The Judy Garland Show Episode 1: The Premiere!!!
This episode was the first one taped for the series, and I have to say it's pretty wonderful. The look is dramatic, glamorous, glossy and glitzy (all those "g" words I love)...Judy looks and sounds wonderful and aside from some clunky comedic bits which were typical of sixties tv variety shows, it's a perfect way to illustrate what a viewer could look forward to in the season ahead. If you care to watch along with me and can get ahold of a DVD of the show, the Pioneer set has loads of outtakes and deleted numbers removed and replaced due to the later change in the ordering of the episode. ALSO, it's important to note that this show was rehearsed and taped like a theatrical production. It was finished taping in less than 90 minutes, and Judy required no second takes on any of it. It's a very different way of doing things from the over-produced, over "tweaked" and stilted shows of the same variety that are made today.
The show begins with Judy's conductor and right hand man Mort Lindsey leading an overture of her numbers that would build to her entrance, much as had been done in her concerts. The overture of a singer's hits is pretty standard fare today, and one that Judy pioneered. In fact, it's pretty amazing how many things we think of as standard concert tropes were originated or made famous first by Garland. When Judy finally arrives she makes an incredible entrance and looks stunning in this ultra -sophisticated pantsuit gown combo that was very in fashion in the late-fifties early sixties. She looks so fresh, comfortable, in control... it only makes me wish the show had been taped in color, because Judy's color palette really made up so much of her "look" and enhanced her beauty. This licorice black hair, deep red lips and porcelain skin, that rich sophisticated "drawl" of a speaking voice. She sings "I Feel A Song Coming On" (one of the few pre-recorded numbers of the series) with special lyrics introducing Mickey Rooney
Then we unfortunately fade out and fade in to...Mickey Rooney. I've always had rather ambiguous feelings about Mickey Rooney. While I loved him in the early Andy Hardy films, in his musicals with Judy like Babes on Broadway and Girl Crazy, let's just say I tried to keep my eyes focused on her side of the screen. He's always been a bit too forceful, too hammy for my taste. "He really insists upon himself" as my friend Meg would say. His philosophy of performance seemed to be "why say anything when you can shout it, while doing a handstand, balancing plates on your feet, and speaking in a bad Gable imitation. He's the Jim Carrey/Martin Short of his day, and it ain't my cup o tea.
For his solo spot on the show he is seated on a large staircase as he sings this falsely "sincere" medley of songs glorifying the American girl, and having the much married Rooney singing that when he's not near the girl he loves he loves the girl he's with? It has a humor that I'm not quite sure was intended. Thank god he finally drops the winsome pose, but he segues into a schmaltzy bit in which he impersonates Jimmy Durante and Maurice Chevalier. At the end of the number, as he sings "Thank Heaven For Little Girls" he's flanked by two little girls which would seem really creepy if you didn't know they were his daughters. For the record, this is exactly the kind of corny number I would usually fast-forward through, but it's worth watching once, even if it's only to see Mickey's bizarre combed forward hair-do.
From that number we move to one of my favorite from the series. Ever. The stairs that Mickey had been singing on rotate on this wonderful turn-table, doing it's job long before "Les Miz" became synonymous with the word in a theatrical context, and Judy strolls out from the darkness and just lays out the most brilliant, structured performance of a real "sock-o" number that shows what a master she is at building a song. She's the Queen of audience mind control. And you'll notice how carefully she selects which moments to play to the camera directly, when she plays to the studio audience, and when she seems to be singing for herself. To paraphrase, Judy expert John Fricke, she has a way of making the relatively cold mediums of television and film seem so warm. She communicates across forty years as if it's a cinch. Truly stunning.
Next Judy and Mickey have a really sweet interaction where they reminisce over old times and look back at old photos of themselves back when they were "in pictures" together. While the impact is less momentous and thrilling than it would have had back then (the much publicized reunion of a beloved team that hadn't been seen together on-screen in fifteen years, in a time before you could push a button and bring up virtually any image or film clip) the dialogue is off the cuff, and sincere, and their affection for each other is blatantly obvious. Mickey is so gentle and considerate to Judy that he completely redeems himself from his sub-par singing, and Judy she is equally loving toward him, doing her old trick of kicking off her Ferragamo heels when they dance, so they are roughly the same height. And as they perform side by side you get a glimpse at two performers with very different styles. Mickey looks straight at the camera, faces it dead on through most of the song, glancing at Judy ocassionally, while she makes it all about him. She leans in to him, sings for him and to him, reacting to every moment he gives her. This is something that she would do time and time again through the episodes. She would constantly defer to her guest, make sure that they got spot lighted in their duets, give them the full focus, and she would give them a lot of the better material in the duets. After awhile, Mickey shows off his comedic chops by reviving one of his most clever routines that he'd performed with Judy in personal appearances and on film in Girl Crazy: the Goofy Golfer, and he's really quite charming in it.
The second half of the show is largely devoted to a sketch that probably played better in it's day, and seems a bit stumbly and tongue in cheek for it's own good. It was obviously rehearsed, but it's too loosely scripted and most of the comedic moments fall flat as a result, aside from a wonderful moment when Mickey mocks his own penchant for hamming it up, showing again how wonderfully funny he can be.
The final moment of the show worth remembering is from Judy's "Born in a Trunk" segment. At the end of each show, Judy would stand alone on her "runway" with a large stage trunk, and sing one or two final numbers to close the evening. The number Judy chose for the opening episode, "Old Man River", was not conventional, and not often performed by women, and the CBS executives hated it. They wanted something nostalgic and familiar like "Over The Rainbow" or "The Trolley Song", but Judy insisted on pushing boundaries, and doing things her way. She would take a lot of input and let other people make a lot of decisions, but when it came to musical selections, she was of the firm opinion that she knew what was right for her. The performance proves her right, and is one of the highlights of the series...
All in all, a pretty great show that displays a relaxed, healthy looking and sophisticated Garland and it's really a shame that this wasn't the first episode aired, as I think it would have payed so much better than the hokey countrified episode that was the official premier with guest star Donald O'Connor. While that episode actually beat the unbeatable competition "Bonanza" (a color program when color tv was a true novelty and the event television of it's day- God knows why they put Garland in such a tough time slot) one thinks the show might have fared a lot better later on if the audiences had been shown this first.
A couple of final comments on Garland's look. I love her gowns in this episode. They were (with the exception of the one in the opening number) designed by Edith Head who was fired due to disagreements with George Schlatter, the director. He didn't like her approach to the costumes, nor did he like her demeanor, and so she was replaced by Ray Aghayan who had a much more high fashion look in mind. It's very stylized, very sixties, and yet, while it's definitely the minority opinion...I prefer Head's conception. As for the hairstyling, it's surprising what a difference a "do" makes. As the season went on, Garland would go from a relaxed and tousled look to a Dairy Queen "dip cone" look.
To me, it's constricting, and artificial, more architecture than hair. In fact, I would have preferred her to have her hair a little longer than she does altogether, because, while I know that a forty-something year old women at that time was considered much older than we would consider one now, a more youthful hairstyle would have been lovely on her.
Ok, one LAST clip! After the credits rolled on the show, someone left the cameras rolling and Judy and Mickey were captured as they say their thanks to the studio audience. It's a special treat that really captures how they felt about each other. Enjoy...