I left Oklahoma Baptist University in 1995 because I was fed up with pretending to be heterosexual. I’ve since been a fairly vocal, out, proud, liberal gay. I’ve gone to a couple of pride parades (though not technically my scene) and even lived for a year in San Francisco. It wasn’t until I finally read a biography of Judy Garland, however, that I was contacted by the highest echelon of gay society (those responsible for the daily memos on the dreaded gay agenda) and given my stripes.
So make the obvious jokes; I’ve made them myself. I have concerned friends believing that I will one day soon be sashaying around my apartment in a caftan, Martini in hand, waxing about MGM starlets from the 1930s, and perhaps pausing occasionally to stroke one of my many cats.
Fear not; I’m still the same stereotype-hating, self-deprecating soul I’ve always been. I’m not going to turn into a gay version of that offensive Mickey Rooney character from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I’m still more of a sci-fi, “I used to be a competitive debater” geek than a musical theater quoting kind of gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Anyway…
This is actually a pretty good read. Not just because I’m currently in a trashy memoir/biography phase, but because Judy lived a hell of a life and is THE original train wreck. Amy Winehouse? Whitney Houston? Lilo? Whatever. Judy was the real deal. And if it’s sordid details you want out of a biography, then this will not disappoint.
The narrative reads like your guiltiest pleasure trashy fiction. It’s no wonder that Jacqueline Susann modeled her character Neely O’Hara after Judy (yes, I’ve read Valley of the Dolls. Shut up). There is a wonderful character arc as well; it follows the pattern that many would expect out of the life of an addict.
You begin reading feeling terribly sorry for Judy. Her closeted gay father gets them booted out of at least three homes for chasing teenage boys. From a young age, her mother feeds her pills both for energy and then to get to sleep. Diet pills soon followed. She was under an enormous amount of stress to look a certain way, and told by many she was fat and homely. One can’t blame her for ending up the drug-addicted emotional cripple she turned out to be.
As the story goes on, however, the pity party begins to wane and the narrative gains some balance. The full picture of her life makes clear all of the opportunities and squandered chances at redemption she was given. Ultimately, it seems the blame for her early demise lies with Judy herself. It is still heartbreaking, though, the way it is when anyone of enormous talent wastes it and dies young.
So check it out. Seriously, you won’t be disappointed. Now I’m off to do something more butch…