The whole world knows Judy Garland for being a child star and playing Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz. And many people also know that she had a difficult life, battling drug addictions that would end up killing her.
The new Garland biopic, Judy (out now), shines a light on the end of the entertainer’s life, particularly on a part that not all viewers will be familiar with. Judy focuses on a series of London concerts Judy Garland performed a few months prior to her death in 1969.
The shows were performed at the Talk of the Town nightclub, which is now called the Hippodrome, and began toward the end of 1968. Garland had a five-week London residency at the venue that was full of late performances, with erratic behavior and slurred speech once she was out on stage, according to Biography. She was often heckled by the audience, who sometimes threw trash and food at her.
Still, and as shown in the video below, she was able to get out on stage and sing the songs. Rosalyn Wilder, who worked as Garland’s assistant during the time spoke to the Daily Mail ahead of Judy’s release. “At every step Garland would say, ‘I can’t do it,’ and I would smile and say, ‘Yes you can,’” she told the publication. ‘You are going to be marvelous.’ And I would walk her to the stage and tell her I would be waiting in the prompt corner for her. And she would go on. Late, but on.”
Wilder added that when Garland would ask for more pills, she would try to keep them from her. “Most nights she’d go on without the pills but she had to feel like someone was just there for her. People always think of Judy as an alcoholic but it was the pills that were the real monsters in her life,” she said. The former assistant concluded, “It was very sad because really it was so simple. She had this incredible talent. She could perform a song with an emotion that no one else could give. But she was damaged.”
A Guardian review of Garland's London show from the time said she was “thinner now, almost haggard.” In an orange sequin suit Garland “drinks and toasts herself. Her words become more and more slurred. The review continues,
“It is all immaculate and meaningless. The shoddy, tarnished world that created her has emasculated her. In her we see the broken remnant of a gaudy age of show-biz which believed that glamour was a good enough substitute for genius. Her raucous masculinity, for all its fashionable and legendary attraction, has given her away at last.”
The Guardian said that this seemed “like her 93rd comeback” and it’s true that this was thought of as yet another one. Garland was facing financial issues back in the U.S., which was a reason she took on the concert series. In addition to everything else going on, Garland was set to marry her fifth husband, Mickey Deans. In her Daily Mail interview, Wilder described him as “a dreadful man, a terrible mistake,” adding that “He was just there for any money and fame.”
In Judy, which is adapted from the play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter, Renée Zellweger takes on the titular role, while Jessie Buckley plays Wilder. Zellweger actually sings the songs Garland sang at Talk of the Town in the film, which required over a year of vocal training.
The actor told Vanity Fair of singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “We have nostalgic feelings from childhood attached to that song, but in Judy’s life, it’s something different. She weathered so many insurmountable challenges in her life, and it’s about her maintaining hope. In spite of all her difficulties, she still carried on.”