Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland

Clarke, Gerald

Published by Random House, 2000
ISBN 10: 0375503781 / ISBN 13: 9780375503788
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Synopsis: Judy Garland. The girl with the pigtails, the symbol of innocence in The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland. The brightest star of the Hollywood musical and an entertainer of almost magical power. Judy Garland. The woman of a half-dozen comebacks, a hundred heartbreaks, and countless thousands of headlines. Yet much of what has previously been written about her is either inaccurate or incomplete, and the Garland the world thought it knew was merely a sketch for the astonishing woman Gerald Clarke portrays in Get Happy. Here, more than thirty years after her death, is the real Judy.

To tell her story, Clarke took ten years, traveled thousands of miles across two continents, conducted hundreds of interviews, and dug through mountains of documents, many of which were unavailable to other biographers. In a Tennessee courthouse, he came across a thick packet of papers, unopened for ninety years, that laid out the previously hidden background of Judy's beloved father, Frank Gumm. In California, he found the unpublished memoir of Judy's makeup woman and closest confidante, a memoir centered almost entirely on Judy herself. Get Happy is, however, more than the story of one woman, remarkable as she was. It is a saga of a time and a place that now seem as far away, and as clouded in myth and mystery, as Camelot-the golden age of Hollywood. Combining a novelist's skill and a movie director's eye, Clarke re-creates that era with cinematic urgency, bringing to vivid life the unforgettable characters who played leading roles in the unending drama of Judy Garland: Louis B. Mayer, the patriarch of the world's greatest fantasy factory, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Arthur Freed, the slovenly producer who revolutionized the movie musical and gave Judy her best and most enduring parts. Sexy Lana Turner, Judy's friend and idol, who had a habit of trying to snatch away any man Judy expressed interest in.

And what men they were! Oscar Levant, the wit's wit, whose one-liners could all but kill. Artie Shaw, whose sweet and satiny clarinet had a whole nation dancing. Handsome Tyrone Power, who caused millions of hearts to pound every time he looked out from the screen with his understanding eyes. Orson Welles, Hollywood's boy genius and the husband of a movie goddess, Rita Hayworth. Brainy Joe Mankiewicz, who knew everything there was to know about women, but who confessed that he was baffled by Judy. Vincente Minnelli, who showed what wonders Judy could perform in front of a camera and who fathered her first child, Liza-but who also, with an act of shocking betrayal, caused her first suicide attempt. Charming, brawling Sid Luft, who gave her confidence, then took it away. And the smooth and seductive David Begelman, who stole her heart so he could steal her money.

Toward the end of her life, Garland tried to tell her own story, talking into a tape recorder for hours at a time. With access to those recordings-and to her unfinished manuscript, which offers a revelation on almost every page-Clarke is able to tell Judy's story as she herself might have told it. "It's going to be one hell of a great, everlastingly great book, with humor, tears, fun, emotion and love," Judy promised of the autobiography she did not live to complete. But she might just as well have been describing Get Happy. For here at last-told with humor, tears, fun, emotion and love-is the true, unforgettable story of Judy Garland.

Review: Like his renowned Capote, Clarke's Get Happy is an addictively readable bio of an addict genius. We learn that it wasn't just the Hollywood moguls who mangled Judy Garland's soul. Yes, MGM's Louis B. Mayer did paw her teenage breasts, exacerbate her insecurity by calling her "my little hunchback," feed her uppers and downers ("bolts and jolts"), and repel the U.S. drug czar's personal attempt to get her into rehab. But the true villain was Judy's diabolical stage mom, Ethel Gumm, who fed her pills at age 9. Judy's heart belonged to her daddy, a kindly theater owner cursed with pederastic yearnings that evidently got the family run out of various towns, once by a man named Doc Savage. Daddy died young, and Judy kept hooking up with older men, including two probably gay husbands, one of whom cheated on her with her daughter Liza's husband. Her first best girlfriend in Hollywood (and probable lover) turned out to be a studio spy. She knew at least one of her agents, nicknamed Loeb and Leopold, robbed her blind, but since betrayal was everybody's way of life, she just laughed it off--and died dead broke. Judy cheated on Liza's dad (and her own great director) Vincente Minnelli, with still-handsome Orson Welles, who was cheating on Rita Hayworth. "People like me don't grow up easily," Judy once said. Most people in this book deserved to go up in flames, but only nice Margaret Hamilton, playing the Wicked Witch of the West, actually did so in a filming accident. She recovered; Judy didn't. It's fascinating to read about Judy's self-immolating life. But for a jolt of joy afterward, I prescribe the CD Judy at Carnegie Hall. Clarke lets you know what the songs cost, and what they mean. --Tim Appelo

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 2000
Binding: Hard Cover
Book Condition: Fine
Edition: First Edition

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