JUDY & SAMMY & ME
Sticking with the unimportant stuff, (NOT), I surf around all these special movie channels I pay extra for with the digital cable box, (I’m very very disgusted with Adelphia!!!), and cannot find anything to watch. I’ve either seen the movies before and never care to see them again, or I don’t want to see the movies in the first place and all these are shown all the time, too. I don’t understand why they repeat the same films over and over and over, ad nauseum? And such crappy ones, included!
Then I go to Turner Classic Movies and I can almost count on finding something I’d really like to see again. These old films really are better to my way of thinking. As a kid, I went to the movies all the time. I have always said, the movies saved my life, though MGM basically ruined my life, too, you know? I believed all the romance and ‘happy endings’ in those MGM films, because I needed to, (there were no happy endings in our house)… I could lose myself in those movies; I could forget about all the bad things that were happening to our family, and I could dream of all those wonderful romantic things happening to Lana, happening to me, and that helped me to survive. I was in love with Lana Turner and I wanted to be Lana Turner, too; (go figure!) I kept scrapbooks of June Allyson and Van Johnson; (don’t ask...it seems like a really strange thing to me now, too!); I was a baby in so many ways back in those years; and in fact I was the baby of my family, and as I’m sure many of you know who are in that position—that position never changes, no matter how old you get.
On the first day of Drama School in New York City, I met a beautiful young man from Alabama, named Sammy. It was the beginning of a life long friendship, which ended only because he died much too young in 1985—we were truly soul mates in every sense of that phrase. The only thing we weren’t was ‘lovers’, though I feel if that had been in the cards we would have been….we skirted around that in conversations and decided it would ruin our friendship which we both felt was very important---too important to each of us to ruin it just for a ‘role in the hay’, as Mrs. Chisolm said, in “Petrified Forest” we always decided to maintain our friendship just as it was---and, he was sometimes gay, (eventually, pretty much all gay, if there really is such a thing---lots of debate about that one) and I didn’t really know what I was….(that feeling of being ‘in love’ with Lana when I was 11, had confused me…I certainly found out later, but during those first years, I was like a nun who has taken a vow of celibacy.
Sammy was at Sea Cliff that first summer, too, which made it that much more wonderful for me, and I think for him, too.
One of the many things we shared was a passion for movies; He was just as much of a movie junky as I was, so we had a great time going to films together and both of us felt the same way about heads in front of us at the movies. So, we didn’t care how many times we had to move in order to avoid having anyone sitting in front of us---sometimes if the theatre was really crowded, we would end up in the first row with our necks craning, but most of the time we just ended up sitting closer than anyone else, which we both loved—that connection to the movie screen—each film being shown, just for us. And we never talked during a film, ever, ever. It wasn’t something we even needed to discuss; it was just what we did from the first time we went to a film together.
When the Judy Garland “A Star Is Born” was going to open in New York City, we had to go see it the very first day it played. We both loved her and had both seen her at ‘The Palace’—a life changing experience, for me----I had seen a lot of wonderful performers even though I was very young because as I said in a previous blog, going to the theatre was something my family had always done on a regular basis, as long as I could remember. But, I had no concept that the young woman in all those MGM musicals when seen ‘live’ was going to be so fucking electric; such a powerful performer; she reached into her guts and tapped into her own emotions and artistry, touching the audience in a way that I had never seen before. It was an awesome thing to behold and to feel, too. I saw her three times at The Palace. Thrilling, beyond words. I’d also never seen an audience respond this way to a performer; it wasn’t like Sinatra and fans screaming through all of his songs; Garlands audiences were worshiping at ‘Her Alter’, riveted to her every move and gesture and being swept away with the emotion she projected and in turn the emotions she made you feel….the screaming of Bravo would erupt at the ‘finish’, you know? It was much later when her die hard fans, I include myself, knew every note of every arrangement that people would scream after the first 4 bars---knowing what gem was about to be sung; or screaming and whooping at a crescendo reached during a song that they knew was coming…(think: “Rock A Bye My Baby”…YES! Or “Swanee”, just as she was changing keys to a higher register and slowing down the tempo---screams of recognition—almost orgasmic in nature…)
She was something else. So, Sammy and I met up on that very first day of “A Star Is Born” and sat through this masterpiece of a film, twice. We hated to leave and swore we would come back…and as it turned out that was the first and last time anyone saw the uncut, unbutchered version of this fantastic film. It was pulled out of theatres and a shorter version was in order because of the money that was being lost with this longer version----(what a travesty)---and now, with the magic of partial restoration, the original version can be seen, but not in it’s original state, at all. With the use of photographs and ‘voice-over’s’, much has been put back---whatever still existing musical numbers werelovingly put back---but much was lost forever…..and so it will never be, what it originally was; a true masterpiece of a ‘movie musical’. I remember that both Sammy and I were bowled over by the kind of performance that was captured on film of Judy Garland’s singing---it had the most ‘live’ feel to it of any musical film she had ever made up till that time. (Rent from Netflix: “I Could Go On Singing”; it’s the last film Garland ever made and her musical performances in that movie are superb, though the film itself is not the best of her career---again, her acting is astounding--) And in “Star”, her acting is superb, too---truly riveting and heartbreaking. That scene in her dressing room when she talks about her husband’s alcoholism and then proceeds to go out and sing, again, “Lose That Long Face”, which had been cut...(Give Me A Break!!! OY OY OY)…..Well, Garland was robbed that year at the Academy Awards…..and James Mason was robbed too, his thoroughly stunning performance didn’t even get a nomination!
The last time I saw Judy Garland perform, was at the Hollywood Bowl. (there were times in-between, but, The Bowl was particularly memorable for various reasons, not the least of which was the fact that Sammy and I were sitting waaaay up in ‘The Peanut Gallery’; it was drizzling as it sometimes does in California; and Miss Garland was late coming on, but she did come on—I think she was waiting for the rain to stop, but when the audience began applauding almost as ‘one’, the show bagan. What was remarkable about this performance was that even though Sammy and I were very far away from her, she owned that place and transcended that space which is huge, and it felt like she was singing just to us. How she managed that, I’ll never know, because any other performer would have at best—looked like a little ant up there---I cannot explain this—but she looked like she was 30 feet away, at most. No big TV screens on either side of the stage, as they have now….just her looking big! Amazing! I’ve seen quite a few performers there at the Bowl, and very few can actually transcend that space; very very few—I think that is why they have those screens now. This woman was a ‘force of nature’, for sure. Later.....