Broadway has a new hit: “End of the Rainbow.”The title speaks for itself. It’s London near the end of Judy’s entangled 57-year life. The same Judy whose role of Dorothy captivated this same London in 1939. The year the movie came out in Hollywood, and the lights were going out in Hitler’s Europe.
But now it was the 1960s, and I was driving to the Civic Theatre in downtown Chicago to meet her after her concert. Like most of us from her generation, that movie classic represented a lot of our own lives. Grainy sepia-toned Kansas in its Depression days…suddenly the sizzling colors of a magical world of wizards and witches…three endearing friends-along-the-Yellow-Brick-Road who spoke to our little hearts of our large need for wits, heart and courage….then at last the click of the Ruby Slippers as we learned Glinda was correct: “You had the power to get home all along.”
Like everyone else, I wanted to believe Judy Garland personified a bit of that grand narrative. True, she had grown older. Harsher. Replete with the usual signs of another star burning out. Still, I wanted to meet her. Before it was all too late. In my sepia world filled with the Flying Monkeys of danger and evil all around, my meeting just might turn out to be in the technicolor I always loved..
I had lied to get this date. Earlier in the week I had called her husband-agent Sid Luft, and said I was the editor of the student newspaper at Northwestern [where I was doing my doctoral work]. He was always thinking gate receipts, so figured a campus story couldn’t hurt. I recall him passionately defending his falling star with comments like: “Judy’s no wishy-washy Rosemary Clooney singer. She’s a belter with a heart.”
Today, 43 years after her unsettling death of an accidental overdose [cue up half the bio’s in Hollywood history], I look back at that night with mixed emotions. For at the last minute, Judy didn’t cancel, I did!
I still ask myself why. Here was a chance to meet a living legend. To experience the cinematic certainty that her enduring Dorothy had meant to my parents’ generation, the Greatest Generation. It would have been a little like touching Gibraltar’s sureness during all the storms around it. And even though I knew it would be a lie, my what a spectacular lie to live. For just a few backstage moments.
Didn’t happen….! In retrospect, good thing….! This way one of my important myths from those terrible War years was left unscathed by sepia-tone Depression Kansas that we all wanted to believe Judy overcame.
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