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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Book Review: Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clarke

I don't think it will come as a great surprise to regular readers of this blog that my latest indulgence has been a Judy Garland biography. I adore her but, for whatever reason, I'd never read a book solely about her. Something to do with heroes and pedestals perhaps. However, Clarke's account, while being as close to truthful as one can get when dealing with Judy, is touching and left my adoration fully intact.

What Clarke does to great effect within the four hundred or so pages is raise all those questions that dictated the progression of Judy's life; the 'what ifs' that seem so heartbreaking to a modern reader. Judy's tragic life is one of the reasons she's remembered but - and this is important - the primary reason she's remembered is because she was a gifted entertainer. Nevertheless, the 'what ifs' are compelling to read.

  • What if Judy's loving father had lived longer? (He died in 1935)

  • What if her mother hadn't started giving her those pills to keep her going?

  • What if her first husband hadn't agreed with her mother and encouraged her to have an abortion?

  • What if Judy had gone to Broadway in the mid-forties as had been her ambition?

Those are four of many 'what ifs' that popped up during my reading of this biography. Clarke's detailed interviews with his various sources have produced a text that is well informed but not over-saturated with information. Where one example of Judy's behaviour - or behaviour towards Judy - will suffice he doesn't clutter up his book with two. What we're left with is a concise and, I think, representative biography that finds the person behind the star as well as anybody could hope to.

I won't lie - on occasion I wanted more information on some scenarios and people she was acquainted with but, all in all, this book was very good, quite possibly excellent. It shows Judy the trouper, Judy the vulnerable, Judy the mother and doesn't gloss over the bad bits. However, the message I came out with was that Judy loved singing, loved entertaining, loved her audience. I just think it's remarkable that forty two years after her death people still love her with the same intensity they did when she appeared on screen. That's some legacy.

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