We find it great fun to exchange differing views with our very knowledgeable readers. Take a bow: you are an alert bunch, with opinions always worth hearing.
Today, we devote our blog to the following missive from Mark, who contends that MGM bungled the early career development of Judy Garland.
We countered in our Nov. 21 blog (Did MGM Realize What They Had in JUDY GARLAND?) that the studio took its time at first, relying on the proven box office appeal (then huge) of Mickey Rooney until Garland’s star power became obvious.
Mark responds with the following:
Thanks for the response, Guys: I’m still not sure I agree fully but appreciate the input.
I DO agree that Judy, like any performer under contract to any studio was a “product,” an investment which the studio ultimately hoped would pay big dividends for the time and expense the studio took in developing and promoting it. Judy certainly justified MGM’s faith in her talent and enduring appeal, especially in the post-MEET ME IN ST LOUIS period.
I also realize that MGM may not have wanted to tamper with a hugely successful formula like the Rooney-Garland team. (Their joint popularity is the only reason I can think of for Metro’s decision to cast Judy in two more ANDY HARDY vehicles after her breakthrough role in LOVES FIND ANDY HARDY.)
Still, with any of its’ “products,” I think the general studio mindset was to maximize its’ profits by exploiting each product to its’ fullest profit-making potential, and here’s where I believe MGM held back, or perhaps dropped the ball in the early 1940s where Judy was concerned.
For example, during this same period, Mickey appeared not only in the BABES series with Judy, but in the ANDY HARDY films and such prestige productions as HUCKLEBERRY FINN, YOUNG TOM EDISON, BOYS TOWN (and its’ sequel, MEN OF BOYS TOWN), THE HUMAN COMEDY, etc., but Judy appeared almost exclusively with Mickey.
THE WIZARD OF OZ had been one of the most lavish, expensive and cutting-edge films in Hollywood history up to that point, but does any Garland fan really consider the soggy and small-scale LITTLE NELLIE KELLY a worthy follow-up vehicle to OZ? Despite the acting challenge it presented to Judy (an “adult” character in the Mother and a death scene), I don’t.
I mean this was a girl who, from what I’ve read, thrilled studio executives at her auditions. Roger Edens reportedly “fell off the piano” when he heard Judy sing. Arthur Freed wouldn’t stop nagging studio executives about how great she was. Louis B. Mayer reportedly trumpeted, “We’ve just signed a Baby Nora Bayes!” etc.
For all that initial enthusiasm, it seems to me that even after OZ, MGM took baby steps in promoting Judy as a star in her own right, as if uncertain that she could carry a major film on her own.
If so, one reason might be that OZ, though a popular hit in terms of the number of people who saw it, didn’t turn a profit on its’ first release? Or perhaps it was because, as with the Mickey-Judy musicals, in many reviews of OZ on its’ initial release, Judy’s contribution wasn’t considered the primary reason for its’ success?
Of course, I agree that in FOR ME AND MY GAL Judy proved conclusively that she could carry a film under her own name, and it was straight up to enduring top stardom from there with ST LOUIS and the films that followed, especially her prestige productions for the Freed Unit.
But GAL is not only significant as the first time Judy achieved solo, above-the-title billing, it’s also Judy’s first real “adult” role, so, to me, it seems almost as if MGM was acknowledging that Judy had “survived” her onscreen adolescence, and the studio was now more certain she’d be a viable long-term investment.
To be fair to Judy, it seems as if MGM took this same gradual approach in promoting later young musical talent like Jane Powell, June Allyson and, especially, Kathryn Grayson, so maybe it became an unwritten, but established studio policy?
Anyway, it’s an interesting issue…at least to me.
And to us too, Mark. Thanks.