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Susie Boyt has been a fan of the legendary Judy Garland – who died five months after Boyt was born – for as long as she can remember. In this book, she talks about her own life (although this is not an autobiography) and how her love of Garland has affected her.

WARNING: This review is probably going to become a rant!

I expected to like this book. I wanted to like it, I really did. But I couldn’t. Not only did I dislike the book, I actually got annoyed and irritated with it. I had expected an amusing memoir about fan-worship of a star, with a metaphorical rolling of the eyes by the author at the lengths she would go to in the name of that fan-worship. What I actually read was a lot of self-indulgent, over analytical wittering. (Perhaps I should partly blame myself for not realising beforehand what type of book this was.)

Lets make no bones about this – the author is not just a fan of Judy Garland, she is obsessed (something which she herself acknowledges). Baking a pie? She instantly thinks of a speech from a Garland film where Garland likens herself to a pie, and recites the speech over and over in her head, desperately making sure she has the words right. Washing up? Remember that scene where Judy Garland washed up? And it’s not enough to just remember the scene – Boyt analyses the scene and breaks it down – what did it mean? What was Judy conveying? Boyt mentions kind words spoken by characters played by Judy Garland and attributes them to Garland herself, seemingly unable to distinguish between Garland and the character. She also sends out questionnaires to other Judy-fans (the hyphen is important; Boyt mentions her Judy-work, her Judy-friends, etc.) asking such questions as ‘What has Judy taught you?’ ‘What qualities do you share with Judy?’ ‘What would you have done to help Judy if you could?’ ‘What would you say to Judy if you could?’ and so on.

She also divides Garland’s fans into bad fans (apparently those who dare to make a point about Garland’s drug use or other personal problems), good fans (those who only focus on the positive aspects of Judy Garland’s life) and crazy-good fans. She mentions one ‘crazy-good fan’ who wrote to Grace Kelly’s family shortly after Grace died tragically young and unexpectedly, and demanded that Grace’s Oscar which she won for The Country Girl, be sent to the Garland family where it truly belonged (Kelly and Garland were both nominated for the Oscar and Kelly, controversially, won). Is that a good fan? Not to me – crazy maybe; rude, spiteful, downright insensitive, definitely.

The author acknowledges her own obsession with Garland, and also acknowledges that other people may have different obsessions. On which subject she says, “It is possible that the object of your obsession is unequal to your heroic feelings, as mine will never be and that you are a tiny bit (and I whisper this) misguided in your choice, but your feelings are good and true, I see that.” Blimey! Patronising much? I recognise that Boyt was perhaps saying that to the obsessive, nobody else’s obsession can ever match up, but all the same, this was the point where I almost abandoned this book. (Later on, she describes doing ‘Judy-work’ in a library and looking round at the other patrons, who are doing their own work. They are swiftly dismissed with “it’s clear they just don’t love their work as I do….”)

Boyt also met with Garland’s daughter, Liza Minelli, to whom she complained that people were only ever interested in her father (Boyt’s father is the late artist, Lucien Freud). Minelli said that she understood exactly how that felt, in an obvious reference to people only being interested in Judy Garland. “But, but, but….” I thought, “Isn’t that exactly what Susie Boyt is doing? She is only interested in Liza Minelli because of who her mother is, and yet she complains about that behaviour in other people.”

Everything was taken so personally in this book; after Garland’s death, her friend Mickey Rooney said that if people had taken her to their hearts a bit earlier, she might still be alive. Boyt says that she takes this as a personal reproach, although she acknowledges that she was just five months old when Judy Garland died.

Boyt hates it that people exploited Judy Garland, but yet this whole book felt slightly exploitative. Garland is used an excuse for Boyt to wax lyrical about her own thoughts. Garland’s addiction to drugs is the basis for Boyt writing about sympathy, the nature of sympathy, when sympathy should be given and who by, and what form it should take (what is bad sympathy and what is good sympathy). This confused me – doesn’t the giving of sympathy depend on a lot of things? What kind of person the sympathiser is; what kind of person they are sympathising with is, what has happened to elicit sympathy, the relationship between the two people, etc. etc.

This is not the book to read if you want to find out more about Judy Garland – I would recommend you find a good biography instead, if that is your aim. There are aspects of Garland’s life contained within, but it seems to be written for people who are already very familiar with her life.

Sorry for the rant. We all have books we like and don’t like, but it’s rare for a book to actually annoy me to this extent. I never give up on a book once I’ve started it, so I did see this one through to the bitter end, but unfortunately I don’t feel able to recommend it to anyone else.

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Another classic musical from the MGMs golden age, starring the immensely talented Judy Garland (it’s a good job she is multi-talented too, because a lesser star would have had the show stolen from right under her nose by Margaret O’Brien as adorable Little Tootie).  This isn’t strictly a Christmas film, but it does feature Judy singing ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, so it almost counts!

Set in 1904, the Smith family live in St Louis and are excited about the yearly St Louis World’s Fair.  Judy plays Esther, the second eldest daughter and one of five children.  The aforementioned 7 year old Margaret O’Brien is youngest child Tootie, and anyone who thinks that children can’t be exceptional actors should see this film!  While eldest daughter Rose (Lucille Bremer) hopes for a proposal from her boyfriend Warren Sheffield (Robert Sully), Esther falls in love with the family’s new neighbour John Truitt.  The family’s happiness is threatened when their father (Leon Ames) announces the he has been given a job in New York, and the family will have to move there.  There are some superb songs – the title track, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Skip To My Lou and The Trolley Song, to name a few – and there is lots of colour, romance and humour.

This isn’t my favourite Judy Garland film – I think the lesser known films The Harvey Girls and The Pirate are both better movies – but it is hugely enjoyable and bound to make the viewer feel good.  Judy looks beautiful, and there is not a weak link among the cast.  And it made me want to visit St Louis!

Recommended for all fans of great musicals.

Year of release: 1944

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Writers: Sally Benson (book), Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finklehoffe, Doris Gilver, Victor Heerman, William Ludwig, Sarah Y. Mason

Main cast: Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames, Tom Drake, Marjorie Main, Henry Davenport, Joan Carroll, Henry H. Daniels Jr.

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In this delightful musical from 1946, Judy Garland plays Susan Bradley, a young woman from Ohio, travelling to a western town to marry a man she has only ever spoken to by post. On the train, she meets a group of young women who are planning to open a Harey House restaurant in the town. When she and her suitor realise that they are actually completely wrong for each other, she joins the Harvey girls…but the staff and customers of the nearby Alhambra saloon resent the presence of the restaurant. And further complications ensue when Susan finds herself drawn to Ned Trent (John Hodiak), the owner of the saloon…

Judy Garland starred in a number of hit movie musicals, probably most notably Meet Me In St Louis and The Wizard of Oz. The Harvey Girls is somehow often overlooked, and that’s a shame because it really is a lovely, funny and sweet film from MGM, the studio that produced all the best musicals of the era. Garland is perfectly cast as Susan Bradley, a young woman with grit and determination, and no shortage of humour! John Hodiak is handsome and charismatic as the man who she falls for despite herself. It’s also worth mentioning that some great supporting roles are played by Angela Lansbury, Cyd Charisse and Virginia O’Brien (although O’Brien seems to disappear halfway through the film; this was due to her real life pregnancy). Some of the songs are terrific, and there is a real sense of joy permeating through the film.  And if you like fabulous dancing, check out Ray Bolger’s incredible dance – the energy and choreography is amazing.

The ending, when it comes, is no great surprise – but how often is anyone surprised by the ending of romantic comedy musical?! And in any event, any other ending would have not felt right.

If you like musicals and haven’t seen this one yet, I’d definitely recommend that you do so. Garland looks stunning, and plays her role with aplomb; the supporting cast are great; the whole thing is colourful and cheerful – it’s well worth a watch!

Year of release: 1946

Director: George Sidney

Writers: Samuel Hopkins Adams (book), Eleanore Griffin, William Rankin, Edmund Beloin, Nathaniel Curtis, Harry Crane, James O’Hanlon, Samson Raphaelson, Kay Van Riper

Main cast: Judy Garland, John Hodiak, Angela Lansbury, Cyd Charisse, Virginia O’Brien

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This 1948 MGM musical teamed up Gene Kelly and Judy Garland, who had displayed such on-screen chemistry in For Me And My Gal (and who went on to work together again).  The pairing certainly worked – perhaps never better than in this film.

Garland is Manuela, a young Spanish girl, whose hand in marriage her family have promised to Don Pedro, the mayor of their small town.  However, Manula has always dreamed about infamous pirate Macoco.  When Serafin (Gene Kelly) arrives in town with his travelling stage show, he meets and falls for Manuela, and pretends that he is in fact Macoco, in order to win her affection.

This film is flamboyant, colourful and in many ways, completely over-the-top – and it is incredible fun to watch.  The stars themselves seem to revel in their roles; they’re melodramatic and intense, and it just works so well.  I was laughing all the way through – the funniest scene for me was when Manuela and Serafin have an argument – the action is terrific and hilarious.

Many people say this was Gene Kelly’s sexiest role – and he certainly makes the most of it.  His tight fitting outfits show off his amazing physique, and at one part he wears some short shorts which (excuse me being shallow for a moment) really show off his incredible thighs!  Additionally, Kelly does an amazing pole dance – yes, you read that right – near the beginning of the film.   There are plenty of other fine dance numbers including Kelly’s dance with the Nicholas brothers, and Kelly and Garland performing Be A Clown; and a terrific Cole Porter score (Judy performing ‘Mack The Black’ is a real treat).

This is a real treat to watch – definitely recommended!

Year of release: 1948

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Writers: Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, S.N. Behrman, Joseph Than

Main cast: Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Gladys Cooper, Walter Slezak

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Another great MGM musical, this one made in 1948.  MGM described it as “the happiest musical ever made.”  (This may have been a valid claim at the time, but then Singin’ In The Rain came along, and I don’t know a happier movie than Singin’.)

Fred Astaire plays Don Hewes (originally Gene Kelly was supposed to star as Don, but injured his ankle and personally requested that Astaire play the part).  Don is part of a song and dance couple, but when his partner Nadine Hale (Ann Miller) leaves him, he hires Hannah Brown (Judy Garland) as his new partner.  In a story vaguely reminiscent of Garland’s role in For Me and My Gal, in which she starred with Gene Kelly, Hannah falls in love with Don, but still feels threatened by his previous partnership with Nadine.

The storyline of course is really a way to string together some lovely songs and dances. Of particular note are Don’s ‘Drum Crazy’ dance, his ‘Steppin’ Out With My Baby’ dance, and the ‘A Couple of Swells’ number performed by Astaire and Garland.

Hannah sings some lovely songs, and looks gorgeous as well.  Ann Miller plays a rather unlikeable character, but there’s no denying that her tap dance in the number ‘Shakin’ The Blues Away’ is anything less than terrific.

This certainly is a happy movie, and there’s plenty of numbers which will get your toes tapping.  The score by Irving Berlin is lovely, with some instantly recognisable numbers.  Well worth watching.

Year of release: 1948

Director: Charles Walters

Writers: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Sidney Sheldon, Guy Bolton

Main cast: Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Ann Miller, Peter Lawford

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This 1942 musical is set during the popular vaudeville era, and follows the fortune of performers in the lead up to World War I.  It is notable for being the big-screen debut of Gene Kelly as Harry Palmer (co-star Judy Garland lobbied for Kelly to have the male lead role, after seeing him on Broadway in Pal Joey.  Originally Kelly was meant to play the supporting role of Jimmy Metcalfe; George Murphy was originally supposed to play Palmer).

Palmer is a solo dancer and comedian in vaudeville shows, with dreams of making the big time and playing The Palace in New York.  Jo Hayden (Garland) is a dancer in Jimmy Metcalfe’s act, and also the object of Metcalfe’s unrequited desire.  When Palmer persuades Jo to join him in a double act, Metcalfe doesn’t stand in her way.  However, Jo starts to fall in love with Harry, which is complicated by his friendship with singer Eve Minard.  When Harry takes action to avoid being drafted for war, Jo is angry and disappointed.  Will love prevail….?

I really enjoyed this musical, although it does not follow the format of many of the other musicals released by MGM.  The songs are delightful (although there are no original songs here; they are all songs which were popular in the era).  Also, the song and dance routines only take place in the context of stage performances, whereas in most musicals, they form part of the storyline itself.  This doesn’t detract from the enjoyment however; there are some lovely dances, particularly where Kelly and Garland perform Me and My Gal in a cafe.  Kelly’s ‘tramp dance’ near to the beginning of the film is also a delight.  Considering this was his movie debt, Kelly is very assured in his role, and displays the incredible charisma and talent which would turn him into a major star.  Harry Palmer is, in all honesty, not the nicest character – but he certainly isn’t all bad, and redemption is a major theme here.

Judy Garland is as wonderful as ever as Jo Hayden.  She and Kelly have real chemistry together, and it’s no surprise that they went on to make more musicals together.  They bounce off each other perfectly, and are a terrific on-screen partnership.

This is less comedic than many musicals, with a storyline containing human emotion and drama (and some very touching moments, which could move a viewer to tears).  The film came out during World War II, and it’s fair to say that the movie could be seen as a slice of wartime propoganda, to boost the public support for the war.  However, it doesn’t labour the point, and it never stops being entertaining.

Definitely worth seeing, for the sparkling on screen partnership between the two leads, and also for seeing a Hollywood legend right at the start of his film career.

Year of release: 1942

Director: Busby Berkeley

Writers: Howard Emmett Rogers, Richard Sherman, Fred F. Finklehoffe, Sid Silvers

Main cast: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, George Murphy

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