Judge Jonathan Weiss thinks everything really is coming up roses. He's seeing a doctor for that.
From Television City in Hollywood—here's Judy!
Judy Garland could do it all. She could act, dance, do comedy and drama and of course, the lady could sing. Basically raised on MGM soundstages, Judy worked year in and year out on picture after picture, the result being more classic movie memories than almost any other star. But by the time she was 40 years old, Judy's star had dimmed considerably. The combination of prescription drugs and alcohol along with her many emotional problems had all taken their toll. The kid who could do no wrong became the woman nobody wanted to work with. That's why it's a miracle that The Judy Garland Show even exists.
Facts of the Case
The Judy Garland Show featuring Peggy Lee and Ethel Merman includes episodes 13 and 16 of this landmark series.
The Judy Garland Show ran for just one year on CBS and yet its catalogue of 25 episodes still captivates. Remember, this is the series that first introduced Barbra Streisand (The Barbra Streisand Television Specials) to a broader audience. While the two episodes on this disc don't necessarily live up to that historic event, they still do manage to have their own goose-bump moments.
Each show followed a loose formula: show opens with a musical number featuring Judy and her guests; Judy does a solo; guest(s) get a solo; Judy sings with guest(s); Judy ends show with 'Born in a Trunk' segment—which includes, needless to say, more singing. And sometimes, when time permits, another segment is thrown in where Judy talks with a surprise celebrity guest.
The first show on the disc follows this formula to a 'T'. It's episode 13 of the run and features Peggy Lee and Jack Carter. Jack Carter is a comedian one can only describe as 'Old School'. He sings, dances, does impressions, and eats scenery by the spoonful. His stand-up shtick might have knocked the Shriners dead in some Vegas pool hall—and if truth be told, Judy's audience did seem to appreciate it too—but today it sounds as dated as someone walking into a room and saying, "twenty-three skidoo."
The real draw here is Ms. Lee. Her solo, singing "When the World Was Young," is mesmerizing. The camera never leaves her face—and Ms. Lee doesn't just sing the song, she sells every single melancholy note. Interestingly, though they were friendly off-screen, this is the one and only time that Judy and Peggy ever performed onstage together. Two segments of this episode are dedicated to Peggy and Judy duets and their voices meld together beautifully. The first is a medley of songs about friends being together and starts with a song Peggy Lee wrote; the second is a medley comprised of songs about men including "You Make Me Feel So Young," "Wild About Harry," "Big Bad Bill," and "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home."
Another treat on this episode is the "Tea With Judy" segment, where Judy has a one-to-one with a guest celebrity—in this case Carl Reiner. Jack Carter could learn something from this man. Here is humour that doesn't sound scripted. He's not sitting there telling jokes and mugging to the audience—he's just being engaging and downright funny.
The second show represented on the disc is episode 16, featuring Ethel Merman and Shelley Berman. The show starts out with four guests belting out a medley decked out in matching outfits and vaudeville type canes. This is also where we're introduced to guest Peter Gennaro—the show's choreographer, whom Judy obviously owed a really big favour. This tiny little cat couldn't sing (which was obvious from the two lines he attempted to warble) and for a choreographer he was terribly underwhelming in his solo dance number.
The opening number leads into Shelley Berman's solo spot—a good little comedy bit about an office worker who has the misfortune of picking up a ringing phone just as he's about to leave.
Next up is Ethel for her solo spot. Here's what you need to know about Ethel Merman—her voice is an acquired taste. Okay, let's be honest here, cats have been known to go from deep sleep to hanging upside down from the ceiling by their claws at the mere hint of a first note. Still, here's a lady who performed close to 11,000 times on Broadway to the absolute delight and enjoyment of thousands upon thousands—so she must have done something right.
The next time we see Ethel, she and Judy are holding an incredibly long mid-ranged note as preparation for their medley of songs—songs as befitting the last of the two big belters.
The two showstoppers on this episode, however, both belong to Judy. The first is her downplayed and heartwarming rendition of "Shenandoah." The second is her performance of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" that ends the show. She kept this song a secret until the dress rehearsal so that CBS couldn't pull it from the line up. Judy deliberately wanted to sing this particular song in honour of friend and fallen President John F Kennedy. You can't take your eyes off the screen until the last note—at which point a very rare studio audience standing ovation punctuates this truly memorable and moving moment in television history.
The picture quality is very good and the sound, simply succulent—quite possibly the result of the digital restoration and remastering that took place, as mentioned in the informative booklet that accompanies the disc. There's also one outtake from episode 16—a magazine sketch between Judy and Shelly Berman that was removed because of Judy's flubbed lines (which, to be quite honest, were more endearing than disruptive). There's also an Easter Egg on the menu page. Click on the video footage enclosed within a circle to see a little snippet from Judy's Show with an uncomfortable Barbra Streisand (and a surprise guest).
If there's one thing you learn about Judy after watching The Judy Garland Show it's just how wonderful a host she was. Instead of trying to steal scenes from her guests she gives them the room and freedom to showcase the best of their abilities. Instead of mugging for the camera she focuses on the individual performing beside her. Instead of worrying about being upstaged or overshadowed by another's talent, she embraces that talent and offers all the support a performer could ask for. In daily life, Judy may not have been even remotely close to perfect. But on stage, well, she was as close as anyone could get.
Not guilty. (The reviewer will now take a bow.)
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