Posts Tagged ‘Judy Garland’

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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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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“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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Ces.  Cecily Wade.  Cecily Wade Steketee.  Cecily who explored and played tough as a child in Depression era Grosse Pointe, Michigan, in vacant lots and tomboy bicycle adventures and long summers at a camp on Lake Huron.  Cecily who did not live to see the adults her adolescent children would become.  Cecily who did not live to meet her three grandchildren and two daughters in law and two sons in law.  Cecily who did not live to meet her delightful grand-niece who bears her name and charms everyone she knows.  Cecily who did live the last seven years of her short life with a disease provoked by a genetic component then little known and now commonly taught (emphysema and alpha-one antitrypsin deficiency).  Cecily who managed in her short 47 years of  life to share with her children — and friends and people who became family — humor and independence and passion and joy.

Cecily would have been 80 years ago today.  I thought that I would share the text from a letter I wrote upon the occasion of her birthday a few years ago.  Mom was on my mind.  Mom is always on my mind.  With joy. I wrote a letter to family dated April 17, 2002.  Eight years ago.

“It’s now almost 25 years since our Mom passed away, and I just wanted to write a note to everyone and, well, talk about her.  We all have our own individual memories of course.  Some conflicting.  Some that make us laugh in the telling and in the remembering.  Some that make us feel individually sad or furious.  Our Mom did not inspire a passive response.  I just wanted to sing, talk, ruminate through a few of these memories with you all .. with others who care.”

“First, let me say that our parents really did at least one thing right.  Each of us is in a wonderful, long-term relationship with a person we love and who loves us.  O.K., that defines success as a human being.  I’m done now.  It took most of us a few running starts to get there, but we’re there.  Amazing.  Mom would be proud of the fact that she and Dad provided each of us with the foundation to be good and loving people on this planet.”

“But the gifts don’t stop there.  Each of us has an outrageous sense of humor and a profound appreciation of the absurd.  These did not drop out of the sky.  And we absorbed a different array of her attributes, each of us, by genetic chance, by proclivity, by osmosis.  John has her face more than any of us, and her natural athleticism.  I got her height but not her great legs, damn it.  However, I chose to absorb her passions for Barbra and Judy and movies and theatre –I think of Mom every single day for those reasons alone.  Betsy has made beautiful children and carries on Mom’s tradition of teaching Character School and giving the next generation the gift of Fountain Street Church.  Joe is her baby, hell he was everyone’s baby, and enjoyed for much of his early childhood the wonder of a world in which every face looked at him with adoration.  Joe knew from infancy how to forge his own way.  Much as Mom took her bike and “ran away from home” to downtown Detroit when she was about 10, Joe decided he’d roam our neighborhood — but the first time we knew about it he was about 2 and wearing yellow footie pajamas and we had to send out a search party for him!  Joe had his own cocktail hour with the country club set across the street from the age of 3 or so.  We have bits and pieces of Mom in our lives .. each of us, all of us. ”

“The day I began drafting some notes for this letter, a friend used the verb “bop” as in “I wanted to bop him one”, and I told her the story of Mom saying to healthy, rambunctious toddler Joe “no bopping”.  In my life, as I bet in each of yours, I continually introduce Mom to my friends and loved ones — people who never met her but who eventually tell me they feel as though they know her.”

“And now, I come to the reason why I have enclosed here for each of you “Judy at Carnegie Hall.”  This recording took me from Judy as Dorothy to Judy as the premier interpreter of the American standard songbook.  The Carnegie Hall concert occurred on the evening of April 23, 1961, and was one of Judy’s several “comebacks” during her short lifetime.  This was 22 years after “The Wizard of Oz”, and 7 years after her version (the best version) of “A Star is Born”.  This was after her marriages to David Rose and Vincente Minnelli, and during her marriage to Sid Luft (and there were 2 more!).  The concert was recorded, thank god, and was a bestseller as a double album release.”

“Mom had the recording and loved it, and some time when I was a child she introduced it to me.  I remember her pulling out the double LP, popping the lid of the stereo console in the Pinecrest living room, and saying something like “Sit down, I think you’re old enough to enjoy this.”  I wonder in retrospect if it was the 1969 summer I was 11, because Judy died June 22, 1969.  I’d felt connected with Judy for some time: she was born on June 10 like me (but in 1922) and in Grand Rapids (but in Minnesota).  But the connections forged through this concert were to the music and to the voice.  And I was a sponge – always loved the belters; always loved the good telling of the story in a song.  I can’t remember my precise reaction that day, but I know I spent many hours as an adolescent listening to the tracks on the two original LPs.  I ended up with Mom’s copy of that album in later years, and just wore it out.  Now that I no longer even own a turntable, I have replaced the recording several times, first as cassettes which mirrored the LP recording, then CDs which added additional between song “patter” that was on the original tape masters but didn’t “fit” on the original vinyl release.  A new present to me a few years ago, and I now share that with you.  Mom’s connection to Judy extended beyond the love for her music.  Both Judy and Mom died much too young, both at age 47.”

Happy birthday Mom.  You are loved.

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Rick Blaine, Ilsa Lund, Casablanca (1942)

from Sidney Skolsky.  Don’t Get Me Wrong — I Love Hollywood (1975), p. 246

“That’s how it is, recalling scenes, having a movie memory.  It’s a game. You can play it by yourself and be amazed by what comes out of your past into the present.  You can play it with a group of people.  Throw them the lines or describe the scene and see if they can name the picture.  Try it and see.  It’ll give you a fast insight into people.”

Norman Maine, Esther Blodgett, A Star is Born (1954)

And this is how I live my life.  And it’s not a game.  The scenes from movies (and literature and stage moments, truth be told) inform my imagination and my every day speech and writing referents in equal measure.  Mrs. Norman Maine and Ilsa Lund and Tracy Lord and others are as essential to my intellectual and artistic life as any other elements in my basic building blocks of thought and image.  In fact, as prior blog entries tiresomely testify, these characters and the artists who create and embody them actually are for me some of the building blocks of my thought process.  There they are … myth and literature and fairy tale and spiritual concepts and lives created on page and stage and screen.  It’s all story telling.  It is all of a piece.

Tracy Lord, Macaulay Connor, The Philadelphia Story (1940)

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New York City beckons and the apartment hunting has begun.  We’re hoping to land in Manhattan in May or June of this year.  Deep breaths.  I draw inspiration from working women portrayed on film and on television, who show how you can love a city, this city, while you love what you do, and just love life, people, and the world around you.

joe and alice on a sunday in the cityAlice Mayberry. Office worker Alice is a small town import to the Big City in The Clock (1945).  Vincente Minnelli directs Robert Walker as a soldier on 48-hour leave (and about to embark to places unknown during WWII) and Judy Garland in her first non-singing dramatic role.  The movie is populated with character actors in small roles (Keenan Wynn, James and Lucile Gleason, Moyna McGill — Angela Lansbury’s mother! — and scores more), and scenes in iconic New York locations such as studio recreations of the old Pennsylvania Station, the Astor Hotel lobby, the zoo in Central Park, and the Natural History Museum.  The city itself is a character that embraces and enables our two main characters Joe and Alice to  find one another during one short military leave.

Molly Dodd. In the late 1980s while I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan (during the first season of The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd on NBC  before it moved to the then-new Lifetime cable channel) I yearned to live in the Upper West Side of Manhattan along with Molly and her pals.  Her mother, her ex-husband the jazz sax player, her bookstore owning boyfriend, her cop boyfriend, her intriguing neighbors, her Irish doorman, her adventures every day on the city streets.  The show was shot in Manhattan (1987-1991) and was cast with Broadway and Off Broadway acting masters — from Blair Brown herself to regular and semi-regular appearances by Victor Garber, David Strathairn, Nathan Lane, John Glover,  J. Smith-Cameron, John Pankow and oh so many more.  The series is a little bit Seinfeld (often about little things, not quite “nothing” but perhaps a chance meeting), a little bit Mary Tyler Moore Show, and all its own.

The place, the romance, and the realities await.

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