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May 25 2016

Judy by the Numbers: "The Trolley Song"

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

It's difficult to overstate the importance ofMeet Me in St.Louisto the myth that is Judy Garland.The Wizard of Ozguaranteed Judy immortality at age 17,but the 1944 Freed musical would be the first Garland product to assemble the pieces of her myth beyond her larger-than-life talent.ThoughMeet Me in St.Louisis usually known as arguably the best "adult"performance by Judy Garland in an MGM musical,this time the alternately exciting and exhausting events offscreen would be as important to her image as her sparkling turn in Technicolor as Esther Smith.

The Movie:
Meet Me In St.Louis(1944)
The Songwriters:Hugh Martin (lyrics),Ralph Blane (music)
The Players:Judy Garland,Mary Astor,Margaret O'Brien,Lucille Bremer,Leon Ames,directed by Vincente Minnelli

The Story: Long after the completion ofMeet Me In St.Louis,Judy Garland would state that she never felt more beautiful than when she was on that film.Look closely during the number and you'll see why.Look past her inner glow and you'll notice some small cosmetic changes: her teeth are crooked and her nose isn't.Though MGM had capped Judy's teeth duringThe Wizard of Ozand put her through dozens of makeup and wardrobe changes in order to make Garland a more typical MGM girl,director Vincente Minnelli and makeup designer Dorothy Ponedel hit on the truth: Judy Garlandwasn'ta typical MGM girl.Ponedel and Minnelli's secrets were well-placed blush,an appreciation for color design,and the knowledge that Judy's imperfections were as winning as her talents.

Of course,Judy's inner glow could have been from the other big news in her life: she was in love with Vincente Minnelli.The 21-year-old was working on her first divorce (from musician David Rose),and found Minnelli's mind,and the way he made her feel she looked,absolutely glamorous.For many reasons - his sexuality,her increasing problems,their incredible daughter - this is Garland's most famous marriage.However,the relationship is also famous for the problems it created.

One problem Minnelli couldn't create but did witness onset was the beginning of Judy's difficulties.Though it was originally scheduled for 58 days,Meet Me In St.Louisdidn't wrap for 70 days.This was blamed,in part,on Judy's tardiness.Exhausted from a mandatory war bonds tour and initially dissatisfied with playing another teenager,Judy snuck out of rehearsals,began showing up late,and outright skipped 13 days of shooting.At the time,it may have seemed like petulant childishness or diva-like drama.Unfortunately,it would become a pattern that would eventually kill her career.In some ways,Meet Me In St.Louiswas Judy Garland's peak at MGM.From 1945 onward,she would never make the studio as much money - or be as carefree - as she had while singing on that trolley.

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Reader Comments (18)

what kind of hussy travels by trolley in 1903withouta gigantic hat?!?

May 25,2016 | Unregistered Commenterpar

When push comes to shove,this is probably my favorite of all Judy's movies.It's probably even her best performance (it certainly gives A Star is Born a run for its money).I also love that you highlighted The Trolley Song,since it's my favorite (I even had my beginning tap class dance to it last year,and they LOVED it,especially when they got their "fancy"costumes).She was never so full of life as she was here,and you're right about the beauty coming from within as well as without.

May 25,2016 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

This picture is pretty as a bandbox and it has that underlying darkness in the character of Tootie her obsession with death and the deeply creepy Halloween episode,though I have a soft spot for middle sister Agnes-"Oh Rose,You're so suck up!",but it's a bit TOO dear for me.There's no question it's a good film and Judy is aces in it but I prefer Easter Parade and Summer Stock from this period.

There's a legend that when she was recording this number a friend wandered onto the set and not realizing they were filming and not rehearsing called out "Hiya,Judy!"but since she didn't break stride they kept it on the track.There is a moment at the 2:30 mark where you hear someone yell what could either be that or "Hiya,cutie!"and she leans back as if looking to see who it is.Who knows if it's so but it's a nice story of her ability to remain in the moment.

May 25,2016 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Around the age of 10,in the early 1960's I discovered snippets and musical numbers from this film.At that time,I knew absolutely nothing about my sexuality.....I was fascinated by everything Judy.I related to her on so many levels and I was obsessed.The Trolley Song blew me away and looking back a straight boy would not find such identification in the lyric as I did.

Back in those days trying to find a Garland film on TV (only 3 channels) was not very easy but if you searched,one would finally show up,often when a baseball game would be rained out.MMISL as a whole film was not particularly a favorite then due to the fact that it is mostly an ensemble and segmented.Judy's numbers were outstanding but the structure of the film is not what I usually gravitated to.It is only now that I understand the importance of this film to Judy's career.And I appreciate it more than ever.Yes,it was a important landmark in her growing career.

I will say that the costumes are very over the top.There is a striped dress that Judy wears that is absolutely hideous and another with too many tassels.No matter what,the Garland magic shines through and there are many great moments in this classic film.

Funny how we all have a different reference when discovering great films or stars like Judy Garland.Ultimately it is the timeless magic that catches our imagination and resonates so deep.

May 25,2016 | Unregistered CommenterMax

This is the first Judy number I ever tried to sing myself.(After all no one ever dare tries Over the Rainbow).It's the perfect beginning alto song: small range (until the belter finish) and it's all about keeping that wonderful rhythm.It is also a great audition song.I still love it.I still sing it.

May 25,2016 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie19

Sang this a cappella once to a group of fellow actors in a bar in Poland.(By way of drunken cultural exchange.) The bachelorette party across the room loved it,needless to say:

The moment I saw him smile
I knew he was just my style
My only regret is we've never met
Though I dream of him all the while

But he doesn't know I exist
No matter how I may persist
So it's clear to see there's no hope for me
Though I live at fifty-one-thirty-five Kensington Avenue
And he lives at fifty-one-thirty-three

How can I ignore the boy next door
I love him more than I can say
Doesn't try to please me
Doesn't even tease me
And he never sees me glance his way

And though I'm heart-sore,the boy next door
Affection for me won't display
I just adore him
So I can't ignore him
The boy next door

I just adore him
So I can't ignore him
The boy next door

(It's not my favorite Judy movie,but it has two of my favorite performances,and neither of them is "The Trolley Sing"...)

May 25,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

If there is such a thing as "peak youth"it is on display as Judy sings this number.This song,and Garland's rendition of it remains as vivid as the MGM colour.What I hear is the joy of life and that never changes for me.You can hear her love for the song and what it represents to both her and her fans in Judy's concerts from the 60's.
Thanks for the usual perceptive review Anne Marie.It's a great song to start my morning off.

May 25,2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Oh how I had hoped you would cover this song!!

May 25,2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

I love this song.Considering its signature musicality and visuals,I was impressed by the re-creation of it in the Judy Davis version.They really nailed it.

May 25,2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

This is my favorite Judy film beyond Wizard of Oz,and her second best performance i think after A Star is Born.just a wonderful movie across the board.

May 25,2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

@ brookesboy

But they should have let Tammy do this sequence before switching to Judy D.

May 25,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

A classic Hollywood musical moment- wonderful is every way

May 25,2016 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

The line you hear someone saying isn't 'Hiya Judy!' It's 'Hiya Johnny!' because the character Judy is lusting after,John Truitt,got on the train after almost being left behind.

May 25,2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoel

I grew up in the St.Louis area and this movie was everywhere.It was usually on PBS Saturday night (when they would always show an "older"movie.The play gets revived at the Muny every 2 years or so.This was my first introduction to an adult Judy and I loved it.

May 25,2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Leslie19,Tom,& Max - This was my first Judy movie outside of THE WIZARD OF OZ as well.I was cast in a summer camp music review in 3rd grade where we sang "Meet Me In St.Louis,"but had no context for the song.My mom,being the ever-vigilant cinephile that she is,rented the VHS from Hollywood Video & bought us both philly cheesesteaks for dinner.I was completely and totally enamored.

May 25,2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

"Zing zing zing go my heartstrings"is such a perfectly evocative lyric.That zing is what we all want.

Love this movie,love this song,love this performance.

May 25,2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

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