Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holiday Specials: Day Two: Judy Garland Christmas Special (1963)

All right, peeps! Christmas is drawing nigh! Bundle up with your loved ones and serve yourself up a slice of the fruitcake that IS The Judy Garland Christmas Special, from year of our Lord 1963. I have to say, I equal parts enjoy and am confused by my beloved Judy's Christmas gift to the network. Watch along on Youtube via this link! I'll walk you through the fun parts:

First off, the show opens with Judy singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", as we tv viewers peer through the front window of her "house". She gathers her young children close, lets loose that golden voice, and honestly, sounds as good singing as she ever did. Some of the phrasing is a little weird, but the irrepressible, ringing, soaring tone of it is lovely. The song ends, she comes "outside" and introduces us to her children, Joe and Lorna Luft (husband Sid Luft, architect of Judy's "Carnegie comeback" two years earlier, is inexplicably absent from the family affair...they would divorce in 1965). Liza is "off ice skating with her beau", Judy mentions, before remembering her manners and asking us all "inside" her "home". 

Keep in mind I haven't seen a lot of whole-episodes of The Judy Garland Show, but I have seen plenty of musical clips (yes, in my idle moments, I have been known to sit around the house like an aging gay man of a certain era-- wearing a kimono, creating playlist of old showtunes on Youtube, drinking chardonnay out of the bottle, etc, etc), so I'll have to judge this show solely on its stand-alone merit. And speaking of, man, is it weird, the insistence of breaking down the dramatic fourth wall in this episode! Judy, quit talking to me like I'm there! We both know I would be with you at this past-holiday season if I could! The interior decoration of her tv home, while definitely "a stage set", reminds me of a lot of the upscale ranch houses I would see on estate sale runs in Crieve Hall; all Louis XVI looking wall sconces and Hollywood Regency end tables. Gor. GEOUS.

Take, for example, this practically lifesize statue of a guardsman holding a torch aloft...please tell me the torch is wired for electricity, because that, as a lighting piece, would about blow my mind. As my dad pointed out in an estate sale house we visited in Hendersonville (which was, sadly, slated to be torn down for a new construction), "It's a shame about that living room. Man, I remember when I was a kid, a sunken living room was like THE HEIGHT of sophistication. You were really cookin' if you had one of those in your house." Here, Judy's tv home has the requisite two-step down of elegance.

And this house is REALLY multi-level-- check out the stairs and railing up next to the two-tone baby grand! FYI, they're singing Oliver's "Consider Yourself" en famille in this scene, doing a kind of train. I am so into Judy's dress it's a little embarrassing. Talk about dressing the part of the grande dame!

Check out that skylight! Yes, ma'am!

A seventeen year old Liza appears partway through this song and joins in the fun before blithely asking "What's going on, Mama?". Judy: "Why, we're on television, darling!" Liza: "OH!". They share that same ingénue like vulnerability, which is adorable. Now, what always strikes me as funny about Liza is how much she looks not like Judy, but like her director father Vincente Minnelli. Have you ever noticed? She has Judy's gorgeous voice, for certain, but as Judy and former husband Minnelli looked close enough alike to be siblings, I think when people go "oh! She looks like Judy!" they should really say she looks like Vincente. See this side by side picture of the two for living proof. While Liza had appeared as a baby in several stage/on screen pairings with her mother, The Judy Garland Show marked Liza's real "professional" début. Think about, by comparison, how many pictures, including her career-making turn as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Judy had under her belt by the age of seventeen. Crazy!

It's hard to get a good shot of the lady of the hour because she's so manic throughout the line-reading sections. Singing, she's fine; acting, it's like trying to focus on a single hummingbird wing. I have always ADORED her speaking voice, but it's hard for her to get out some of the throwaway lines in these scenes without uncharacteristically mumbling. After Liza's good and settled in, Joey, unfortunately enough, is prevailed upon in the following scene to sing a solo version of another song from Oliver, "Where is Love?". While he gets an "A" for effort, and shares those same dark eyelashes with his mother and half-sister Liza, he did nooooot inherit Judy, Liza, and Lorna's singing abilities. Poor little bub. Look at as his black velvet collar on his suit! Focus on positive!

Moments later, this "mystery beau" of Liza's shows up; it's young Broadway star Tracy Everitt (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying)! Isn't he properly Ken doll looking. The couple that sweater vests together, stays together. According to the pair of Liza bios we have at the library (both ROTTEN by the way... somebody needs to write a decent one!), Tracy's sister Tanya and Liza roomed together and Liza and Tracy met at a theatrical part the year before...I couldn't find much else on Mr. Everitt except this business website for his dance studio in New Jersey.

Liza and Tracy go into motion here on a modern jazz dance number to the beat of "Steam Heat", an onomatopoeia heavy song about the various methods by which a home can be heated (steam, coal, love, etc). I was watching this with (the ever-patient) Matthew a week ago going, "THIS. IS THE WORST SONG." He corrected me, as "Confidence", a "High Hopes" rip-off from the Elvis movie Clambake, is THE worst song...but this one is close. It's actually from The Pajama Game, one of the few Broadway musicals of its era that I don't have memorized...and I guess maybe it suffers by being divorced from its source material, but whew boy...not good. You feel like the musical director for this special (who would have been Mel Torme! But more about that momentarily) was like "Ok, I have an 'in' with the Oliver people, so we can have whatever Oliver songs we want....and then you all are on your own for the rest of this. Find something in the rights catalog that is ch-e-e-e-eap....we spent all the money on the set!"

Liza's a good dancer, though, and she really can sing. Judy slurs through some congratulatory words to her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend before continuing on to her own solo spot.

Here, La Judy performs "Little Drops of Rain" . The song originated in an animated musical about French cats called Gay Purr-ee (I am not making this up); Judy voice acted a Turkish Angora named Musette in the production. I am a huge sucker for any song with that vulnerable, torchy pathos Judy is famous for, and this is no exception to the rule in terms of her song catalog. Please note, in this photo, the raised, see-through fireplace of the television-set-slash-home of the Lufts.

Jack Jones shows up as the first non-related-to-the-family celebrity guest, and doesn't he look dapper! The only song I know of his is (the blatantly misogynistic, but totally entertaining) "Wives and Lovers", which features such unforgettable lines as "Day, after day, there are girls in the office/And men will always be men/Don't send him off with your hair still in curlers/You may not see him again..." Look, married ladies, he's just looking out for you-- if you let yourself go, your man is going to leave you for his secretary. Cold, hard, Mad Men era facts, bro. He is a fresh-faced twenty-five years old here, and fresh off the heels of 1962's hit record, "Lollipops and Roses", which he herein performs to little Lorna ("Wives and Lovers" would be next year's smash hit).

Jack cedes the floor to Liza, who sings "Sweet Little Alice Blue Gown" as Tracy absently assists as the intended audience. The "alice blue" of the song title refers to the pale periwinkle color proto-celebutante Alice Roosevelt (daughter of Teddy) favored in dresses, which in turn sparked a nationwide craze for that particular shade. I hope Liza has taken this into consideration and her adorable belted circle skirt is of a similar hue. Do you see the gallery hangings against the far wall there? I WANT TO LIVE IN THIS TV HOUSE.

Next, Jack, Judy, and Liza all bundle under a blanket for a traditional round of "Sleigh Ride" (did you know that was the name of that song? I did not). As they wrap up the ditty, for no reason at all, things get weird. Here's a whole band of aggressively Charleston-ing Santa Clauses in weird hoop-skirt type Santa coats. Yeah, no, I don't get it either. Once again, you get the feeling that this special may have been sponsored by Kontact and Pall Mall, but is actually brought to you by years of amphetamine abuse. 

Yeeeah, it just keeps going from there. A whole bunch of people turn up on the doorstep, including musical supervisor Mel Tome and a gaggle of choral extras. Torme is a baby faced thirty eight at the time of this broadcast; he comes and sings a duet with Judy on the piano of the Tome penned "The Christmas Song", Lorna belts out a tune with an admirably accomplished voice for a little gal (why does Judy let her kids walk all over the furniture? I couldn't tell you), and the whole affair winds down with Judy singing her signature song to her children before they go to sleep, you guessed it, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". Kid KILLS it, too. You don't get to be the greatest by just blowin' hot air... she really is one of a kind, and something about the perfect "last song" makes the whole special a little less "wth just happened".

So! If you watched, what did you think? I have to dig out the paperback copy of Torme's book on his stewardship of the show and see what kind of dirt the crooner dishes, I bet it's a whale of a read, I bought it a long time ago and meant to check it out then. What did you think? Am I being too critical about poor Judy? You know I love her the most! Was Liza ever so young? Which song did you like the best? Let's talk!

That's all for today! MERRY CHRISTMAS, PEOPLE! I hope you have a great one... I'm headed to my folks tomorrow with Matthew in tow for Christmas Day. If I get up the gumption today, I might, MIGHT, even make a modified fruitcake (YOU'RE a modified fruitcake, heckles the audience) to enjoy with my loved ones.

Hope Santa brings you everything you wanted! We'll talk tomorrow. See you then!

Every Judy Garland film in 14 minutes


  1. First of all-thank you for this link! I have never seen this special before, and I grew up in the 60's! I didn't watch the whole program yet, but wanted to comment on a few things. First of all-I love Judy's dress, they used to call it a "hostess gown" and I distinctly remember my mom having one very similar, without the fur color. In fact Judy look so much like my mom when she was younger, it is kind of eerie.

    I totally agree that Liza is the image of her father! To me, she sounds like her mother, but looks like Vincent to a T.

    I loved Joey's little solo-because it is so imperfect, it reminds me of a family where you all get around to sing, and some people aren't good, but they love to sing, and the family loves to hear them.

    I have watched the Judy Garland Show, and I am always amazed how tactile she is-touching her guests, kissing them-you can see how physically affectionate she was. She was totally comfortable in that, and I find that so very sweet.

    Last but not least, if memory serves me-breaking that 4th wall was very common. I seem to remember the Bing Crosby specials doing the same thing. As a child in the 60's-it did give you a feeling of connection with the performers, and I do think that is why many of us have never lost our love of these stars. They seemed so much more approachable and normal than the celebrities of today.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Maureen, you brought up so many interesting points!

    1) I want a dress identical to Judy's in this special-- doesn't she look commanding and regal? That's so neat your mom looks like her-- doc's and biographies mention all the time how she wasn't a "glamour girl", but I disagree, and heartily-- those eyes! Even her speaking voice is adorable.

    2) Isn't it weird, in retrospect though, how much Vincente Minnelli looks like Judy?! I don't know if I could marry somebody who looked like me! Then again, Mick Jagger and Bianca Jagger could be twins, so maybe it's a thing.

    3) I hadn't thought about poor Joey that way-- it is kind of sweet when you think about it as a "slice of life"! I kept thinking how I would be like, "MOM. I CANNOT SING LIKE THE REST OF YOU. PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS TO ME." But he did look cute as a button, and didn't seem to mind too bad.

    4) I want to watch the show now! Like I said, I've seen many, many clips but no full episodes.

    5) It's weird to see them "talking" to us in our homes, now, I guess, because old stars seem so "up there, on the screen" to me. Isn't it a treat to be spoken to with kindness by Judy or Bing, like you're one of the gang! Nowadays, EVERYONE on tv tries to act "down home, personable, approachable"...but I'd say 99% of them fail parlously.

    Again, I appreciate you reading and really enjoyed what you had to say, yourself! :)

  3. Interesting to watch this special today. At times, I want a little vintage Christmas in the middle of the year and a search of "1960-70's Christmas Shows" usually comes up with memorable shows which aren't to say the least, disappointing. This was a good show but what intrigues me is the last song, "Over the Rainbow." If you watch Lorna she first seems satisfied that mom's singing her traditional song, but as Judy continues, Lorna seems preoccupied, and appears teary-eyed. Wonder if your point about Sidney Luft not appearing in the show and the divorce two years later hit a chord, maybe things were already going downhill. You'll notice that each time Judy looks over at Lorna, Lorna gives her a smile. When Judy looks away, Lorna goes back into a preoccupied irritated state; it almost looks like Lorna can't wait for the show to end. Three times during the song, Judy kisses Joey and doesn't once kiss Lorna. At first, I wondered based on Lorna's expressions - maybe she's sick and Judy doesn't want the cooties. In any event, at the end of the song Lorna perks up, probably relieved that it's finally over.



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