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Archive for the ‘judy garland’ Category

Images from Broadway cast recordings and movie soundtrack recordings, especially the sizable LP covers, can take me back to little Martha sitting on the floor of her childhood bedroom rapt, absorbing entire scores, imagining the linking dialog, wondering about stage moments.  Sure, I didn’t use that language then, but that’s what my screwed up little face was doing.  Where were people standing, what happened before the song and after the song and how did the people look when they were singing the songs? I listened to The Sound of Music (1965) day and night for weeks on end after I’d seen the movie, and came to the Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel 1959 version later when I discovered it amongst my mother’s LPs downstairs.  Because I was quite aware of Julie Andrews, from The Sound of Music movie and Mary Poppins (1964, another disc I played all day every day until I knew every word), and I’d been taken to see My Fair Lady (1964) that same year I was 5 at the Fisher Theater (did they show the movie in the stage theatre section of the building?  I have no idea) on a visit with my mother to Detroit relatives after my very first plane ride.  I felt like a princess.  And I of course had no idea that Julie Andrews’ spirit informed My Fair Lady too — the role that should have been hers but if she hadn’t been passed over, she wouldn’t have been available for Mary Poppins and THEN where would we be?  All of us, pining for the perfect beautiful nanny mother, even when we had wonderful mothers who were, more often than not, wittier and perhaps just as beautiful but maybe not first thing in the morning.

I did soon figure out the Andrews connection to My Fair Lady in mom’s LP collection and that haunting, funny, scary Hirschfeld drawing), and moved on to that same year’s Broadway recording of Funny Girl (1964) — I memorized the cast recording long before the film released in 1968.  And I was probably among a minority of 10-year-old viewers of the film who immediately bemoaned the absence in the film of “His Is The Only Music That Makes Me Dance” from the stage score.  And my heart’s embrace of  Judy at Carnegie  Hall (1961) about this same time period (again thank mom) brought another magic voice, another storyteller in song, into my life.  And more iconic album cover art.  (I go on about this recording and memories of mom in a blog entry last April: http://wp.me/p1dUHf-lb.)

As I get a bit older I meander in the Sondheim direction.  A Little Night Music (1973) won my soul during its first month on Broadway in its initial run, a treat among many others during my first trip to New York City from the American Midwest.  This original album is now framed on my bedroom/office wall, as is a copy of Judy at Carnegie Hall, and several other memorable album images.  Graphic art — it makes us happy.

And all that informs my response today to a current display at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.  Truth be told, I was wandering through the building today on my way from the Lincoln Center plaza side toward Amsterdam Avenue.  In the hallway between point A on the building’s east side and point B on the west, I chance upon a current display “Design: Fraver — Four Decades of Theatre Poster Art” that stops me in my tracks.  So many familiar images, so some images recently cherished.  The 2002 Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration festival cover image for a summer long festival during which I saw most offerings as a then-resident of Washington DC.  Some images evoke distant memories — such as Fraver’s design for the poster (and program) art for Circle in the Square‘s Night of the Iguana in 1976.  I saw this 1976 production, probably on one of my frequent 5-plays-in-a-weekend trips to NYC from Harvard.  While I had forgotten the year of that viewing, the exhilaration (and slight panic) of those student days of eager absorption and thrilling experiences came back in a wash.

And a final treat in this exhibit:  the designer’s poster for the upcoming Follies production at the Kennedy Center.  From the wall plaque, the designer’s own words: “After many concepts, the poster that I felt really captured the essence of the show was the ripped and faded wall of past Follies attractions creating a showgirl’s face.”  I may not be able to see this new production but I can still trill to this image.  “In Buddy’s Eyes”, “I’m Still Here”, “Could I Leave You?”.

And it all starts with a poster image.  Show iconography.  Sense memories.  Yes.

© Martha Wade Steketee (March 8, 2011)

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Judy Garland on set. A Star is Born (1954).

Katharine Hepburn on location. Summertime (1955)

Since mid December 2010 on tumblr — a blogging site that seems best suited to sharing images quickly and seamlessly as a  kind of “blogging lite” — I have been playing with a theme, a meme,  of “lolling”.  Lolling as a way of selecting (from thousands) and sharing images from the movies and performances of Katharine Hepburn and of Judy Garland I have been collecting from fan sites and other means over the past few years.

[My main tumblr page is at msteketee [dot] tumblr [dot] com.  My “archives” page which displays text and image entries like a proof sheet, is at msteketee [dot] tumblr [dot] com [forward slash] archive.  The site is like the wild west and I’m not sure I’ll keep a blog there, but for the time being, there it is.]

I selectively have now made my way through the Hepburn oeuvre, then the Garland oeuvre, movie by movie (with the occasional play thrown in for Hepburn), in alphabetical order.  I select for image quality, I prefer black and white, and for this run through the riches it’s all about the lolling.

“lolling — present participle of loll (Verb)1. Sit, lie, or stand in a lazy, relaxed way: “the two girls lolled in their chairs”.2. Hang loosely; droop: “he slumped against a tree trunk, his head lolling back”.”— Merriam-Webster – The Free Dictionary

I have been playing with the idea that in these publicity portraits, production stills, screen captures, on set encounters something might be revealed about each actress.  Perhaps.  Lolling between takes and at rest and posing and chatting with colleagues.  Moments of repose in public by two women who lived very public lives.  Two icons, two women I greatly admire for their talent and in part how they each quite differently lived their lives.  One was present and reserved.  One was present and may have given, willingly given, a great deal of herself away.  In Anna Deavere Smith‘s show Let Me Down Easy (her musings through multiple characters on health and culture and end of life), she quotes the DC sports writer Sally Jenkins on the nature of athletes and their attitudes towards their mortal coil: “Athletes aren’t happy unless they’re actually used up.”  I wonder whether this personality attribute might relate in different measure to Hepburn and Garland.  Long-haul, family home to visit then live in, paced life style with consistency of routine and sense of place versus shifting residence, performance focused.  I refrain from further assertions or conclusions, but the concept is for me evocative.

Katharine Hepburn on set. Bringing Up Baby (1938).

We have beauty.  Check.  We have presence.  Check.  We have focus.  Check.  We have intensity.  Check.  And here we may be venturing into the areas that, from our vantage point outside the lives of these outsized characters …  I’ll reach for quotations by others now to elaborate some thoughts.  Then leave this post with some final images.

Hepburn’s great friend Garson Kanin, for a time estranged and finally reconciled, wrote of her and of her several-decade relationship with Spencer Tracy in 1971’s Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir.  (The fact of this book, that Kanin would dare to write about the open secret of their relationship, caused the estrangement from Hepburn.  At some point after  Ruth Gordon passed away and Kanin was married to Marian Seldes, there was a “life is too short” moment and all parties decided to forgive and be friends again.) Observations by a witty and fine writer about several witty and fine human beings, creates quotable language on almost every page about Kate.  Each word relates to the “lolling” meme in my mind: Hepburn had her own style in every moment, and a lanky ease.   Tracy and Hepburn, p. 152:

“In the largest sense, Katharine Hepburn’s popularity has never waned because people know (magically, intuitively) that she stands for something, even if many of them have no clear idea as to what that something is.  They recognize that in a time of dangerous conformity, and the fear of being different, here is one who stands up gallantly to the killing wave.”

Judy Garland on set. In The Good Old Summertime (1949).

Several contemporaries and colleagues of Garland provide reflections on her style, focus, intensity. John Fricke‘s Judy Garland: The World’s Greatest Entertainer (1992) features a range of intriguing commentary from the era of A Star is Born.  On page 145, Doris Day is quoted:

“Some Hollywood faces seem to have been made for cameras.  Judy had such a face — right, left, up, down, it didn’t matter…. She was one of the funniest, wittiest ladies I have ever known, a marvelous conversationalist who would set me laughing until I actually doubled over…. [Garland was] the most tightly wound person I ever knew…. She kept so much of herself locked up, but what she did let out was beautiful.”

Judy Garland and George Cukor on set. A Star is Born (1954).

And a final present.  Our women together on the set of the movie in which one starred, directed by the husband of the other.  Focus, intensity, beauty in repose.

Vincente Minnelli, Judy Garland, Katharine Hepburn on set. Undercurrent (1946).

© Martha Wade Steketee (January 24, 2011)

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After a year of blogging (and some years of blather on discussion boards and other internet communities) I have reached a perhaps inevitable moment — the splinter moment.  I began this adventure on my original blog urban excavations (msteketee.wordpress.com) at a time of upheaval in my life: a recent move from Chicago, a city I adore, to the East Coast and what turned out to be stage one of my current adventure living in Manhattan.  Spring 2009 selling property in a major American city to move east in two stages.  Three major moves in two years.  It has indeed been a time to reflect.  L. Frank Baum has something to say about that.

The following is from Chapter 9 “The Scarecrow Plans an Escape” in The Marvelous Land of Oz (the first sequel to The Wizard of Oz).  First, some text from the 1904 title page to set the scene: “The Marvelous Land of Oz.   Being an Account of the further adventures of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman and also the strange experiences of the Highly Magnified Woggle-Bug, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Animated Saw Horse and the Gump; the story being A Sequel to The Wizard of Oz“.

Tip was looking out the window.

“The palace is surrounded by the enemy,” said he “It is too late to escape. They would soon tear you to pieces.”

The Scarecrow sighed.

“In an emergency,” he announced, “it is always a good thing to pause and reflect. Please excuse me while I pause and reflect.”

My adventures always include traveling and writing.  My “further adventures” blog wise have led me to focus increasingly on theatrical writing, including writing on productions as formal reviews and reflections on panels and other theatrical events.  My original blog has now become two.  My Gemini soul loves this.  urban excavations (msteketee.wordpress.com) is now focused exclusively on live performance reviews and reflections.  This new blog looking outside (mattiewade.wordpress.com) contains all other entries from the old blog, entries outside that specific focus, and new entries along these lines.

With a nod to Garland (because, let’s be honest, it’s instinctual) I’ll end this entry with a quotation.  And look forward to further musings with all y’all.

“In the night, every night, we’ve known somehow it would come to this.”

— Irene Hoffman Wallner (Judy Garland) in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

© Martha Wade Steketee (December 1, 2010)

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During the eight years I lived in Washington, DC, I grew to think of many of that city’s museums and galleries as second homes, including those that actually expect admission fees.  I would join some of the admission-charging private museums in alternate years — the Corcoran Gallery, for example, or the Phillips Collection — and blend them in with the no-fee-charging institutions.  I thrilled in the availability of world-class art and cultural artifacts on a whim for moments between meetings in government offices, or for a few hours of serious escape.  Ah, the many locales associated with the Smithsonian Institution and ah, the National Gallery of Art.  And while corners of favor and particular interests abound (a Katharine Hepburn portrait at the National Portrait Gallery or the Matisse room at the National Gallery’s East Wing for example), I grew to love in particular, with a free wheeling abandon, the eclectic and now remodeled National Museum of American History.  [http://americanhistory.si.edu/]  Frequent repeat visits to favorite objects over the eight years I lived in this fine American city.

The "Wizard of Oz" ruby slippers (one of several several existing pairs) on display in "America's Attic". image credit: smithsonian institution.

The museum that some have described as “America’s attic” captures a vast array of objects.  From the web site cited we find this text:

The Museum collects and preserves more than 3 million artifacts—all true national treasures. We take care of everything from the original Star-Spangled Banner and Abraham Lincoln’s top hat to Dizzy Gillespie’s angled trumpet and Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.” Our collections form a fascinating mosaic of American life and comprise the greatest single collection of American history.

When this particular museum was reopened in 2008 after a several year shut down for its most recent refurbishing, the New York Times’ coverage reminded us of the organization’s nickname — “America’s Attic”.   http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/21/arts/design/21hist.html

Archive portraits of the Shubert brothers. Left to right: Lee, Sam, and J.J. image credit: martha wade steketee

I spent time this week in the 2nd floor offices of the Shubert Archive in the Lyceum Theatre at 149 W 45th Street.  Archive Director Maryann Chach similarly describes her resources as “the attic or the garage for the organization”, a repository of both first and last resort, a place of repose for the essential detritus and effluvia of the business and artistic visions of her “country”, the culture she works for, the work and productions and buildings related to the theatre-producing Shubert brothers’ legacy.  [For even more about the Shubert legacy refer to the lusciously illustrated The Shuberts Present: 100 Years of American Theater published in 2001 by Harry N. Abrams.]

And unless anyone might conclude that I have wandered too far from my Judy Garland loving roots, note that one of the four full-time staff members did his dissertation on the performance history of Baum’s Oz (the original story).  And quite sweetly, the original American Judy Garland Club president, Albert Poland, is represented in the Archive’s resources with papers from his general theatrical management career.  From the Archive’s web site http://www.shubertarchive.org/ this general description:

“The Archive is the repository of significant collections of papers from contemporary general managers, including Albert Poland, Marvin Krauss, and Gatchell and Neufeld.”

That last bit was a surprise to me.  Garland touched many during her life time and legions more now years after her passing.  It never fails to stun me.  Presents when I least expect them.

Shubert Archive images on a table. image credit: martha wade steketee

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 24, 2010)

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Blending attributes of making and observing and respecting the art.  This exercise in amalgamation is part of the journey I have been on over the past few years.  Along the way I have found George Jean Nathan and Kenneth Tynan. Each provides to me invaluable lessons in reacting to the wonders of the stage.

From Nathan I absorb a deeply American respect for voice and clarity of analysis and taking your work seriously.  From his Art of the Night, published in 1928, some words of wisdom (from a longer laundry list shared in a blog post earlier this year), in the form of “Advice to a Young Critic”, in the first chapter of this volume.

“The greatest weakness of the average critic is his wish to be more than a critic.”

“If you have violent prejudices, do not be afraid of them.”

“Take your work seriously, but not yourself.”

“Since you are an American, write like an American.”

“The chief fault with many critics is that they strive to divert to themselves the attention, if any, that their criticism should attract to itself.”

“A sound piece of criticism has never yet been spoiled by an injection of humor ….”

From Kenneth Tynan, I learn about erudite opinion making while having one’s own quirky favorites.  In particular, I embraced Tynan when I came across his remarks printed in the The New Yorker (23 May 1959),  pages 79 and 80, about Judy Garland’s May 1959 appearance at the old Metropolitan Opera House.

“Backed by a well-drilled revue company, Judy Garland sang in New York last week.  The engagement, which is now over, was limited; the pleasure it gave was not.”

Succinct.  Carefully crafted.  Didactically but intriguingly constructed.  Draws you in.

“Where else, as they say, but in America would you find Miss Garland at the Metropolitan Opera House while the Bolshoi Ballet was appearing at Madison Square Garden?”

Humor.  The almost snide (but we love him anyway) reflection of a Brit at this time just visiting New York for a short engagement himself.  Reflecting and opining freely from a certain remove.  And he can be snarky and we don’t care …

“She had some pretty decor to enshrine her, and a couple of stout supporting performers to keep us amused whenever costume changes forced her offstage…. But the magnet was Judy, the buxom minstrel girl, singing — in a variety of costumes, some becoming, some dreadfully not — her repertory of songs about smiling, rejoicing, and suffering.  Birds, naturally, flew over the rainbow, the trolley went clang-clang-clang, and the boy next door was just adored.  We also heard Harold Arlen’s lament for ‘The Man That got Away;” “We’re a Couple of Swells,” in which Miss Garland’s hobo makeup lent her a beguiling resemblance to Dylan Thomas; and a cluster of those phony, unforgettable numbers — such as ‘Swanee” and “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” — that white composers used to write about the black South.”

Don’t you love it when people from countries other than America express opinions about the cultural history and race relations here?  But you read on.

“Miss Garland is a squat woman now … “

Well, in 1959, there were some extra pounds yet truth be told, Garland’s 4 foot 11 inch frame did not allow for much extra.. but really, Ken, “squat”?  Well, onward we go …

“… and it takes some effort of puckering and wrinkling for her face to achieve the hopeful, trusting smile that first transfixed us.  but she can still do it, because she incarnates a dream. She embodies the persistence of youth so completely that we forbid her to develop, and permit her no maturity. Even in young middle age … “

[Note that Garland is just shy of 37 at the time of this May 1959 engagement.]

“… she must continue to sing about adolescence and all the pain and nostalgia that go with it.  When the voice pours out as rich and pleading as ever, we know where, and how moved, we are — in the presence of a star, and embarrassed by tears.”

Well now.  This is a man in command of his vocabulary and attuned to his critical faculties yet completely willing to give full sway to his fanaticism, his emotions.  This is a writer willing to share his passions without censoring them,  and allows us, if we’re willing, to go along the journey with him.  To feel the live experience.

I learn from this, as a writer, as a researcher, as an observer, as a critic.  Feel it, tell it, share it, express it fully.  And bring your reader, your audience, with you into the room.

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 19, 2010)

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[This is a repository of items accumulated over a several year period.  With a bit of edge to my collection -- I claim no dispassion.  Husband says: "you have to forgive him" and I still ask: "Why?"  A September 10, 2010 review of a Portland, Oregon concert resuscitates my aggravation.  No apologies, no explanations, just context.]

So in 2006, Rufus Wainwright announces he is going to do, as a tribute, the entire Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall concert.  As performed on April 23, 1961.  An assembly of songs performed and perfected, (arrangements, set list, song order, musicians assembled) through several countries and multiple cities prior to this event, and which Garland tours for the balance of 1961.  A set list that represents a career and a life.  And Judy at Carnegie Hall captures this artistry, arguably at the pinacle of Garland’s career and arguably one of the greatest evenings in the history of show business. A recording that has never gone out of print.

Wainwright decides to embrace this work in 2006.  And I hold my breath.  And he performs the concert in June 2006 several times at Carnegie Hall and repeatedly in multiple venues in the U.S. and around the world in 2006 and 2007.  CD and DVD versions of these concerts are released.  Rufus does his own press.  I keep track.

  • from Variety, Posted: Sun., May 28, 2006, 6:00am PT.  “Rufus over the rainbow” By Gordon Cox.

“It was the apotheosis of many colliding stars,” Wainwright speculates of the reasons behind the 1961 concert’s rep. “It was the beginning of the ’60s, so it was the final heave of that old-fashioned musical sound. And it was a moment when Judy’s decrepitude added an edge to her performance; it hadn’t quite taken over.”

”The songbook and the way these songs are built is so amazing that you could get out there and do it with a kazoo,” he said.

  • from National Public Radio, June 10, 2006.  Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon [selections from interview transcript]

SIMON: Why have you chosen to do this?

Mr. WAINWRIGHT: Well, you know, I didn’t really know the original album too well, itself. I mean, I knew – I certainly heard tracks from it. But when they re-released the record on a double CD set, I bought that. Whenever I put on that record, that Judy Garland record, that concert, everything brightened. And I just couldn’t help but sing along, and so it was like a vision or a calling. That was the initial thing, but then there is a lot of other reasons as well.

***

SIMON: …one right after another, what did you learn about the artistry with which that whole playlist had been selected? And what did you learn about what it took Judy Garland to sing those songs one after another?

Mr. WAINWRIGHT: Anyone should be able to sing those songs. I mean, they’re just such amazing songs. The lyrics are impeccable and the arrangements. And really, if you have half a voice and those orchestrations, you can just kind of glide along. Really.

  • my own response to Stephen Holden about his Variety review of the June 2006 Rufus Concerts at Carnegie Hall:

I have read with interest your reviews .. actually one review that appears to have been augmented today … of the 6/14 and 6/15 Rufus concerts at Carnegie Hall.  They seem to report on the facts … and comment a bit on the response of the folks in the hall .. but not enough on the performance itself. Yes, I’m one of the legion Judy fans who have been a bit flummoxed at his decision to do this .. and also a bit confused by reviews of the performance itself. So … .with “shaky intonation” and “incomplete memorization” of lyrics (hey, isn’t that a basic job when you take on the oeuvre?) … still the reviews including yours seem to focus on the audacity of this “openly gay” performer who has dared to take on this iconic performance, and call him a hero for taking this on?  Even though he admits he knew little about Judy until a few years ago other than Judy as Dorothy … and that he has demonstrated in press leading up to the performances a breathtaking lack of respect for the performer whose shoes he attempts to inhabit?? A hero?

An audacious choice on his part, to be sure. but what do you think of this choice?  The original concert for some of us is seen not just as a tremendous evening of music but also the culmination of a person’s, a particular spectacular performer’s, career.  Mr. Wainwright seems to have approached the piece as a piece of performance art .. of opera. Commenting on it without having the voice for it …  and even having a true appreciation for the songs themselves.

He is an opera fan … and seems to have approached this as opera and performance art .. without having learned the material thoroughly.  What then is accomplished at the end of it?

“Q The Judy Garland tributes were a big hit. One question: Did Judy Garland ever play Boston?

A (Laughs) I’m sure she did. She was pretty road-bound at many points in her life and had to do shows in order to get her prescriptions.”

American singer/songwriter RUFUS WAINWRIGHT feared for his sanity towards the end of his JUDY GARLAND tribute tour – because he was sick of hearing the diva’s hits.

Wainwright – who famously packed out New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2006 with a performance of the iconic star’s best-loved songs – went on to perform the show, in full Garland costume, at a string of venues around the world, as well as releasing a CD and DVD of the concerts.

Now he admits he’s relieved to have returned to performing his own material.

He says, “It did become almost like a Terry Gilliam movie, like Brazil. “I’d be placed in this torture chamber where I’d have to sing Judy Garland songs for 20 years non-stop, it was getting surreal.”

And I read tonight. September 10, 2010,  a review of a Portland Oregon performance by Wainwright, that suggests that while rambling through other dimensions of his musical interests (pop, opera, standards), he can’t quite stay away from the Garland repertoire. http://www.urbanhonking.com/pica/2010/09/rufus_says_he_loves_portland_a.html.

The program ended with a sweetly somber song written by Anna McCarrigle, originally intended her sister, entitled “Kitty, Come Home.” Tears streamed down her nephew’s face as sang — his mother died less than nine months ago. But of course following deafening applause and a standing ovation, Rufus returned to the stage with Storm to belt out a tasty mash-up of “Get Happy” and “Happy Days are Here Again.”

It appears from these words that the reviewer does not  know that Wainwright was performing a well-known duet created for Garland and Barbra Streisand in 1963 for Garland’s CBS television show.  But this is not the reviewer’s fault.  Clearly Wainwright didn’t appropriately credit the duet, the creation, the provenance of this adventure.  Methinks Wainwright is conflicted about the boffo success of these arrangement that he asserts can sing themselves (hand out the kazoos!) and is confused by different responses these arrangements receive from the fans who respond to Garland’s humanity, and whatever his performances yield.  He wants to embody, yet he can’t possibly understand.  It seems a use of her legacy rather than a tribute to her artistry.  In his hands, couched by his words and actions, it always will appear that way to me.

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 11, 2010)

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In May 2007, in the middle of my four years living in the grand city of Chicago, my life course shifted a bit while walking through the Chicago History Museum in its new building at 1601 N. Clark Street.  http://www.chicagohs.org/.  I spent a fair amount of time at this museum during my years in Chi-town.  And, as I will do in any city in any country (Israel, France, Netherlands, England, Mexico, all around the United States, Canada), I will go out of my way to revel in black-and-white photography of cities and famous/infamous/ordinary people, architecture, sculpture, shapes and images, shadows and light.  In this May three years ago, I chanced upon an exhibit that honored a Chicago resident and internationally renowned photographer, character, and all around sweet guy.  “The Essential Art Shay: Selected Photographs”.  During this exhibit I saw the length and breadth of Art’s oeuvre.

I’ll share comments from my journal at the time, experiencing the exhibit.

“It’s midway through the exhibit.  I’ve worked through the first several rooms — very Walker Evans, this Art Shay man-of-the-street documentary style.  Art had a twinship and friendship with Nelson Algren that seems inevitable as one examines these images.  Algren’s words (if you know them) and Shay’s pictures installed here (many of handsome Algren himself) combine seamlessly.  Algren and Shay capturing the poor, the rich, the famous, the powerful — the people who live in and visit this fabulous city in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s …. “

“There are some surprises.  Simone de Beauvoir bareback (well bare from the back) as she stands primping in a bathroom mirror.  An image of Elizabeth Taylor — 1960 or so — at a table at the Pump Room, Ambassador East — at the height of her luscious early middle age.  Waiting to light a cigarette.  In this picture of Elizabeth looking off to the side, perfectly composed .. we feel her life has been full, so full, of so many similar events.  Calm, collected, poised.”

“And the Bowery bums and 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention street images.  And then .. several ambling rooms in .. a room of entertainers and culture figures.  From left to right around the room (with year and ICHi numbers) –

  • Joseph McCarthy, 1950. 50576
  • Richard Daley and President Truman, 1960.  50553
  • President Eisenhower, 1954.  50554
  • JFK and Native Americans, 1960. 50585
  • Diana Ross and the Supremes, dressing room (looking sullen), 1963. 50581
  • Marlon Brando and dog, 1950. 50580 [image used on cover of Album for an Age]
  • Judy backstage at Arie Crown, 1962 [mislabeled 1963 on the tag]. 50579
  • Marcel Marceau, 1978. 50562
  • Liberace and Chicago Bears wives.  [pretty hysterical if you consider subtext] 50571
  • Mohammed Ali in trunks, 1964.  50570
  • Ernest Hemingway, 1944.  50563
  • Simone De Beauvoir, 1954.  50556.  [clothed!]
  • Saul Bellow, 1973.  50537
  • James Jones, 1952. 50561

In extraordinary company, Garland shines with raw human energy and JOY.  Between Marceau and Brando — mimic and consummate unique acting presence — she pops off the wall.  The first time through this room, I stop and gasp.  For this long time Garland fan and owner of countless biographies and related materials, this is a new image for me.  I stand immobile in front of the image for a full five minutes.

The wall label as posted follows.  I soon learn that this is a version of the text that appears in Art’s book Album for an Age: Unconventional Words and PIctures from the Twentieth Century (2000), accompanying this same image.  Shay took the picture while working as a stringer for Time magazine.  Another image from the stage at Chicago’s Arie Crown theatre November 7, 1962 appears in the November 16, 1962 Time issue article entitled “The New New Garland” — see http://tinyurl.com/2a8nlqc.  From the museum wall text:

“Judy Garland before a concert at the Crown Auditorium.  Garland got herself together in no time, smiled though her skin was breaking, playfully kicked  a leg into the air and asked, ‘Do you want to direct me in a scene or just let it happen?’  An echo, I guessed, of many another picture in her life.  ‘When I’m finished singing, I’ll come down front and sign autographs.  Should be good for Time.’  She knew her audience.”

For the next several months I was on a personal mission to find out how to obtain a copy of this image. At that point I would have been happy with a good xerox copy.  Conversations and connections later (Chicago like any other place is a small town once you access a corner of it), I am introduced by email by a woman who knows Art well.  Art and I meet several times, including at a reception at his wife Florence’s vintage book shop for Parisian gallery owners who have exhibited Art’s work.  And we become friends.  Adorable man.  I purchase FOUR original prints  from Art of this session, in a sequence, two leading up to the published image and one after, all signed and one specially inscribed.

These images move from Chicago to Philadelphia … and now occupy a place of honor in our new Manhattan home.  [In an intentionally fuzzy photo of our newly installed friends -- the previously published image is in the bottom left corner ... the images flow in sequence from top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right.]

For more about Art Shay’s photographs refer to his representatives at Stephen Daiter Gallery in Chicago.  Here on their web site you’ll find some information about their 2007 Art Shay exhibit timed to coincide with the Chicago History Museum show: http://tinyurl.com/24mh7f3

© Martha Wade Steketee (August 21, 2010)

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Twin primary passions, fan passions, have animated my humble fan’s life through childhood, through the ebbs and flows of adolescence, young adulthood, avid private watching and listening, to more public discussions of these feelings.  Story telling on stage and screen and song — and the professional legacies of Katharine Hepburn and Judy Garland. Women who knew each other personally, appreciated each other’s art professionally, for a time worked at the same Golden Age movie studio and yet whose lives as lived, other than their common celebrity, could not have been more distinct.  Each performer inspires high passions among fans and detractors alike.  The two come together, at least in this fan’s mind, quite often.  And a particular confluence of thought and event bring them both to mind, as well as other performers, over the past few days.

Robert Preston (Henry) and Rosemary Harris (Eleanor) in The Lion in Winter

My love for Hepburn has led me down many roads — travels, love for theatre, college education in New England, a classic American sporty classy clothing aesthetic, and adventures seeing her on stage in several contexts (testimonials to others as well as performances of her own).  And I recall sitting in a darkened movie theatre as a preteen midwestern movie and theatre loving geek soaking up the wonders of her star turn (and Academy Award winning performance) as Eleanor in the 1968 film version of The Lion in Winter (see http://tinyurl.com/3xyv6d/). I didn’t see this production on stage for many years — until the magnificent Writers’ Theatre production in 2008 (see http://tinyurl.com/29y4g5n), but have owned the playscript for many years.  I pull it from the shelf from time to time to savor particular favorite passages and to analyze the differences in pacing, placement, structure between the story written for the stage and the story as adapted by the playwright James Goldman for film.   The play opened on Broadway March 3, 1966 with Robert Preston as Henry and the luminous Rosemary Harris as Eleanor (see http://tinyurl.com/2b6d7to) . One particular speech from the play and film is on my mind.  The following is from Henry’s final speech at end of Act One Scene six.  In this speech King Henry relays to his sons Richard, Geoffrey, and John some sense of the wonder of his past and of their mother.

“My life, when it is written, will read better than it lived.  Henry Fitz-Empress, first Plantagenet, a king at twenty-one, the ablest soldier of an able time.  He led men well, he cared for justice when he could and ruled, for thirty years, a state as great as Charlemagne’s.  He married, out of love, a woman out of legend.  Not in Alexandria or Rome or Camelot has there been such a queen.”

image as presented at thejudyroom.com

And this phrase, this rhythm — “out of love, a woman out of legend” — has been running through my mind for the past day or so.  At this moment in the Garland fan community there is great anticipation of a recording, never before commercially released — a test recording that resided in a family ‘s private archives that has, suddenly, within the past few years, been revealed for the historical treasure that it is.  Preteen Frances Ethel Gumm, who at the early 1935 time of the recording has  just recently begun to call herself Judy Garland, has spent years in the family vaudeville act honing this particular delivery, is now living in southern California with her sisters and her parents, and has not yet been signed to M-G-M.  This Decca recording, this shard of history, this evocation of a time, gives pause.  A young girl-on-the-cusp-of-being-a-woman’s barely contained talent, almost raw.  Barrelhouse stolid piano accompaniment to “Bill” from the then-recent Broadway original production of Show Boat.  And a girl, not yet a woman, a talent “out of legend”.

© Martha Wade Steketee (July 10, 2010)

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“Either you are or you aren’t — a Judy Garland fan that is.  And if you aren’t, forget about her new movie, I Could Go On Singing, and leave the discussion to us devotees…. You’ll see her in close up … in beautiful, glowing Technicolor and striking staging in a vibrant, vital performance that gets to the essence of her mystique as a superb entertainer.  Miss Garland is — as always — real, the voice throbbing, the eyes aglow, the delicate features yielding to the demands of the years — the legs still long and lovely.  Certainly the role of a top-rank singer beset by the loneliness and emotional hungers of her personal life is not an alien one to her ….”
Judith Crist.  New York Herald Tribune.  1963

Judith Crist wrote these words about Garland’s then current and ultimately final film, I Could Go On Singing.  Most of them, absent the “demands of the years” reference, apply to Judy Garland’s resonant, now again vibrantly restored, performance as Esther Blodgett who becomes Vicki Lester who proclaims herself Mrs. Norman Maine in George Cukor‘s (and Moss Hart‘s and Dorothy Parker‘s and James Mason‘s but ultimately Judy Garland’s) 1954 version of A Star is Born.  Screenings in LA last month as part of the TCM Classic Film Festival [see http://www.tcm.com/festival/#/films/astar]  and in NYC at Lincoln Center last night provide a taste of what we will see in the spanking new, shiny cleaned up version of the film that will be released on DVD  in June 2010.  (Bad taste on the part of the releasing company to gift the world with this gem on the anniversary of Garland’s death, June 22 — how much better to have celebrated the day of her birth earlier in the month, June 10, as many of us already do?)

I now join the voices of those who saw the new treatment of the film in LA and extolled its virtues.  This  is an exquisite restoration of the familiar 1954 version of the journey of Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) the 30-year-old band singer who has a powerhouse voice and persona who meets Norman Maine (James Mason) the movie star on his way down, who gives her a vision of her future, assists her entry into his home studio, and can’t stave off his own self-destructive demons.  As Norman’s pal Oliver Niles (Charles Bickford) the studio head says at one point to Esther of Norman’s reduced capacities: “years of steady quiet drinking will do that to a man”.  Esther loves Norman through his journey, and ultimately stands in her own strength.  Esther’s story especially shines in this version of the film lovingly reassembled and released in 1983 [see Ronald Haver's adventure story A Star Is Born: The Making of the 1954 Movie and Its 1983 Restoration for this full ride]  restoring early plot sequences and two full production numbers cut after the original release to facilitate more daily showings and earnings for the studio.  This film’s version of this repeatedly-told story of love and conflicting career arcs and internal demons has been restored to vibrant life and now gives this dame who has seen this movie more times than she is able to calculate a series of new experiences in one familiar package.

So this blog entry is really a story of my journey to honor a performance that is well-known, and to see how the piece of art has been shined up.  Refurbished.  New details noticed.  Old interactions revealed.  Power reinforced.  All of this and more.

I choose to make Sunday, May 16th a day trip in to NYC from Philly in this pre-move era, where my life is in both places and my heart is increasingly in one.  The train to NYC is crowded at 1:40pm.  Beginning of business week for some and play time for gaggles of vacationers.  Amidst people struggling with wheeled luggage I am relatively carefree but focused.  Black coat, black slacks, black shoes,  and an mp3 player on which i listen to a certain soundtrack.

Buh buh bah BAH buh. …

A glorious New York day.  I amble from Penn Station east on 34th, then north-ish on Broadway to 40th, then east to Bryant Park where I reinforce the familiar with a pause among the trees.  I reject the proposed hang at the Algonquin (old familiar at 44th near 6th) floated by stay-at-home spouse in favor of dealing with my anxiety over the nebulous ticketing routines at the Walter Reade theatre.  I have an internet receipt in hand (thank you Heather) but I don’t know how the Box Office will deal with it.  And this screening is too important to me.  So I push northward toward Lincoln Center at this midafternoon hour to clarify the details.

Amble continues: 6th Avenue north to the Park, then west along Central Park South to Columbus Circle and north on Central Park West for a few blocks, west on 64th  into Lincoln Center.  Am I here to see Opera?  Theatre?  Ballet?

Pretty and inviting but  no no no.  Through a bit of construction across 65th I see my goal — and up a single escalator flight outdoors I locate the Box Office. Almost no checking of my email receipt and I am awarded my ticket.  Gee, that was simple.  Its only 4:30pm and my showing is at 7pm.  What to do?  Scope it out and, Girl Scout that I am, use the facilities before wandering further afield.

Turns out it’s intermission time for the first showing that started at 3pm, so there’s a line. In that line of smiling faces is a woman just behind me, encounter one, just a bit older than me, who speaks of seeing Judy at the Palace in 1967 when she was a teenager (her mother convinced her to go, to which I responded “smart mother!”), saying Garland spoiled her for anyone else.  The energy and commitment.  She speaks of the 1983 A Star is Born restoration showing at Radio City (the current cut without the digital enhancement and refurbishing the current release has received).  And as is true of the Garland fans I adore, she speaks of these events in 1967 and 1983 as if they happened yesterday.  In the loo line we bond and beam.  I send her off to the second half of the first showing and she wishes me a lovely time at mine.  And this is all for me before the overture, all before seeing Judy’s image myself today.  She’s just here.

There is espresso in this lobby and my notepad and only a few hours to wait and what the heck, I decide to stay.  First in line, on a bench by a rope, like a Star Wars groupie or something.  And by 6:30pm I am in my seat middle of the 3rd row.  From here I experience chance audience encounter two. This is an audio Jeopardy question.  A comment overheard that I prefer to leave unattributed.  An adult male voice behind me, of a man clearly new to the movie and perhaps brought to the showing by one of his several chattering male companions.  “Isn’t it Pride next month?  Shouldn’t they made this part of fag appreciation month?”  I am reminded once again of Crist’s words, of my own counsel, of the core creative emotional hold this performer has for me. I refrain from retorts.  And I wait for the overture.

The crowd is serious and content, and wonder of wonders, finally, A Star is Born is about to begin.  We applaud credits.  Those familiar with the resolution and images of this work of art from the past gasp at the clarity of the image — the pop of the reds, the definition of outlines, the crispness of shadows.  And I wait with bated breath through the first exciting movie minutes of klieg lights igniting, people in fancy dress arriving (and the gushing female interviewer of one female’s choice of hair adornments “and the diamonds in the hair!”) for the first shots of Judy as Esther the band singer, waiting backstage with her musician pals, waiting to perform.  And those legs.  My goodness, those legs.

screen cap courtesy of Meg Meyers

I could fill this entry with splashes of dialog that I love (for example, Norman’s speech to Esther telling her about “that little something extra” that defines a star), but I’ll try to refrain and talk for the balance here about moments that popped for me differently because of this restoration and because of the fine screening facilities at the Walter Reade Theatre at Lincoln Center.  Criminy the credits alone and the explosion of klieg lights in the first moments heralding the first benefit alert you.  You are, by gum, going to pay attention when the lights pop on in your face like this.

On the whole, to these eyes long familiar with various cuts of this movie through various media (late night black and white commercial broadcast television, VCRs, early DVD, bad prints projected in film society blank walls), the great gifts of this new version of the film are newly visible small details that bring tears of joy.  The nuances.  The various flowers among the wall of red during Esther’s “Born in a Trunk” movie within a movie sequence — there were poppies in there!  The various textures and hues of glove and gown and shawl in the “Melancholy Baby” sequence within that number.  The freckles cried off and reapplied during “Lose That Long Face”.  The exquisite sparkle of the substantial diamond clips in Esther’s hair in her final formal ensemble, seeing the lipstick scrawled love note, and going onstage to proclaim to the world her identity as “Mrs. Norman Maine”.

The power of the imagery and framing of shots hit me anew with the screening, a testament to Cukor’s vision.  Two particular images haunt me.  First, Esther at the Academy Award ceremony on stage after she has been presented with her Oscar, in a long shot.  Esther the human being down left, and Esther as projected on a screen for the attendees at the ceremony at the right.  Luscious use of widescreen format.

screen cap courtesy of Meg Meyers

And a second image: a different kind of composition and intent later in the movie.  At the end of Norman’s life.  He is brought home after a several-day drunk, Esther proclaims she is going to quit the business for a while and take care of him, and he is devastated by this  — her career is his lasting legacy.  He gets up, plays the happy camper, proclaims his intent to swim before supper, leaves Esther after one last look at her (sob), and exits the house toward the beach.  It the moment after he closes the patio door behind him that I speak of — he looks back at the house to his right with an empty sorrow-filled face, resolute, the setting sun to the left of the screen, warmly welcoming him into the waters.  It’s chilling and mesmerizing and gorgeous.

screen cap courtesy of Meg Meyers

Rich saturated color.  Framing often just exquisite. And the story of two humans who fall in love.  And entertain us along the way.  I’m training toward Philly by midnight.

“A little something extra.”  Holy cow.

© Martha Wade Steketee (May 17, 2010)

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The anniversary of Mom’s birth last weekend.  A trip to LA and a celebration “Judy in Hollywood” starts tomorrow.  At this celebration in addition to paying homage and getting behind the scenes tours and communing with like-minded fans and scholars, I will participate in a public presentation of a new play in development about the life of someone who knew Garland well, and had her own Hollywood “make over” story that needs to be told: Dot Ponedel.  And with all that jet setting and communing, husband and I are shifting the geographic centers of our lives a bit north and east of Philly, as I have been blogging for several months.  We have submitted application materials for rental in a new fancy pants building not far from Lincoln Center, so walking distance for husband (even rental arrangements are more involved in New York … it’s amazing).  So we may have an address on which to build our future soon.  Soon.

And in all this action, I hear Mom’s voice (and I think Dot’s voice, as I now understand her practical Midwestern manner, that Midwestern background Mom and I and Dot and Judy share) telling me to stop, laugh, and not take all of this too seriously.  I do anticipate unmitigated agog postings from Los Angeles over the next few days.  So with a deep breath and gentle laugh, I’ll now share here an image from a walk down 42nd Street yesterday.  A display in a toy store window.  Don’t even know what was being advertised other than the wonder and delight of soap bubbles.  And that how I’m feeling these days: full of wonder and delight.

© Martha Wade Steketee (April 21, 2010)

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