Judy Garland’s tragically short life of 47 years was made up of three phases that were separated by her triumphant performances in The Wizard of Oz in 1939 and A Star is Born in 1954. Visitors to the Redford Theatre were treated to these two movies on August 12 and 13, 2016, and gained more appreciation for the evolution and the full range of Garland’s talents.
They saw Garland’s unique mixture of joyfulness, optimism, and vulnerability. These parts of her personality and many more were expressed through her acting, dancing, and of course, that big beautiful voice.
Film historian David Shipman called The Wizard of Oz and A Star is Born two of the three “miracle” films in Garland’s career, along with Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).
These movies were shown at the Redford as a unique package of entertainment. A Star is Born was screened as the 8 p.m. movie on Friday and Saturday. The Wizard of Oz was the latest movie in the series of Saturday afternoon children’s movies that the Redford has tried this summer.
This programming was identical to the programming used when the Redford started its classic film series in the summer of 1977. It also echoed the Kiddie Matinees that were shown at the Redford in the 1950s.
Judy Garland has to be one of the most beloved personalities in movie history. I could hear that love in the voices of many of the people who stopped by a historical display table that I set up at the Redford for the two movies.
The widescreen Technicolor 35-millimeter print of A Star is Born that was shown by the Redford made Garland almost come to life. She seemed so real up there on the big screen, enhancing the personal connection with her that was felt by many of the audience members.
It was amazing to see how Garland evolved from The Wizard of Oz to A Star is Born. She went from a fresh-faced, innocent teenager to a confident, assertive adult. But in both movies, you could see the same glow of warmth that she generously shared with the movie audience.
Garland was only 17 when The Wizard of Oz was released in 1939, and it was fair to wonder how she would grow as an artist. In the 1940s, she responded with a series of memorable performances in movies like Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), The Harvey Girls (1946), Easter Parade (1948), and Summer Stock (1950).
But her working relationship with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer soured, and in the early 1950s, she expressed her talents in successful stage shows in London and New York.
A Star is Born was an attempt to make a film comeback, with help from a new Warner Bros. contract and producer/husband Sidney Loft. The vehicle for this comeback was a musical remake of the famous 1937 drama A Star is Born, which starred Janet Gaynor in the role that Garland would play.
A Star is Born now stands as a permanent record of Judy Garland’s incredible range of show business talents. It shows how she had grown as a stage performer in the early 1950s. It also helped show off dramatic acting skills that weren’t used much during her MGM years.
Two extended sequences provided the biggest spotlight for her stage talents—the “Born in a Trunk” number and the production number that Garland demonstrates for husband James Mason in their home.
Credit must also be given to Mason for the high quality of A Star is Born, which was the restored three-hour version that was released in 1983. This year I enjoyed big screen showings of two of Mason’s best performances, in A Star is Born at the Redford and in Julius Caesar at the Michigan Theater (Bard of the Screen).
It was en emotionally fulfilling weekend at the Redford. I hadn’t seen A Star is Born for a few years, and on Friday night I reacquainted myself with the plot and performances. On Saturday night, I anticipated with pleasure the many high points of the film.
That Saturday night screening also felt like a trip in a time machine, after watching a much younger Garland in The Wizard of Oz just a few hours earlier.
More than 500 people attended The Wizard of Oz that afternoon, many of them enthusiastic children who might have been seeing the movie on the big screen for the first time. But many older people also came to the movie, re-affirming the truth of the dedication of the movie to the “Young in Heart.”
For different reasons, Garland made only three more movies after A Star is Born, and died of an accidental overdose of sleeping pills in 1969. Anyone who’s read about Judy Garland knows about the mixed blessings of her talents; how the vulnerability and fragility in her screen personality was in part a reflection of her personal life.
But moviegoers are eternally blessed with the many beautiful performances that she gave, including the two on August 12 and 13, 2016 that sent Redford audiences out of the theater with smiles on their faces and songs in their hearts.
Copyright © 2016 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.