Sunday, September 13, 2009

Accept Some Substitutes

Thinking about Judy Garland requires accepting a certain blurring of boundaries: in the way that she herself performed, turning a standard concert recital into a kind of primal drama uniting the spectators and the spectacle (will she? can she? she must! she can!); in the way that images from the end blur with the beginning, Dorothy overlaying TV Judy or, just a few years later, The Oldest Woman in the World; or how even today we look for Judy moments in her daughter (think how hard it must be, at 60-odd and one of the bigger stars in the world, to have people still startled - and somehow not always pleased - that you're still alive, let alone performing, let alone frequently doing so quite well).

The boundaries even blur between the woman who was born Frances Gumm and the image that she became, which continues, in ways large and small, to flourish even in her still-mourned absence. Here we see, for example, Garland impersonator extraordinaire Mr. Jim Bailey, who has been performing Judy onstage almost twice as long as she did. When he did a series of concerts in London this past summer, one paper wrote, "Bailey inhabits Garland’s persona to such an extent that, well, there she is. It is a supreme illusion, a sort of perfect madness... It is not like someone acting. It’s almost insane." And that seems right, appropriate.

I first saw Bailey more than twenty years ago; he was Judy-Dorothy at a Wizard of Oz convention held, of all places, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In attendance were celebrities big (Margaret Hamilton*) and small (literally - a number of the Munchkins). Bailey was the no-questions-asked star, however, and marvelous. Now it strikes me that more years have passed between that lovely Philadelphia Saturday 'round about 1980 and today than did between Dorothy-Judy and the Sixties-Concert-Judy Bailey currently performs. And he's been doing it, one way or other, long enough that Judy herself coached him on the fine points.

It's all enough to make one a little dizzy, but somehow that seems right, too. I think I need to sit down and listen for a while, perhaps to Carnegie Hall Judy, perhaps the finest one of all...

* Tiny, sharp, and very dear. I have her autograph tucked away somewhere - she appended next to her signature WWW in memory of her role, long before those letters meant anything else.


  1. i'm looking at this truly "painted on face" (which is remarkable) and i'm thinking about liza. i'm sure you've noticed how her face is also truly "painted on". i'm not talking about the amount of paint & spackle, i'm talking about how it's used in creating a face, a liza face.(and there's that band under her bangs all the time....holding the eyebrows up extra high? or maybe the whole kaboodle?)

  2. Carnegie Hall Judy has always been a balm for anything that ails me.