Sunday songbook: Over The Rainbow
You’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.