American Masters: Judy Garland: By Myself
Airs Friday, March 29, 2013 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV
Originally published July 17, 2012 at 3:46 p.m., updated March 15, 2013 at 10:58 a.m.
Judy Garland had one of the most photographed faces ever to come out of Hollywood. She also had one of the most frequently recorded voices of the last century. She is as iconic as she is misunderstood. There were her problems, to be sure, but the proof is in the performances, from "The Wizard of Oz" to the Palladium, from the Oscars to the Grammys.
With singular entrée to the MGM library, including vaulted screen tests and rehearsal footage, this film is wrapped in Garland’s voice, telling her story in her own words. So many outsiders have tried to tell this story and so many friends and family have weighed in — now Judy gets center stage, all to herself. This is her ultimate comeback.
Extraordinary entree to never-before-seen material allows the film to tell never-before-told stories, including the heartbreaking account of her CBS television series. The CBS offer was the biggest the network had ever made: a $24 million, four-year contract, with $1 million annually for Garland, who hoped the long-sought financial security would finally provide a real home for her family.
The film includes extensive clips from the show, including performances with Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Mickey Rooney and Ethel Merman. But the rigors of formula TV, coupled with constant complaints from the networks president — who expressed an acute dislike for Garland — killed the critically acclaimed show, which couldn’t win in a time slot dominated by “Bonanza.”
When film and television failed her, the vaudeville veteran always returned to the one certainty in her life: her voice. Prominent in “By Myself” are extended versions of “Me and My Gal,” “The Man That Got Away,” “You Made Me Love You,” “Stormy Weather” and “Over the Rainbow,” which Garland sings with daughter Liza at her side.
The film also includes footage and stills from Garland’s record-breaking appearances at the London Palladium and Carnegie Hall, where, gripped by self-doubt and terrified of failure, she received thunderous standing ovations as soon as she stepped on stage. “She rocked that theater,” actress Ann Miller says in “By Myself.” “She just ripped that audience to pieces.”
Garland’s wit and vulnerability are apparent in long-forgotten radio, press and TV interviews, including a 1962 appearance with Jack Paar. When asked what she missed most during her teenage years, when she appeared in back-to-back MGM films, Garland says in a Canadian TV interview: “Eating.”
Even after receiving a special juvenile Oscar for "The Wizard of Oz," Garland — nicknamed the “little hunchback” by studio head Louis B. Mayer — still considered herself an ugly duckling.
Instead of emphasizing her much-publicized struggles with addiction, which she fought with electric shock therapy and stints in sanitariums, “By Myself” celebrates Garland as a consummate entertainer.
All told, Garland worked for 43 of her 47 years, appearing in 32 feature films, making more than 1,100 theater, nightclub and concert performances, and recording nearly 100 singles and more than a dozen albums.
Performing first as a toddler, she went on to master singing, acting and dancing while raising, and largely supporting, three children caught in a very public spotlight.
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