Judy Garland and Noël Coward Let Loose
BY Advocate.com Editors
August 14 2014 5:00 AM ET
If you are a fan of a certain age, Judy Garland was the epicenter, the first real diva in a gay man’s life. Certainly her ups and downs and triumphs and failures have been documented and rehashed and then sold to television (see Andrea McArdle in Rainbow). But to hear or read Judy in her own words is so revealing and wipes away any visions of her as frail or weak-willed. Judy Garland on Judy Garland, edited by Randy L. Schmidt, is the closest we will likely come to experiencing and exploring the legend’s abandoned autobiography.
This collection of interviews between 1935 and 1969 traces the complicated trajectory of her star. Judy was a great storyteller, and in these interviews her talents come through as we get to sit dazzled at her feet as her stories spin. One of the most interesting interviews from the book is more of a dialogue between the gay megatalent Noël Coward and Judy as they compare their experiences in the spotlight. And these are real showfolk — the word “darling” is uttered no less than 25 times in this interview. Here it is provided via the book's publisher:
A REDBOOK DIALOGUE: NOËL COWARD & JUDY GARLAND
November 1961, Redbook
What originated as a reporter’s tape-recorded interview with playwright Noël Coward became a fly-on-the-wall look into a fascinating friendship. It was during the week of August 11, 1961, that Judy traveled with Kay Thompson and publicist John Springer to attend a preview of Coward’s Sail Away at Colonial Theatre in Boston. Peppered with various exclamations by Thompson (the woman responsible for introducing the two), the conversation between Judy and Noël was taped the following day and later edited for Redbook.
They seem poles apart: America’s Judy Garland, who can warm 50,000 hearts singing familiar songs in a huge, open stadium, and England’s Noël Coward, who acts, writes and directs his own sophisticated plays and musical comedies. But they are devoted friends, and deep admirers of each other’s talent. They are equally outspoken about the theater, the public, and life backstage, which they discuss with unusual honesty in the following dialogue tape-recorded in Boston shortly after the opening of Coward’s new musical Sail Away.
NOËL COWARD: Let’s just — before we start talking — decide what is interesting about you and me, Judy. I’d say it’s first of all that we’re very old friends, so that takes care of itself. What is interesting about us both is (a) you are probably the greatest singer of songs alive, and I ... well, I’m not so bad myself when I do my comedy numbers, and — let’s see, what else?
JUDY GARLAND: And (b), Noël, is that we both started on the stage at about the same age, didn’t we?
NC: Yes. How old were you when you started?
JG: I was two.
NC: Two? Oh, you’ve beaten me. I was ten. But I was —
JG: What were you doing all that time?
NG: Oh ... studying languages! No, I started at the age of ten in the theater, but before that I’d been in ballet school. I started in ballet.
JG: You were going to be a dancer?
NC: Yes. I was a dancer for quite a while. Fred Astaire designed some dances for me in 1923. I was older than ten then, of course.
JG: How marvelous! I didn’t know that! Did Fred—
NC: I don’t think he was very proud of the dances, because I don’t think I executed them very well. There was a lot of that cane-whacking tut-tumti-ti-tum in them.
JG: But, to go back, where did your theater ... Did you have any background? Was there anyone else in your family at all that was —
JG: That’s it ... theaterly.
NC: No theater. Navy.
JG: No theater? How —
NC: We didn’t know anything about it. My father’s attitude was always one of faint bewilderment. But my mother loved the theater, you see, and she took me to my first play when I was five years old. It was my birthday treat. Every sixteenth of December I used to be taken to a theater. And then I was given a toy theater for Christmas.
JG: By your mother?
NC: By my mother. She adored — she loved the theater, you see.
JG: Yes. Yes!
NC: And I was wildly enthusiastic about it and so that’s how it all started. I had a perfectly beautiful boy’s voice, so I was sent to the Chapel Royal School, where I trained to be ready for the great moment when I gave an audition for the Chapel Royal Choir, which is a very smart thing to be in. I did [Charles] Gounod’s “There Is a Green Hill Far Away,” and I suppose the inherent acting in me headed its ugly rear, because I tore myself to shreds. I made Maria Callas look like an amateur. I did the whole crucifixion bit — with expression. The organist, poor man, fell back in horror. And the Chapel Royal Choir turned me down because I was overdramatic.
JG: (laughing): That’s divine!
NC: Then Mother was very, very cross and said the man who had turned me down was common and stupid anyway. After that we saw an advertisement in the paper that said they wanted a handsome, talented boy, and Mother looked at me and said, “Well, you’re talented,” and off I went to give an audition. That’s how I got on the stage.
JG: Divine! But it was different for me. I came in with vaudeville. I ... You know, it was sort of rotten vaudeville, not good vaudeville. I told you this once before, I think. I came in after the real great days and before television. Really, it was awful vaudeville, you know, so there was nothing very inspiring. But my children are being exposed to all the best.
NC: Of theater?
JG: Yes. I want them to be exposed to it. I think it’s rather stupid to be involved in making movies or whatever, and just leave your children every morning —
NC: “Mother’s going out now.”
JG: Yes, and say, “I’m going to work now, but you mustn’t know where because I don’t want you exposed.”
NC: Well, also the children might adore being exposed. Why not enjoy themselves?
JG: So I take them along with me. They have been on movie sets. They have been backstage in the wings. They know what I do when I go to work. Sometimes I think that actresses who say they don’t want their children exposed to publicity and don’t want their children photographed ... Well, I have a strange, uncanny feeling that maybe Ma doesn’t want any attention taken away from her, you know?