Edited by Randy L. Schmidt, $29.95; Chicago Review. Press; 456 pages
If you're told exactly who you are in the beginning of your life, do you start to believe it yourself?
Judy Garland was truly born at the age of 12, when Frances Ethel Gumm ceased to exist and the newly named studio creation burst onto the Hollywood scene. But even her true age at that time should be taken with a grain of salt, as evidenced by both the fantastical output of MGM Studio's publicity machine and the reader's ability to digest all of her interviews and their contradictions.
To be frank, Judy Garland on Judy Garland: Interviews and Encounters is a must-read for only the most die-hard Garland fan. It chronicles her many published musings and interviews ( print, television and radio ) for over three decades, concluding with what would be her last interview in Denmark before her untimely death. It is a time capsule. It is Judy in Judy's own words, with the first two decades' worth of words most likely coming from approved studio messaging.
For those with little more than a passive interest in the iconic star, it can be a bit repetitive. But maybe that's the point. It illustrates MGM's commitment to shaping the career and personal life of "the little girl with the big voice." At its best, it gives the reader a glimpse into signs of the times, when society's mores were set in stone and girls were expected to behave as such. Judy is against "necking" on dates and recommends laughing at boys jokes even when they're not funny: "The dumbest girl can seem smart if she keeps the conversation focused on the boy's interests, or at least keeps it steered on the one subject she knows most about."
Almost every interview mentions her love affairs, rates her mental and physical health, her looks ( or lack thereof, depending on the article ) and her weight. So, so much about her weight. She is "pudgy," "plump" and "husky;" except when she's "rail-thin," "gaunt" and "slender once again." Judy is infantilized and sexualized, she is lauded and hated, she is raked over the coals and put on a pedestal…sometimes in the same piece.
From her telling of it, Garland dearly wanted to "set the record straight" and tell the truth about her life and the rumors surrounding her. From the '50s on, Garland gets much more comfortable and delights us with her self-deprecating wit and anecdotes about the likes of Clark Gable, Liz Taylor and Mickey Rooney. But old habits die hard and a lot of the same PC origin stories can't help but come out over and over. Her problems with addiction and suicide attempts are glossed over but, luckily, the interviews are interspersed with historical facts from editor Schmidt that set the scene for what isand isn'tsaid.
In spite of her well-documented financial woes, insecurities, career highs and lows, and constant quest for what's over the rainbow, what most shines through in the interviews is Judy's sheer determination to remain on top, her undeniable love for her children, her devotion to her fans and, most of all, her ability to command an audience and stage.