Judy Garland’s Rollercoaster Career Hit a High Note at the Opera House

17 September 2019 by Editor

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“My life, my career has been like a roller coaster. I've either been an enormous success or just a down-and-out failure.”  

Judy Garland, the internationally acclaimed but troubled actress and singer, made no secret of the ups and downs of her life, although when she appeared at Blackpool Opera House in 1951 her star was climbing high. Now, as the UK eagerly awaits the release of the biopic ‘Judy’ starring Renée Zellweger on October 2nd, we take a ride through the twists and turns that included Garland's appearance at the Opera House.

Judy Garland will forever be famous as Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’, a part she played as a teenager in 1939. It was only last year that the Winter Gardens took a nostalgic trip down the yellow brick road with Selladoor’s magical production of the musical starring X-Factor’s Holly Tandy.

Garland worked for 45 years of her short life, and appeared in 34 movies until 1963, winning awards and critical acclaim. It was during a period when her film career briefly halted in 1951 that she began to perform regularly in concerts, and a European tour brought her to Blackpool.

She was in stellar company, for in those days the resort was a magnet for the world’s biggest stars, as Blackpool promotor Tony Jo once said in the Blackpool Gazette:

“Everyone in the business wanted to play Blackpool. Frank Sinatra came here. He only played the London Palladium and Blackpool. Judy Garland played Blackpool – everyone wanted the prestige of doing Blackpool.”

Following in Sinatra's footsteps, Garland appeared at the London Palladium, enjoying a hugely successful concert series there in 1951. She then went on to perform in Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Dublin, Glasgow, Liverpool – and at Blackpool Opera House.

This took her to the heady heights of ‘Judy Garland at The Palace Theatre’ in New York which ran for 19 weeks and broke box office records. Her star continued to rise, and she completely wowed the crowds in ‘Judy at Carnegie Hall’, the 1961 concert that was declared “one of the greatest nights in show business history”.  

In between there were TV specials, a return to movies with ‘A Star Is Born’ in 1954, and 'The Judy Garland Show' in 1963, which was cancelled after just one season but earned both Garland and the series an Emmy Award nomination. She then achieved another sell-out concert run at London’s Talk of the Town in 1969, and it’s from this stage of the American singer’s life that the biographical ‘Judy’ tells its namesake’s story.

It begins as she arrives in London during Winter 1968, still prepared to take a chance on romance and her fifth husband, Mickey Deans. Sadly, a fragile Garland was struggling with addictions to drugs and alcohol and missing her children.

Renée Zellweger stars as Judy Garland in 'Judy'

The film bills her as “the world’s greatest entertainer", describing how “her wit and warmth shine through”, and of course features 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow', Garland’s signature song which led to her quote:

 “I've always taken 'The Wizard of Oz' very seriously, you know. I believe in the idea of the rainbow. And I've spent my entire life trying to get over it.”

Judy Garland continued to perform until just three months before her death from an accidental drug overdose, aged just 47. The Winter Gardens is honoured to have hosted her, and she was remembered during a second “appearance” at the Opera House in 2007 via fellow Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney’s show, which featured clips from 1930s and 1940s films she starred in.

Photographs from 'Judy': Pathe UK

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