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When CBS Humiliated Judy Garland

Even though I know my showtunes, I’m not particularly a Liza, Barbara, or Judy Gay. (I didn’t really get the affection for Liza until I saw Liza With a Z which whether you are gay or straight or whatever is a fucking stunning movie of her a musical revue written just for her where she stomps through one song after another like some sort of musical super soldier.)

In 1964, Judy taped the final episode of the first (and only) seasonof The Judy Garland Show. Browbeaten, humiliated, over-medicated, and defeated, she tore through a performance of “By Myself” so raw and dark, CBS cut it from the final episode. Here’s the video and the background:

“CBS execs.. sought to topple the #1 show on TV, NBC’s Bonanza, by treating audiences to Judy every week. … CBS exec James Aubrey, known as ‘the smiling cobra’ for his ability to flatter and wheedle to one’s face while at the same time ruthlessly manipulating situations behind the scenes, played on Judy’s desire for financial and familial stability and convinced her that a weekly TV series was the answer to all her problems. …

“Judy and the production team had been promised a relatively free-hand in creating the format for her variety show, but almost immediately CBS began interfering. … Their version of comedy relief was Jerry making jokes about Judy’s struggles with weight and self-image (Garland had been gotten quite heavy prior to slimming down for her show).

“The humiliation comes into play because, while CBS bought a sophisticated musical variety show for grown-ups, when it came to actually tape the episodes they used a heavy hand in attempting to channel Judy into something she wasn’t.

“Judy, for her part, was a phenomenally good sport for the first 13 episodes and gamely went along with skits and jokes she must have found hurtful and unfunny. The tide began to turn when she was called from taping to a CBS board room for notes.

“Judy was told that her frequent hugging and hand-holding of guests was making audiences uncomfortable – that CBS test audiences didn’t feel comfortable having Judy in their homes. With that, Judy requested a telephone and called her very good friend, President John F. Kennedy, in the presence of the board. After confirming that Kennedy had seen the previous week’s show, Judy asked how comfortable he and Jackie were with having her in their home every week. Kennedy replied he was very comfortable with Judy and looked forward to the next time they could get together. Judy’s power play backfired and William Paley, CBS head, began the process of gutting her show budget, which would hopefully lead to cancellation – his words “I don’t want that cunt bringing down my Sunday evening.” JFK’s death in November of that year saw the loss of one of Judy’s biggest supporters and the struggle she had over performing a tribute to Kennedy on the show sealed the deal. In the end, CBS, allowed Judy to sing ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ but not dedicate the performance to “Dear Jack.”

“As kind and supportive as CBS appeared to be when wooing Garland was as mean and vindictive as they became when it was clear Judy would never beat Bonanza. Instead of moving time-slots and giving the show a chance, as they did with many of Judy’s peers – particularly Danny Kaye – they unceremoniously cancelled the series – WHILE THE FIRST SEASON WAS STILL BEING TAPED!

“Judy Garland not only had to face the negativity of the CBS publicity machine working against her, she had to suffer the humiliation of finishing out her contract when she knew there would be no second season. Her dreams of stability shattered, and with only enough budget remaining for ‘concert-style’ shows, Judy kicked it up a notch and gave some of her finest, rawest performances in the final episodes.

“I’m sad for the circumstances surrounding The Judy Garland show, but it resulted in some of the best performances of Judy’s career and gives us and idea of how electric and amazing Judy was live.”

Full discussion in context.