Sunday, December 8, 2019

Judy Garland Music Break

This years, the Academy Awards season will seem more hectic and shorter than ever. The Oscar nominations will be announced on Monday, January 13th. Millions of us grew up seeing the Oscars telecast live on TV around tax time in April. Now, they've been pushed way earlier. The Super Bowl game is on Sunday, February 2nd. The Oscars will be held the following Sunday on February 9th. Starting in the summer, there was hot buzz from critics that Renee Zellweger is destined to be a Best Actress Oscar nominee for playing the latter-day 1960s Judy Garland in JUDY. Let's hear some music from Judy Garland herself when she was Queen of the MGM Musicals -- a sensational talent who could sing, dance and act and who had been under contract to that powerful studio ever since 1935 when she 13. At age 16, in 1938, she began shooting THE WIZARD OF OZ, the 1939 release that would make her a definite profitable new star on the lot. If you're a devotee of classic film history, you know that Garland had begun filming, but was later dropped from, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. Top Paramount Pictures musical comedy star Betty Hutton replaced her in the 1950 release. Vincente Minnelli's MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS took Garland's MGM star status to a higher level. That musical hit was followed by another musical hit, THE HARVEY GIRLS. Another big box office hit, Irving Berlin's EASTER PARADE teaming Garland with Fred Astaire, would be in the wings for 1948. To give you an idea of how much work this young woman did in that Hollywood dream factory, think about this: Producer Pandro S. Berman, the man behind the famous RKO musicals starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the 1930s, wrote a letter complimenting Ginger's work to the president of RKO. He noted that performing in musicals was five times harder work than dramas. In the 1940s, when she transitioned from her late teens to her 20s, Judy Garland had starred in more musicals as a singer, dancer and actress than future Best Actress Oscar winners Barbra Streisand, Julie Andrews and Liza Minnelli (Garland's daughter) have in their entire film careers.

In her 15 years at the studio, she starred in only one drama. Also, after the successful MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, she married director Vincente Minnelli and started a family (Liza). So, she was then a working mom. When Garland was a reigning queen of musicals, she did a 1947 radio appearance. She sang a song from a new Irving Berlin Broadway hit starring Ethel Merman. The Broadway show was ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, a musical that premiered in 1946. With a musical arrangement by Kay Thompson, Judy Garland lit up the house with a swingin' version of "I Got the Sun in the Morning."

I wonder if that rendition made MGM executives say, "We've got to buy that Broadway musical project for Judy!"

THE WIZARD OF OZ was a success but it didn't make as much money in 1939 as other MGM films did. Why? Because most of the people who packed the audiences were youngsters. The ticket admission for kids was smaller than the ticket price for adults. When WWII was over, MGM re-released THE WIZARD OF OZ in 1949 and it did excellent business at the box office. MGM made money. This probably gave execs the idea to reteam "Dorothy" and "The Wizard" for ANNIE GET YOUR GUN duty in 1949. Frank Morgan of THE WIZARD OF OZ was cast as Buffalo Bill opposite Garland as Annie Oakley. Unfortunately, Morgan died early in the 1949 production stages. He was replaced by Louis Calhern. Irving Berlin had written a new song for Garland to introduce in the film version of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. Annie would sing this while on tour in Europe and she's homesick for the U.S.A. The song is called "Let's Go West Again."

Click onto this link to hear Judy sing it:

When Betty Hutton replaced Judy Garland in the project, she recorded "Let's Go West Again," but it was not used in the movie.

In the late 1990s, I interviewed writer Sidney Sheldon when I was a regular on GOOD DAY NEW YORK, the live Fox5 weekday morning show. He'd been on our show a few times to promote his novels.  In the green room, after the interview, I asked him about ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. He did the screenplay. He'd done the screenplay for EASTER PARADE and loved Judy's talent. At the time MGM scheduled ANNIE GET YOUR GUN to start production, Garland had been physically and emotionally exhausted. She'd had a sanitarium stay. Sheldon told me she still wasn't quite up to her usual performance level. He felt that if the studio had given her just two more weeks off, she'd have been in great form. He added that she could belt out a tune and be funny like Merman. But Merman could not be feminine and vulnerable like Judy. She always came off like an umpire calling a game at Yankee stadium. So, as a writer, Sheldon could've brought out a tenderness in Annie that Judy could play quite well. Garland, knowing this was a character part, wanted to find a way to play Annie without seeming like she was copying Merman.
Garland pre-recorded songs, had costume fittings and started shooting ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. But the production had its problems.
Sadly, the corporate side of the business was not sympathetic to the artist. Only in her 20s and exhausted, her performance was not of her usual quality. She was replaced. It's a damn shame that a wpman so talented was worked so hard that she was worn out before she was 30. She'd leave MGM in 1950. However, she'd make a spectacular, Oscar-nominated Hollywood comeback in the 1954 musical drama from Warner Bros., A STAR IS BORN.


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