There are many iconic photographs of Judy Garland and countless incredible images of her throughout her life. But there is something so magnificently powerful about Douglas Kirkland’s portrait ‘Judy Garland Shedding Tear’* that sets it apart from all the rest.
I have been fascinated by this photograph for years. The extreme close up is so immediate, allowing no space to get away from the completely raw quality of the image of a Hollywood legend crying silent tears.
As well as being deeply beautiful, the image holds a particular fascination in regards to the Garland legend. Judy was – and still is – often portrayed as a sad, tragic figure. She railed against this idea of herself, especially in the later period of her life. Therefore, I’ve always wondered – for someone who tried so hard to dispel the ‘myth’ of Sad Judy – how did this picture come about? My theory was that she and Kirkland had staged the shot; she was, after all, a magnificent actress. I wondered if they’d decided to play with the idea of Sad Judy and so create an image that encompassed the trope, to be picked apart in a magazine article perhaps.
Hmmm… How to find out the truth behind the tears? Oh, I know… why not ask Douglas Kirkland himself? So, that is what I did.
My theory was shot out of the water but as is the way with these things, the real story behind that wonderful photograph was just as intriguing. This, from Francoise Kirkland, Douglas’s wife:
“Douglas spent a month travelling with Judy Garland in 1961, on the show JUDY directed by Norman Jewison and when she went to Berlin for the Premiere of Judgment At Nuremberg, he was with her on the plane.
He saw her take an audience by storm in Toronto and then be taken onto the plane in a wheelchair, depleted, holding [rosary] beads at take off. When they were shooting for the cover at the LOOK Magazine studio, he shot a lot of different images and then they started talking about how Douglas had observed how she put on a great face but her life was not always easy and how hard she was pushing herself. The music was quiet and she started to cry.
That is the true story.”
‘Hard’ is not the same as ‘sad’ or ‘tragic’, of course. But they’re closely linked. These were real tears that came out of a conversation about putting on a brave front in the face of adversity. These tears illustrate the complexities of Judy when it came to her recognition of her difficult life.
In the 1967 Barbara Walters interview with Judy (and Lorna and Joey), Judy voices these complexities in a discussion about ‘real life’ versus ‘public persona’.
Walters: I was reading a quote recently, and you said: “I wish people would stop talking about my comebacks and my unhappiness. I have had so many happier days, I have so many happy days now”. Do you recall saying that? It was just in the paper recently?
Judy: Yes. Well that’s true, you know. I’ve had – maybe it will distress a lot of people – but I’ve had an awfully nice life [laughing], I really have had.
Walters: I think that will surprise a lot of people who kind of like to think of you as a…
Walters: The poor little rich girl
Judy: Never rich. Just poor. And sad!
Of course, Judy is being somewhat jokey in response to Walters, but it just seems like a deflection. And her need to add ‘And sad!’ on the end there is sort of telling. She’s had an awfully nice life… but sometimes it is sad.
She goes on to say that she is tired of the lies that are told about her (including that she is ‘broke’, ie, poor…) and that she is ‘of an age’ where she will ‘rebel’ and just ‘hit back’. Judy spoke repeatedly in her life about the stresses and strains of being a child star, of being a workhorse for Metro, and of the difficult relationship she had with her ‘wicked’ mother. It could be argued that here she was stating that amongst the tough times were good times. And we know how interviews work – the subject is more often asked about and steered towards talking about those tough times.
Now I know the actual process of events that led to the creation of Kirkland’s photograph I have contemplated it, along with the idea of Tragic Judy, from a different angle. Yes, there were times when Judy’s life was hard. Yes, she could react to that with tears. What we have here is a document of such a moment. But these are moments in a full life. A life – as with most – containing high points and low points. Some days the lows outweigh the highs. Public fascination and attention tends towards the low, the dramatic, the scandalous. This is, of course, what the ‘Good Fans’ rail against. But (as I have said elsewhere), it is as unhelpful to concentrate only on the positive aspects of a person as it is only to focus on the negative. Judy – like most of us – was many things; an amalgam of high and low, good and bad, positive and negative, nice and sad. She had lots of experiences and reactions to events in her life. In the moment of this photograph she was responding to the acknowledgement and observation that things could be quite difficult. Her crying seems to be a response to, and an acceptance of, this part of her life, instead of her usual deflection of the actuality of it.
I am grateful to Kirkland for capturing this moment. God, what a great photograph. I have no doubt that it came out of a genuine concern, rapport and a moment of sharing. And I also have no doubt that if Judy had not wanted such an image taken, she would not have posed for this shot. She could have turned away from the photographer’s lens. Instead she chose to have him capture it. And for that I am grateful to her too.
*A note on why there is a painting illustrating this post instead of Kirkland’s actual photograph: when I approached Mr Kirkland’s studio with my query I was told I would have to gain permission to use the image from Corbis, who deal with the rights distribution. As I have no funding for this project and make no money whatsoever from this blog, I was unable to pay for usage rights to the image. I simply cannot afford it. Therefore, as a resourceful artist, I did the next best thing: I painted it. This might seem contradictory – the whole article is about that photograph. But it is also about an idea of Judy and an image captured of that idea. I just captured the image that was captured, albeit in a different medium. We know we’re going to come up against issues of copyright throughout the For The Love Of Judy Project, in particular in the film. We’ve thought about this and plan to illustrate the movie only with artistic representations of Judy. So the fact that I had to create a painting for this story is totally in keeping with the FTLOJ aesthetic and artistic process and practice. Plus, it was challenging and fun to do. Bonus.