Judy Garland is still an undeniable gay icon 53 years after her tragic death

Judy Garland. (Getty/PinkNews)

Ross Semple still remembers the first time he was captivated by the glorious talent of Judy Garland.

Like most people, he saw The Wizard of Oz growing up, but it wasn’t until he studied film at university that the power of his voice really touched him.

One week, a lecturer showed her class two clips of Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The first was from the original recording, when Judy was still a teenager. The second dates from later in his life. His voice, while still majestic, sounded coarse and aged.

After watching both performances, Ross’s speaker asked the whole class which performance they liked best.

“Everyone raised their hands and said first except me,” Ross says. “It was hearing that emotion and that brutality – that hope that she still had later in her life that there was something over the rainbow – that sort of got to me. kind of hit in a way that I still can’t really explain, and that’s what started things off for me.

Today, Ross is an ardent fan of Judy Garland. June 22 marks 53 years since Judy Garland died of an accidental barbiturate overdose, but to this day her voice and acting prowess continue to dominate, especially within the LGBTQ+ community.

Judy Garland. (Smith/Gado/Getty collection)

Queer people have always been drawn to Judy – that’s where the term ‘friend of Dorothy’ comes from, in reference to her legendary performance in The Wizard of Oz. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” still resonates with LGBTQ+ people, for pretty obvious reasons, and “Get Happy,” from its 1950 musical summer stockis a true gay anthem.

LGBTQ+ people flock to Judy Garland because of her emotional openness

People are trying to figure out why Judy has such a massive legacy within the LGBTQ+ community for decades. Too often, everything is attributed to his tragic life. Gay men flocked to her side because they were connected to her struggles, according to the proven account.

Judy’s tragic life is absolutely part of why she’s such an enduring icon for queer people, but that’s not all, says Ross.

“She never really got what she was looking for, and that’s something a lot of people identify with,” Ross says. For him, the appeal was in her performance – she had a unique quality that few performers were able to replicate.

Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.
Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. (Getty/PinkNews)

“For me, it was how emotionally open she was in her playing and in her singing,” he explains. “You can feel the emotion just by hearing her voice or looking at her. I think there are very few singers who can do that and have that power. For me, I grew up not being able emotionally expressing the things I wanted to, so I’m attracted to people who can express things without actually having to say the words.

Ultimately, Ross thinks the idea that Judy is a gay icon because of her tragic life is “pretty simplistic” and potentially sexist.

“I hate when female characters boil down to their lives as a tragedy,” he says. “I think that’s a bit condescending. In many ways her life has been tragic, there’s no denying that. She’s been in a number of abusive relationships throughout her life, whether it’s her parents , her studio personas, her partners, but I also think she had a sense of wonder and a sense of joy despite that. I think it’s more something that me and other people identify with, rather than just being a tragic figure.

Still, there’s no denying that Judy was a tragic figure in many ways. She was one of the greatest singing and acting talents of her generation, but she never really got the recognition or respect she deserved. Over the years, her struggle with addiction took center stage, and she was slowly overtaken by a Hollywood machine that was sorely lacking in empathy.

Judy Garland in a scene from A Star is Born.
Judy Garland in a scene from A Star is Born. (Getty)

In 1950, the studio that drugged her to keep her awake, awake and thin broke its contract with her following a difficult filming on summer stock. It would be four years before she starred in another film – the best of her career in 1954 A star is born. She was nominated for an Oscar for this role, ultimately losing to Grace Kelly. It remains one of the biggest upsets in Oscars history. Judy was expected to win – a film crew even traveled to the hospital where she had just given birth to her son Joey Luft so she could give her speech live.

She was subjected to an incredibly abusive system, which got her addicted to drugs, so she then acted like someone who was addicted to drugs.

His failure to win this award – and his failure to earn the respect and recognition of his peers – shows just how cruel Hollywood was to one of its biggest stars. Instead of offering a helping hand, Judy was called “difficult” and she was largely shunned from the film industry.

“I guess she was considered difficult, but also, she has been difficult,” says Ross. “But someone can be difficult and also have a purpose. She was subjected to an incredibly abusive system, which got her addicted to drugs, so she then acted like someone who was addicted to drugs. Of course, that was going to be considered difficult. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

His music and films bring joy even in the most difficult times

This is taken up by Emilie Lavinia, freelance journalist and editor. Like so many others, she fell in love with Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. She still has fond memories of watching the movie on a grainy VHS with her aunt when she was little.

“Judy is beautiful, bubbly and talented, but doesn’t hide her pain and that makes her so close to anyone who has ever felt marginalized or hopeless, despite their beauty and difference,” she says.

Judy Garland.
Judy Garland. (Getty/PinkNews)

“When I realized that Judy was not just Dorothy and that she was a beautiful and talented Hollywood icon, and one who struggled with mental health issues, despite her brilliance, I became obsessed,” he explains. -she. “I looked up to her, I felt connected to her, and I felt connected to her. When I was a teenager, I discovered Liza Minelli and Cabaret and I felt my admiration double. I love Liza and her fierceness, her style and her iconic voice and the roles she has taken on. She also had an intense but troubled relationship with Judy, which I often reflected on when thinking about my relationship with my own mother.

She sings it like she knows no amount of music will cure a sadness but it will be fine for now and I like that about her.

Over the years, the depth of Emilie’s love for Judy has only deepened. The Wizard of Oz is still her favorite Judy Garland movie – it brings her an indescribable sense of comfort when the going gets tough.

“I think I’ve seen all the Judy Garland movies but I will always love Oz,” she says. “It’s one of my things when I feel sad. I love Judy singing ‘Get Happy’ for that reason too. She sings it like she knows no amount of music will cure a sadness, but it will go for now and I love that about her, she has such depth.

A young queer generation falls in love with Judy Garland

Too often people assume that Judy Garland is the preserve of older gay men who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s — but young LGBTQ+ people still flock to her talent and prowess all those years ago. Cris is a hardcore Judy stan who runs a Twitter account named “Liza in the Basement”. It’s your typical stan Twitter account – Cris dedicates her time to sharing Judy’s gospel with the world.

Cris first came across Judy on Twitter in 2019 – while scrolling, they came across a famous clip of the singer performing with Barbra Streisand on her 1960s TV show.

American actress and singer Barbra Streisand sings a duet with Judy Garland (1922 - 1969) during episode 9 of The Judy Garland Show.
American actress and singer Barbra Streisand sings a duet with Judy Garland (1922 – 1969) during episode 9 of The Judy Garland Show. (File photos/Getty)

“I looked at it and immediately googled who Judy Garland was,” says Cris. “I listened to the A star is born soundtrack and fell in love with her immediately. Since then, I’ve watched all of her filmography, her TV show, and at least most videos of her on YouTube.

Judy’s music and movies have helped Cris through some of the toughest times in her life. They’re glad they found it when they did. Soon after, the world went into lockdown in the face of COVID-19. Judy Garland was the perfect companion for a difficult and lonely time.

“Whenever I’m sad, I just have to watch a video of her and my mood immediately improves,” Cris says. “Reading her biography and all of that, as a person, you can’t help but feel something for her…to see all the things she had to deal with, and how she handled them almost always successfully, inspired me to be more like her.

Cris agrees that many LGBTQ+ people probably identify with Judy because they’ve faced similar struggles to what she’s been through, but like Ross, she thinks it’s more than that.

“I think it’s also partly because Judy had such an aura of love and acceptance that made people feel so close to her and felt protected by her,” Cris says.

I made it my mission not to let people forget that.

It’s this aura of love and acceptance that inspired Cris to create her stan Twitter account – they want to introduce a new generation to the world of Judy Garland, to spread the joy they’ve found through her work.

“As long as people have access to [her music]keep talking about her and remembering her, she will always be present in the community and outside,” says Cris.

“Personally, it’s something I try to do with my friends and family, and obviously my Twitter account. I made it my mission not to allow people to forget it.

It may have been 53 years since Judy Garland left us, but one thing is certain: the magic of her voice will never be forgotten, especially if fans like Cris have something to do with it. All these years, she still helps queer people feel that there really is something brighter on the other side of the rainbow.

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