Friday, October 15, 2010

Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland

Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clarke
Random House, 2000
Paperback, 528 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385335157
highly recommended

She lived at full throttle on stage, screen, and in real life, with highs that made history and lows that finally brought down the curtain at age forty-seven. Judy Garland died over thirty years ago, but no biography has so completely captured her spirit — and demons — until now. From her tumultuous early years as a child performer to her tragic last days, Gerald Clarke reveals the authentic Judy in a biography rich in new detail and unprecedented revelations. Based on hundreds of interviews and drawing on her own unfinished — and unpublished — autobiography, Get Happy presents the real Judy Garland in all her flawed glory.

...Gerald Clarke sorts through the secrets and the scandals, the legends and the lies, to create a portrait of Judy Garland as candid as it is compassionate. Here are her early years, during which her parents sowed the seeds of heartbreak and self-destruction that would plague her for decades ... the golden age of Hollywood, brought into sharp focus with cinematic urgency, from the hidden private lives of the movie world's biggest stars to the cold-eyed businessmen who controlled the machine ... and a parade of brilliant and gifted men — lovers and artists, impresarios and crooks — who helped her reach so many creative pinnacles yet left her hopeless and alone after each seemingly inevitable fall. Here, then, is Judy Garland in all her magic and despair: the woman, the star, the legend, in a riveting saga of tragedy, resurrection, and genius.
My Thoughts:

Gerald Clarke's Get Happy is, perhaps, the definitive biography of Judy Garland. It was very well researched over ten years, including over five hundred interviews. At the back, the book includes an extensive section of notes, referenced to the book by page numbers, and a vast bibliography. Get Happy also features an index, photo credits, and acknowledgments. If you want to know anything about Judy Garland, this is the biography to read first.

Starting with her parents, Clarke follows Judy Garland's life with a meticulous attention to detail. He really leaves nothing out. This chronicle of her sad life is sensitive and kind but also carefully reported and honest. Some of the details are scandalous and shocking, but Clarke treats them not as a form of gossip, but merges them together into a haunting portrait of a talented but troubled woman. Judy Garland, sick and exhausted, died in 1969 of an apparent barbiturate overdose. From Clarke's work we can assume that she never did "Get Happy."

Die hard fans of Judy Garland may want to avoid this biography as it really does tell all, and not everything revealed is flattering or even tasteful, especially information regarding her sex life. Additionally the book would have benefited from more photos and additional information about her relationship with her children.
highly recommended


As she was the youngest, she was known as Baby, and Baby was the name to which she answered. pg. 19

Not only had she seen the future, she had heard it: she was, at the age of two and a half, an entertainer. pg. 21

Action was what Ethel got, and her shrewd dark eyes searched restlessly for an opening through which she could propel her daughters into show business. Never too proud or shy, she pushed every door, hoping to find one unlocked. In August 1928, she finally succeeded. pg. 28

Despite her care, her concern and her watchfulness - despite all the things she did - an essential ingredient was missing from Ethel's notion of motherhood. perhaps it was something as simple as tenderness. Not once in all the years the Gumms lived in Lancaster did Babe's [Judy] young companions see Ethel open her arms to hold or hug her, as Frank so often did. Not once did they witness an open display of affection. If Frank's love was like the Niagara, unending and unstoppable, Ethel's could be compared to the flow that comes out of a faucet: a meager stream that she could turn on and off. pg. 35

Thus, even before she had reached her tenth birthday, did Babe become acquainted with the drugs that were her companions ever more. And her mother, her guardian, her defender, her shield against the world, had made the introductions. pg. 37

For Babe, love for her mother was always mixed with fear. pg. 39

Providing an education was not the primary reason for the school's existence - Variety received more attention than Shakespeare - and one sometime student, Mickey Rooney, was undoubtedly right when he said that "if the truth be known, Ma Lawlor's school was a dodge, a way of pacifying the LA Board of Education." pg. 44

With the untiring aptitude intellectuals sometimes display for seeing everything but the point, the New Yorker's Russel Maloney, for example, dismissed it [The Wizard of OZ] as "a stinkeroo." pg. 104

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