“Wrong End of the Rainbow”
Newsweek, March 27, 2000
“Well, we asked for it. Nobody who picks up a biography of Judy Garland in the first place should turn around and complain that it’s unedifying. So you’ve got to cut Gerald Clarke’s Get Happy a little slack. Garland’s mother wanted to abort her and started her on speed before she was 10, her marriages, hospitalizations, and suicide attempts were a gift to tabloid journalism, and she died at 47, of barbiturate poisoning, on the toilet. Try writing that life as anything but pathology. Of course there’d be no reason to write it at all if Garland’s uncanny gifts as a singer and entertainer hadn’t transcended the pain and sordidness. Or did they? Every artist wants attention and admiration —that’s why they perform, exhibit or publish—but Garland’s needs seem to have been especially naked and desperate. ‘Her desire for constant approval was pathological,’ wrote Vincente Minnelli, the second of her five husbands, in a memoir quoted by Clarke. She became addicted to applause at age 2, as Frances Gumm of the singing Gumm Sisters, and came to believe, Clarke says, that ‘she was only as good as the folks out front said she was.’ Late in her life, one witness saw her backstage listening to a playback of the concert she’d just given. ‘ ‘Oooh!’ she cried when she heard the first burst of applause. Then, leaning into her makeup mirror, she kissed her own reflection. ‘You’re a star!’ she exclaimed. ‘You’re a star! You’re a star!’ But she never believed it. She hated her looks: when she was growing up among MGM’s starlets, Louis B. Mayer called her ‘my little hunchback.’ She put manic energy into undermining her public and private lives. Her drug addiction got so ravenous that at parties she’d raid hosts’ medicine cabinets. She racked up a good-size list of lovers—Frank Sinatra, Tyrone Power, James Mason, Yul Brynner—but seemed to put up with ugly humiliations.