June 10th, 1922- Francis Ethel Gumm. The “Judy Queen” is a certain kind of homosexual archetype from the mid-20th century, an era that brought the first baby steps for Gay Rights, but also a time when gay behavior was coded & 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 & tremebled at her concerts, & 40,000 showed up to weep at the viewing her body at NYC’s Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in June 1969.
But starting in the mid-1970s, as gay people found their footing & began demanding an open life, the gay guys had to live down those stereotypes, many of us hitting the gym & butching it up. In the 21st century, Gay, as I have known it, is on the way out & getting married, buying a house & having children is the thing. The journey has taken gay people from Oz back to Kansas. Now, many gay people disown the Judy Queen as an embarrassment. The world is going post-gay.
How did the Judy Queen happen? Streisand, Midler & Cher show strength, certainty in their talent & kind of nonchalance in how society regards them. They want to be true to themselves. Garland, the generation before, lived her life with self-effacement, insecurity & pressed-down emotions. She was willing to be whatever the audience wanted. Garland begged to be loved. Madonna says you are lucky to love her.
How can I come up with a true gay connection to Judy Garland? Let’s see… her father was gay, 2 of her husbands were gay, the man she handpicked as a husband for her famous daughter was gay, the gay fans remain her most fervent fans even in the 21st century, the fruit of her loins is Liza Minnelli, & then there is that little film The Wizard Of Oz (1939).
There are still enough of us around 46 years after her final bow to remember. Judy 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, & her battle with booze & pills all represent parts of life that we can identify with. Plus, her performances reflect a certain truth, speaking for anyone that has wasted time hiding their own emotions.
Garland’s influence is never all that far away from the dreaded Gay Agenda. The Stonewall Riots have been attributed to the outrage & heartache experienced on Garland’s funeral with James Mason giving the eulogy earlier that day. The term “Friend Of Dorothy” is a 20th century form of coded identification between to gay people, named for Garland’s most famous role.
Garland’s 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall is a landmark in Show Biz. 2 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 & the USA that reestablished her reputation as the top entertainer of all time. The Carnegie Hall show is regarded as the greatest evening in show biz history. The live recording of that concert spent more than a year on the Billboard charts & won 7 Grammy Awards, including Album Of The Year.
Garland had a 40+ year career & she made more than 50 films, at one point working is as many as 4 a year at MGM in the late 1930s & 1940s. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the remake of A Star Is Born (1954) & Best Supporting Actress for Judgment At Nuremberg (1961). Her first film was in 1929 & her final one was ironically titled I Could Go On Singing in 1963. She could be unreliable, erratic, drunk or high, or too nervous to perform & she was fired from 4 big films. But, she was given the drugs by the studio doctor, bullied by directors & studio heads, & exhausted by a grueling scheduled since childhood.
“Whenever Judy Garland sang, a little bit of her died.”
On a June night 5 years ago, I stayed up late watching DVDs of her CBS TV show from the early 1960s. I was entranced by her persona & horrified by the histrionics. Sometimes when listening to her recordings, I am put off by the feeling 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 her late in life version of Over The Rainbow & I end up crying. Judy Garland loved to be loved & she loved her fans for loving her & they loved her back. I love her for that.