Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bonus Video: Jim Bailey Channels Judy Garland

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Jim Bailey could easily qualify as Judy Garland's publicist!

It always shocks me - if I haven't seen this clip for awhile - how utterly perfect Bailey's impersonation is; more than just a parodic pastiche of mannerisms and catch phrases, Bailey seems to become inhabited by the lady herself.

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Judy Garland on "What's My Line?"

One of the greatest revelations for the Pop Culture Institute during 2009 was the vast number of What's My Line? clips available on YouTube - including this one, starring the inimitable Judy Garland as the Mystery Guest for the week of March 5th, 1967. During its record-setting run (eighteen seasons from 1950 to 1967!) the Mark Goodson and Bill Todman produced effort attracted some of the biggest names in entertainment to the small screen.

As hosted by John Charles Daly, What's My Line? featured regular panelists - in this case Arlene Francis, Tony Randall, Susan Oakland, and Bennett Cerf - trying to either guess the unusual profession of a guest or (the special treat of the show) donning blind-folds and trying to guess the identity of the famous person doing their best not to be recognized. In Judy's case this meant no speaking at all - since her voice could never have possibly been concealed, so popular was it.

For entertainment historians as well these miniature kinescope time capsules often yield a couple of gems in and of themselves; in this case, Judy talks about having just come from her daughter's wedding... That the daughter in question was Liza Minnelli and the new son-in-law Peter Allen and the marriage in question a famously well-documented train-wreck adds more than a soupçon of amusement! Another throwaway quip has the obviously intoxicated Garland discussing her upcoming appearance as Helen Lawson in the film version of Jacqueline Susann's once-racy 1966 novel Valley of the Dolls*; in discussing her role, Garland claims her unsuitability for it, saying 'She's the only one in the book who doesn't take pills'.

*Alas, it wasn't to be; Garland proved uninsurable, and the role went to Susan Hayward. Susann was said to have based the novel's ingenue - Neely O'Hara, played in the film by Patty Duke - on the young Judy herself.
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"Let Me Entertain You/Two Lost Souls" by Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli

The Judy Garland Show is one of the great what-if's in the history of television... Yet for every what if it had been allowed to run longer than 26 episodes there is a somewhat comforting what if it had never been made in the first place as a consolation. The lesson we can derive from this is one which is apt in other spheres of life as well; we can choose to dwell on what might have been but never was, or we can simply celebrate what was, even if it seems like what little bit we got was fleeting, illusory, or just plain not enough to satisfy whatever need we needed it to fulfil.

In the case of The Judy Garland Show, what we also have is a bridge between the vaudeville of the 1920s in which Judy Garland had been raised - both her parents had been vaudevillians, and little Judy herself had trod the boards with her two siblings as the Gumm Sisters - and the Vegas era of the 1960s with its gaudy showmanship and appalling glibness. It was the same format applied to The Ed Sullivan Show, only sincere, and without Sullivan's seeming contempt for his guests. Debuting on the CBS network in September 1963, the show became a showcase for Judy's own idiosyncratic musical taste, which ran every gamut of popular music in the American idiom but never strayed from being entirely focused on providing entertainment.

Case in point: in the above clip we see the lady herself and her 17-year-old daughter Liza Minnelli in only the show's third episode (filmed July 7th and aired November 10th) working their best Emmett Kelly shtick together. The songs they assay - Let Me Entertain You and Two Lost Souls, the former from Gypsy and the latter from Damn Yankees - were undeniably popular, but hardly spoke of vaudeville* in and of themselves - that is, until Garland got a hold of them.

Unfortunately for Judy CBS had put her and her show up against ratings powerhouse Bonanza; while it garnered respectable enough ratings, it brought in just half the viewers its competition did. CBS chief William S. Paley, in his zeal to unseat the Cartwright clan, did not have the patience to let Garland's showcase of sentimental obscurities find its audience; then again, once reports of backstage difficulties** began getting back to him, the man known for valuing acquiescence over talent pulled the plug. The final episode aired in March 1964, and featured none of the gimmicks that had been tried yet failed to bring in viewers, but merely an hour with the lady herself doing what she did best - singing her heart out...

*Although Let Me Entertain You was, of course, intended to be evocative of burlesque - notably the lowest form of show business.
**As chronicled in the 1970 book The Other Side of the Rainbow, written by the show's musical arranger Mel Tormé.
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"Get Happy" by Judy Garland

Judy Garland's last musical for MGM was 1950's Summer Stock, in which Garland plays a fresh-faced farm girl who rents her barn out to a troupe of actors, so they can 'put on a show'. While plot-wise the film is a hoary cliche, in its execution it's a giddy comedy and something of a minor classic as well. Co-starring Gene Kelly (at the absolute peak of freshness), the leading couple are back up by a crew of seasoned veterans, including Eddie Bracken, Gloria DeHaven, Marjorie Main, and Phil Silvers; the film is also notable for Kelly's Newspaper Dance.

The scene in which Garland sings Get Happy was shot four months after the rest of the production had wrapped, and in the meantime she'd been in hospital and lost over twenty pounds, most of it as a result of a recurring liver ailment*. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most indelible moments of Garland's movie career.

*In addition to alcohol, Garland had long abused prescription medication, both of which cause bloating due to the inadequate drainage of bile over the long term.
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"Over The Rainbow" by Judy Garland

When the villainous Recording Industry Association of America and equivalently virtuous National Endowment for the Arts teamed up to select their Songs of the Century in 2001, Over the Rainbow topped the list; the ballad also made the top spot in the AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs in 2004.

Not bad for a song that has long been embraced as probably the first gay anthem... Yet clearly part of the song's enduring appeal is that it speaks to a wide variety of people in a wide variety of situations; it gives hope to the downtrodden, expresses thanks for those who've been uplifted, and its relatively simple lyrics express entirely complex emotions.

With music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, the song was (of course) made famous by Judy Garland in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz - from whence this clip is derived - yet it almost didn't make the cut. MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer thought the song slowed the picture down*. Fortunately, cooler (and more astute) heads prevailed; composer Arlen and producer Arthur Freed were able to convince him to leave the song in the picture.

The rest, as they say, is pop culture...

*Which just goes to show you what studio executives know...
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"Dear Mr. Gable/You Made Me Love You" by Judy Garland

Nearly seventy-five years separate us in the oh-so-cool present from the quaint, sentimental past represented by this clip; nowadays, of course, Judy Garland wouldn't so much be singing to a scrapbook full of Clark Gable's pictures as blogging about him with all the OMGs and WTFs and like, y'know's her little thumbs could muster. How better to bridge these two seemingly dissimilar eras, then, than to blog about this today, on what would have been her birthday?

Taken from Broadway Melody of 1938 - in which her mother is portrayed by none other than Sophie Tucker* - the touching number Dear Mr Gable/You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want To Do It) was a key early element in Judy's rise to stardom. Originally arranged (by longtime Garland collaborator Roger Edens) for her to sing to Gable at a birthday party thrown for him by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer brass, so charmed were those present by her performance that the song was included in the movie. Later still it became the b-side of Garland's famous 1939 recording of Over the Rainbow, which she'd sung so famously in The Wizard of Oz.

*Very apt casting in this blogger's opinion, given the similarity in their singing voices.
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In Memoriam: Judy Garland

Before she was America's Addict and America's Falling-Down Drunk, Judy Garland was America's Sweetheart; despite all her subsequent travails, it was the beauty and innocence of her very public childhood that seems to have preserved her at her best in the public's mind despite a tragic and very public self-destruction later in life...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketA child star (along with her sisters, 'Suzy' and 'Ginnie', as the Gumm Sisters) in a string of minor, mostly singing, roles throughout the mid-Thirties - mainly in one- and two-reelers, where she was considered 'the poor man's Deanna Durbin' - led to her being cast as Dorothy Gale in MGM's all-star adaptation of L. Frank Baum's classic children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; the film was a flop upon its initial release, which should give you some idea how ahead of its time it was. Nevertheless, it made her a star.

She met the Forties with verve, belting her way through a string of highly successful musicals such as Meet Me in St. Louis and The Harvey Girls, as well as tirelessly entertaining US and Allied troops over Armed Forces Radio; although no one knew it at the time, the heavy doses of amphetamines it took to keep her tirelessly entertaining (especially when countered with the barbiturates it took to bring her down again) sent Garland into the deadly spiral that would one day claim her life...

When her movie career got shaky after A Star is Born (1954) so great was her need to entertain that she took to the stage despite crippling stage fright, wowing audiences with a voice no auditorium in the world could contain. She made a few movies in the Sixties, but they were merely minor successes*, and eventually she became uninsurable, due to her failing health and increasing unreliability.

Yet through it all she kept her sense of humour about herself, and with a self-effacing wit - of the kind her daughter Liza Minnelli (by Garland's first husband, famed film and stage director Vincente Minnelli) has been turning into a grotesque parody of itself for years - Garland not only kept but grew her fan base through the lean years. It just goes to show how forgiving the public is; addiction, failed relationships, hospitalizations, rumours of being trouble to work with all mean nothing provided you don't start to take yourself too seriously, or start to believe the hype your own fans feed you. In Garland's case, her various comeuppances were very humbling indeed...

In the end it wasn't movies, records, or concerts but television which came to the rescue of her career, in September 1963; despite its troubled production**, The Judy Garland Show is today treasured by Garland's fans and scholars alike for its sheer entertainment value. Alas, television isn't about entertainment but pleasing sponsors, and the sponsors weren't pleased with the rumours of backstage chaos being circulated in the press and along the Hollywood grapevine. The show was cancelled in March 1964, after just 26 episodes.

There are those (myself included) who contend that her death, in June 1969, contributed substantially to the Stonewall Riots which began five days later, on the evening of her funeral. Whether or not that's true, I like contributing to the myth that the gay icon to end all gay icons played some, even indirect, role in helping us attain our current level of liberation. If only we'd been able to repay her by helping to liberate her from her considerable demons while keeping her alive.

Born on this day in 1922, Judy Garland died twelve days after her 47th birthday...

*And, in at least one instance - 1963's A Child Is Waiting - cult classics.
**At least according to Mel Tormé, whose 1970 book The Other Side of the Rainbow chronicled (some said unfairly) life backstage at the show.

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Happy Birthday Your Royal Highness

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Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, turns 89 today; His Royal Highness had a health scare in April 2008 (and ongoing health problems both before and since, it turns out, which have only recently come to light) but has since been occasionally seen in public looking his usual vigourous self following a recuperation at Windsor Castle. He still, for instance, carries out more than 300 official engagements a year, and as anyone connected with the many and varied charities, organizations, and appeals to which he lends his name will tell you, he is very hands-on indeed.

In addition to being the subject of numerous biographies - and being considered a living deity by certain villagers in Vanuatu - His Royal Highness has been portrayed on film by James Cromwell in the Academy Award-winning film The Queen, by David Threlfall in the 2005 TV-movie The Queen's Sister (first aired in the UK on Channel 4), and even as a fictional character in Nevil Shute's 1952 novel, In the Wet!
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"Hit The Road, Jack" by Ray Charles

When legendary performer Ray Charles hit the road on this day in 2004 Ray - the biopic of his life which would later earn Jamie Foxx an Academy Award - was about to be released; according to Foxx, Charles had 'seen' the film, and approved of the job its director Taylor Hackford had done, balancing the light of his talent with the darkness of his demons.

Here then, is one of Ray Charles' biggest early hits, Hit the Road Jack; written by Percy Mayfield, the song was first recorded by Charles in 1961, and is here performed by him and his trademark Raelettes.
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POPnews - June 10th

[If you're like me - and let's face it, would you be if you didn't have to be? - you like gawking at super fit college aged men clad only in revealing sporting costumes, all the while enjoying yourself a pleasant afternoon in an idyllic riverside setting... Which makes the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race the ideal way to combine my hobbies (and/or pervs). The image above shows a practice run by the Cambridge team in 1866 along the River Cam, near the Plough Inn at Fen Ditton. You know the place I mean. Anyway, that year Cambridge lost to Oxford - a race which included a dramatic near-collision with a barge!]

1190 - Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa drowned in Turkey's Saleph river while leading an army to Jerusalem on his way to fight the Third Crusade.

1619 - The Battle of Záblatí proved a turning point in the Bohemian Revolt during the Thirty Years' War when Karel Bonaventura Buquoy won the day for the Holy Roman Empire, while Ernst von Mansfeld suffered heavily losses in personnel and a baggage train as well, following which he was forced to lift the siege of Budějovice.

1692 - During the Salem Witch Trials, Bridget Bishop was hanged at Gallows Hill for 'certaine Detestable Arts called Witchcraft & Sorceries'. Which, I'm sure, is what Jesus would have done...

1719 - The Battle of Glen Shiel proved a decisive victory for its commander Joseph Wightman and put an end to the Jacobite Rising, whose commander Lord George Murray (among others) had hoped to put the Catholic Bonnie Prince Charlie on the throne of England as Charles III in place of the Protestant George I.

1786 - A landslide dam on the Dadu River created by the Kangding Louding earthquake ten days earlier collapsed, killing 100,000 in the Chinese province Sichuan province as far as 1400 km upriver, making it the second deadliest landslide on record.

1805 - Yussif Karamanli signed a treaty ending hostilities with the United States following the First Barbary War; try and guess whether or not that lasted...

1829 - The first Boat Race between the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge took place; annually pitting eights against each other on the River Thames since 1856 (and four times unofficially elsewhere during the Second World War) the brain-child of Charles Merivale, a student at St John's College, Cambridge, and his chum Charles Wordsworth, who was at Christ Church, Oxford, today the 6.8 km- (4 mile, 374 yard-) long race is attended by a quarter million spectators bankside along the course from Putney to Mortlake, while 7-9 million watch on telly in the UK, and more than 20 million people tune in worldwide.

1838 - At Australia's Myall Creek Massacre 28 Aboriginals were murdered near Inverell, a sheep station in New South Wales; seven of the 11 whites responsible were later found guilty, a first for Australian jurisprudence.

1886 - Following the eruption of New Zealand's Mount Tarawera, 153 people were killed and the country's famous Pink and White Terraces were destroyed.

1924 - Fascists kidnapped and killed Italian socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti in Rome, a crime which historians now believe was ordered by Il Duce himself, Benito Mussolini.

1925 - The inaugural service for the United Church of Canada - a union of Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregationalist churches - was held in Toronto Arena.

1935 - With the assistance of Bill Wilson, Dr. Robert Smith took his last drink, thereby helping to found Alcoholics Anonymous.

1942 - The Nazi occupiers of Czechoslovakia burned the village of Lidice in reprisal for the earlier killing of Reinhard Heydrich as part of Operation Anthropoid.

1944 - 15-year old Joe Nuxhall of the Cincinnati Reds became the youngest player ever in a Major League game.

1967 - The Six-Day War 'ended' when Israel and Syria agreed to a cease-fire... There are those, however, who feel a war cannot truly be over as long as one side continues to call for the death of all of those on the other side, in addition to all of their co-religionists throughout the world, and the total destruction of their country besides. I'm just saying, is all.

1977 - James Earl Ray escaped from Brushy Mountain State Prison in Petros, Tennessee; he was recaptured three days later.

1986 - Patrick Magee was found guilty of planting the bomb that damaged Brighton's Grand Hotel during a Conservative Party conference in October 1984, killing five.

2001 - Pope John Paul II canonized Lebanon's first female saint, Rafqa.

2003 - The Spirit Rover was launched, beginning NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission; it landed successfully the following January 4th, three weeks before its twin Opportunity landed on the other side of the planet.
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