Judy Garland

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Judy Garland Pencil Portrait
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Public taste in popular entertainment, entertainers, and music changed many times during the twentieth century. As a result, hundreds of gifted or at least celebrated performers once at the top of their profession, are now pretty much only a memory: fondly, happily, or proudly recalled, but almost solely of their time. The legacies of a handful of exemplary talents have endured — Armstrong, Sinatra, Presley, The Beatles – those who broke new musical ground or whose abilities or impact now “define” a generation, but only a very few entertainers have flourished, maintaining their artistic reputations and garnering additional critical and popular respect. The enthusiasm for them continues to grow, as does acknowledgment of their importance, their influence, and their singular ability to communicate with an audience.

It’s been forty five years since Judy Garland gave her last performance — and almost ninety since, at age thirty months, she gave her first. In the decades between those two events, she amassed a body of work astounding in its range, amazing in its power, and timeless in its ability to exult, enthrall, and excite cross-generational audiences. In each medium, her legacy encompassed unsurpassed artistic and popular successes.

When I think of her, I am mindful of a comment she made in her penultimate year – a quotation in which she almost inadvertently summarised her life’s purpose and worth:

“I’ve been in love with audiences all my life, and I’ve tried to please. I hope I did.”


Gerald Clarke published his biographical work on the entertainer in 2000 to near universal acceptance.

As Terry Teachout, in his 10/4/00 \‘Time\’ magazine review , so succinctly put it: \‘But aren\‘t we all tired of pitying Judy? Not just yet. Thanks to candid interviews with hitherto-silent sources, plus a peek at a previously unpublished memoir by Garland herself, the author of Capote has miraculously contrived to tell the old, old story—the uppers and downers, the stage mother from hell, the lascivious studio execs and malevolent managers, the boyfriends (and girlfriends) and gay husbands (and father)—with a freshness and factual clarity that scarcely seem possible. This is the Garland bio to read if you\‘re reading only one.\’

\‘Get Happy – The life of Judy Garland\’, depicts a woman who lived at full throttle on stage, screen, and in real life, with highs that made history and lows that finally brought down the curtain at age forty-seven. From her tumultuous early years as a child performer to her tragic last days, Clarke would chart a career rich in new detail and unprecedented revelations. Based on hundreds of interviews and drawing on her own unfinished – and unpublished – autobiography, Clarke _\‘purports_\’ to present the real Judy Garland in all her flawed glory. I use the word guardedly, for my reservations about the book are at odds with most published reviews.

At the beginning of chapter 15, he writes \“I need to be needed,\” Judy confessed to one of her lovers.\“I need to be wanted.\” That meant, of course, what it had meant since she was a teenager, competing for men with Lana Turner. For Judy, sex had an extra dimension: to give pleasure to a man was validation of her worth as a woman, as a human being even; it was the proof she required , ever and always, that she was more than Mr. Mayer\‘s little hunchback – (Luis B. Mayor – Head of MGM).

OK – I can go along with all this so far; Garland was – and there appear sufficient accounts to substantiate this fact – extraordinarily promiscuous, Hollywood being essentially a fantasy land in which moral values are well and truly left behind at the security gates. Fame brings notoriety, a bubble existence in which everyone wants a piece of you. A manic depressive, subjected to strength sapping fourteen hour working days on sound stages, hooked on uppers and downers, Garland needed a male bedrock in her life. There was precious little she could truly give back – for any man, a relationship with a star of her magnitude was a one way ticket to her world.

Clarke now moves into overdrive, citing the anecdotal second hand recollection of an unnamed source – anonymity was requested and granted – who states that Garland was humiliated by several male predators, one ugly minded lover bragging that he made her sing \‘Over the Rainbow\’ immediately after performing fellatio on him. The implications of this immediacy are graphically described in the paragraph\‘s closing sentence and it is here that I take offence with several people. Firstly, the indiscreet low-life who divulged such intimacy, secondly the source who could not possibly have verified such a recollection first hand – Garland reportedly showed no inclination towards group sex – and thirdly a biographer who, irrespective of whether he was pressurised by his publisher to ramp up the \‘salacious content\’ or not – was content enough to append his name to the finished edition. Shame on them all, for such graphic prose does little but create titillation amongst readers, and great distress for those that cherish the memory of a loved one. Most of all, whilst I might suspect that its all true, the fact remains that its unsupported gossip, an avenue any worthwhile biographer should avoid.

Under construction.

Like all of us, Garland was dissatisfied with aspects of her physical appearance. She wanted to turn a million male heads when she entered a room, like her contemporaries Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr. Nevertheless, she was an attractive young woman and blessed with an unbelievable singing talent, yet the inner belief would remain that the deck of cards handed to her had been somewhat short on aces. She was not unusual in this preoccupation. We are all more obsessed with our appearance than we would care to admit, yet this is not an indication of \‘vanity\’. Vanity means conceit, excessive pride in one\‘s appearance. Concern about one\‘s appearance is quite normal and understandable. Attractive people have distinct advantages in our society. American studies have shown that:

(1) Attractive children are more popular, both with classmates and teachers. Teachers give higher evaluations to the work of attractive children and have higher expectations of them (which has been shown to improve performance).
(2) Attractive applicants have a better chance of getting jobs, and of receiving higher salaries. (One US study found that taller men earned around $600 per inch more than shorter executives.)
(3) In court, attractive people are found guilty less often. When found guilty, they receive less severe sentences.

The \‘bias for beauty\’ operates in almost all social situations – experiments showing that we react more favourably to physically attractive people. We also believe in the \‘what is beautiful is good\’ stereotype – an irrational but deep-seated belief that physically attractive people possess other desirable characteristics such as intelligence, competence, social skills, confidence – even moral virtue. Once you attain my own venerable age, it is much easier to discern that the good fairy/princess is not always beautiful, and that the wicked stepmother is not always ugly.


I was interested to read Joseph Mankiewicz\‘s recollection of his affair with Judy Garland – not so much for the warmest of memories she clearly evoked – but rather his general recollections of other desultory affairs. \“I guess I\‘ve had my share of affairs with women\”, Joe was later to say,\“But they only exist as affairs with women. Every year, as I grow older, the memory of what we did and what we went through when we did it, grows dimmer and dimmer\”. Here at last I thought, the unvarnished truth, the unspoken final word on so many relationships. I know I can\‘t remember anything about previous romantic entanglements, and I do ask myself why. Perhaps it was the absence of any singular meaningful conversation about past mistakes, character flaws, regrets – anything detrimental really – that might have formed the basis of a solid \‘understanding\’. Instead consciously masked amidst the attractive \‘gift wrapping\’, these shortcomings were to be studiously avoided in the pursuit of an end objective, invariably \‘commitment\’. As millions discover with advancing years, those juvenile inadequacies such as shyness and insecurity, in fact all these perceived impediments, give way to the endless relationship possibilities afforded by the worldwide web and its proliferation of dating sites. Suddenly, the realisation hits home (or rather it should), that we can be with virtually anyone. Of course, making the relationship endure for decades is much more difficult. Some obvious selection process continues but it is less discerning – women past a certain age, for example, being chiefly unconcerned with male looks. A cursory appraisal of the world will show that many attractive middle aged woman select nondescript looking male partners. The reverse is rarely true. As one failed liaison gives way for yet another, we feel compelled to bestow a level of importance upon these nondescript experiences that is as far removed from the truth as possible. Any alternative admission would be to accept our own insignificance to others – something I have done, albeit with understandable difficulty – whilst acknowledging the unpalatable dimension to it all. If I can barely remember anything of my romantic past, then why should I expect any woman I have known to feel differently about me? In the final analysis, only one woman has truly loved me – for the others I have merely \‘ticked boxes\’. Looking at Judy Garland\‘s life, she clearly never met anyone who truly loved her; a salutary reminder for many, of much we have to be grateful for.

Judy Garland lived in a world without social media, yet filmland still offered the opportunity of rekindling \‘old flames\’. Personally, I\‘ve always been wary of reunions where one party proclaims \“I\‘ve often thought about you\” which roughly translates into \“I thought about you once every eight years when a record came on the radio which I remembered you loved\”. Version one is bullshit, whilst version two is unpalatable enough to avoid mentioning.

Manckiewicz admitted, when discussing his affair with Garland, that \“I wasn\‘t in love that way – I was in love, and I know this is a terrible analogy – the way you love an animal, a pet.\” In a way, he merely wished to \‘nurture\’ Garland; in essence to maximise the latent talent he could see within her. In that respect, we should not be too condemning of his confession, since he was clearly not out to financially exploit her, unlike several husbands and business managers that would follow.

Recommended listening

Judy at Carnegie Hall - April 23. 1961

The bitter disappointment of missing out on a best Actress Oscar in 1955 for ‘A Star is Born’ left Garland professionally rudderless for several years.

The late 1950s would be tough on Judy, but this live recording, cut on April 23, 1961, at Carnegie Hall, would rightfully bring the legendary icon back into the spotlight. ‘Live’ would go on to win five Grammys, becoming her bestselling record, whilst confirming beyond any measure of doubt, that she could still ‘cut it’ live.

Self-deprecating and improvisational in equal measure – she forgets the lyrics to “You Go to My Head” yet bluffs her way through – Garland shines like an incandescent beacon, feeding on the love of her audience to deliver rousing versions of “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Stormy Weather,” and “Over the Rainbow.”

Easily one of pop music’s greatest live recordings and a fine testament to Garland’s recorded legacy, the complete concert is now thankfully available on a remastered CD set.


Scott Schechter provides extensive factual background to the concert with industry reviews, in his landmark book “Judy Garland – The Day by Day Chronicle of a legend” (Cooper Square Press 2002)

Recommended viewing

Recommended reading

Judy Garland : The Day-By-Day Chronicle of a Legend (Scott Schechter) 2002

A snip of a bargain at £3.99 (seek and ye shall find!), Schechter’s fascinating view of this legendary star and survivor is gloriously illustrated with some 80 high quality photographs and thoughtfully concluded with two indexes, one by song title and another by subject matter. An expensive book, pristine quality copies can now be located at knock-down prices.

Schechter had previously produced, written, consulted on and/or spearheaded numerous Garland-related media projects, including the CD ‘Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall: 40th Anniversary Edition’ and the DVD releases of Judy’s 1963-64 CBS series. This impressive volume is almost overwhelming in its detail, such is the level of research involved. More than anything, it proves conclusively that, whatever her emotional travails, this woman ‘worked’ unrelentingly from the age of two until her premature death.

One of the most complete retrospectives yet published on a celebrity, and worthy of a coffee table anywhere in the world.