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Mar 02 2016

Judy by the Numbers: "Over the Rainbow"

Anne Marieis tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers…

How do you talk about this movie?How do you talk about thissong?Sure,there are star-turns.There are underdog stories.But there is nothing in Hollywood legend so powerfully wedded as Judy Garland andThe Wizard of Oz.It's the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle marriage of star and song that comes once every couple of generations.This was the number that would define Judy Garland as she defined it.It would be her biggest hit;one she recorded and re-recorded.It would follow her throughout her career,and outlive her when she died.Every moment before and after in the story of Judy Garland,MGM,and Studio System Hollywood lives in the shadow of "Over The Rainbow."

The Movie:The Wizard of Oz(MGM,1939)

The Songwriter:Harold Arlen (Music & Lyrics)

The Players:Judy Garland,Margaret Hamilton,Billie Burke,Frank Morgan,Ray Bolger,Bert LahJack Haley,directed by Victor Fleming

The Story:Louis B.Mayer did not take gambles.When he bought the rights toThe Wizard of Oz,he wanted it to be the biggest,most expensive,most profitable musical in MGM's history.Mayer started by assembling the best talent he had: producer Arthur Freed,director Victor Fleming,a cast of A-list comedians,and that no-fail,bonafide box office guarantee,Shirley Temple.By the time production was underway,9,000 extras were dancing past cutting-edge special effects played on 65 sets built on all 29 MGM soundstages,totaling in a budget just under $2 million.

Of course,Fox wouldn't release its tiny tapdancer,so Mayer had to resort to his second choice: Judy Garland.Since she was the new star of MGM's biggest film,Judy's studio education was put into high gear.Her teeth were capped,her hair was dyed,she was enrolled in dance and poise classes;all designed to polish down the rest of her rough edges.What this regimen couldn't do was dull what made Judy unique.

Judy singing "Over The Rainbow"is the perfect distillation of star and studio power.She'd shown signs before of what would make her great - vocal power in "Americana,"joyful musicality in "Got a pair of New Shoes,"deep longing in "Dear Mr.Gable,"- but with "Over The Rainbow,"the rest of the pieces fall into place.Judy loses her adolescent awkwardness,though she keeps her deep yearning.Accustomed to lip synching,she is able to act throughout the song - wistfulness,sadness,restlessness,hope.Judy Garland wasn't even old enough to vote,but a combination of raw talent and rigorous training matured her into an exemplary performer.

previously: "The Land of Let's Pretend"(1930),"The Texas Tornado"(1936),"Americana"(1936),"Dear Mr Gable"(1937),"Got a New Pair of Shoes"(1937),"Why?Because!"(1938),"Inbetween"(1938),"Zing Went the Strings of My Heart"(1938)

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Reader Comments (15)

As you mentioned this is a tough one to find anything new to say about.Perfect meeting of singer and song.She performed it so many times and it was always compelling but I don't know if this version can ever be topped.

There are so many books on the production and making of this film but one of the best I've read is by Aljean Harmetz called simply The Making of the Wizard of Oz.

March 2,2016 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Beautifully written on a tough topic from its sheer ubiquity.I was wondering how quick we were going to get to this one in the series given how busy the studio kept her

March 2,2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

At last.And thanks.;-)

It has now become impossible for me to watch/hear this without the sound of her voice over the decades creeping into the background.

Note how the Judy's chest is flattened into that dress.She was almost 17 when this scene was shot;the character of Dorothy is about eleven in the books (like Shirley Temple).

March 2,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Might be the most beautiful film song ever....Okay,drop the "might be".
But tbh,I'm glad I didn't see this movie as a (small) child.Some things (the flying apes especually) are still creepy.

BTW,who's the first Oscar winner in your current banner,Nat?She looks like a deadringer of Meryl!!!o_O

March 2,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Sonja -- that's Olivia de Havilland

March 2,2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

What a beautifully written tribute Anne Marie - well done.I can't improve on what you have said about Judy Garland and her performance.It's timeless,and I think the lyrics are part of what makes it so evocative for all of us.

Harold Arlen wrote the music,he did not write the lyrics.The lyrics were written by the wonderful EY (Yip) Harburg,who also wrote "Buddy Can You Spare a Dime","Paper Moon".

A long time ago 60 minutes did an interview with Y.A.(Yip) Harburg and he talked about how his lyrics reflected his experiences in the depression.Even though he wasn't a communist he was blacklisted for 12 years.He was one of the most interesting,talented,and sweetest of men,and there is an interview on you tube with him.

Wikipedia mentions this about his work on "Wizard of Oz":
"Yip also wrote all the dialogue in that time and the setup to the songs and he also wrote the part where they give out the heart,the brains and the nerve,because he was the final script editor.And he — there were eleven screenwriters on that — and he pulled the whole thing together,wrote his own lines and gave the thing a coherence and unity which made it a work of art.But he doesn't get credit for that.He gets lyrics by E.Y.Harburg,.But nevertheless,he put his influence on the thing."

Sorry for the length of this comment but I felt it was important to give Yip his fair share of the credit.Thanks.

March 2,2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I've heard this song a thousand times,maybe more,and Judy sing it every which way,but I'm always struck when seeing it like this at what a quiet moment it presents.No bombast,nothing hammy really.I wonder if they knew how much the song would touch people.Did it at the time?Or is it only a mega-hit in retrospect?It won the Oscar of course,but Oscar winning songs are a dime a dozen (just check out this Sunday for proof of that).

I'd like to call attention to Judy's acting here.There is never a dead spot in telling the story.Judy's emotions all play across her face and she is able to add that something extra,the forcefulness that makes her light up the screen.

Special shout out to Toto as Best Support in this clip!

March 2,2016 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Hollywood


March 2,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Dave -- only in retrospect -- it was nearly cut from the film (as horrific as that notion is now) for slowing things down

March 2,2016 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

@ Dave: It almost didn't make it into the movie (almost cut) and was shot towards the end by King Vidor (the third director on the film).

March 2,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I let my toddler watch this movie recently,and she loved it.She asks for it frequently,and always refers to it as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."That's a testament to how memorable that song is.

March 2,2016 | Unregistered Commentercash

This is the definitive version but I've been thinking about a live radio performance that she did of the song for the armed forces during the war.

It took me a while to find it and the quality isn't the best but it's a charming appearance,she does some patter with Bob Hope and launches into the song.One of the most fascinating parts of it is the transcendent expression that spreads across her face as she hits and holds that last note.Amazing.

March 2,2016 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

No clips of Judy singing along with the Floyd?

March 2,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

Sonja and Nathaniel- They do look alike.Maybe Meryl Streep and Jessica Lange can play DeHaviland and Davis in a making of Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte.

March 2,2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Beautiful piece.And still the best Oscar-winning song ever.

March 2,2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

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