Honestly, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Judy Garland.
As a kid, I totally adored her. In fact, as a very theatrical kindergartener, I even decided that we’d marry, one day, and do countless summer stock productions and films together. If I recall correctly, I announced this, with gusto and determination, at a family dinner one Sunday. The shock I felt upon being told of her death had me reeling, from room to room, asking various relatives, over and over again, if this life altering news was really true. Sadly, they all confirmed it was.
As a teen, though, I eventually discovered the grittier charms of artists like Marianne Faithfull and Nico and Ronnie Spector– whose lifestyles, coincidentally, echoed some of the more addictive excesses of Garland’s -and soon began to find her go-for-broke performing style a bit too forceful and bombastic for the ever expanding subtlety in my tastes. The fact that she was a gay icon also didn’t sit well with me. There is no self-hate like the self-hate of a gay man and I was determined not to fall into the trap of being some skinny, over-effeminate lover of the traditional female diva. As I grew older, I did, begrudgingly, begin to appreciate the older Garland’s more subtle, raspy take on poignant Noel Coward numbers and the like, but I have never been able to regain my early fascination and devout appreciation for her as a performer. But, on this week, which marks the 47th year since her passing, I feel I must pay her homage and grateful thanks.
You see, my love for horror began with Garland. For many, her iconic portrayal of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz meant a world of hopeful fantasy and countless concert renditions of Over the Rainbow – a song I simply cannot stand, by the way. But, she introduced the four year old me to a world of evil witches and terrifying flying monkeys. She transported me to an environment far beyond the commonplace dangers I witnessed in my small town – brawling factory workers, drunken farmers, angry parents – and gave me something far more exotic. I knew the characters that she faced as Dorothy Gale were scary, but they were colorful and…imaginary. And…they were survivable.
For years now, I’ve credited Garland’s Dorothy Gale with being my first final girl, but only now, upon hitting another anniversary of Stonewall and still spinning from the fallout of Orlando, do I feel the true, magnificent significance of that. As a young man, Garland opened me up to the worlds of Laurie Strode and Chris Higgins and Sally Hardesty and so many other gruesomely fun cinematic creations. This bountiful gesture is still paying off to this day. Every time I discover some rare slasher on a dusty VHS tape in a thrift store and meet another previously hereto unknown terror actress to adore, I have her to thank. When I bond in restaurants with strangers over our various obscure horror film t-shirts, she is at the heart of it. When I gather with sleep worn friends for B-Movie Marathons and we become family because of it, her essence is somewhere in that room.
Many years ago, her death inspired a group of courageous drag queens to stand up for the rights of the LGBT community in an incredibly inspiring and visible way. But, her life – at least her performing life – inspired me to my own rebellion. Every time my parents grumbled over me reading another horror novel or purchasing the latest issue of Fangoria, I was standing my ground, for the first time, for something I loved. Something that was sparked in me by watching her perky, pig tail sporting adventuress, all those years ago, and, from this moment on, I will never downplay the significance of that starting point.
So, viva, la Garland! May you rest in peace upon every laurel that is, deservedly, thrown your way!
Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan –