Sunday, November 17, 2013

Judy Garland Christmas Special That Almost Wasn't

Judy Garland

The Judy Garland Show's holiday episode in 1963, guest-starring daughters Lorna Luft, Liza Minnelli, son Joey Luft, Mel Torme, and Jack Jones, might be the quintessential Christmas special.

Judy Garland Christmas ShowBehind the scenes production turmoil and mediocre ratings made Judy Garland's Television City studio a tense place, or so it seems from what's been written - the MGM musicals vet still delivered more bang than any three stars could, even if she was a little edgy on the series' Christmas episode.

To further complicate matters, the night before the Christmas show taping, Garland (aka little "Dorothy" from 'The Wizard of Oz') had been on a major bender and couldn't be found when shooting was set to begin.

Judy Garland Show with Mel TormeMel Torme's guest spot had been a point of contention, he had a contract with Garland's production company guaranteeing him a certain number of guest appearances during the season. Judy wasn't committing to those dates and "The Velvet Fog" was very upset about it. Her introduction for Mel Torme on the program was noticeably awkward, she even calls him 'Mort' as in Mort Lindsey her musical director.

"As Judy went through her paces that afternoon, I could only look at her and marvel," Torme wrote in 1969. "How she had managed to return home, change clothes, do whatever she had to do to drag herself out of the sleepless abyss she must have been in and show up at Television City all within the course of an hour and a half was completely beyond me. Yet here she was, alert, alive, energetic, looking frighteningly normal. I thought of Johnny Bradford's description of her, 'The Concrete Canary,' and once again I realized how it fit her."

Whatever their backstage problems, together Judy and Mel sing (beautifully) Torme's classic composition The Christmas Song. It's almost like watching a blood sport as these two sit down to sing this majestic tune. First, Judy mistakenly calls Mel Torme 'Mort,' then flubs a line in the song. When Torme good-naturedly pointed it out, Judy purposely exchanged the word "reindeer" with "rainbow" - alluding to her signature tune. Great Stuff.

Judy Garland Show setThis was the ultimate sixties Christmas special - the art direction was superb and you've got Mort Lindsey conducting his first rate, brassy orchestra. The tension on the set seemed to bring out the best in everyone as they maneuvered around the spacious multilevel living room  - singing and dancing like their lives depended on it.

Read more about
The Judy Garland Christmas Show
and more Christmas Specials!