Judy Garland’s London: Then And Now. Judy Garland’s star has been lit up again, thanks to Renée Zellwegger’s mesmerising performance as the legendary singer in the hit film Judy. Zellwegger is a favourite to win the Best Actress Oscar and a BAFTA, having already scooped up a coveted Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and a Critics Choice award.
While she storms the awards, here’s a look at how Garland blazed a trail through London in the winter of 1968. The city, at the end of the Swinging Sixties, was a glamorous, fabulous place – a hedonistic playground for celebrities, and a stylish music and fashion capital.
“I love this whole town!” says Garland in film, which perfectly captures the razzle dazzle and excitement of the city, as the down on her luck star performs a series of sold out shows, and sees her star rise again, albeit with a few wobbles.
THE TALK OF THE TOWN
The Brits were mad about Judy Garland’s life – at the end of the Sixties, when she could barely get any bookings in the US, she was offered big money to perform at the Talk of the Town in London. Called The Hippodrome when it opened in 1900, on Charing Cross Road in the heart of the city, this beautiful building held spectacular circus and variety shows, including aquatic spectaculars in a 100,000 gallon water tank.
In 1958, as the popularity of variety shows waned, the venue was remodelled as a nightclub, and renamed The Talk of the Town, attracting singers of the calibre of Frank Sinatra, The Jacksons, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross. It was here that Garland performed in 1968 – there is a plaque commemorating her as ‘the greatest entertainer who ever lived’, at the venue.
“This building is still special,” says Rosayln Wilder, Garland’s PA during her shows in 1968. Wilder (played by Jessie Buckley in the film), often had to coax the nervous superstar onto the stage to perform. “Talk of the Town was an incredible venue,” Wilder says, “it was a lifestyle”. In 1983 it became the Hippodrome again, a fantastically popular nightclub throughout that decade and the 1990s. More recently it has been rebranded as a casino.
THE GORE HOTEL
In Judy, on arriving in London, Garland receives a warm welcome at her hotel, and declares ‘I just adore London, my home away from home’. She says how comforting it is that the hotel, and London, didn’t seem to change. Garland often stayed at The Gore Hotel in Kensington, an elegant, ornate residence that opened in 1892. The hotel now has a Judy Garland suite, which contains her own bed, donated to the hotel in gratitude for a long stay she spent there. It also contains the red slippers from The Wizard of Oz.
In 1969, it was Judy Garland’s show (from The Beatles, among others), at a charity concert at The Palladium, the famous London venue located off Oxford Street. According to the New York Times, she brought the house down with her rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow’.
The audience reaction was so rapturous that the final act – Shirley Bassey – had to be cancelled! Appropriately, another iconic singer, Madonna, will soon be performing at the venue.
The Dominion Theatre, on Tottenham Court Road, was the venue Garland performed at the most in London, often doing four week engagements in the near 3000 seat auditorium. The Dominion is still going strong, currently home to the box office smash musical Prince of Egypt.
In one of the film’s most moving scenes, Judy walks through the streets of Soho, near to the Talk of the Town – while she is lonely and distraught, the sound of rowdy and jubilant drinkers can be heard in the background. In the Sixties, Soho was the epicentre of London’s offbeat, artistic, outsider nightlife, packed with jazz bars, private clubs and crammed pubs – Judy would have fitted right in there. Although a lot of places that made Soho famous have gone, the area still feels apart from the rest of the city, retaining the spirit of the unconventional and unpredictable.
In 1969, Garland got married for the fifth time, to American musician Mickey Deans (played in the film by Finn Wittrock). They celebrated at Quaglino’s, in St James’s. The restaurant, opened in 1929 by Giovanni Quaglino, fast became a favourite hangout for the rich and famous, royalty and politicians – over the years, The Queen and Prince Philip, Barbara Cartland, Angelina Jolie, and Princess Diana have eaten there. Still running – and still a place to spot a star – it is a big, lavish location with live music, cocktails, champers and oysters.
The world famous London department store, Harrods, in Knightsbridge, sells just about anything and everything in its 330 departments, and was a favourite haunt of the singer (a letter from the shop requests payment of an outstanding bill in 1963). In 2003, the ruby red slippers, covered in over 600 rubies, that she wore in The Wizard of Oz, valued at £1million, went on display in a bulletproof case in the shop.
After her triumphant shows in London, Garland decided to move to London with her new husband, and lived at a pretty mews house, 4 Cadogan Lane, in swish Belgravia. Sadly she died there in the summer of 1969. The house is currently being demolished and replaced with a luxury home, complete with an underground swimming pool, fit, ironically, for a Hollywood star. Sadly this means that a blue plaque won’t be erected on the site, to commemorate Garland living on the street, as English Heritage regulations stipulate the plaques must be on the original building. Fans have erected a small memorial on the building site instead.
JUDY is available now on digital download, Blu-ray, and DVD from Pathe Productions.
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