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Way, Way Over the Rainbow

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New Judy Garland volume is more about obsession than adulation.

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

SusieBoyt
Author Susie Boyt would have “loved to watch Judy sleep.”

You weren’t stalking. Really, you weren’t. And you’d like to think of yourself as a nice, normal adult human being who’s got it together. But when you had a chance, random encounter with your favorite celebrity, your mouth suddenly stopped working and you could barely remember your name. Acting like a gushing 13-year-old, you asked for an autograph.

Embarrassing, maybe; but you’ve got a piece of ink-and-paper to prove that you had a brush with celebrity, and that’s pretty great.

Author Susie Boyt never had a chance to ask for an autograph from her favorite star, because that star died five months after Boyt was born. Still, in the new book My Judy Garland Life (Bloomsbury USA), Boyt explains why she will always love Judy.

When you understand that her beloved mother had a penchant for dramatic adventure—once, she bought a ship and sailed the entire family to Trinidad—it’s not hard to see why Susie Boyt became fascinated with Judy Garland. 

JGarlandLife“Matters of life and death hang in the balance when Judy Garland sings,” Boyt says.

Boyt wasn’t born in time for the high-seas adventure, but she says she never tired of the ship story, and begged for details. Neither did she tire of her father’s memory of meeting with Judy Garland: Boyt’s dad started to shake hands with Garland, and one of Garland’s fingers was “missed” in the clasp.

“I feel for that finger sometimes,” Boyt writes wistfully.

Hero worship doesn’t preclude an acknowledgement of flaws, of course, and although Boyt admits she has contemplated violence when someone said something negative about Judy Garland, she’s willing to see the (few) bad things. Garland was known to have pulled knives on people. She was reportedly careless with extravagances. She took drugs, to which Boyt admits there is no heroism.

Decades after her death, though, Judy Garland continues to gain fans. Some “crazy-good fans,” as Boyt calls some admirers, want to keep Garland to themselves, fearing that Garland’s popularity in the gay community does her memory a “great disservice.” And the “bad fans”?

“Oh! The tension this creates,” says Boyt.

Oh! Where do I begin?

Aside from the gigantic “So What?” factor that runs rampant in this book, reading My Judy Garland Life made me feel a little creepy. Author Susie Boyt muses about doing Judy Garland’s ironing, and she admits that she would have “loved to watch Judy sleep. . . .”  She gives meaning to many moues and motions from movie and TV, and she claims to think about Garland in so many everyday situations that the word “obsession” strongly came to my mind.

Mixed in with the author’s Judy Garland worship are lots of stories that I thought were mostly rather unexciting. I believe the best thing I can say about this book is that there are plenty of pictures in it, but not enough to warrant its
purchase.

If you’re looking for a book about Judy Garland, there are other, better ones out there. Find one of them instead and heave My Judy Garland Life somewhere over the rainbow.

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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Terri Schlichenmeyer

Terry Schlichenmeyer is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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