In celebration of the 47th anniversary of her historic Boston Common concert, Judy Garland sits down to discuss politics, staying relevant, and why she’s chosen to settle in Boston.
Judy Garland loved Boston. She spent a lot of time here during the 60s, and even kept an apartment here. In October of 1961 she played to over 13,000 people at the Boston Garden. In August of 1967, she played the Boston Common to over 100,000 adoring fans. A special 24-foot runway was built just for her performance, and Mayor John F. Collins marked the occasion by saying “Ordinarily I’m called Mayor Collins, but tonight I’m just one of your 100,000 fans. Judy, we’ve taken you into our hearts. I think that is the sentiment of all of us. God bless you.”
More than just concert performances, Judy had a much deeper personal connection to Boston: she checked into Brigham Hospital in an attempt to end her dependency on prescription medication on 2 separate occasions: as early as May of 1949 and as late as July 1968. During her time here, Judy made frequent visits to both the children’s hospital and the VA hospital.
Now, thanks to the sensational Peter Mac, Judy has returned to Boston for a series of intimate concerts at Club Café. Mac has won numerous awards for his uncanny and unmissable tribute; he has won the admiration of several celebrities and the blessing of those who knew and loved her.
You’re fresh off a performance. I’m bewitched.
Of all the places that Judy could be, why Boston?
Well, there was work! (laughs) I love Boston, you know? I performed in Boston many times throughout the 60s during my Carnegie Hall tour, and then again with my kids in 1968, both in the Back Bay and on The Common. We’re coming up on the 47th anniversary of my Boston Common concert, so I thought it was appropriate.
You’ve done a very good job of living your life out of the public eye over the past several decades. You’re famously absent from social media.
How do you live without any of that? Judy’s not on Twitter.
Well, my producers occasionally get me to do that, so I have done little things for them here and there on Facebook and that. Liza still hasn’t taught me how to Twitter. They give me the gadgets, but they don’t teach me how to use them. No, I maintain my privacy but I still work, my producers have kept me working. I’ve done concerts, but smaller concerts. I’m not playing Carnegie Hall, I’m playing Club Café. I never really went away because, of course, they keep me out there with all my movies going on DVD and Blu-ray…I have no idea what that means (laughs).
You must have an endless amount of offers that come in all the time, yet you’ve chosen to stick to smaller, more intimate concerts.
There’s more of a marriage between me and the audience because I get to perform on a more personal level, and I like that anyway, you know?
You were good friends with JFK. What was he like?
Marvelous gentlemen and I think one of the most important presidents that we’ve had. A dear friend of mine…I campaigned for him. When I was doing my television series (laughs), for however many of you remember that on CBS, and I had been having a kind of tough time with the powers that be there and I would call him and he would give me some advice, and towards the end of the conversation he would say “alright, I helped you with CBS, now you tell me what to do about Mr. Castro” (laughs), and I didn’t quite know what to do, but I would sing several bars of “Over the Rainbow” for him, which apparently not a lot of people believe, but it’s true. His secretary Evelyn Lincoln went on record saying that that indeed she was privy to a lot of those phone calls, and yes, indeed, I did sing “Over the Rainbow” with JFK over the telephone.
Any other presidents? Did George Bush reach out at all?
If he did, I’m not aware of it. I certainly wouldn’t have picked up the phone.
Would you have given him a few bars?
No. I don’t think I would have given him much of anything. No. I’m a staunch Democrat, and just to anticipate what your next question might be, as far as I’m concerned, I think that the right man for the job is a woman, so that’s where I’m placing my money.
Have you and Hillary had discussions?
I’d totally campaign for Mrs. Clinton. Sing for her any day.
Maybe you could assist in upgrading her pantsuits.
I think we could give her maybe just a little bit of fashion.
Yes, we could change that a little bit…maybe sequins.
I think so! In The White House, why not?
What do you make of Donald Trump?
It’s absolutely laughable. Donald Tru — I mean first of all, people always ask if I watched his show, The Apprentice, some fat, balding man sitting behind a big desk saying “you’re fired” – that’s not television, that was my life!
What does Judy Garland do on her weekends off?
I just like to take my time and relax and enjoy Massachusetts. Occasionally I go on road trips. I enjoy sitting back and looking at the success that my girls are having…you know, Liza is making another one of her comebacks. She takes right after me!
What do you think about Boston’s failed Olympics bid?
Oh, I think that’s rather sad, you know? I think this is a beautiful city, and why shouldn’t it be host to the Olympics? I don’t quite…I think people ought to do things for a lot of show and a lot of hubbub…there’s a lot of hokum attached to the Olympics…it’s show business isn’t it? It’s a spectacle and I think it’s ridiculous.
I can imagine you aiding in the opening ceremony.
I would love to! We could have opened with “Over the Rainbow” or “We are the Champions” or something. That needs to go in the show, too.
You’ve lived through so many different fads and seen so many stars come and go. What do you make of pop culture right now? What perplexes you?
I think a lot of us feel the same way. We did back in the 70s when film was becoming a little more quote-on-quote “realistic” and now it’s all about reality television. I was very blessed to have worked – not the working conditions – but I think of The Golden Age, as they call it, of Hollywood, and things were a little bit larger than life and we were allowed to make believe a little bit more. I think the world needs more of that, you know, and good music, too. Someone asked me recently who I think is a diva…I don’t think we have too many divas these days in the traditional sense; I’m not patting myself on the back. Lady Gaga, certainly, is at the top of the list, and Adele. But I’m not terribly keen on some of the music that’s being produced and such. It doesn’t have a sound to it. It’s all “thump thump thump” (laughs) and not like the trolley….it’s clanging in a whole other way.
It’s the wrong kind of clanging.
I think we need less reality and a little bit more make believe. People should be allowed to dream of a little more make believe in their life. That’s what’s missing from show business all the way around, I think, from movies to music and people might say…younger generations might say “Judy Garland is old fashioned”, but there’s nothing old fashioned about good music. I think we need more of it, you know?
Now in your new show, you’re singing some modern songs.
I haven’t learned a new song since well, the pilgrims landed in Plymouth…the original Vikings…so I’m crashing into new material like Van Morrison and The Carpenters. It’s not terribly new, but I’ve never done that material before. We need more people like that, more versatile singers, you know. Adele, Lady Gaga. Christina Aguilera is friends with my pal Tony Bennett…she can do pop, but she’s also proven that she can do marvelous work with standards and old fashioned music and sing it beautifully.
It’s interesting that you mention Lady Gaga. There are so many rumors that you two don’t get along.
That’s the press! That’s just the so-called journalists, right? I mean, with my producer of this show, there was an article in the Salem news that I threw my trunk at him. That’s crazy.
Might we see a Gaga/Garland…
I would love to do a duet with Lady Gaga. I think it would be marvelous. I think she’s very talented. She’s proven that she doesn’t have to wear bacon on her dress when she just sings with a lovely orchestra or a piano…she plays piano so beautifully, she’s a versatile performer and I’d grab at the chance to do…so Gaga, if you’re reading this…
I think she will be.
I’m ready for Gaga! Gaga and Garland!
What is your goal here with Boston audiences?
I want people to be happy, you know? I was born to do that…to entertain and take people’s minds off their troubles for a little while if I can. And I have great respect for anyone that will sit in an uncomfortable seat and pay good money to listen to me sing, but that’s just my goal…if you’re happy at the end of the evening and maybe feel a little bit better about yourself, then I’ve done my job. And people realize that if I can do this, you can do this. We’re all in this together. We’re all just people.
People who need people.
People who need people. I think that’s going to go into the act next! I know she’s borrowed a few of mine. No, I adore Barbra. She hasn’t called me in a while, either.
I really doubt that Barbra even has a telephone in her fortress. I think she talks to her roses and that’s about it.
And James! I just want audiences to know that I’ve been in love with them my whole life and I hope I can continue to…
For how much longer are you ours?
Well, I know that I’ve been invited to continue through the fall. I’m not doing that one alone, ‘cause at my age, you know…I just can’t do it alone anymore, so I think I’m going to get some of my old fashioned Hollywood gal pals to join me throughout September and October. Bette Davis has expressed interest in showing up…Mae West…Tallulah Bankhead…even my little girl Liza is going to stop by 1 or 2 nights. Maybe one way or another we will do a duet with each other. You never know. Stranger things have happened. I’m looking forward to that. Maybe even doing a Christmas show here, that’s also been bandied about. Right now, I’m enjoying Judy and the Songs that Got Away.
Well, Boston’s lucky to have you.
Well I’m absolutely blessed to be here and be able to talk to you and to perform for smiling faces who get me! You weren’t even an idea when I was in my hay-day, so, you’re at least third or fourth generation. It’s marvelous. You can be young and beautiful and have good taste, and I appreciate that.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THEJUDYGARLANDSHOW.COM
Theater critic for TheaterMania & WBUR’s TheArtery | Theater Editor for DigBoston | film and music critic for EDGE Media | Boston Theater Critics Association.