And when Judy died in 1969, we lost, according to Fred Astaire, “the greatest entertainer who lived.”
But this isn’t about how Judy died or even how she lived. This is about the happiness she gave us all with her acting, dancing and singing.
Thank you, Judy, for helping us smile—even when you couldn’t.
1. The Wizard of Oz—There’s no shame in starting with the obvious choice. Judy was a supremely talented woman, but I might not be writing about her 45 years after her death, if it were not for The Wizard of Oz. It’s on the short list of candidates for most important movie ever. (Realistically, it’s either this or Gone with the Wind.)
You’ve probably already seen the movie, likely several times. You may have even read the book and watched the not-quite prequels and sequels. But if it’s been awhile since you’ve seen the film, borrow it from us. Watch it with your friends or family. You’ll be surprised how much of The Wizard you know by heart and how much it still moves you.
And that all starts with Judy and her wish to fly.
2. A Star Is Born—The more apt name for this film would be A Star Is Reborn. Judy’s sensational in this remake—so good that when she lost the Oscar for best actress, Groucho Marx called it “the biggest robbery since Brink’s.”
If your knowledge and appreciation of Judy begins and ends with “Over the Rainbow,” borrow A Star Is Born and watch that “Born in a Trunk” medley. Then borrow the soundtrack from us or download it from Freegal. You’re going to want it.
3. Judgment at Nuremberg—When we think of Judy Garland, we think of the dancing and singing. We picture blue gingham and Mickey Rooney (or, later, Gene Kelly) by her side. All that’s fair and true, but we should never forget that Judy could act.
Evidence A and all the evidence I need: Judgment at Nuremberg. Judy was, once again, nominated for an Oscar for playing a role that couldn’t be any further from the singing and smiling child star we remember. We don’t usually associate Judy and Nazi war crimes, but this movie’s as much a testament to her talent as any she made.
(By the way, if you like Judy’s dramatic turn, check out The Clock. The film didn’t get much love when it first came out because audiences kept expecting Judy to sing, but this drama has aged well.)
4. Easter Parade—You want a talented headlining duo? How about Judy Garland and Fred Astaire? In this Irving Berlin musical, Fred transforms chorus girl Judy into a star to get revenge against his old dance partner. (Judy was forever playing the unlikely star.)
You probably already know the songs, but you should check out the movie too. (By the way, if you prefer streaming a movie to renting a hard copy, you can stream this directly to your computer, tablet or phone for free via Hoopla.)
5. The Gene Kelly/Judy Garland trilogy—Gene and Judy worked together on three films: For Me and My Gal, The Pirate and Summer Stock. For Me and My Gal was Gene’s first film and Judy, by now already a movie star, was so kind and helpful to him that he never forgot it.
But for my money, Summer Stock is the most enjoyable of the bunch. Judy plays a farmer who turns out to have a knack for musical theater. (There’s that unlikely star.) It’s not a perfect film necessarily, but it has at least one perfect moment in the form of the indelible “Get Happy.”
(By the way, if you have a Mentor Library card, you can download “Get Happy” for free here.)
6. The Judy Garland biographies—Judy Garland’s story is as sad as it is powerful as it is fascinating. Consequently, several biographers have taken their turn to tell it. Read one; read them all. But be ready to cry.
7. The Judy Garland discography—We can’t talk about Judy with talking about that voice. It doesn’t matter whether you loved the music of young Judy, preferred her as she got older or can’t possibly choose. Her voice was inimitable.
8. Judy on Broadway/Judy at Carnegie Hall—Toward the twilight of her career, Judy experienced a career resurgence as a live performer. Even to her final days, she could command an entire theater with her voice.
9. Meet Me in St. Louis—Want to know a secret? My favorite Judy Garland movie isn’t The Wizard of Oz. It’s not even either of the previously mentioned films that earned her an Oscar nomination. It’s this splendid slice of MGM musical magnificence. The story is fairly simple: a girl falls for the boy next door.
The director is Vincente Minnelli—he who would soon become Garland’s husband and then her ex-husband. Their daughter Liza once said that her father’s love for her mom shone in every frame of this film. I can tell you my opinion, but I’d rather you watch it for yourself.
Oh, and it features Judy singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
10. Judy Garland Christmas—Speaking of which…