Sunday songbook: Over The Rainbow

Posted in Uncategorized by Sean Holton on September 27, 2009

JudyGarlandcommandperformanceYou’ve seen The Wizard of Oz a million times and you’ve heard Judy Garland sing Harold Arlen’s “Over The Rainbow” a million times. But watch and listen to her sing it one more time in another context, not in a movie but live on stage during a very dark and uncertain period in American history. It’s worth it.

In this version, she’s not in character as pre-teen “Dorothy Gale” or as anyone else but herself. She’s a grown woman, on stage for a 1943 “Command Performance” radio program which was part of a series emceed by Bob Hope and produced to help boost morale of the troops overseas. I tracked down a tape of this whole radio program several years ago to entertain my Mom when she was sick. It’s pretty funny. There’s Bob Hope’s jokes, plus a gag where Lana Turner comes out and cooks a sizzling steak in a skillet that she holds up to the microphone, plus another funny song by Betty Hutton.

But the most moving part of the show is Judy Garland’s performance of this song, which takes on a whole new dimension that it didn’t have in the 1939 movie, all because of the war going on in real life. She looks almost too shy to be onstage as she jokes around with Hope before the song. After she sings, she bows modestly and then glides quickly offstage after patting Hope on the arm. You can see the vulnerabilty of the woman who eventually was pumped full of dope to keep her working through episodes of depression, suicide attempts and broken marriages, then ultimately eaten up and spit out by the Hollywood star/money machine. The irony of that as-yet-to-unfold personal history set against the backdrop of this particular song adds even more poignancy to her performance.

Have a good Sunday.


3 Responses

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  1. Michael Blumfield said, on September 27, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Stunning performance. Really shows what an immense talent she was and how she’d matured in the 4 years between Wizard of Oz and the Hope show.

    For a really sad performance that reflects the tragedy of her life, listen to this 1955 version:

    Now she’s not dark about the world at large, she’s dark about what’s happened to her hopes and dreas. Still, her artistry is powerful and haunting.

  2. Sue Holton said, on September 27, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Sean, your seven year old niece picked up on exactly what you thought about that 1943 performance. Elizabeth heard me listening to that beloved song a whole room away and thought I was watching the Wizard of Oz. She ran in to watch with me and immediatley said “Mom she looks so different” then about ten seconds later said “why isn’t she smiling”.

    I’ve watched the performance three times now and you are right on all accounts. Garland has such a sad look on her face, probably very deep into her own thoughts about what was happening around her. She looked very emotional and seemed to want to get off that stage as quickly as she could perhaps before she broke down.

    I really enjoyed this Sean, thanks for sharing this with us all.

    Just a few more days left Sean, I will be thinking of you as you “wind it on down”

  3. Mike Oliver said, on September 27, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Great performance of a great song.

    One of my favorite contemporary covers of the song is by Eva Cassidy.

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