Judy Garland at 100: What to watch and listen to From her earliest days at MGM to The Judy Garland Show, the powerhouse entertainer was singular and enduring.

Judy Garland at 100: A starter guide beyond the Yellow Brick Road

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Judy Garland was born 100 years ago on Friday. You probably know her as Dorothy from Kansas, who wore those famous ruby slippers.


JUDY GARLAND: (As Dorothy, singing) Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.

THOMPSON: But Judy Garland was way more than her "Wizard Of Oz" performance. Aisha Harris is a co-host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. She's a longtime Judy Garland fan and is joining us to look back on her work. Hi, Aisha.


THOMPSON: So Aisha, talk about what was your introduction to Judy Garland? Because I think she was long gone when you came along.

HARRIS: She was, unfortunately. I was definitely a kid, and it was around the age of 12 that I really got into old movies and especially old movie musicals. And once you're in that realm, you cannot not stumble on Judy Garland. She's going to get you, and she got me. I became obsessed with her vulnerability, her voice, her just pure effervescence on-screen. And I've been a fan for quite some time now.

THOMPSON: So let's talk first about her movies. She made so many movies, right? "For Me And My Gal" in 1942, who was her co-star?

HARRIS: Gene Kelly.

THOMPSON: Correct. And I believe it was his movie debut. Was it?

HARRIS: It was. It was. By then, she had been in the business for a while, so she kind of helped him get comfortable on-screen. And he always was grateful to her for helping him in that first role.

THOMPSON: Then there was "The Harvey Girls."


THOMPSON: Well, it might have come before that, but it was "The Harvey Girls" and "Summer Stock" in 1950.

HARRIS: Yes. That was her last film for MGM.

THOMPSON: So what are some of your favorite Judy Garland movies?

HARRIS: If you're just starting with Judy Garland and you've already seen "The Wizard Of Oz," I'd say "Meet Me In St. Louis" is another one of her signature roles from that MGM era. And what I say about this film is that the drama is very low stakes, but the feelings are very big and sincere. And it's set at the beginning of the 20th century. It's about a family living in St. Louis. Judy plays this very vivacious young woman who has a crush on the boy next door. And it's a classic movie, in part because it has so many classic songs. She introduced "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," which, obviously, became a Christmas classic. You also have the title tune, "Meet Me In St. Louis" and "The Trolley Song," which is just probably one of her most signature songs. If you're going to know Judy, you're going to know "Trolley Song."


GARLAND: (As Esther Smith, singing) As he started to leave, I took hold of his sleeve with my hand. And as if it were planned, he stayed on with me, and it was grand just to stand with his hand holding mine to the end of the line.

THOMPSON: Do they make musicals like that anymore?

HARRIS: No, they certainly don't (laughter).

THOMPSON: But it was that 1939 film, that classic "Wizard Of Oz" film. And that song, "Over The Rainbow," won an Oscar for Best Original Song - right? - in 1940?

HARRIS: Yeah. And apparently, it almost didn't even make it into the film, which is is wild, because that is obviously one of the most well-known, popular and most rerecorded song - covered song of all time.

THOMPSON: Patti LaBelle alone.

HARRIS: Yes. There have been so many covers.

THOMPSON: For those who don't know Judy Garland's history, she was more than an actress. She was also a Grammy Award-winning singer who could really belt out a song. "Trolley Song," classic example - right? - of belting out a song. What should folks listen to by Judy Garland?

HARRIS: Absolutely "Judy At Carnegie Hall," which won the Album of the Year at the Grammys in 1962. And it came towards the latter half of her career and her life. And it's kind of a retrospective. And what I love about this album is that it feels so alive. You hear her. She's bantering. She's talking to her audience, who adores her. And then, of course, you've got her voice. She's at her top notch here. Her voice is not quite as young as it was before, but it has this raw tone to it. And one of my favorite songs on that album is her doing a rendition of "The Man That Got Away," which is from the 1954 movie "A Star Is Born," another classic of hers. And I think it's worth having a little listen to that as well.


GARLAND: (Singing) No more his eager call. The writing's on the wall. The dreams you dreamed have all gone astray.

THOMPSON: That goes back to belting out a song. The ending of that song is amazing.


THOMPSON: So what about, you know, she was an actress. She was a singer. But she was also known for her vulnerability. Is that what helped make her such a box office draw?

HARRIS: Yeah, it's definitely a big part of it. And it's also what's made her such a big gay icon because she had such a very well-known, tragic life behind the scenes. She dealt with drug addiction. She dealt with personal setbacks. And all of that sort of contributes to her legend and also contributes to her performance. She was someone who didn't seem like she was happy enough in her life, in personal life, but on stage, she gave it her all. And you could tell that, like, what she needed was to be on stage. And so her being able to convey that, to make the biggest of songs sound super big and then come down and be very quiet, but still have that power in her voice and in her conveyance of these songs, I think, is what makes her an enduring star and the reason why we're sitting here talking about her centennial.

THOMPSON: Aisha Harris of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Thank you so much for joining us.

HARRIS: Thank you.

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