Much has been discussed about the final episode of The Judy Garland Show, mostly in the context of ‘what might have been’. For example, what if the show had not been cancelled… or what if the show had been broadcast with the intended set list including a concert performance of the ‘Born in a Trunk’ medley from A Star is Born (1954) including its narrated passages? There were other treasures which did not make it to the final edit, but thankfully still exist on tape: Judy’s mime routine to ‘Where is the Clown?’ and her valedictory ‘Here’s to Us’. The latter would have made a great finish to the episode. What a better riposte to the producers than Judy painting herself as a wistful clown, looking into the camera lens in exasperation and singing “and here’s to us forever, always!” then pouring champagne for the audience?
It was right that Judy took solo centre stage in this instalment. But one wonders if some support from a guest would have made the experience less painful?* (Again… what if?…) But enough of that. Let’s examine what great performances are here in the finished version and the outtakes that have been preserved.
It starts by feeling like a big event much the same way that Episode One did with an overture. This overture includes elements of ‘That Old Feeling’, ‘Born in a Trunk’ and ‘Love Walked In’ as well as Garland’s signature overture tunes of ‘The Man That Got Away’ and ‘Over the Rainbow’.
Judy enters wearing a floor-length dress with a long, matching coat over it. Very showy – as befits the series finale – and rather like an extension of the cape jackets that Aghayan usually provides her with. Her first song is ‘After You’ve Gone’ – first performed by Judy onscreen in For Me and My Gal (1942), the exciting musical arrangement remained unchanged throughout her concert career. After this opener, Judy’s long coat is removed for the rest of the programme. The dress is revealed to have a heavily embroidered and sequinned pattern, like tendrils scrolling up Judy’s slender form.
‘Time After Time’ and ‘That Old Feeling’ follow. The latter sounds poignant and reflective. Later in the set, ‘The Last Dance’ with its lyrics saying “they’re hoping we’ll go…” is heartbreakingly apposite.
It is not all sad news however. Judy has a winning smile throughout the song. She also improvises some of the lyrics for ‘When You’re Smiling’ that raises a few laughs:
“Don’t be upset, it’ll be better yet. And remember – oh heck! – all the while, that when you’re crying don’t you know that you’re make-up starts to run…”
More upbeat are ‘Carolina in the Morning’, and ‘Almost Like Being in Love/This Can’t Be Love’. A rendition of ‘By Myself’ which had originally been recorded for episode 25, but not used is included here.
Throughout the series, Garland often highlighted her fondness for the music of Irving Berlin. Judy performs his song ‘Suppertime’ from As Thousands Cheer, as she sits on the edge of the stage. Although ‘Suppertime’ was the last ‘new’ song in the televised line-up, Judy’s rendition of ‘The Last Dance’ was actually filmed afterwards (according to Sanders, 1992: 367). If what Sanders says is accurate regarding the backstage bullying from Stromberg Jnr and the abandonment by Fields and Begelman, then Judy shows nothing of her pain in this final performance. Instead she demonstrates great poise and dignity.
The rest of the show was to continue with some Billy Barnes songs (including ‘Where is the Clown?’) and the ‘Born in a Trunk’ medley. When these were not used or, in the case of ‘Trunk’, not completed, the rest of the running time was filled with material from episode 22 (‘Just in Time’, ‘A Foggy Day’, ‘If Love Were All’, ‘Just You, Just Me’, and ‘When the Sun Comes Out’). Considering that Show 26 has been referred to in the past as being patched together by pre-existing material, this is proved otherwise by the use of only 5 songs that had been seen before.
‘Where is the Clown?’ would have added an interesting dimension to the show. As mentioned earlier, Judy mimes this whilst a chorus sings off-camera. It is ambitiously avant-garde, and yet not too far removed from Judy’s stage persona with it being one of her beloved clown characters.
The commedia dell arté costume and make-up is sweet and brings out Garland’s vulnerability in the performance. Judy plucks a flower from the ground, which then wilts, she then warms herself with a tiny spotlight that she clings closely to her left cheek.
In spite of the background story disclosed by Coyne Steven Sanders, the resulting episode has some fine performances and is bolstered by incorporating some Garland standards as well as fresh material. The preservation of the outtakes provides today’s fans with some extra treats, which we are all justly thankful for.
Looking back on the entire series, over fifty years after it was broadcast one can only be astounded at the huge achievement that it was, and still is. American seasons are lengthy! … and here we have 26 episodes, each of nearly one-hour running times. Not only do they star the ‘World’s Greatest Entertainer’ but also a role-call of the some of the great singers of the Twentieth Century including Peggy Lee, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, and Barbra Streisand. These shows will be around long after all of us have gone, and Amen to that.
*Coyne Steven Sanders points out that some of Judy’s friends were invited to attend the taping including Tony Bennett, Peter Lawford and Jayne Meadows (Sanders, 1992: 359).
Further reading: Sanders, Coyne Steven, 1992, Rainbow’s End, The Judy Garland Show, New York: Zebra Books