died in 1988. Given homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom at the time, as well as the possible adverse affect a revelation that he was gay could have upon his career, it should come as no surprise that Mr. Bogarde hid his sexual orientation for years.

In making Victim producer Michael Relph made the decision to approach the subject of homosexuality very cautiously. It was decided that the movie would feature no discussion of sexual acts between men, let alone scenes addressing sexual relations between men. That having been said, the movie approached homosexuality with sympathy, something that was somewhat revolutionary at the time. Michael Relph ultimately said that  Victim was a story of "not glands, but of love."

Even without any mention of homosexual acts, let alone any portrayal of such, Victim ran afoul of censors on both sides of the Pond. The British Board of Film Censorship (BBFC) demanded four lines of dialogue be cut, and suggested shortening two other scenes. Even so, the BBFC would ultimately give Victim an "X" certificate, which meant no one under the age of 16 could see the film. At the time "X" certificates were generally given to only adult films and horror movies. The Production Code Administration in the Unites States would have a much stronger reaction to Victim. Quite simply the PCA refused to give Victim its seal of approval. Victim was released in the United States without the PCA's seal.

While Victim proved controversial with the censors, it did receive positive reviews in the United Kingdom and the United States. Seen today Victim seems dated. Farr and Barrett never had sex, nor does Farr ever mention having had sex with any other man. In fact, there is no mention of sexual relations between men at any point in the film. The photograph for which Barrett being blackmailed is not one of him en flagrante with another man, but a simple photo of Barrett crying on Farr's shoulder. While Victim was certainly groundbreaking at the time, today its approach to homosexuality seems prudish. Of course, as pointed out above, this approach was intentional. Producer Michael Relph knew better than to push the envelope too far with regards to the censors.

Regardless, Victim was a groundbreaking film in addressing the topic of homosexuality directly in a way that it never had before. It also proved to be a turning point in Dirk Bogarde's career. Previously and with but a few exceptions, Mr. Bogarde had been confined to roles befitting his status as a matinee idol. Afterwards he would appear in such films as The Servant (1963), Darling (1965), Death in Venice (1971), and yet others. Although Victim might appear dated today, at the time it was a positively revolutionary film.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

"A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum

It was fifty five years ago today that "A Whiter Shade of Pale"by Procol Harum hit no. 1 on the British singles chart. It would remain no. 1 on the chart for three weeks. It peaked at no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. Ultimately, "A Whiter Shade of Pale" would sell over 10 million copies worldwide.

A promotional film for "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was shot at the ruins of Witley Court in Worcestershire, England. It was directed by Peter Clifton, who would go onto direct the Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same (1976). Better known than the promotional film for "A Whiter Shade of Pale" is perhaps the film made for Scopitone visual jukeboxes. The members of Procol Harum in the  Scopitone film does not reflect the actual personnel who had worked on the song "A Whiter Shade of Pale." Drums on the song were provided by session drummer Bill Evden, who did not appear in the original promotional film either. Guitarist Ray Royer had left Procol Harum and been replaced by Robin Trower by the time the Scopitone film was shot. The Scopitone film was shot in and around London.

Without further ado, here is the Scopitone film of "A Whiter Shade of Pale."

Monday, June 6, 2022

Actress Linda Lawson Passes On

Linda Lawson, an actress who had roles on the TV shows Adventures in Paradise, Don't Call Me Charlie, Ben Casey, and That's Life, died on May 18 2022 at the age of 86.

Linda Lawson was born Linda Spaziani on January 14 1936 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She was three years old when her family moved to Fontana, California. She began singing when she was still a child. After graduating from high school, she and her sister Diana moved to Las Vegas where she performed as a singer and dancer at the Sands Hotel. She later moved to Los Angeles where she worked as a studio messenger for MGM. It was while she was a studio messenger at MGM that she was discovered while in an elevator and given a screen test.

Linda Lawson made her television debut in an episode of Mike Hammer in 1958. She had a recurring role on Adventures in Paradise. In the late Fifties she also guest starred on Tales of Texas Rangers, Peter Gunn, Man with a Camera, Maverick, Five Fingers, Border Patrol, The Millionaire, Lock-Up, 77 Sunset Strip, Colt .45, Tombstone Territory, Mr. Lucky, Overland Trail, M Squad, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Richard Diamond Private Detective, The Tall Man, One Step Beyond, Wagon Train, Hawaiian Eye, Tales of Wells Fargo, and Sea Hunt. She made her feature film debut in The Threat in 1960. In 1960 she released a record album, Introducing Linda Lawson.

In the Sixties Linda Lawson was a regular on the short-lived sitcom Don't Call Me Charlie. She had a recurring role as social worker Laura Fremont during the fifth season of Ben  Casey. She guest starred on the shows Sea Hunt, Stagecoach West, The Aquanauts, The Rifleman, The New Bob Cummings Show, Perry Mason, Target: The Corruptors, The Real McCoys, Kraft Suspense Theatre, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Bonanza, The Virginian, and It Takes a Thief. She appeared in the movies Night Tide (1961), Apache Rifles (1964), Let's Kill Uncle (1966), and Mrs. Stone's Thing (1970). In the Seventies she appeared in the movie Sometimes a Great Nation (1971).

It was in 1968 that Miss Lawson married producer John Foreman. She retired from acting resumed acting following his death in 1992. In the Nineties she guest starred on Saved By the Bell: The New Class and Arli$$. She played the recurring role of Mrs. Paganini on the drama That's Life. She appeared in the movie Sunset Strip (2000). In the Naughts she guest starred on the shows Without a Trace, Dr. Vegas, and ER.

Linda Lawson was a very talented actress. In the Bonanza episode "To Own the World" she played Maria Hackett, the wife of a millionaire intent on destroying the Cartwrights, and convincingly stood up to Telly Savalas as the aforementioned millionaire. In the Rifleman episode, "Assault," she played Vashti Croxton, a headstrong woman who falsely accuses a travelling salesman of assaulting her. In the Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode "The Oldest Motive," she played a woman involved with an older, married man who is trying to break off their relationship. In her various appearances on television and in movies Linda Lawson played a wide variety of roles and she did all of them well.