The film that cost my par­ents their mar­riage

Lorna Luft on what went wrong af­ter her fa­ther made 1954’s ‘A Star Is Born’ with her mother, Judy Gar­land

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - COVER STORY - GABY WOOD

‘There’s some­thing about my voice that makes them see all the sad­ness and hu­mour they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced,” Judy Gar­land once said of her fans. “It makes them know that they aren’t too dif­fer­ent; they aren’t apart. I think that’s it.”

That’s a sim­ple enough ac­count of what makes peo­ple cling to her mem­ory now, but Gar­land didn’t re­ally be­come that per­son – or not pub­licly – un­til 1954, with the mak­ing of A Star Is Born. Un­til then, she had been a child star – both lit­er­ally, ed­u­cated as she was at MGM’s “lit­tle red school­house”, and by ex­ten­sion, in the on­go­ing and in­fan­til­is­ing em­brace of the Hol­ly­wood stu­dio sys­tem.

There were those who knew her as Mickey Rooney’s in­nocu­ous side­kick in the Andy Hardy movies; many more who iden­ti­fied her with Dorothy in The Wiz­ard of Oz (1939). Even as Es­ther in 1944’s Meet Me in St Louis (whose direc­tor, Vin­cente Min­nelli, Gar­land would marry in 1945) she was a naïf. Four years later, her Han­nah, in Easter Pa­rade, was gen­teel. Only her per­for­mance in “Get Happy”, the tuxedo-and­stock­ings num­ber in Sum­mer Stock, be­gan to crack the sur­face of her sweet­ness. That film was made in 1950, the year Gar­land was “re­leased” from her MGM con­tract, hav­ing be­come no­to­ri­ously un­re­li­able and (off­screen) defini­tively adult.

It was also the year Gar­land met Sid Luft, a gam­bler, weightlifter and former fighter pilot. Gar­land’s daugh­ter, Liza Min­nelli, was four, and both she and Luft were in mar­riages that were com­ing apart. As Lorna Luft, the daugh­ter the cou­ple would have two years later, tells me now, Sid Luft “fell in love with Judy the per­son as well as Judy the com­mod­ity… my fa­ther gam­bled on my mother”.

It wasn’t quite the en­croach­ment that suggests. Gar­land was wait­ing for some­one to take a chance on her. “He saw some­thing he could do some­thing with, and that she asked him to do some­thing with,” Lorna Luft says, speak­ing on the phone from Palm Springs. Sid un­der­stood that Gar­land was not just a movie star. She had stage pres­ence too. He set in mo­tion her live con­cert ca­reer, and then re­alised the two would dove­tail per­fectly if only they could re­make Wil­l­liam Well­man’s 1937 film A Star Is Born, that heart­break­ing Pyg­malion story in which the men­tor is down and out, and the young star a phoenix.

The film it­self de­vel­oped a com­plex life – one in a long fam­ily of re­makes, it was fin­ished in 1954, hailed as a mas­ter­piece, then cut back bru­tally on stu­dio in­struc­tions to pro­jec­tion­ists, so that more film screen­ings could be fit­ted into a day. “It was like they went down the red car­pet,” says Lorna Luft, “then the red car­pet was pulled out from un­der­neath them.” The orig­i­nal three-hour ver­sion is, even now, im­pos­si­ble to re­store, since so much of that footage has been lost. Lorna Luft has now writ­ten a book about it, and its rel­a­tives past and fu­ture. Subti­tled “Judy Gar­land and the Film that Got Away”, it evokes the movie’s pro­duc­tion his­tory, and in­cludes be­hind-the-scenes pho­to­graphs from Luft’s own col­lec­tion: Gar­land con­fer­ring with direc­tor Ge­orge Cukor; Gar­land and Luft as a baby on set; Gar­land tak­ing a nap on a sound­stage.

But it also raises a ques­tion about an­other story. Luft was born and brought up in the cru­cible of that film. Quite lit­er­ally: when the shoot wrapped, Sid Luft took all the fur­ni­ture, at sal­vage cost, for the fam­ily home. Her fa­ther pro­duced it, as a come­back ve­hi­cle for her mother. Her mother starred in it, and used it to show the world she had grown up. Yet it was maimed, in­side and out. As pro­duc­tion came to a close, Cukor wrote to his friend Katharine Hep­burn: “About three weeks ago, strange, sin­is­ter and sad things be­gan hap­pen­ing to Judy.” Her be­hav­iour, he said, was that of “some­one un­hinged, but there is an ar­ro­gance and a ruth­less self­ish­ness that even­tu­ally alien­ates one’s sym­pa­thy.”

One of the film’s most fa­mous songs, The Man that Got Away, was a sound Gar­land took with her into the rest of her life. Watch it on screen, sung by a pulled-to­gether girl in an out-of-hours bar, then lis­ten to Gar­land sing it again six years later, half­way through her fa­mous con­cert at Carnegie Hall. You’ll hear the edge in the lines “the road gets rougher/ It’s lone­lier and tougher”, and the am­pli­fied la­ment in the re­frain: “Ever since this world be­gan/ there is noth­ing sad­der than/ a one-man woman/ look­ing for the man that got away”.

Moss Hart, who wrote the script for Gar­land, knew that she iden­ti­fied with both char­ac­ters – not just Es­ther Blod­gett/Vicki Lester, the ris­ing star she por­trayed, but also the ad­dicted dead­beat played by James Ma­son. When Gar­land died of a bar­bi­tu­rate over­dose in 1969, Ma­son de­liv­ered the eu­logy at her fu­neral. “She was a lady who gave so much and so richly,” he said, “that there was no cur­rency in which to re­pay her. And she needed to be re­paid, she needed de­vo­tion and love be­yond the

‘My fa­ther fell in love with Judy the per­son as well as Judy the com­mod­ity’

NOTH­ING SAD­DERJudy Gar­land as Es­ther sings The Man that Got Away, watched by Nor­man Maine (James Ma­son) in A Star Is Born, 1954

FAM­ILY AF­FAIRGar­land on set with hus­band, Sid Luft; right, with daugh­ter Lorna Luft, 1953

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.