June 10th, 1922– Francis Ethel Gumm:
“If I am a legend, then why am I so lonely?”
The “Judy Queen” was a certain kind of homosexual archetype from the mid-20th century, an era that brought the first baby steps towards Gay Rights, but it was also a time when gay behavior was coded and gay stereotypes allowed straight society a chance to deal. Judy Queens flocked to her films, told stories about her at brunch, memorized her albums, screamed and trembled at her concerts, and 40,000 of them showed up to weep at the viewing her body at NYC’s Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in June 1969.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, as gay people found their footing and began demanding to live an open life, the gay guys had to live down those stereotypes, many of us hitting the gym and butching it up. Now in the second decade of the 21st century, Gay, as we have known it, is on the way out. Getting married, buying a house and having children are the thing. The journey has taken gay people from Oz back to Kansas. Now, many gay people disown the notion of a Judy Queen as an embarrassment. The world is going Post-Gay.
How did this Judy Queen happen? Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler and Cher show strength, in their talent and with a kind of nonchalance about how society regards them. These women have demanded to be true to themselves. Garland, the generation before, lived her life with self-effacement, insecurity and pressed-down emotions. She was willing to be whatever the audience wanted her to be. Garland begged to be loved. Madonna says we are fortunate to get to love her.
How can I come up with a true gay connection to Judy Garland? Let’s see… her father was gay, two of her husbands were gay, the man she handpicked as a husband for her famous daughter was gay, her gay fans remain the most fervent fans even in 2016. The fruit of her loins is Liza Minnelli for heaven’s sake. And then there is the matter of that little film titled The Wizard Of Oz (1939).
There are still enough of old queens around 47 years after her final bow to remember how important she was to us. Garland remains the very definition of Gay Icon for those of us of a certain age. Her troubled relationships with men, her self-doubt, her pain, and that battle with booze and pills, they all represent parts of life that we can identify with. Plus, her performances reflect a certain truth, bringing something meaningful to anyone that has wasted time hiding away their own emotions.
Garland’s influence is never all that far away from the dreaded, threatening “Gay Agenda”. The Stonewall Riots have been attributed to the outrage and heartache experienced by Garland’s funeral. Her A Star Is Born co-star, James Mason, gave the eulogy earlier that day, June 27, 1969. The Stonewall Riots is, of course, the name given to the events of early morning on June 28, 1969, when a group of gay and lesbian patrons of the Greenwich Village gay bar, The Stonewall Inn, resisted their routine arrest for being homos with a spontaneous and violent protest. We now refer to the two nights of rioting as just “Stonewall”. At the mafia operated Stonewall, patrons were required to sign in. The most common pseudonym used was “Judy Garland.” The events are widely and correctly understood to be the spark that ignited our modern Gay Rights movement, but the Garland connection is probably an urban myth. Who knows?
We do know that the term “Friend Of Dorothy” is a 20th century form of coded identification between gay people. The term was named for Garland’s most famous role, of course. The phrase dates back to at least WW II, when homosexuality was illegal in the USA. In L. Frank Baum’s Road To Oz (1909), one of sequels to the original Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, the character Polychrome meets Dorothy’s traveling companions, and exclaims: “You have some queer friends, Dorothy”. She replies:
“The queerness doesn’t matter, so long as they’re friends”.
Most important, Dorothy is accepting of those who are different, including The Cowardly Lion who is living a lie: “I’m afraid there’s no denyin’, I’m just a dandy lion…”
Garland’s concert at Carnegie Hall in 1961 is a Show Business landmark. Only two years earlier, she had been advised to retire from performing after being diagnosed with Hepatitis, but instead she took on a series of concerts in Europe and the USA that absolutely reestablished Garland’s reputation as The Greatest Entertainer Of All time. The Carnegie Hall concert is still regarded as the greatest evening in show biz history. The double album live recording of that concert, Judy Garland At Carnegie, spent more than a year on the Billboard charts and won seven Grammy Awards, including Album Of The Year.
Garland had a 40+ year career. She made more than 50 films, at one point working on as many as four a year at MGM in the late 1930s-1940s. She was nominated for the Academy Award for her role in the remake of A Star Is Born (1954) and another nomination for Judgment At Nuremberg (1961). In 1940, she was presented with a special Oscar for her outstanding performance as a “screen juvenile” for The Wizard Of Oz and Babes In Arms. Garland won a Special Tony Award in 1952 for her contributions to the revival of Vaudeville with her record-breaking 19-week show at the Palace Theatre. In 1962, she won an Academy Award as the youngest-ever winner of the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. She was just 39 years old. Her first film was in 1929 and her final movie was ironically titled I Could Go On Singing in 1963.
Garland was often unreliable, erratic, drunk or high, or too nervous to perform. She was fired from four big films. But, she was given those drugs by the studio doctor, and she was bullied by directors and studio heads, and she was exhausted from a grueling work schedule since early childhood.
Despite the fact she was diminutive (not quite 5 feet tall), there is real on-screen gravitas in that pint-sized package. Even though MGM thought the studio had to struggle to make her physical appearance marketable, the camera truly loved Garland. She possessed considerable charisma and had sex appeal to spare.
Her pal Frank Sinatra stated:
“Whenever Judy Garland sang, a little bit of her died.”
On a June night six years ago, I stayed up late watching DVDs of her CBS television series from the early 1960s. I was entranced by her persona and yet horrified by her histrionics. Sometimes when listening to her recordings, I am put-off by the way that she sings every single song as if it were her last. Her over the top interpretations of the great standards push me away. But… then I hear the original, or even her late in life version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow and I end up crying. Judy Garland loved to be loved and she loved her fans for loving her and they loved her right back. I love her for that.
“I could live without money, but I cannot live with love.”