Wednesday, June 5, 2019

What if Judy Garland Hadn’t Gone Over the Rainbow?

Imagine a long life and film career for Judy Garland, on the 50th anniversary of her passing.

When Doris Day found out in 2017 that she was actually born in 1922, not 1924 as she thought, Day became officially born the same year as Judy Garland.
How ironic that Doris Day passed away May 13, 2019, having celebrated her 97th birthday April 3, as we commemorate 50 years since Judy Garland’s passing on June 22, 1969. This connection made me wonder: “What if Judy Garland had lived a happy and healthy life? What if she had kept on working? What if Judy had lived as long as 97?”
Doris Day and Judy Garland on the set of 'A Star is Born,' with James Mason.
It's amazing to think that Doris outlived Judy by 50 years!

Don’t laugh. Judy’s Harvey Girls co-star Angela Lansbury was born just three years later than Garland and still works. There’s Tony Bennett, who was born four years after Judy, and has worked with generations of younger performers.
Tony Bennett with Judy on her 1963 TV series. Just four years younger than Judy, Tony is still going strong as of 2019!

It’s interesting that Doris Day essentially retired in 1975, after her TV special, Doris Day Today. This was a mere six years after Judy Garland died. However, like Elizabeth Taylor, Day found a mid-life cause that was close to her heart, and it became her second career: advocate for animals. Doris certainly could have continued working in show business, had she chose. And if Judy had lived a stable life, she could have, as well.
MGM stars Lena, Frank, and Judy when they were young. If Judy had lived a happy & healthy life,
Garland would have enjoyed as long a career as both Horne and Sinatra did.

I started thinking, what roles could Judy Garland have played had she kept her health, looks, and most importantly, her voice?  I’m just riffing on “What if?” For those who say that her tragedies were part of her persona, let’s imagine that Judy was just your average long-lived superstar with the usual amounts of dry spells and comebacks—like Garland pals Frank Sinatra or Lena Horne, for instance. Just play along and pretend that Judy had enjoyed a long life and career. Please don’t take my film role suggestions as perfect only for Judy Garland, or as a slam to the actresses who played the parts—though in some cases, Judy would have been an obvious improvement! I just think that Garland would have been a viable possibility for the films I bring up, especially if she had retained her superstar status, like the later Barbra Streisand.
This is said to be Judy's last publicity photo for MGM. If only the reality of Garland's life matched this lovely photo.

In reality, it is a jolt to think that Judy Garland was just 28 when she was finished at MGM. Or only 34 when Garland made her first and greatest comeback, the ‘54 remake of A Star is Born. (Doris Day would have been much fresher as the up and coming star, than Judy at this point—yes, I know I’ll catch hell for writing that!) Or that Judy was just over 40 when she made her last big comeback, on her legendary TV variety show.
An elegant shot of '50s Judy Garland by Richard Avedon. THIS is how I picture Judy as a '50s film star.

Yet, if Judy Garland had been of sound mind and body, she would have not been replaced on two Fred Astaire movies, 1949’s The Barkleys of Broadway and ‘51’s Royal Wedding, both varying successes. The biggie that Judy was dismissed from was 1950’s Annie Get Your Gun. A Broadway smash for Ethel Merman, this should have been a guaranteed Garland hit. If Judy had been stable, she would have been in a strong bargaining position over issues that upset her, namely director Busby Berkeley. Instead, Garland’s never-ending issues got her fired. The part of Annie Oakley would have given Judy a fine opportunity to show off her raucous humor and sing the hell out of Annie’s classic tunes. I wonder why MGM borrowed Paramount’s high-strung Betty Hutton as a replacement, rather than Doris Day, who later played her own western gal at WB, as Calamity Jane!
The ’51 remake of Showboat was a property earmarked for Garland, though MGM was concerned about how to beef up the secondary role of Julie Laverne for Judy. Regardless the size, it was a juicy part, with two great torch songs, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill.” Julie would have been a change of pace for Judy, with glamour and tragedy. It became a huge MGM hit, with Ava Gardner giving a great performance as the tragic singer. (PS- I never believed Lena Horne’s oft-repeated tale that she was to play Julie, until MGM got cold feet.)
Here is my own “what if?” list for Judy Garland:
A more dramatic but still musical Judy for "I'll Cry Tomorrow?"

I’ll Cry Tomorrow, 1955. If Garland had still been at Metro, Judy would certainly have been given the role of troubled alcoholic singer Lillian Roth. The songs, the men, the mother-daughter drama, would have been a field day for Judy. And casting Judy in Cry could have been the same dramatic departure for her that MGM’s same year musical drama Love Me or Leave Me was for Doris Day.
South Pacific, 1958. I always found Mitzi Gaynor as Nellie Forbush a bit of a puzzler, since she wasn’t really big box office, or even in films much longer after this film. Again, I wonder why Doris Day wasn’t sought out, though I have read questionable Hollywood anecdotes as to why. Had Judy maintained her film status, she might have been a great Nellie Forbush, too. This also would have been a great chance for Judy to play a mature romantic, instead of the gushing ingénue. I can just imagine Garland performing “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.” And who wouldn’t want to hear Judy sing “Some Enchanted Evening?” Though some dismissed her as too old, Judy was just 36 at the time, the same age as when Mary Martin played it to acclaim on Broadway.
Picture Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli as Mama Rose and Gypsy.

Gypsy, 1962. Mama Rose is THE film role Judy should have played. She was about the same age as the real Mama, vaudeville was her background, and she had a stage mother of her own as a reference point. And how mind-blowing if daughter Liza Minnelli had played Gypsy—again the right age for the role—imagine that! Aside from the talent of the mother-daughter duo, the dynamic would have been so powerful. To those who claim Merman was robbed of a chance to recreate her greatest role on film, they don’t call it show business for nothing. Ethel already had two chances at Hollywood stardom and never really went over with movie audiences. Too broad, in every sense! If Judy had it together, instead of creating off-stage drama on WB’s A Star is Born, Jack Warner certainly would have picked her for Mama Rose over Rosalind Russell, who had just recently given WB a big hit with Auntie Mame. While Rose was The Merm’s finest hour on Broadway, Judy at her acting and vocal best would have been just as great, on film.
I see this photograph and imagine Judy belting out "Rose's Turn" from 'Gypsy!'

Hello, Dolly! 1969. Imagine if Judy had kept her box office clout—remember that Doris Day was then still playing leading ladies. 47-year-old Judy Garland could have made a great Dolly Levi, the middle-aged widow matchmaker, instead of 27-year-old Barbra Streisand, who had just ONE movie under her belt. Ironically, this came out the year that Judy died, when in an alternate reality, she could have been the go-to star with box office prestige to carry one of these behemoth ‘60s musicals, when studios were routinely miscasting stars like Babs, Clint Eastwood, and Vanessa Redgrave in the name of box office insurance. Judy’s droll humor, warmth, big personality and voice would have taken the sting out of Carol Channing not getting to play her Broadway role on film.
This elegant shot of Judy Garland makes me think she'd have made a fine 'Mame!'

Mame, 1974.  I can visualize Judy at her most Kay Thompson-esque elegant as Auntie Mame. At 52, Garland still would have been younger than Lucille Ball! I read comments by fans who still wail over the fact that Angela Lansbury was robbed of her Broadway triumph, proving that she could be a leading lady. Yes, onstage. At the time, Angela had not yet become a household name with Murder, She Wrote, and all the lovely work that followed because of that new-found fame. Lansbury recalled Judy visiting her backstage during Mame’s Broadway run, saying, “Angie, I’d give anything to play this part.” Lansbury tried to be encouraging, but they both knew why it could never be. I recall reading that the show’s producers wanted Judy to do a touring production, but were wary because she was such a reliability liability. I bet if Garland had been still around and on her best game, she would have nailed the movie Mame.
Here's Judy, looking more like Vera Charles than Mame, with former co-star Angela Lansbury in NYC. Judy was performing in concert and Angela in her stage triumph, 'Mame.' Just three years younger than Judy,
Lansbury is still working in 2019!

A Little Night Music, 1977.  Picture Judy Garland at 55, as a sophisticated actress of a certain age: romantic in beautiful period gowns, bittersweet and wistful, and singing Send in the Clowns. Personally, I’d also imagine someone other than director Hal Prince, fine onstage/failure on film, directing this cinema version of Stephen Sondheim’s classic. Could Vincente Minnelli have mustered one more charming musical? Stanley Donen? Or, how about Mike Nichols?
A sophisticated Judy as Desiree Armfeldt, singing 'Send in the Clowns?' YES!

Just think of how many miscast musicals alone Judy could have saved! But let’s not forget that Judy was also a strong dramatic performer. And that Garland had a flair for comedy, too. It’s been written that Judy was considered for The Three Faces of Eve. What about Judy in Tennessee Williams, as Alexandra Del Lago, in Metro’s Sweet Bird of Youth? Would Judy have been teamed with Jack Lemmon? Dick Van Dyke? Both were just three years younger than Garland. Judy certainly would have re-teamed in the ‘50s with Gene or Fred in some Metro musical. What about a Judy movie with Sinatra or Dino? The trio was so great together on the TV special that got Garland her TV series. Would she have worked with Fosse or Sondheim? Would Bob Fosse have cooked up a musical for Judy and Liza? Would Judy have been singing “I’m Still Here” in Follies? Would Judy have teamed up with Barbra again on a TV special, after Streisand had made one of her early appearances on Garland’s show? The possibilities seem endless.
Imagine Judy Garland without all the emotional baggage from having been a show biz baby, born in a trunk, and singing for her (and everyone else’s) supper. Imagine Judy not addicted to pills and booze. Imagine Garland not prematurely aged and deceased. Some say that tragedy was a key part of the Judy mystique. Maybe, but I prefer my legends long-lived, creative, and happy. I’m not a fetishist for stars who die young and tragically. I always wonder what could have been.
Happy endings often happen only in Hollywood movies, not in real life. Doris Day was one of the lucky few to get hers. I just wish that Judy Garland had got happy, and got a happy ending, too. To quote Hemingway’s unhappy ending in The Sun Also Rises, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
A lovely daydream: A long life, on camera and off, for Judy Garland. Luckily, she's still remembered and revered.



  1. All true....and possible if she had the idea of preservation over the long haul. Imagine Judy on an early health food kick....taking yoga. maybe later she would have had just a bit of work done by the best plastic surgeon. Others did it but it was too late and the outside pressures and the times (benzedrine was advertised and widely accepted). Mostly I mourn the other two panels of the Judy-Fred Astaire triptych. We really lost two works of art for the ages there...based on the results of Easter Parade. Nice to extend that. Thanks for an enjoyable read!

    1. Glad you liked my "What if?" piece. And yes, very few stars back then were into self-care and healthy living... Doris Day, Ginger Rogers, and Gloria Swanson were the few that come to mind. Everyone smoked and drank to relax, and pills were considered the innovation of that era. Even among common folk, though stars took it to an extreme. Cheers, Rick

  2. I actually love Streisand as Dolly, never feeling she was miscast. But wow, what Judy would have done! And GYPSY- again, I love Roz as Rose but...imagine Judy singing that score, with the WB orchestra???? And her Rose's turn would have melted the screen!

    1. Totally agree, and while the actresses in question had their moments, I think Judy could have wowed in Dolly, Gypsy, Mame, and Night Music! Cheers, Rick

  3. MAME- that was a pity. I read that Jerry Herman actually had her sing the songs in preparation for doing the role, and THEN she was told she wasn't
    Being used! BTW I love your blog!!

    1. Thanks, Mike! Appreciate it. I think Jerry would have liked her as Mame. Thought I read a London production for Judy, but the producers worried about her reliability after meeting her... Cheers, and feel free to follow the blog if you haven't already. Cheers, Rick

  4. She would have been FABUOUS as Gypsy! And I most certainly would have preferred her over Lucille Ball in Mame. We will always be grateful for the Judy Garland that we did have in such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Easter Parade and Meet me In St. Louis!

    1. Indeed! Judy's batting average was pretty high. Wouldn't have been awesome if she had been healthy and happy and kept on going?
      Cheers and thanks for writing...

  5. Love this post. I agree with all of your choices. I also think she would have been a great guest star. Could you imagine her on Colombo or Murder She Wrote!

    1. Hi
      Sure, I didn't even get into the TV thing much. Judy could have had annual Christmas specials with family and famous friends. Quality TV movies. Fun guest shots. Had Judy been a stable star, I think projects aimed at mature musical performers would have automatically gone to her, like the way Meryl gets everything for older actresses. Thanks for writing and the kind words! Rick