NEW YORK — NEW YORK -- If she had lived, she would have been 70 on June 10. But somewhere over the rainbow, things went awry for Frances Ethel Gumm, a.k.a. Judy Garland, a star who conquered Hollywood and the world only to be battered by depression, drugs and suicide attempts.
Despite her problems, five-times married Judy Garland -- who died in 1967 by an accidental overdose of sleeping pills -- also left a legacy of joy and inspiration. It's a legacy that is being celebrated with a rare comprehensive exhibit of costumes, posters and other memorabilia at the Library of Performing Arts in Lincoln Center, running through her birthday.
The library consulted with her family and friends in assembling the show. Those who contributed objects also willingly shared memories.
Daughter Liza Minnelli said some of her mother's happiest times were spent recording. "Most of all I remember the laughter. If she'd blow a lyric . . . her laughter was so infectious that everybody would have to take five before they could start again."
Eddie Bracken, who starred in "Summer Stock" with her, says Garland loved playing tricks. So did he.
"I'm an amateur pickpocket," he explained cheerfully, recalling a scene when 400 actors, extras and crew jammed the set. "Suddenly, I whipped off Judy's bra, waving it in the air. She screamed and ran off the set. Everyone was shocked but Judy, who was in on the gag. I had the bra in my hand the whole time."
At another point, Garland was off the set, ill, for three weeks. MGM's chief Dore Schary threatened to fire her if she didn't return (she was, in fact, fired later that year, 1950).
An alarmed Mr. Bracken called Garland, coaxing her back by appealing to friendship. "I said: 'Judy, I know you're ill, but you're a trooper. I have to get back to Broadway to do a play. If I'm delayed, I'll lose the part.' She was there with makeup on in 90 minutes. See why I loved this lady?"
Alan King met Garland in 1956. "I was a kid then," recalled Mr. King, "when I got an offer to play the Palace with Judy." Promised that he would close the first half of the show, Mr. King found someone else in the spot. "But opening night, there was a knock on the dressing room door. There was Judy, only 5 feet tall, in a makeup-stained terry robe." She said: "You can close my show any time you like, young man." They played 26 weeks together.
Mr. King was well aware of her emotional problems. "She hated to go onstage."
He remembers an evening when a somewhat heavy Judy refused to go on. "She was wearing a black Chinese robe with red piping and little ballet slippers. I said, 'Just show your face or they'll say you're drunk or on drugs.' So she walked out and got a standing ovation.