Judy: A Legendary Film Career

“Across the four decades of her career, Judy Garland enjoyed astounding levels of accomplishment in every entertainment medium. Those achievements have since proved to be joyously timeless, and her legacy is constantly discovered and shared—or rediscovered, remastered, and reissued. But it was as a movie star that she first came to international fame and where she is still most likely to be initially encountered.

There is a pyramid-like construction to any overview of Garland’s film work. At its pinnacle, one finds The Wizard of Oz—the best-loved, best-known, and most widely seen motion picture of all time. Lined up just below Oz are three more classics: a family story told with song (Meet Me in St. Louis), an archetypical, ebullient musical comedy (Easter Parade), and an outstanding drama about a singer in Hollywood (A Star Is Born). Beneath them, a firm foundation is provided by that raft of happily memorable, if slightly lesser, screen achievements (The Harvey Girls, For Me and My Gal, In the Good Old Summertime, and Summer Stock); a number of early, exhilarating costarring vehicles for Judy and Mickey Rooney (including three of the “Andy Hardy” series and four full-fledged song-and-dance shows); and the all-star extravaganzas (Ziegfeld Follies, Till the Clouds Roll By), in which Judy’s contribution is invariably one of the best components. Even the atypical, middle-period deviations from the norm (The Clock, The Pirate) are equally effective in their own ways, and if only one of her final four movie efforts was a commercial success (Judgment at Nuremberg), each possessed intrinsic social or artistic value. In review, there seems to be little if anything in the Garland filmography about which she could manifest regret, whether about her work or her participation.

Two days after Judy’s funeral in June 1969, film critic Vincent Canby published a New York Times opinion piece about her life and work. Much of its time, the journalism was appreciative, somewhat uninformed, and needlessly psychological. Notably, however, Canby observed, “When I looked [this week] through several comprehensive film books, I found only several references to Judy Garland, and then only in incidental connection with the films of Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Kramer.” He concluded, “She did not make movies important by simply inhabiting them.”

If Canby was correct about film books circa 1969, his final statement has proved to be blissfully inaccurate. No one could have known it then, of course, but revisionist recognition and the reclamation of a specific era of entertainment would begin just five years later with That’s Entertainment! And though it remains true that just the four titles at the top of her aforementioned pyramid can be stringently defined as “classics,” the rest of Garland’s pictures have come to be regarded as noteworthy and significant, if only because Judy appeared in them. Along the way, of course, she had full support from the nonpareil MGM, Warner Brothers, Fox, and United Artists’ creative troops. But it took Garland’s alchemy to coalesce and convey the much-vaunted magic.”
— co-curator John Fricke, from “A Lot of Something Extra,” the introduction to Judy: A Legendary Film Career, to be published August 23, 2011, by Running Press

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