My husband, Frank, and I have three separate holiday traditions that involve Judy Garland. And yet I balk when anyone suggests I’m a Kinsey 6.
The Judy festivities begin on whatever day in early December when we install a Christmas tree and hang our stockings on the bookshelf with care (we don’t have a mantel). Having thus decked the halls, we then each pour ourselves a drink—the stronger, the better ‘cause this is for Judy—and settle onto the couch to watch our DVD of The Judy Garland Show’s 1963 Christmas episode.
For the special, which is staged on a set made to look like a mid-century modern split-level living room, Judy is joined by her three real-life children—Liza, Lorna, and Joey—as well as Liza’s alleged “beau” (who is a babe), some carolers, a kick line of dancing Santas, and singers Jack Jones and Mel Tormé, whom Judy calls Mort at one point. Nearly all of these people have a slightly panicked gleam in their eyes as if they’re internally praying, “Oh Lord, please let her hold it together till we get to the end credits.”
But whatever substance abuse and emotional troubles were going on backstage, and however unsteady on her feet the star may appear at times, Judy of course knocks ‘em dead, somehow bringing vulnerability and sadness to jingle-jangle standards and inducing shivers with an “Over the Rainbow” bedtime finale.
Ultimately, the show is what Christmas is all about: proving wrong your loved ones and coworkers when they think you’re too drunk to stand.
At some point before December 25, Frank and I also make time to watch Meet Me in St. Louis, the 1944 MGM musical about one year in the life of an upper middle-class family in turn-of-the-20th-century St. Louis. Judy plays the second-oldest of five children; the youngest, Tootie, is played by Margaret O’Brien in that aggressively cute style often affected by child actors (see also: Temple, Shirley; and Symoné, Raven).
I don’t know why, but I am deeply moved by sentimental representations of ordinary people longing for simple things—to be kissed by the boy next door, to ride a trolley to the end of the line with same, to stay forever in your hometown with the people who love you.
So needless to say, Meet Me in St. Louis makes me cry my eyes out, especially during the part where it’s Christmas Eve and the dad announces that he has decided not to take that big-shot job in New York because he wants the family to stay in St. Louis where they’re happy and, after all, that’s really all that matters and oh, I’m getting choked up just thinking about it.
The last of our Judy-related holiday events takes place on New Year’s Day. Frank and I rouse ourselves from our hangovers for a viewing of The Wizard of Oz.
I guess you could say it’s my favorite movie, though when you consider the extent to which I was shaped by Dorothy Gale and company, it seems more accurate to say the movie is me.
Lord only knows how many times I have watched it, whether on VHS, DVD, or its formerly annual airing on network TV, which my family tuned into with such devotion that I can still tell you where the commercial breaks were.
I can’t recall why Frank and I started the ritual of sitting through The Wizard of Oz each January 1. But when I consider the matter now, it seems appropriate to start the new year off with a reminder about the importance of brains, heart, courage, and home. Even if home is a drab and dusty place where your hateful neighbors want to kill your dog.