Manuel Betancourt, on the movies, books, and films that shaped Judy Garland’s Judy at Carnegie Hall
For months on end all I read (and watched and thought about) was Judy Garland. I had no shortage of books and movies and interviews and magazine profiles and blog posts and zines and websites to choose from. I knew I could never read everything I needed, but that didn’t mean I didn’t try.
Judy at Carnegie Hall benefited immensely from the many talented writers (and filmmakers and actors and critics) who’ve spent years thinking about Garland. My book is by no means an exhaustive look at her life but I hope it inadvertently serves as a guided tour to decades’ worth of great writing on the beloved icon.
In case you’re looking for further reading/watching material, take a look at some of the key texts that informed my book.
Anne Edwards’ Judy Garland: A Biography & Gerald Clarke’s Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland
These were the two biographies I most relied on. Clarke’s is arguably the more exhaustive, giving readers a fascinating backstory about Garland’s parents that makes the book worth it but I sometimes enjoyed Edwards’s sensibility more. Perhaps it’s the fact that it came out in 1975 and thus had a historical closeness to its subject that I found more helpful than Clarke’s more robust 2000 tome.
Susie Boyt’s My Judy Garland Life
This was a book I almost stumbled upon. As its title suggests, this is Boyt’s memoir. Only, as she tells it, there’s no way of thinking and writing about her own life without looking at the impact Judy had on her. Since I knew I’d be exploring how the concert at Carnegie Hall embodied the close bond between Judy and her fans, Boyt’s memoir was a fascinating find — especially because so much of the work on Garland’s fandom has focused on her gay fanbase, with little or no writing devoted to the way straight women related to Judy.
Randy L. Schmidt’s collection Judy Garland on Judy Garland: Interviews and Encounters
There is nothing quite like reading primary sources. Fan and movie magazines in the late 1930s and 1940s were not only instrumental in building the Judy Garland image we all have come to love but they stand now as documents of Judy’s own voice. Thankfully, many of her printed interviews and written profiles from that time (and a few from her post-MGM life) can be found in Schmidt’s collection. As a researcher, this was a godsend, especially as many of these pieces are hard to find unless you have access to specific research collections scattered all over the U.S.
Richard Dyer’s Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society & Anne Helen Peterson’s Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema.
No discussion of Judy Garland and her iconic gay appeal is complete without Dyer’s seminal 1986 study of Hollywood stars, which devoted an entire chapter to the question that continues to animate many a discussion within gay circles: what is it about Judy that resonates with gay men? Similarly, there’s no better dissection of Judy’s girlhood image than Peterson’s dive into the way the young performer was molded during her years at MGM.
Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, The Boy from Oz: Original Broadway Recording
& Tracie Bennett Sings Judy: Songs from End of the Rainbow and Other Garland Classics
I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of the most recent big screen biopic centered on Judy which earned Renée Zellwegger an Oscar for her portrayal. That may be because, in doing research for Judy at Carnegie Hall, I came across three different projects based on Judy’s life that, in my mind, better captured her spirit: for an icon whose mannerisms and image are ubiquitous in pop culture given her many (many many!) films, the work of Judy Davis in the 2001 ABC miniseries based on Lorna Luft’s memoir about her mother, Isabel Keating’s portrayal in the 2003 Broadway production of The Boy from Oz, and perhaps, more to the point, Tracie Bennet’s take on Garland in Peter Quilter’s 2005 production of End of the Rainbow (the stage play that inspired 2019’s Judy) gave me an inkling not just into who Judy was but how she’s long been understood in popular culture. All three are worthy of standing side by side with Zellwegger’s melancholy take on Garland.
The Judy Room (http://www.thejudyroom.com/) & Garlands for Judy I can’t stress enough how valuable a site like The Judy Room is for anyone researching Judy. Lovingly tended to and clearly brimming with joy, the fan site is a repository of all things Judy. But it’s Garlands for Judy that deserves your attention. The free webzine, which is a continuation of a printed zine that began back in 1995, is as perfect an artifact if you want to understand how Garland’s fandom continues to honor and treasure the Wizard of Oz performer.
Craving more Judy content? Take a look at Judy Garland’s Judy at Carnegie Hall.