Welcome to the nbmagazine.co.uk stop on the blog tour for My Judy Garland Life by Susie Boyt!
Here’s a little info about the book:
Fascinating and extraordinary, thrilling and poignant, My Judy Garland Life will speak to anyone who has ever nursed an obsession or held a candle to a star.
Judy Garland has been an important figure in Susie Boyt’s life since she was three years old, comforting, inspiring and at times disturbing her. In this unique book, Boyt travels deep into the underworld of hero worship, reviewing through the prism of Judy our understanding of rescue, consolation, love, grief and fame. What does it mean to adore someone you don’t know? What is the proper husbandry of a twenty-first century obsession?
Boyt’s journey takes in a duetting breakfast with Mickey Rooney, a Munchkin luncheon, tea with the largest collector of Garlandia, an illicit late-night spree at the Minnesota Judy Garland Museum and a breathless, semi-sacred encounter with Miss Liza Minnelli . . .
And about author Susie Boyt:
Susie Boyt was born in London and educated at Camden School for Girls and Oxford University. After a nerve-racking stint in a lingerie boutique and an alarming spell working in PR for Red Stripe lager and the Brixton Academy, she settled down to writing and is the author of six acclaimed novels including The Last Hope of Girls, which was short-listed for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and Only Human, which was short-listed for the Mind Award. Of her last novel, Love & Fame, The Sunday Times said ‘she writes with such precision and wisdom about the human heart under duress that the novel is hard to resist.’
Susie wrote a much-loved weekly column about life and art for the Financial Times Weekend for fourteen years and still contributes regularly to their books and fashion pages. Last year she edited The Turn of the Screw and Other Ghost Stories for Penguin Classics. Susie is also a director at the Hampstead theatre in London and works part time for Cruse Bereavement Care.
She lives in London with her husband and two daughters. She is the daughter of the painter Lucian Freud and the great-grand-daughter of the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.
And here’s Philipa Coughlan’s review of My Judy Garland Life:
First published in 2008, this book is now being reissued by Virago to coincide in 2019 with the 80th anniversary of the film The Wizard of Oz and 100 years since the death of of book author Frank L. Baum (the original was called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). It is also the 50th anniversary of Judy Garland’s death (she died tragically young at just 47 years of age).
Susie Boyt never met Judy Garland but she has been obsessed with her for many years. Why?
Was it a childhood or teenage infatuation that many of us have? ( I was crazy about Donny Osmond and painted my bedroom purple as it was his favourite colour) but I grew out of it and although many ‘fans’ adore and follow people I began reading this book with an uneasy feeling about the therapy that the author was undertaking (or needed to have) to deal with the way Judy Garland has shaped her life.
Ironically, Susie Boyt is the great granddaughter of Sigmund Freud (the father of psychoanalysis) and also the daughter of Lucien Freud (the painter) and hints as to her early childhood and lack of self-esteem seem to suggest why obsessing about someone famed for a film capturing herself as the idyllic girl Dorothy with the sparkling red shoes would appeal.
When Susie went with her mother to see The Wizard of Oz at the cinema the first time and heard her sing ‘Over the Rainbow’ she says, “There was an instant – and I felt it even then – historic meeting between us, a kind of tessellation of spirit accompanied by thick bolts of not just fellow feeling but of fellow being”. Wow, that statement seems incredible and is, of course, offered by Susie as an adult writer (of some well thought of novels) looking back on that moment of childhood joy when Dorothy is on the famous yellow brick road. I have to say I had no such feelings when Donny Osmond sang ‘Puppy Love’…
But it is awful to be cynical because as I read further Susie is not alone in her love and admiration. There are fan clubs, conventions and, of course, a mass of social media followers of the star that was Judy Garland, both as a young child star and as the older movie/TV star and one woman show singing phenomenon. Judy was pushed by her ambitious mother, Ethel Glumm, after her father had died into the savage world of MGM and Hollywood, where her vulnerability amongst the older prowling men on film sets was terrible.
Susie too seems to reflect her own sad childhood and feels in sync with the young star. She states she too was “keen to stay a child for as long as possible” and “I missed my father so much it was a physical pain.” Susie’s parents had parted before she was born and, like Judy, she also seems to looking for love and affection.
The issue of weight affected them both. Susie wanted to dance and be on stage but was often rejected or ridiculed. Judy was hired for her brilliant voice but she was never considered for her beauty and both struggled with yo-yo diets and the link between food and love is often a strong determining factor in young girls and women having emotional problems throughout life.
There is a lot to learn about Judy Garland. Sometimes the intricacies of her life, who she meets, what she wears, are too much, although I did find myself seeking out a video to watch Judy sing. It was later in life, when it appears (mostly men) had sucked her dry financially and her TV show was on its last legs so she looked both tired and sounded desperate, but even then the song was emotionally charged and she was a superb entertainer and received a standing ovation as she turns and disappears out of sight.
Judy struggled with men and all her marriages failed, but she loved her children and it was interesting to hear how Susie had interviewed Liza Minnelli and also Lorna Luft. As the child of a child star are you also destined for greatness or inevitable sadness? Lorna Luft says protectively, “I wish I had no conscience, so I could force them on the stage”. Did Judy’s mother realise the damage she was doing at that time? Or was the money that began rolling in to overcome her poverty cause her to turn a blind eye to the obvious neglect and exploitation Judy was suffering.
Weirdly, Susie’s father, Lucien Freud, once met Judy Garland. What on Earth would Sigmund Freud have made of that playing on the author’s mind, as she was a tiny baby when Judy Garland died?
Never meet your hero is a well-known phrase. My feeling at the end of the book is definitely that for author, Susie Boyt. When she goes to visit Garland’s grave it is a small slab with her name “in larger letters across than the width of the singer’s tiny shoulders”. How macabre a thought.
So what is hero worship? Modest, ill-adjusted form of love, productive, deranged? The author seems to present all of these during the book. What triggered this obsession?
We read that Susie’s boyfriend was killed in a climbing accident, two months before his 21st birthday in June 1989 – exactly 20 years to the day that Judy Garland died. Transference of grief must be something Susie also understands for I read she is also a CRUSE bereavement counsellor and is on the register of trained volunteers who are called if there is a major public incident in London.
She, like Judy Garland, wanted to care and wanted to be cared for. “I couldn’t be happy if you weren’t happy,” says the author.
My conclusion is that although I enjoyed reading more about Judy Garland and her life, I left the final page being more worried about the writer herself.
There is much to learn about those who orbited Judy’s world of presumed glamour and I was especially taken with the apparent jealously of Lana Turner (“I may be beautiful but you have the voice!”) and the wonderful Mickey Rooney who perhaps still is that child (but has a wonderful guiding and protective wife). If only Judy had “married a good kind doctor” says the author.
As children I think we all had our dreams of the Emerald City when we saw The Wizard of Oz to escape to a fantasy world. For Judy Garland, the real world came crashing into her life with disastrous results concerning her drinking and drug taking (good fans never mention these facts apparently!). Overall, we think of a tragic woman with a wonderful voice and I commend Susie Boyt for her ability to write a parallel and revealing story of her own life alongside that of her idol.
This year (Oct 4th) will also see the release of the motion picture JUDY starring Renee Zellwegger, so it is a timely book to find on shelves.
In 2022 it will be the 100th anniversary of Judy’s birth and I do wonder whether the book will be reissued again? My hope is that Susie will add a chapter on how she is doing in life because I tend to worry as much about her as I did about the subject of this story. I can also state that Donny Osmond need not fear I will be writing a similar tale about my life experiences related to a torrid love obsession with him…
An intriguing personal read. The book includes photos, some of which are not titled but many that are fascinating. Having reviewed Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts earlier this year, which is fiction based on Judy meeting the wife of Frank L. Baum during the making of The Wizard of Oz (a great read), I find I am more aware of Judy Garland than ever before. Book clubs will find it an absorbing if sometimes annoyingly self-obsessed book – but then being obsessed is what it is all about!
Philipa Coughlan 4/4
My Judy Garland Life by Susie Boyt
Virago 9780349013381 pbk Sep 2019