Watch Sunday, May 11, 2014 at 2:30pm on WMHT TV.
Picture a late night, amid the craziness of the 1960s, and see a vulnerable, largely misunderstood woman in her 40s. She’s at home, or maybe on the road again. One thing is certain: she’s alone, with just her thoughts for company, speaking randomly into a tape recorder. “I’m just trying to get a few things down,” she says. “I’m all by myself, as usual. Don’t know if anybody is interested, but I am. I’m just trying to be heard.”
The woman is Judy Garland, and heard she is, in AMERICAN MASTERS “Judy Garland: By Myself,” the first film that drew on Garland’s own words to tell her story. Culled from recordings she made in preparation for an autobiography she never finished, her writings and archival interviews, “By Myself” uniquely reveals Garland as she saw herself. “Do you realize how many people have talked about me, written about me, imitated me?” Garland says in the AMERICAN MASTERS documentary. “Well, it’s high time to stop. This is the story of my life and I, Judy Garland, am gonna talk.”
Actress Isabel Keating, who starred as Garland opposite Hugh Jackman in Broadway’s record-breaking hit The Boy From Oz, provides the voice of Garland and actor Harris Yulin narrates.
“Judy Garland: By Myself” goes well beyond a biographical recounting of a star’s rise and fall by interweaving Garland’s personal story with discerning parallels from her films. An extended sequence from A Star Is Born, intercut with Garland’s own thoughts, echoes her own broken marriages, extended bouts with addiction, spectacular comebacks and never-ending yearnings.
Of A Star Is Born, Garland — divorced, broke and unemployed by age 28 — said, “The picture had to be the greatest. It couldn’t merely be very good. I had things to prove.” Of that performance, which showcased the full range of her talents, director George Cukor said, “I knew that anyone who could sing like Judy had the emotional ability to become a great dramatic actor. I wanted very much to direct her.”
Although she described herself as just an entertainer, Garland was, by all accounts, the definitive entertainer of the 20th century. In an exclusive and unprecedented arrangement, Turner Entertainment granted AMERICAN MASTERS unlimited access to the archives at MGM, the mega-studio that used corsets to hide Garland’s breasts and provided uppers and downers that made the 4-foot-11 singing sensation feel like a wind-up toy.
“That’s the way we got mixed up,” Garland says in “By Myself.” “And that’s the way we lost contact with the world.”