Judy Garland’s Secret Jewish History – The Forward
Editor’s Note: Judy Garland, born June 10, 1922, would have been 99 years old today. We take this opportunity to explore the many Jewish affinities and associations in his career.
Although Judy Garland is not Jewish, several of her romantic partners were, including two of her five husbands. Many of her best-known songs were the product of Jewish songwriters, and some critics and historians have argued that her musical model was Asa Yoelson, born in the Eastern European shtetl. This is Al Jolson for you. Even the stage name given to Frances Ethel Gumm comes from a Jewish artist – New York-born vaudeville’s most famous star, George Jessel, who once allegedly said, “I think I should tell people that this is was me. who named Judy Garland “Judy Garland”. Not that it would’ve made a difference – you couldn’t have hid[den] this great talent if you had called her “Tel Aviv Windsor Shell”. Fortunately he didn’t.
Garland grew up playing in his family’s traveling vaudeville troupe, which eventually grew into a sister group, the Gumm Sisters. The youngest of the three, Judy stood out from the start with her remarkably powerful voice and natural stage presence. In 1935, at age 13, she auditioned for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), performing “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart ”and“ Eli, Eli, ”a Yiddish song written in 1896. It was all Louis B. Mayer needed to see and hear; he signed it on the spot and a star was born.
A few years later, after starring in a number of “backyard musicals” with an equally young Mickey Rooney, Garland was cast for “The Wizard of Oz”. The songs were all written by lyricist Yip Harburg (born Isidore Hochberg on the Lower East Side of Manhattan) and composer Harold Arlen (born Hyman Arluck, son of a cantor). By the way, Garland wasn’t the first to record “Over the Rainbow” – that honor belonged to swing-era Jewish singer Bea Wain, who gave a more bluesy take on the number.
Around this time, although still a teenager, Garland started dating him. Her first serious romantic relationship took place with jazz clarinetist and conductor Artie Shaw (born Arthur Jacob Arshawsky in New York). On her 18th birthday, she accepted a marriage proposal from songwriter David Rose (born Rosenberg), a London-born Jew who grew up in Chicago. Rose has written a bunch of themed songs for television, including those of “Bonanza”, “Little House on the Prairie” and “Highway Patrol”.
The marriage to Rose didn’t last long, and after working with director Vincente Minnelli on “Meet Me in St. Louis,” the two married in 1945 and had a daughter named Liza the following year. Garland starred with Fred Astaire in the 1948 musical “Easter Parade”, featuring songs written by Irving Berlin (born Israel Isidore Beilin in Russia). By the end of the decade, however, trouble loomed and Garland began to display erratic behavior – likely resulting from her addiction to pills and alcohol – that would plague her for the rest of her life. She made several suicide attempts; a series of hospitalizations followed; she received electroconvulsive therapy; and his long-standing struggle with his weight and appearance has become all-consuming. In 1950, she was no longer employed by MGM.
Around this time, Garland met Sidney Luft, whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia and Germany. Luft became his manager and producer, and helped stage the first of several “comebacks” for Garland in a four-month sold-out tour of the UK, followed by a stint at the Palace Theater in New York. His concerts were a tribute to his musical model, Al Jolson. Writing in the New York Times in 1998, Camille Paglia said that Jolson’s distinguishing feature was the way he “threw his thunderous voice over the rafters and made unabashed appeals for love and approval of the audience, ”a description as good as any Garland concert. scenic technique. She went on to write that “Jolson’s melodramatic and melting voice can be heard through Garland,” and noted that Jolson’s songwriter and accompanist Harry Akst was one of those who discovered Garland on the road and helped her move from vaudeville to Hollywood. It also did not escape Paglia’s attention that George Jessel played the role of Jolson on Broadway in “The Jazz Singer”.
Luft then produced Garland’s critically acclaimed return to the big screen, the 1954 version of “A Star Is Born.” While the original three-hour cut received excellent reviews, theater owners rebelled at length, which led to Warner Bros.’s Jack Warner. Oscar actress. Groucho Marx sent Garland a telegram the next day saying, “Dear Judy, this is the biggest flight since Brinks.”
This was not to be Garland’s last Oscar nomination, however. Garland’s utterly dramatic role in Stanley Kramer’s “Judgment at Nuremberg” – in which she played Irene Hoffman, a German woman who had had a relationship with a Jewish man and testified on his behalf for the prosecution – earned her an award. nomination for Best Supporting Actress. . It was Garland as we had never seen him before or after.
Watch Garland’s key scene here:
In 1969 in London, Garland died of a drug overdose deemed accidental. She was 47 years old. In January 2017, it was reported in these pages that Garland’s children had his body exhumed from the Ferncliff Mausoleum in Hartsdale, NY, and moved to Beth Olam Cemetery, the Jewish section of Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Seth Rogovoy is Associate Editor-in-Chief of The Forward. He often exploits popular culture for his lesser-known Jewish stories.