TJGS Episode 2: The Velvet Smog Sounds Off

When I was in my teens I found a used copy of The Other Side of the Rainbow:  With Judy Garland on the Dawn Patrol by Mel Torme.  Yes, that guy...the jazz singer.  You see, way back when The Judy Garland Show was in pre-production, the producer, George Schlatter, lured him onto the program to be musical director and arranger and to borrow a phrase from an old song, Torme "didn't wanna do it.  He didn't wanna dooooo it."

Help select music for another performer?  Coach her?  Conduct her off-camera for those moments when she can't quite hear the orchestra?  To stabd in the wings and give support?  To a WOMAN?    Mel Torme was a lot of things, one of those being a tremendously talented crooner.  He was also a bit of a chauvinist, and an egotist supreme (I ordered one of these at Taco Bell a couple nights ago, and it was pretty tasty) who knew?  He understandably wanted to work on his own career, not someone else's, and he only relented when he heard he would get two on-screen guest spots in the first thirteen episodes (incidentally he was always bickering about these spots, how much time he got, was cranky when he had to share the guest spot with others, blah blah blah) with more to come later.  Undoubtedly he was a bit bitter at having to play second fiddle to another singer, and his tell-all memoir about his experience on the show, published soon after Judy's death, seems like a way for him to have the last word.  In the book he skewered Garland, placed the show's demise largely on her shoulders, and alternately bitches about her and his estranged wife, whom he condescendingly nicknames "Snow White". 

Now I'm not trying to say that he was COMPLETELY inaccurate (although much of his story was, and many of the points he makes would later be refuted as "untruths" by other crew members).  After all, Garland was a tempestuous woman.  Nervous, lonely, insecure.  The reference to the "dawn patrol" in the book's title references the fact that some members of the production team would receive late night calls from Garland who was keyed up after a night's work and needed companionship.  No, I'm not saying Garland was flawless.  I'm just saying the book has an agenda, and it served as a way for Torme to be the star of the show's story in a way that he hadn't been in life.  Unfortunately, after a backlash from the Hollywood community against Torme, the book became the only source for info on the shows troubles, and it's story went largely unchecked until the late eighties when Coyne Steven Sanders wrote the book that is now considered the definitive version of the making of the television show:  Rainbow's End

It's extremely readable, balanced, and doesn't overlook Garland's flaws.  It does however, put her occasional outburst into context with the craziness that was around her, the power grabs, the firings, the's all in there.  Sanders is quoted as saying he was looking to expose the truth, no matter how ugly, and he was pleasantly surprised to finish his research and interviews with a deeper respect for Garland's work ethic, kindness, and talent (this did not happen when he dug into the life of Lucille Ball for a similar project, FYI).  Anytime I have a question about the facts of the making of the Garland series, it is the first place I go for answers. 

Well, all this is taking the long way to tell you that episode 2 of the Garland show featured Count Basie, and Mel Torme as guests, and the show gets off to a pretty dreamy start.  Judy enters a quiet set which is made to resemble a rehearsal hall in which the musicians are warming up...

It's a moment that I love because it allows Judy to swing it a little in a very "cool" arrangement.  Judy was never what you could call a jazz singer (although like everyone else who has an eye on the neighbor's backyard, she wanted to have her try at it) but it is great when she's allowed to escape her sentimental show biz numbers for something a little sultrier. 
The problems with the show are not with Judy, or Basie, but with everything else.  As much as I've grown to have a fond distaste for Mel Torme, I have to say, his vocal stylings are impeccable and a treat to listen to.  Watching him sing is another thing altogether.  He's like the nerd in school who hung around with the cool kids (you know "Sammy, Frankie, Dean") and was determined to be just like them.  He aped their moves in the mirror, dressed like them, convinced himself he WAS them, but nobody on the playground ever really bought it.  That's Mr. Torme.  He's so smarmy and schmoozy, and that swagger of his is just repellent.

Also on the list of things that bring down this episode is Jerry Van Dyke, or at least the material he's working with.  He was brought on to the show as Judy's comedic second banana, but they never quite figured out what to do with him.  Personally, I've always thought critics were too hard on him as his   presence is very sweet natured, naïve and bumbling and his bombastic energy is a nice contrast to Garland's.  And yes, the bits are trite, but he didn't write them, nor was he happy with them.  In fact, much as he loved working with Garland, he was very unhappy with his role in the show, especially when the writers came up with the idea of his poking fun at Judy to de-glamorize her and make her more approachable to the audience.
Other things I don't love in this episode?  Well there's this pretty unfortunate musical number in which folk singer Judy Henske teams up with Mel Torme and Jerry Van Dyke to sing "Walk Right In".  The harmonies are way off and Henske hits some notes that cause pretty hysterical reactions from Jerry.  Another thing I'm not a huge fan of in the show?
This hat...
While we're at it, I didn't love the dance in which these hats were featured either.  It's such a confusing melee.  Garland gets lost in it, seems unsure of herself through much of the routine, and they style seems ill fitted to her.
A moment that definitely DOES work is when Judy is singing in the Trunk spot at the end of the show and flubs a line during the song, turning it into a delightful win.  The minds behind the scenes had gotten the idea to start taping dress rehearsals of the show so they would have two versions of numbers to choose from, and then they could slip the better version in.  Well, in this case they chose to use the dress rehearsal, and I can't blame them.  She's so animated and energetic, like a mischievous little sequined elf who, incidentally, can sing the shit out of a song.
One final note.  Does anyone else notice that Judy seems to be wearing the same outfit through the entire show?  Sure she changes from skirt to pants, but everything else seems exactly the same.  Am I the only one bothered by this?  WTF Aghayan?