Judy Laughs It Off
magazine and date unknown, ca 1945
by Marion Cooper
It was three years ago, and Judy Garland was lunching with Alfred Lunt at "21" in New York. She had just met him for the first time, and besides he was one of her favorite actors - two circumstances which made her very anxious to make a good impression. She wasn't doing too badly at it either, even though the topic of conversation was Europe - a place which Mr. Lunt knew like a book, and which Judy knew only from a book - when there was an interruption. When they finally resumed their conversation, Judy had forgotten what they were talking about. She assumed they were starting afresh.
"You'd love Venice," said Lunt, enthusiastically.
"Oh, but I do," said Judy beaming, "especially the roller coasters they have there."
There was dead silence while Mr. Lunt visibly racked his brain, trying to remember what part of Venice he had overlooked. Suddenly the horrible realization dawned on our heroine: he was still talking about Europe, and not the amusement pier near Hollywood. There was an embarrassed moment, until Judy's sense of humor got the upper hand, and she started laughing. "I'm sorry," she said. "You're in Italy, and I'm in California."
"By that time we were both laughing," Judy said, "and what could have been a very awkward moment was very amusing, instead. I've learned to laugh it off, no matter what happens. In self-defense, I had to. No one gets into more spots than I do. If I took myself seriously, as I once did, I'd be constantly embarrassed. But I honestly believe that if you can laugh at yourself, most of the rough spots in your life will be automatically smoothed.
"For instance, I used to suffer with self-consciousness when I walked in on a party, and found the room filled with important people I'd never met, or knew only slightly. Now I usually break the ice by telling about my latest faux pas. And believe me, I'm never at a loss to think of one. They happen much too frequently."
One of the stories Judy could - and probably has - told on herself, concerns the period just after her marriage to Dave Rose. They had just moved into their Bel Air house, and Judy (who practically had to marry before Hollywood would believe she was grown up) was obsessed with the idea of proving herself a good hostess. As her first guests, she invited the Raymond Masseys to dinner one evening.
"I set the date a couple of weeks ahead," Judy said, "to give me time to do the thing right. I made such elaborate plans you would have thought my whole future depended on what sort of impression I would make on the Masseys."
There was just one trouble. Judy was at work on a picture, and lost track of time. When the day arrived, she had forgotten about it completely! That evening she came home tired from the studio, undressed, took her make-up off, and she and Dave had a very early dinner. Everything was peaceful, when at about 7:30 there came a ring on the doorbell.
Judy, who gets curious about doorbells and phone calls, couldn't wait for the maid to answer. As usual, she jumped up and answered the ring herself. Of course, there were the Masseys, looking very guest-y.
"I wasn't a very good actress at that moment," Judy said. "My face dropped, and my expression must have suggested that Frankenstein and his bride had come to call. I thought of some 'outs'...of pretending I'd been late at the studio and that I was just dressing for dinner...of stalling while the maid prepared another dinner, and then eating again with them...and then I remembered that there were only a few lamb chops left in the refrigerator! Finally I confessed what had happened, and told them of all my plans to impress them. It ended with Dave, the Masseys and myself all screaming with laughter, and my poor guests sharing the meager lamb chops."
Dave Rose, when he and Judy were still married, learned about her irrepressible sense of humor at first-hand. There was one occasion when they had had a quarrel. Judy finished it by storming out of the house, announcing she would drive - just anywhere - rather than stay in the house with him another minute. She got as far as the garage, then discovered the car keys were in the house. The absurdity of the situation struck her. One minute later, the amazed Mr. Rose was confronted by a laughing, good-humored wife.
On one of her very first dates with Dave, Judy had a bit of laughing-off to do. It was the first nice day of spring, after a week of rain, and Judy was living in Stone Canyon at the time.
"I was all in white, very summery looking," Judy said. "Our porch was covered with ivy, and I decided that a snow-white Judy draped against the ivy made a very romantic setting. I stood there, much too early for our date, waiting for the first sight of Dave's car so I could wave. I waited and waited. A half hour went by, and I started to get a little weary. I thought I'd walk up and down a bit, and scurry back to the ivy when I heard the car. I heard it and I scurried - but on the way I fell kerplunk into a mud puddle at the bottom of the steps. When Dave reached me, I was a sorry mess. But he couldn't keep a straight face - and neither could I.
"It's a fact that you're never ridiculous, no matter what happens, if you have a sense of humor about yourself," Judy said. "It's the perfect cover-up. Everyone makes faux pas; the thing to do is turn it into a laugh, and people automatically think you're amusing instead of silly. It's lucky for me it does work that way, considering some of the boners I've pulled."
Another time Judy had need of a sense of humor. It was a couple of years ago. She had a complaint, and decided to do the complaining direct. So she marched into the office of a studio executive, determined to state her piece. The trouble was, Judy usually dodges such things, not only because she's embarrassed but because she's downright scared of making a scene. But this time she wasn't going to give herself time to think about it.
The executive's office was a very elaborate one, with private bath. Judy walked in, said what she had to say before he could stop her, and ended with: "That's all I have to say." She started for what she thought was the door to the waiting room. "Wait a minute," said the exec. "No," said Judy, very determined, very dignified, very proud of herself. She opened the door - shut it with a bang - and found herself in the bathroom!
Judy was always running into trouble on her camp tours, when she first started. It seemed she just couldn't remember what insignia equals what rank, and was always confusing Captains, Colonels, etc. She'd say pleasantly, "Hello, Lieutenant," only to be met with frigid silence. Someone would whisper hurriedly into her ear, "He's a Colonel." Judy's standard out on these occasions was a smile and a "You're lucky I didn't call you Private." One outfit solved her dilemma by sending her a plaque for her wall. On it is the complete record of military symbols and what they stand for.
Another story Judy tells on herself is the tale of what happened when she attended her first premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater. The occasion was the opening of her first starring picture, "Babes in Arms", and she was escorted by Mickey Rooney. It was a special event in many ways, including the fact that she and Mickey were to place their hand and foot prints in the cement in the forecourt. No one could blame Judy for wanting to look beautiful for such an "occasion".
"The trouble was, I used to bite my nails," Judy said, "and I wanted my hands to look beautiful when I plunked them down into the cement. I solved the problem by wearing false nails that night. They looked wonderful, and the one thing I was afraid of - that they'd come off in the cement - didn't happen. I was quite pleased with myself.
"Then, during the picture, my hands began to feel heavy. It was like a creeping paralysis, I could barely lift them. I realized what had happened, of course. The cement had hardened under the long false nails. You can be sure I did no waving to the crowd on the way out. I could hardly drag my arms along. When I got home, I practically had to hammer the nails loose. And come to think of it, I might just as well have gone with my own bitten nails, because I've told the story to everyone I know, anyway.
Her experience at the Greek Benefit in New York's Radio City a few years ago took quite a lot of laughing off. Judy flew from the Coast to sing at the event. She arrived at midnight, and they told her she'd go on at two. Actually, she went on at four, the last number on the program. She kept begging them to put her on quickly, because she could see the crowd was growing restless, but she had to wait. Finally she was on, singing "God Bless America". By that time two men were arguing loudly right behind her, and eventually got into a fist fight.
"No one was paying any attention to me except a group of kids," Judy said, "and they were making their comments good and loud. One of them said, 'Look at the chords stick out on her neck when she sings,' and another said, 'I wonder where she got that dress'.
"All was confusion, and all I wanted to do was get through the song. I walked around while I sang, and when I reached the pit, suddenly it started to go down. It sank two stories while I was on the phrase, 'the land I love'. Immediately I had everyone's attention, for the first time. A crowd gathered around the rail of the pit, staring down at me. I looked up at the faces, and all the kids were shouting, 'Look at Judy Garland'. By that time the song was finished, so I stared back up at them and shouted, 'Feed me peanuts!'"
It's harder for her to laugh off an experience that dates back to her vaudeville days, when Judy, her two sisters and her mother, had an act. One of their numbers was a song, "I'm Laughing." For one half of the chorus, Judy was supposed to laugh to the music. After doing eight shows one day in Milwaukee, Judy was understandably groggy. In fact, she was practically hysterical. Came the cue, and she started. Soon she was screaming with real laughter. Her sisters caught the hysteria, and started laughing too. Her mother, at the piano, played the music over and over, waiting for them to snap out of it. Finally she started to laugh herself. Everyone was laughing but the audience, which was very, very grim. Her mother stopped playing, stood up with as much dignity as she could muster, and said, "Let's get out of here." That finished their engagement at that theater.
A few years ago, Judy went vacationing at Arrowhead Springs Hotel. She had been there only a few hours when a call came through from an M-G-M executive, also at the resort on a holiday. He asked Judy to join his party at dinner. She accepted, and their conversation sparkled. Suddenly he asked, "Have you had a bath?"
"I thought it was a holdover from the 'little Judy Garland' days," Judy said. "Honestly, you don't know how hard it was for me to convince people I'm really grown up. So I tried to sound polite, when I answered 'no'.
"'What time did you get here?' he asked me. I told him. 'And you haven't had a bath yet?' he persisted. 'But surely you'll have one before dinner?'"
"It wasn't till after I told him what I thought of his 'babying' me," Judy laughed, "that I learned he was talking about the mineral baths for which Arrowhead is noted. Although I'd been there many times, I had never taken any of them."
Judy not only "laughs it off", she thinks fast, as she demonstrated during one embarrassing moment at a night club just recently.
She was on a Saturday night date with Bobby Stack, home on leave. At the next table was a tourist, having much too good a time. He was not only gay, but belligerent. After staring for a while, the stranger came over to Judy and Bobby. He pointed at her. "You're Deanna Durbin," he said. Judy, who could see he was spoiling for a fight, took the easy way out. "Yes," she said demurely. "I liked you in your last picture," he said, naming one of the Durbin productions. "I was rather good in that," admitted Judy modestly, hoping he'd then go away. But suddenly he looked at Stack with a most belligerent expression. He growled, "My name's Stock. What's yours?"
"If Bob had answered 'mine's Stack,' he was a cinch for a punch in the nose," Judy said, "for I knew the man would think we were making fun of him. So before anything disastrous could happen, I introduced Bob as 'Mr. Brown,' which was the first name I thought of."
As you can see, it would take quite a lot now to upset Judy. And it's a far cry from the days in her early teens, when she was just a self-conscious girl who took herself and life much too seriously. Now, no matter what the faux pas, Judy can turn it into a laugh. And on her it looks good!