Book Review- Judy: A Legendary Film Career
I have never considered myself a huge Judy Garland fan, but that’s not to say I don’t like her. I adore her. I respect her. I hold her in the highest regard. I suppose I never considered myself a fan because I do not feel worthy of that title. Honestly, like those who abused and exploited her, I have taken her for granted. She’s more than Dorothy, you know.
In the world of star biography and filmography, it’s rare to find a tribute that is not only well researched but also visually stunning. Judy: A Legendary Film Career by John Fricke is a perfect example of what a bio-filmography should be. Following a brief introduction, Fricke gives a short, but incredibly detailed history of Garland’s sometimes difficult upbringing. Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm to parents Frank and Ethel. “Baby” Gumm, as she was nicknamed, made her stage debut at just two years old. Through the years, Baby Gumm and her two older sisters performed at a number of theaters and in 1934, while performing in Chicago, The Gumm Sisters were discovered. During this time Ethel Gumm, who could easily be described as a “stage mom”, frequently gave her daughters stimulants to keep them working despite exhaustion. Likely unaware of the horrendous consequences of her actions, Ethel introduced Baby to a unhealthy pattern of overwork, exhaustion, medication, and crash dieting. This pattern would continue through Baby’s transformation into Judy Garland, her days at MGM, and up until her death at the age of 47. Judy’s relationship with her mother was strained, to say the least. However, Judy was incredibly close to her father, who faced significant demons of his own. When Frank died in 1935, Judy was devastated.
Fricke divides the filmography into four main sections, each highlighting a different era in Garland’s career. From her film debut in Pigskin Parade until her very last film I Could Go on Singing (with radio, television, and stage performances in between), Fricke provides incredibly in-depth information about each production. Cast and crew, filming budgets, reviews, photos, and anecdotes from co-stars, directors, producers accompany each film outline. The filmography is arranged chronologically and in between each section in the Garland timeline, Fricke gives insight into the personal triumphs and turmoils in that particular time of her life. And there were plenty of triumphs and turmoils. Even though her illness might have shown in her physical appearance, it very rarely affected her finished performance. That’s not to say she didn’t have difficulty getting to the point of finishing…
Throughout the 1940s Garland struggled immensely with her addiction to prescription drugs–a combination of diet pills/speed to get her up and going and sleeping pills to counteract the effects of the stimulants. Some periods in this decade were worse than others, in particular the unraveling of her marriage to second husband, director Vincente Minnelli. Even with her personal problems (which Fricke is very clear were not just Garland’s fault–studio heads at MGM most assuredly exploited her), she was still a top draw for MGM. That is until she was unable to fulfill contract obligations. After being fired from The Barkleys of Broadway and Annie Get Your Gun, Garland was released from her contract. Although she was considered largely unemployable, Garland had some of her best work ahead of her.
One thing I love about Judy: A Legendary Film Career is that Fricke doesn’t hide Garland’s flaws. With those flaws he celebrates her successes with such a defined passion (which only a true admirer could) that it’s hard not to immediately drop the book, put in one of her films, and bask in her infectious glow. Fricke also lists all the projects Garland lost or was rumored to have lost. This is something I always love reading about–the “what could have been” collaborations. Quotes about particular productions also renew my love for many of Garland’s co-stars and directors like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, George Cukor…and reaffirm my dislike of others like Ginger Rogers (yeah, that’s right. I don’t like Ginger Rogers). It’s refreshing to know that Kelly, Astaire, and Rooney loved Judy so much and understood her troubles. They, along with others, defended and protected her the best they could.
I absolutely loved Judy: A Legendary Film Career, and it was pleasure to read from start to finish. I highly recommend it for Judy Garland and classic film fans alike. This is the ultimate guide to Garland’s illustrious career and has the added bonus of looking wonderful on the bookshelf or table. Thanks to John Fricke, I feel like I possess the knowledge and respect to finally call myself a fan.
Judy: A Legendary Film Career
Running Press (Perseus Books)
Full Disclosure: I received a copy of Judy: A Legendary Film Career directly from the publisher, Running Press, which is an imprint of Perseus Books. I thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book.
Jill Blake is the owner of the classic film website Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence. She is also a co-founder and editor of the film site The Black Maria and film editor at CC2K. In 2012, she was interviewed on-air by Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz. In 2013, she was a featured guest on the TCM podcast. In her spare time Jill is a stay-at-home mom, wife, fried okra connoisseur, and the neighborhood’s own L.B. Jeffries.