‘What the WHAT now?!’ I hear you collectively cry. OK, so I’ve given away the glorious gem of this article in the title, but it’s worth it to grab your attention and also to alert the whole web world that this might have actually once have been a thing if the planets had aligned differently…
This story comes from the wonderously lovely Shaun Considine, author of (amongst many great books) the best movie star biography ever written, Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud. Shaun is a good friend and a great story teller. In the 60s, he’d been a shareholder in Sybil Burton’s famous New York nightclub, Arthur. As that is where Judy met her last husband, Mickey Deans, I asked Shaun if he had any Judy stories.
‘Yes, I knew Mickey and met Judy at Arthur a few times’, he told me. ‘Late at night when the customers left Arthur, she performed in the Main Room, with Mickey at the piano.’ *Goosebumps.
At the time, Shaun worked at Columbia Records as coordinator for new releases. ‘When Judy and I first met at Arthur and she heard I worked at Columbia Records she said, with humor, “those sons of bitches. They released the original soundtrack album of A Star is Born and I never saw a penny. Because all the royalties went to the U.S. government”. Specifically to the IRS towards the huge amounts of back taxes she was to owe for the rest of her life.
Shaun was in charge of Columbia’s re-issue label, Harmony. When Judy died he re-released the Star Is born soundtrack. ‘Lloyd Ziff did the cover (a rainbow over Judy’s eye) and I wrote the liner notes, based on our conversations at Arthur. The cover and notes were submitted for the Grammy nominations.’
Bearing in mind Judy’s lost royalties, Shaun – and his boss, Bruce Lundvall (who would go on to helm the Blue Note label) – made sure that for the re-issue they all went to Liza, Lorna and Joey. The album sold 100,000 copies – more than the original soundtrack release.
When I read the liner notes for the re-release I got actual chills. Not only were they beautifully written and Judy obviously on Top Form when she spoke with Shaun, Judy proposed perhaps the most ingenious movie idea ever suggested. But it was to be the greatest and the saddest thing I’ve ever read. The greatest because of the very idea of it, and that it came from Judy herself; the saddest because it didn’t get to happen.
Speaking of her pride for the film of A Star Is Born, Judy said:
‘There should be more dramatic musicals like Star made today. Unfortunately all the offers I get are for either loony old women parts or for gimmicky appearances. Maybe someday,’ Judy grinned, ‘Warners will do a musical remake of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, and boy could I rip into that one!’
IMAGINE!!! No, really – THINK ABOUT THAT! I’m assuming she’d want to play Jane…? Totally against type. She’d had difficulties playing the ‘monster’ Helen Lawson in Valley Of The Dolls, contributing towards her being fired. I don’t know if I’m sadder that Judy never completed Valley or that there was never a WHTBJ musical with her in it. OK, so who would have played Blanche? Jeannette MacDonald, perhaps?! Or June Allyson?! Or Ginger Rogers?!?! Or would Judy herself have played Blanche (and rip into that one in a very Judy way?) and if so who could have played Jane? It would have been hilarious if she’d cast, say, beauty-nemesis Lana Turner and got her all done up in horror makeup and fright wig. Haha! The one who got Helen Lawson, Susan Hayward, would have done a good Jane. Or perhaps Helen Lawson herself – Ethel Merman! Yikes! Oh my, but I’m giddy at the idea of this thing. Judy didn’t really ever get the chance to play opposite any other great actresses in leading roles. That in itself would have been so marvellous.
Judy may have been joking but Shaun agrees that she may well have gone for it had Warner been up for idea. ‘And she would have been brilliant’, Shaun said. ‘All that repressed anger at MGM, at studio outsider Betty Hutton [for stealing her role in Annie Get Your Gun], and the lingering animosity of Jane. A “Rose’s Turn”/“The Man Who Got Away” solo number…’
Oh, OH! What might have been!
Shaun had another great Judy story for me. She was staying at the Manhattan penthouse apartment of a mutual friend. ‘Waking up at night she screamed when she saw two pairs of formidable eyes staring down at her. It was Bette and Joan – in a giant Milton Greene black and and white Baby Jane poster, framed over the bed’.
On a note vaguely related to the topic of this article… There will be a full-blown explorative article on Judy Garland and Camp – **COMING SOON!!!** – but for now, while we’re on the subject of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, it’s worth considering what Miss Bette Davis had to say about being a Camp Icon to us Gays…
‘Homosexuals are probably the most artistic and appreciative human beings, who worship films and theater. Certainly, I’ve been one of the artists they admire very much. It was always said that Judy Garland and I had the biggest following, but I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s because I’m flamboyant. I’m not flamboyant. In my personal life, I’ve never been known as flamboyant. Joan Crawford was flamboyant. Generally, homosexuals are very appreciative of serious work in the arts, so it’s highly complimentary to be someone they choose’ (Playboy, July 1982)
I wonder if THIS tune would have made the score of a Whatever Happened To Baby Jane: The Musical..?
By Corinna Tomrley
Read my interview with Shaun Considine for The Ethel Mermaids here
Find out about Shaun’s incredible work as author and photographer at his official site
Read about Judy in The Valley Of The Dolls