Judy Garland may be perhaps one of the most (if not the most) iconic movie stars and performers of all time—and I don’t think that’s a statement that many people would dispute. Over a career that spanned nearly five decades, Garland showcased talent for song, dance, comedy and drama, you name it, though it is for her musicals that she is best remembered.
A large crowd gathered in Club TCM on Sunday afternoon to pay tribute to the legend (and, rather fittingly, just hours before tonight’s showing of The Wizard of Oz). I have always been a fan of Garland—like many people discovering her as a child during televised broadcasts of Oz and coming to love her with frequent viewings of Meet Me in St. Louis, The Harvey Girls and The Pirate—but being part of a crowd of fans, all gathered in celebration of her work, and to see clips that truly showcased her many talents, allowed everyone in the room to appreciate her in a new light.
The tribute was put together and hosted by John Fricke and featured clips that showcased her entire career from the more familiar (A Star is Born) to her dramatic turn in The Clock through to The Judy Garland Show (all in all, the videos roughly spanned the years 1929-1963). Fricke is the world’s per-eminent historian/author on The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland, who won an Emmy in 2004 as a co-producer on PBS American Masters program, Judy Garland: By Myself. He has also served as president, vice president and member of the board of directors for the International Wizard of Oz Club (for which he has also acted as editor in chief and contributing editor for its magazine, The Baum Bugle). His books include 100 Years of Oz: A Century of Classic Images, The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History, Judy Garland: World’s Greatest Entertainer, Judy: A Legendary Film Career, Judy Garland: A Portrait in Art and Anecdote and The Wonderful World of Oz: An Illustrated History of the American Classic.
As Fricke himself noted when he first got on the stage he was “preaching to the converted here today” (a comment that was met with laughs and cheers) as such collective excitement and anticipation of the crowd was one that can only happen when a group of fans get together. What followed was a compilation of moments from her film and television career, broken into 7 segments ranging from one of her first appearances on film (1929′s The Big Revue, with her sisters performing with her) to two performances from her 1960s television show. With each clip performance, the audience broke out into cheers and applause (which, according to Fricke, used to happen whenever her films were screened).
One of the more emotional moments from the piece came during the second segment, which focused on her work with frequent co-star Mickey Rooney. The clips were put together before Rooney’s passing last week, making one moment particularly moving to see: a clip from Garland’s first episode in which Rooney states that she “is the love of my life. My wife knows it, my wives know it.” And according to Fricke, when Garland was first approached to do the show she had one request, that Rooney had to do it with her. Getting to remember the work the two did together (all in all they appeared in 10 films together) was a fitting given that the day began with a Rooney tribute during a screening of National Velvet and will end with The Wizard of Oz.
But the moment that stood out most was a clip of Garland performing on her television show in which she sang “Old Man River” from Showboat (a film made after her time at MGM had ended). I have yet to have a chance to see all the episodes of the show—though I will most certainly be watching them now—and the power and beauty of Garland’s voice is on full display in this number. It was a truly emotional moment, one that the audience reacted to much more than they had for the others, starting to cheer as Garland hit her final, big note and continuing long after the clip had ended. It was the largest applause of any of the clips and a moment that everyone, not just Garland fans, should take the time to see.