Hollywood producer Luft reflects on his relationship with show business legend Judy Garland, whom he married (and managed) during the final great phase of her performing career.
The author, who died in 2005, had a reputation as a controlling Svengali, but he comes across here as concerned, pragmatic, and, more often than not, right about Garland’s professional trajectory. Luft was instrumental in the production of her critically heralded film comeback, A Star Is Born (1954), and he orchestrated her triumphant performances at the London Palladium and Broadway’s Palace Theatre, epochal shows that cemented her late-period legacy and led to the creation of her own TV series. Throughout, Luft credits Garland’s genius and gallantly excuses her erratic behavior, drug dependency, and financial recklessness as the inevitable results of a lifetime of exploitation at the hands of Hollywood. More interestingly, he candidly expresses his physical attraction to Garland and appreciation of her unconventional sexual appeal—his ardor reads as completely sincere—and expresses concern about the consequences of his laissez faire disposition toward Garland’s peccadilloes. Luft’s memoir was written in fits and starts over a period of many years and completed after his death with the aid of interview transcripts and other scattered sources, and the narrative frequently feels choppy, with strangely abrupt transitions. Still, Luft, a former boxer and test pilot, has a winningly direct and confident authorial voice. A Hemingway-esque man’s man, he doesn’t delve too deeply into psychology, but Garland fanatics will gobble up his detailed, insightful backstage accounts of Garland’s classic late productions and gossipy tidbits about their social circle, which included Humphrey Bogart and the Prince of Wales. The story ends darkly, as Garland falls under the sway of agents Freddie Fields and David Begelman, who, according to Luft, ruthlessly manipulated Garland into excising him from her career and personal life. On the evidence here, that was a terrible mistake.
A revealing look behind the curtain—if not the persona—from the man who helped Garland reclaim the limelight after Hollywood let her down.