Remembering Judy Garland
"Ditch the rainbow song!" - Anon., Hollywood, 1939
April 27, 2004
I'll never forget Judy Garland. She had a childlike quality, never more pronounced than in her early films. Watching Judy in the Wizard of Oz, you felt that this was someone who, in a real sense, had not yet fully entered upon her twenties. It's a rare quality in actors, and particularly remarkable in one so young.
It was a quality she shared, like so much else, with Jimmy Gumdrop. Yes, it's an unlikely surname, and there were those who were convinced that Jimmy, like Judy herself, had been born a Gumm - or perhaps in his case a Dropp, you could argue it either way. It wasn't true; I worked with Jimmy for many years, and I can assure you that he objected strenuously if any aspersions were cast on his ancestral handle. He came from a long line of Gumdrops, you know the sort of thing - there were Gumdrops on the Mayflower, and so forth. He even had family in the old country, although Jimmy's relations with them were strained; they didn't approve of his lifestyle, you know. Damn them, I remember Jimmy fairly yelling at me across the dressing-room one night - damn those goody-goody Gumdrops!
You don't much hear the name of Gumdrop these days, and for that I must take some of the blame. It was I, you understand, who introduced Jimmy to the works of A. A. Milne. They were a revelation to Jimmy: he'd never read anything like it before in his life. In fact, Jimmy hadn't read anything at all in his life: his father, you see, was a strict disciplinarian of somewhat old-fashioned views, and he thought that a conventional school education would give Jimmy 'ideas'. I was never really sure whether the old man had a particular type of idea in mind, or simply objected to rational thought in any form.
In any case, being stranded on an iceberg and brought up by seals left Jimmy with very few ideas of any kind. When I introduced him to the Hundred-Acre Wood and the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, the effect was electric. Several of his most famous songs actually date from that encounter, at least in their original form. You'll know "The Crystal Butterdish", of course:
Before you spread my bread with marmalade
I'd like to ask the dairymaid
If there's some butter for my bread
That's what I said - just for my bread
Jimmy was particularly fascinated with the name "A. A. Milne". After he'd had a few slices he used to refer to him as "Ma Alien" - loved his anagrams, did Jimmy - or "Hey Hey, Milne!". He actually started to write a song around that second phrase, but he didn't get very far before he was stuck for a rhyme.
Hey, hey, Milne!
Let's open up your kiln!
Let's break up all your pottery!
That was pretty much it. A few days later I came up with 'lottery', but Jimmy said the moment had gone.
By then, though, he wasn't plain old Jimmy Gumdrop any more. You see, Jimmy was obsessed with that poem about the little boy whose mother goes down to the end of the town - I think it reminded him of an occasion in his childhood, when a seal he was particularly fond of disappeared for several days. (He never did find out where she'd been. Taciturn creatures, your seals.) Eventually he prevailed upon the guitarist and the drummer - Robbie thingummy and Sly whatsit, you know - to change their names to 'Wetherby' and 'George Dupree'; he, of course, was James James Morrison Morrison, or "Mr Mojo Marjoram Resin Session". (I'd rather not talk about Jimmy's marjoram resin sessions.)
The problem came with the other chap, Manzanilla, Manzanera - Ray Manzarek, that's the fellow. Around this time young Ray was going by 'Raimondo'. It was another of Jimmy's anagrams that did it - 'Raimondo Manzarek' is a near-perfect anagram of 'Mr Amazonian Dork'. I never knew what it meant myself, but I gathered that this was very much the positive sense of the word 'dork'. Hard to imagine now. Actually it was quite hard to imagine then, but one did one's best. In any case, little Ray wouldn't go along with the whole Milne-related naming scheme; he and one of the other chaps could have split 'George' and 'Dupree' between them, but no. So for a while the posters said something along the lines of
THE ELITE ORGAN STYLINGS OF
$1/50c BEFORE 10
Around that time Jimmy had been unlucky enough to secure the services of one of the hot new names in poster design - Hashbash and his Coat Coloured Brown, or Nigel Brown as we knew him back in Guildford. If you've seen any of Nigel's work from the period, you can imagine what he could do with that much text. The repro technology of the time didn't help, although to be honest that fauve-on-ganache colour scheme is difficult to bring off even now. The end result was that nobody could read a damn thing, frankly. The proprietor of the Whiskey - Mr Gogo, I suppose he was, we were never close - well, he was furious. He sent some people round with strips of paper to stick on to the posters, to make sure the essential information got across. "BAND AT THE WHISKEY $1 DOORS 7:30"
We all know what happened next. The show was a huge success, and the name stuck. Later, of course, the One-Dollar Doors became the plain old Doors, and James James Morrison Morrison became plain old James Morrison, or "Mr Major Noises". But that's another story for another day.