GET HAPPY by Gerald Clarke


The Life of Judy Garland
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Apr. 2000 ISBN:

A corker of a biography that reveals Judy Garland as a peerless artist careening wildly through a life that could have ended

even sooner than it did.

Biographer Clarke (Capote, 1988) notes Frances Ethel ("Baby") Gumm's early rise, moving steadily from a boffo solo on

a vaudeville stage at two years old to an MGM contract a decade later. As Judy Garland (a name she, not the studio, chose), she

dazzled in her early movies (including The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, and the Andy Hardy series) and became

"Metro's prime asset" by the late 1940s. As a female vocalist, her inimitable blend of vulnerability and longing ("like a woman

carrying a torch for Valentino," said George Jessel) culminated in history-making performances at the London Palladium and

Carnegie Hall. By her 20s, though, she was already dependent on pills, had attempted suicide, was treated for mental exhaustion,

and had searched for the right man through affairs with Tyrone Power, Joseph Mankiewicz, Orson Welles, and Yul

Brynner—among others. Her husbands also abounded: Billy Rose (whose baby Judy reluctantly aborted), Vincente Minnelli

(discovered in a homosexual embrace at their home), Sid Luft, and Mickey Deans. Mother Ethel makes an appearance, too,

grooming her daughter for stardom yet denying her love. By portraying Garland as a multifaceted individual rather than MGM

pawn or sad pill popper, Clarke separates Judy the person from Judy the icon. But while the meticulous reporting impresses (and

will likely result in a deeper appreciation of Garland’s career), its immediate effect is to deaden the shock of her death by drug

overdose in 1969. Clarke’s closing image, outside the funeral home, does not evoke unity with the bystanders there so much as

a disconnection from Garland and her messy life.

An unstoppable read that demystifies Garland yet still details her international appeal. Don’t, however, expect it to convey

her magic: listen to her Carnegie Hall album in the dark for that. (photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-50378-1
Page count: 608pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2000


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