Most people know that Judy Garland had many careers after her glory days at MGM, where she started as a teenager and shot to stardom with The Wizard of Oz. She was also an extraordinary concert performer that earned her raves from both sides of the Atlantic, and for many people may have been the greatest entertainer of all time.
When Judy Garland was fired by MGM Studios in 1950, she embarked upon a new phase of her career by beginning a series of live concert performances. With husband Sid Luft as her manager, she had a historic series of concerts at The Palace in New York, and followed it with a tour of live performances.
When Variety reviewed Judy’s show at the New Frontier in 1956, they exclaimed, She is my unequivocal choice as the greatest entertainer I ever saw. She has no equal. Talk about charisma, she invented the word!
The following year she came back to Las Vegas for a three-week series of sold-out shows at The Flamingo. One evening she introduced her 11-year-old daughter Liza Minelli to the audience, who came onstage and sang a duet wtih her mother.
Judy was as well-known for her high maintenance behavior as well as her great talent. During New Year’s Eve of her Flamingo run, she got into a shouting match with some unruly patrons.
“Why don’t you shut up?”, Judy demanded.
“Why don’t you shut up?” someone shouted back.
“I don’t have to sing for you people,” Judy responded.
“We don’t have to listen to you either,” came the even nastier reply.
Nor did they. Judy not only departed the stage, but Las Vegas as well, forfeiting $100,000 and generating a flurry of unflattering headlines. “Judy Garland Quits Vegas Show in Huff,” said the Los Angeles Mirror News. (from Get Happy - the Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clarke).
How Judy came to be associated with The Rat Pack was no mystery...she helped start it! Judy and her husband Sid would frequently go over to the Humphrey Bogart’s house for an evening of drinking and socializing. This exclusive club came to be known The Holmby Hills Rat Pack. It was really an informal group of friends who liked to get together engage in the bubbly. Also there was David Niven, Frank Sinatra and Swifty Lazar.
Bogart told Judy that she had “more goddamn talent than anyone in town,” and when Judy went down to Long Beach to perform in 1955, the whole group came down to support her - on a bus with a fully stacked bar.
On 1956, Bogart found out he had cancer, and he died the following January. Although that version of the Pack died with him, some of the others - Frank, Sammy, Dean - took over the name for their grown up club. Of course, Judy and Frank went all the way to days when they both worked on the MGM lot (they even had a brief romance). So when Frank when over to The Sands, it was no surprise that Judy was added to the cast of stars signed by Jack Entratter to perform there.
In 1962, when Judy was given an hour network special, she got Frank and Dean as her 2 guest stars. The success of that special led to the Judy Garland TV series following year (which is now being released on DVD).
Judy performed several weeks at The Sahara in 1963. Stan Irwin, Executive VP of the Sahara, knew the way to get a performance out of Judy was to treat her like a queen and pay attention to her whims. The last two weeks she was scheduled to go on at 2 a.m., but she was still able to draw a capacity crows at that hour.
The decade did not end well for Judy. She was broke, her voice weakened by years of her take-no-prisoners singing style, and died in London in 1969 after a lifetime addiction to pills. She joined Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Elvis as died-too-young show business icons. But from the mid 50s to late 60s, Las Vegas audiences were treated to performances by one of the all time great entertainers. And with Liza Minelli now back on her feet from hip surgery, many of the standards that Judy made famous will again be heard in Vegas showrooms.
Name: Frances Ethel Gumm
Birthdate: June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota
Death: June 22, 1969 in London, England
Theme Song: Over the Rainbow
Hotel Affiliations: Flamingo, Sahara, Sands