The show we produced about Judy Garland started to take shape in the spring of 1984. There are plenty of fascinating tales that swirl around this legendary performer, only some of which have been proven true. We wanted to be sure we'd separated fact from fiction, and one story in particular grabbed our attention. Verifying it involved a cast of characters that extended beyond showbiz to include famous names in the world of politics.
At the time there was only one authorized biography of Garland: Judy, by Gerald Frank; and for it he interviewed every member of her family. Garland’s eldest daughter, Liza Minnelli, tells a story about her mother at the time she was making her television series in 1963 and ’64. As Liza explained, it was a grueling schedule and the production team was constantly changing. Judy would come to the studio to find new faces, different people to work with, and that, added to the stress of taping her shows before a live audience, left her exhausted and frustrated. At the end of the week, she would often come home and say to Liza, “What a week. I think I’ll call Jack”—referring to John F. Kennedy, then the president of the United States—and she’d pick up the phone and place a call to the White House. Each conversation ended the same way: Liza would hear her mother say, “Oh, no, again? Do you really want me to do that again? All right…” And then Judy would sing the last eight bars of “Over the Rainbow” into the phone.
DH: That story felt too good to be true. But if it was true, we certainly would want to use it in our program. We knew that Judy had campaigned for Kennedy and the families were friends. She had even rented a summer house in Hyannisport near the Kennedy compound. But did she really pick up the phone and call The White House just to chat and let off steam? And did the president always ask her to sing “Over the Rainbow” at the end of each call? The various parts of that story needed to be confirmed, despite the authorized nature of Frank’s book.