7/9/13 - judy garland, barbra streisand, and magic

In today's selection -- in 1963, Judy Garland was a forty-one year old fading star just a few short years from her own premature death from a drug overdose, while Barbra Streisand was twenty-one and an emerging star who already had a cult following. Garland, always broke, needed her new television show to be a hit -- and Streisand had a reputation as a guest star who could bring standout ratings and reviews. And so it was that Garland pieced together her own fragile self-confidence and invited the irrepressible Streisand to be a guest on her show:

"At forty-one, Garland looked a decade older. Pills, alcohol, heartache, illness, roller-coaster dieting -- and the recent ongoing battles with her husband over their children -- had all taken their toll. This television show, for which she'd now taped eight episodes, was supposed to make her rich. That was what Begelman and Fields had promised. Garland was always broke, due to bad financial management and overspending. She envied male contemporaries such as Bing Crosby and Bob Hope who were rolling in the dough, much of it earned in television. This show, she hoped, would change all that. Her agents had never been wrong before. But problems had arisen almost from the start. ...

"Barbra [Streisand] was the most exciting, most talked-about guest they'd had on their brand new revolving stage since they'd started production. Everyone was hoping Barbra could bring a little of the razzle-dazzle she'd bestowed upon [shows like] Brasselle and Garry Moore and Dinah Shore -- and the ratings and the reviews as well.

"In her trailer at the end of the mock Yellow Brick Road, Garland, wasn't unaware of the excitement being generated by the arrival of this Streisand kid. She was 'nervous and anxious and jealous,' one friend, Tucker Fleming, observed. Looking at her face in the mirror, Garland ran her fingers down the wrinkles and creases she saw there, clearly aware of the youthful features of the singer she would soon be rehearsing with....

"To Garland, Barbra wasn't ugly or funny-looking. She was young, fresh-faced, her eyes undamaged by the battle between insomnia and sleeping pills. David Begelman had introduced his two clients in Lake Tahoe, where he'd brought Garland to see Barbra perform at Harrah's. So the old pro had witnessed firsthand the confident, youthful energy Barbra exuded onstage. No wonder she was insecure. While Garland still conjured an exquisite alchemy in front of an audience, youth and confidence were two attributes she definitely did not possess. Barbra also had a voice that everyone was raving about, in ways Garland 'could only remember people raving about her.' ...

"No wonder Judy Garland's hands were shaking as she headed down the Yellow Brick Road to meet Barbra Streisand, who was waiting for her on the soundstage. By rights, it should have been the other way around. It should have been the twenty-one-year-old kid, the neophyte singer who'd been performing for barely three years, who was trembling to meet Judy Garland. But Barbra's nerves were steady, her manner calm, as the cameras began rolling on Friday, October 4, for the final taping of the show. ...

"The veteran star kept taking Barbra's hands, touching her, putting her arm around her. She was trembling. Barbra was flabbergasted. Garland was older, successful, venerated. Why should she be shaking when meeting a girl who was just starting out? Barbra didn't get it.

"Her heart went out to Garland. An 'instant soul connection' was how Barbra described her encounter with the older woman. She probably didn't know the full story of what was going on behind the scenes, or the sense of trepidation that Garland lived with nearly every moment on the show. If the fragile star made one false step, she feared that they'd give her the ax. ...

"Barbra sang two solo numbers that night. ... Yet as good as her solo numbers were, it was the duets with Garland that everyone was waiting for. ... The familiar piano introduction for 'Happy Days' began [familiar to audiences from Streisand's first album]. 'Happy days are here again,' Barbra sang, as Judy matched her with 'Forget your troubles, come on, get happy' [a legendary Garland number]. The older woman seemed to be holding on to the younger one for dear life; Barbra felt, once again, the trembling of Garland's body. During rehearsals, the two had developed a tender chemistry that emerged now in front of the cameras, real and vivid and palpable. It may have been borne of sympathy on Barbra's part and competition on Judy's, but it was genuine, and it made for fascinating television. Masterfully arranged, the counterpoint of 'Happy Days' and 'Get Happy' riveted the audience, including those hard-to-please network execs."


William J. Mann


Hello, Gorgeous


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Copyright 2012 by William J. Mann


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