Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Judy Garland Christmas Show (1963)



Music is inextricably intertwined with Christmas.  One thing I love to do at the holidays is watch TV variety specials--and the 1963 Christmas show of the short-lived The Judy Garland Show is one of my favorites.   If you haven't seen it recently, you should make the excuse to enjoy it again.  This Christmas episode has been released on DVD and is fairly easy to locate.  2013 marks the 50th anniversary of this particular Christmas episode giving me the perfect opportunity to share my thoughts on it.  The review below is an excerpt taken from my book The Christmas TV Companion in the chapter on outstanding Christmas TV variety moments.

The TV camera looks though a window at a "private" moment in the Garland "home" as Judy sings "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" to her two young children.
 
"The show opens with the camera looking through the windows of a home, focusing on the maternal Miss Garland singing the melancholy "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" while affectionately grasping [her young son and daughter] Joe and Lorna [Luft].  Of course, this is the memorable song that Judy made popular in the 1944 movie Meet Me in St. Louis.


After introducing her family members to the home viewer, Garland graciously invites us into her home.

Judy invites the TV cameras into her home for this Christmas TV special, to share the holiday with her family as her good friends, Jack Jones and Mel Tormé, informally drop by.  Both young Joe and Lorna adorably sing off-key songs, and a 17 year-old Liza Minnelli is here entertaining too--the best is her song and dance jazz number to "Steam Heat."

Judy performs a casual yet choreographed song with her children.  Together they sing "Consider Yourself"--a hit song from the popular musical Oliver!

Little Joe solos on "Where Is Love"--another hit from Oliver!
Teenaged Liza Minnelli performs a jazzy song and dance routine to "Steam Heat"--a hit song from the musical The Pajama Game.  Her partner here is Tracy Everitt.

Garland and her children sing and dance ever so casually, as if improvising, yet the choreography and the off-stage orchestration suggests otherwise.  In fact, all the entertainment appears informal--as if a natural extension of the singer’s lifestyle, yet it’s so perfectly conceived and painstakingly arranged, it can’t be that natural.

Judy sings "Little Drops of Rain" to the camera while her family decorates the Christmas tree behind her.


Family friend Jack Jones drops by the Garland "home" and sings "Wouldn't It Be Loverly"--a hit song from the musical My Fair Lady.

Jones then sings his signature tune "Lollipops and Roses" followed by Lorne singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."  Yes, he's still sitting on the coffee table!?

The family that entertains together, stays together?  Here, Liza sings "Alice Blue Gown"

Twice when a team of stylized Santa Clauses raucously bursts through Garland’s front door to dance in the middle of her living room, the audience is once again reminded of how phony this improvised moment truly must be.  Despite her professional demeanor, Judy really seems to be uncomfortable, at times appearing to be forcing the Christmas spirit.

Sitting under a blanket together, Liza, Jack, and Judy sing a medley of "Jingle Bells/Sleigh Ride/It Happened in Sun Valley/Winter Wonderland."

A frenzied group of Santa Clauses burst through the front door to chaotic charleston dance in Judy's living room!  Maybe she should get an alarm system?

Hollywood legend says that Garland’s short-lived variety show had been plagued with problems.  Some blame her drinking as well as backstage egos. Whether you’re aware of the rumors or not, problems are palpable on the production of her Christmas Show.  Garland herself is ill-at-ease during the taping.  She seems distracted and fidgety, not really focused during the entire show.

Carolers arrive at the front door and Judy welcomes them to come in.  Among them is her show's music arranger Mel Tormé.

And later, tension can be felt when Garland sits at the piano to sing with Tormé, the song so synonymous with the holiday, that it’s often overlooked that Tormé himself co-wrote it--"The Christmas Song."  Harmonizing along side the Velvet Fog, Judy accidentally flubs a line and Tormé reacts jovially, laughing and making the aside comment, “Close....” But there is clearly some friction when Judy purposefully alters the next line to add a lyric from her signature tune "Over the Rainbow" on top of his masterpiece.  The first lyric change was a mistake but she’s clearly manipulated the lyrics vengefully the second time.

There's tension on that piano bench as Judy shoots Tormé a withering look and purposefully alters the lyrics of his composition "The Christmas Song."

Ever professionals, the show goes on.  The carolers sing "Caroling, Caroling," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and Good King Wenceslas."

Judy sings "What Child Is This," and Mel and Jack harmonize on "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing."

Next, Liza and Tracy sing "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and Lorne and Joe sing "Silent Night."  The final song in this segment is the group singing "Deck the Halls."

The evening's party is over and Judy sends her guests home.  But those pesky Santas burst through the front door again--this time Miss Garland joins them to dance. 

The evening comes to a close with Judy singing "Over the Rainbow" to her children who are dressed for bed.

Although she shares the stage with her children, with everyone singing and enjoying each other’s company, at the end of the show when Judy sings "Over the Rainbow," you can feel the same uncomfortable feeling, much like the opening in "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Presented as an intimate moment with her family, Judy reminds the viewers at home that this is momma's show.

Judy has to belt out another of her signature songs, which undermines the small, intimate moment she’s sharing with her children.  However, even when Judy isn’t at her best, she’s still better than most.  This explains why her Christmas special remains a very popular vintage favorite."

This classic Judy Garland Christmas episode is far from forgotten as it was replicated in an homage for the 2011 Christmas episode "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" on the musical TV series Glee.  I'll talk more about that episode soon.  What's your favorite Christmas TV variety show?


6 comments:

  1. joanna, i had not read your review until today. i have watched this special about three times already this season and have enjoyed it. i have never seen it before, or not that i remember. thank goodness for GET TV! i love that they are showing some of these classic holiday variety specials. hopefully they will add more to their schedule next year. now i have to watch it for a 4th time and compare your notes and thoughts to the scenes. my main thought...."the house" looks a bit too bare, cold, and uninviting for holiday partying. ;)now i am off to google tracy everitt! merry christmas to all....

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  2. I just watched the show tonight for the first time and i noticed some of the "discomfort" in Mrs. Garland and the plasticity in every one. maybe she had too much fruit punch! I kept asking myself who does Liza reminds me? and finally got it; Anne Hathaway

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  3. I just watched the show tonight for the first time and i noticed some of the "discomfort" in Mrs. Garland and the plasticity in every one. maybe she had too much fruit punch! I kept asking myself who does Liza reminds me? and finally got it; Anne Hathaway

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  4. from the distance 2015 affords, it all looks so terribly sad and desperate.

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  5. This was my first time seeing the variety Christmas show and reading your review. Christmas in July (which I love). Liza seemed very fake and the kids tend to be a bit nervous, and Judy was definitely hitting the punch bowl and needed a cigarette. In all the show did not seem very much like Christmas. Was very disappointed in all.

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  6. Remember, this show was taped literally two weeks after President Kennedy was shot. The whole country was in a state of shock. It wouldn't be unusual if some of that disconnect managed to come through.

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