Tragic tapes of Judy Garland were ‘hard to listen to,’ says ‘Judy’ screenwriter: ‘There’s so much fury there’

Judy Garland’s NYC

From the legendary Carnegie Hall,to the famous Palace Theater, to celebrity hangout Patsy’s restaurant, tour New York City landmarks that played a part in Judy Garland’s life and career, hosted by End of the Rainbow co-star and 2012 Tony Award nominee Michael Cumpsty.

“Judy” screenwriter Tom Edge revealed he found inspiration in a batch of audio tapes left behind by late star Judy Garland, which gives listeners a glimpse into her final tragic years.

Vanity Fair recently reported the recordings were made when “The Wizard of Oz” icon was deeply in debt, coping with addiction and engaged in a custody battle over her children.

“She was commissioned to write her biography and kind of endlessly missed the deadline, so they ended up bringing her a tape recorder, and said, essentially, ‘Look, just press play and start talking, and we’ll type it up,'” Edge told the outlet about the tapes, which he relied on as part of his research.

“She made a start at it, but on some of them she sounds like she was in quite an awful condition,” he continued. “And you really hear the deep-seated anger in some of those at the way she feels she was exploited and let down… There’s a really palpable sense [that] she can’t quite believe that she’s been working since she was two years old, and she held this studio movie career and was a well-paid actor… Her whole life she has worked and worked and worked, [yet] she finds herself $4 million in debt to the IRS.”

Garland passed away in 1969 at age 47 from a barbiturate overdose. The actress is now the subject of “Judy,” a new biopic starring Oscar-winning actress Renee Zellweger as the troubled entertainer. The film opened Sept. 27 with $3.1 million on 461 screens. The movie’s main draw is Zellweger’s celebrated performance as Garland during her final years, which has made the actress, 50, a Best Actress Oscar front-runner.

Edge admitted Garland’s message to the world before her death was difficult to hear decades later.

“They are hard to listen to, honestly, because there’s so much fury there mixed in with just an incomprehension of how all this is coming to pass,” explained Edge.

Vanity Fair noted that in one tape, available online, Garland confessed: “I’m an angry lady. I’ve been insulted, slandered, humiliated… I’m not something you wind up and put on the stage that sings Carnegie Hall albums and you put in the closet.”

“I tried my damnedest to believe in the rainbow that I tried to get over, and I couldn’t,” continued Garland. “So what. Lots of people can’t.”

Garland later pleaded, “Don’t make a joke out of me anymore. People say and print and believe… that I am either a drunk, a drug addict. It’s a goddamned wonder I’m not.”

July 31, 1967: Actress-singer Judy Garland backstage at the Palace Theater in New York. The Library of Congress announced 25 new additions to the registry, Wednesday, March 29, 2017. Recordings selected for their historical, artistic or cultural significance include Garland’s version of “Over the Rainbow.”
(The Associated Press)

Garland also admitted in a separate recording, “When I hear back the tapes, I hear that I slur my words very badly, but that doesn’t make too much of a difference as long as my thoughts are not slurred.”

While she harbored rage against Hollywood, Garland frequently expressed her adoration for her three children.

“I’d like to talk about my three successful children,” she said. “They’re great successes unto themselves, without a lot of help.”

In contrast to the anger and frustration captured in the recordings, her talk show interviews revealed her sense of humor. Edge pointed out those recordings provide that the legendary entertainer was “more than a kind of cautionary tale.”

“I think the thing that really surprised me, when I started looking at interview footage of her around that time, was just how funny she was,” Edge explained. “She was really sharp. I suppose I almost took her stature as a performer for granted, and it was really just kind of looking at how complex she was, flying on her feet and able to wrap an audience around her finger, but also really vulnerable and really carrying a sense of history and sort of, you know, damage done, but a kind of pugnacious refusal to back down or to call it a loss. There’s something really scrappy about her.”

The magazine shared “Judy” opens with Garland during her final years as her confidence to perform was dwindling. Garland begrudgingly leaves behind her children and flies out to London for the only gig she can book — a five-week stage show.

Judy Garland poses with long-stemmed roses in her arms as she arrives in New York City on Sept. 17, 1956. The singer-actress is to begin rehearsals for her Sept. 26 Palace Theater engagement. (AP Photo)

According to reports at the time, reviews for “The Talk of the Town” were unfavorable. Garland reportedly appeared on stage late and inebriated. During one show, she couldn’t finish singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” her signature song. The angry audience pelted her with dinner rolls.

“There was a real sense of catching this person at a point in their career and sort of bearing witness to the struggle sometimes of not wanting to be there anymore and feeling trapped,” said Edge.

Edge pointed out, however, that there were nights when Garland would get up onstage and “seemingly want to be [in] no other place in the world.”

Judy Garland with two of her children, shortly after she settled in England.

Edge told the publication he decided not to reach out to Garland’s three children — Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft — during his writing process.

“In the end, I was very resistant to [listen] too closely to any one person’s idea of who she was,” said Edge. “She was so complex because she had her life and loves broken into many pieces in order to survive a complicated family dynamic with her parents, and then the demands of the studio, and then everything that followed. And so it felt very important to try and look at her and try and get a sense for myself of what lay below the kind of the expert patter.”

Edge said that by the end of his research and writing process, he too felt angry about Garland’s fate.

Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz."

“I was kind of outraged on her behalf at all of the kind of breakages that were thrown at her during her youth, and how much she had to carry to adulthood just to make her way,” he said. “I hope ultimately we celebrate her [but] I think there’s a little vein of anger in that she had to fight so hard against the damage done to her before she was old enough really to make many choices for herself.”

Lorna, 66, recently announced that she won’t be watching “Judy” anytime soon,

“You know, I’m really protective of my mom’s legacy and my mother’s legendary career,” she told “Good Morning Britain” hosts Ben Shepherd and Susanna Reed on Thursday. “And I feel that if you really want to know about my mom, go see her movies and go listen to her recordings and go watch her television shows.”

“By the time my mother was 37, she had made 39 movies, and she had done over 500 radio shows, 1,257 concerts,” continued the actress-singer. “So, it was an extraordinary career.”

When Lorna was asked about her mother’s well-documented battle with addiction, she responded: “I sit here and I think to myself that I’m the luckiest person in the world to have had her as my mom. She passed away early but what an incredible legacy that she left.”

Lorna also shared a quote from Tracee Ellis Ross, Diana Ross’ daughter, on what it was really like to grow up with a Hollywood icon for a parent.

“I didn’t live in her shadow, I lived in her embrace,” Luft quoted Ross, 46. “And I thought, ‘How great, what a wonderful thing to say.’ And that’s how I feel.”

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