Fans will often say they love a celebrity. None more so than in the case of Judy Garland. However with Judy, her fans really do love her. Now why is this? If I had to use two words to describe Judy Garland they would be: empathetic and real. There was nothing fake about Judy Garland.
When you listen to Judy Garland sing or watch one of her performances, it reaches the very essence of your being. There are no veils, curtains, doors, walls, anything between Judy’s true self and the emotional core of every single one of her fans. Long-time Judy fan and Garland expert Joan Coulson, notes “Judy often said, I sing to each person individually and that is why we sense this listening to her.”
Judy Garland revealed her true self, her core essence, in every one of her performances. In doing so she held a mirror to the true core of each individual in her audience. Very few performers do this and very few of us do this in real life. We’re too scared to reveal our true selves as it leaves us open to judgment and criticism. Perhaps being so emotionally open is one of the reasons Judy received such crap in both her professional and personal lives. Sarah Westhead, Liverpool, UK said,”I watch a Judy movie to escape from reality yet she is always real and genuine.”
The Judy phenomenon is best described by Derek Jewell, when reviewing Judy’s 1969 Talk of the Town performance in the UK’s Sunday Times; ‘No logic, no analysis, no judgment in the world can explain the phenomenon of Judy Garland’s at Talk of the Town. She walks the rim of the volcano each second. Miraculously she keeps her balance. It is a triumph of utmost improbability.’ That Judy put herself so out there in each performance meant she walks the rim of the volcano emotionally creating an atmosphere of thunderous electricity.
Wayne Lawless of Lawnsdale, California saw Judy in concert about 10 times from 1958 to 1967. Wayne said, “the essence of seeing Judy Garland in person is the word “electricity”. Without a doubt. Especially during the overture when one’s heart beats continuously faster until the moment Judy would appear. And beyond, throughout the show.”
Judy Garland is one of the most emotional performers and so listening to her is an emotional experience. She is also the most empathetic of performers. You can listen to Judy if you’re feeling down and it will comfort you or if you’re happy then it will make you feel even happier. Sarah Westhead, said, “I have been a fan since I was 3 so I have grown up with her and feel like I know her. There is a Judy moment for every emotion I feel. Judy has the ability to excite me, relax me, move me and enthrall me all in one song performance.”
Judy herself fully understood this; allegedly, she said to her daughter, Liza Minnelli, “Liza, sympathy is my business.” More accurately, it is empathy. Judy’s empathy was apparent in real life as well. Brian Glanvill, a founding member of The International Judy Garland Club, met Judy on several occasions over the years. Brian said when Judy spoke to you she had the gift that some very famous people have of making you feel you were the only person in the world who she cared about.
Kristen Rae Johnson, Hollywood, California, said, “It’s so true about Judy’s empathy that she showed everyone from her family, friends and audience. I love that televised interview Judy did in Australia in 1964 when asked about her love for her audience, Judy said ”it’s like a kind of marriage between the audience and myself’”. I know Judy meant every word of that.”
The best way to appreciate Judy Garland is to listen to ‘Judy At Carnegie Hall’. Listen to the album in full in one go and you will come to the realisation that this woman is a genius. I defy you not to be moved. In her performances Judy runs the gamut of emotions from A to Z and weaves them with true skill into a subtle, multidimensional whole. Not only was she emotionally raw she was technically brilliant, delivering finely crafted performances. Listening to Judy’s Carnegie Hall performance is such an exhilarating experience I can only imagine the thrill of actually being there in person, no wonder it’s known as ‘the greatest night in show business history’.
Judy Garland felt things strongly. In her statement of her mother’s death, Liza Minnelli, wrote, ‘It was her love that carried her through everything. The middle of the road was never for her. It bored her. She wanted the pinnacle of excitement. If she was happy, she wasn’t just happy. She was ecstatic. And, when she was sad, she was sadder than anyone.’ Because Judy felt things strongly, we feel strongly about her. Dani Hisey, Wisconsin, said, “I love Judy because she permits me to feel anything as strongly as I want to.”
There was nothing fake about Judy Garland. This is one of the reasons why fans relate so much to her. Kristen Rae Johnson, said, “It’s hard to express how much or why I love Judy in one quote but I guess for me it’s Judy’s genuine love that I can feel when I watch her delightful movies and listen to her music. I know she’s not a phony and never acted conceited or arrogant in any way throughout her stellar career. Judy Garland is just about the most charismatic woman that ever lived and that tender warmth that was a part of her personality was incomparable to me.”
In recent years there has been much focus on Judy Garland’s personal demons and addictions and the obvious contrast to her role as Dorothy, the very symbol of innocence. Contrary to the belief fans like to put her on a pedestal, many fans understand Judy’s human frailties. Amber Stankoff, of Michigan, summed up the feelings of many Judy fans saying, “I love that she was who she was. I love the fact the she wasn’t perfect. People get the idea in their minds that celebrities are supposed to be perfect role models and if they do anything that shocks the public, then they’re bad. To be a true Garland fan, you have to accept all aspects of her life.’ South African fan, Justine Lottering said, “Even at her worst, she was still the best. Her talent stemmed from another world. She could sing, she could act, she could dance, she was funny, she was awe-inspiring, but above all else she was human.”
True art has the power to knock you over and shake you to the core. One of the most moving aspects of Judy’s work, which many fans seems to share, is the power she has to make people feel truly alive. Wayne Lawless, said, “I love Judy because she makes me feel like I’m truly alive, and not just drifting somewhere.’ Similarly, Dewey Mee of Ellensburg, Washington, said, ‘She reminds me of what it is like to be fully alive in each moment.”
The message of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is accepting people as they are. Dorothy doesn’t care that the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion lack a brain, a heart, and courage; she instinctively accepts them as they are. The ending when they meet the Wizard proves they didn’t need his help as they had these qualities all along as shown in their completing the journey to Oz and their love for Dorothy. Judy famously said, ‘’Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.’ Dewey Mee, said, “Judy Garland remains a muse and daily inspiration to me…Judy inspires me to be my true self, my best self. Judy inspires me to transcend whatever is going on and keep marching on.”
An often over-looked aspect of Judy Garland’s career is what a feminist pioneer she was. When she left MGM, she returned to her roots, with her legendary performance at the London Palladium, and brought vaudeville back to the Palace Theatre in New York. Judy proved she didn’t need the studio system which had both given her world-wide fame and imprisoned her for so long. Lauren M. McShea, New York, said, “Not many women of her day, or even our day can transcend time or break social barriers, like her. Judy Garland was ahead of her time yet so right for it. Genius.”
Like every consummate artist she was a searcher with her songs. Judy always sought to get to the core of the truth. Judy sang ‘the history of my life is in my songs’. This is true. The best way to understand Judy Garland is to listen to her. Even now 43 years after her death, whether you are listening to her on your iPhone or watching a YouTube video, the strength and sincerity of her emotions leap out of the speaker, across the years, to truly reach you.
Justine Lottering crystallised many fans feelings about Judy, saying, “When I listen to Judy Garland, I listen with my soul. When her voice enters my ears, it possesses my entire being. It goes straight to my heart. Judy Garland is love.” Judy Garland was all about being your true self, being passionate and empathizing with other people. Judy teaches us not to be afraid to be truly alive in every moment. This is why 43 years after her death we still feel so closely connected to this amazing woman and why we love her. Judy Garland was Love.
 Mickey Deans and Ann Pinchot, Weep No More, My Lady (New York: Pyramid Books, 1973), p. 44
 George Mair, Under The Rainbow: The Real Liza Minnelli, (London: Aurum Press, 1997), p. 37
 George Mair, Under The Rainbow: The Real Liza Minnelli, (London: Aurum Press, 1997), p. 107.