Despite the written assurances from studio producers Arthur Freed and Mervyn Leroy — that they just knew Judy Garland was big star material from the first instant they saw her — doubts persist about how MGM handled (or mishandled) Garland’s career in the early days.
One of the doubters is reader, Mark, who makes several interesting points in response to our Oct. 24 blog:
Hi Joe and Frank:
I enjoyed your essay on “Judy’s Peak Years” very much, and I was wondering if you could comment on an issue I’ve wondered about concerning Judy’s rise to stardom at MGM.
Despite the enormous success of her films with Mickey Rooney, I’ve always felt that MGM dragged its’ heels in promoting Judy as a star in her own right, failing to capitalize on her success in THE WIZARD OF OZ as fully as it might…or should have?
For the three years between OZ in 1939 and FOR ME AND MY GAL in 1942 — the first film for which Judy received solo above-the-title billing as a superstar attraction in her own right (and her first fully “adult” role onscreen) — Judy appeared almost exclusively with Mickey in films (ANDY HARDY & the BABES musicals) that spotlighted him more heavily than her, and for which, at the time, he received the lion’s share (no pun intended) of critical attention.
Of the two films Judy made without Mickey during this period, I think only one, 1940’s LITTLE NELLIE KELLY, could be considered a “Judy Garland vehicle.” The other one, 1941’s ZIEGFELD GIRL, acknowledged Judy’s rising star by listing her second in the cast list after top-billed James Stewart, but is still primarily a vehicle for Lana Turner: one that enabled Lana to make the successful transition from starlet to star.
How do you feel about this period of Judy’s career? Do you agree that Metro failed to capitalize on her success in OZ as fully as it might have? If so, what do you think the reason for the delay was? If not, why do you think Metro waited several years after OZ to begin crafting “Judy Garland vehicles” in earnest?
Great questions, Mark. Keep in mind that Rooney was a HUGE star at MGM during the early Garland years, and the studio may have figured that going with the tried and true was less risky than emphasizing a relative newcomer no matter how talented. Was internal studio politics in some way involved? Undoubtedly.
Here’s Joe’s take on the situation.
I agree it took a few years for the studio to begin crafting musicals just for Garland’s talents, but you must remember that the studio really was “a factory.” It produced a product and since the product was successful, why tamper with success? It took For Me and My Gal to convince the powers that were that Judy–alone–could carry a movie.
And by their last teaming, Girl Crazy, it was obvious that Judy had grown into a mature leading lady and Mickey Rooney was stuck in the role of a “kid.” Judy was then ready for the big time and lucky that Arthur Freed chose Vincente Minnelli to direct her in Meet Me in St. Louis.