It has been said that Judy Garland had a fertile mind and that she didn’t mind using it when she talked about her past.
She once told me that, during filming of The Wizard Of Oz, several horses had died from poisoning -“ from the dye they were painted with -“ during the horse of a different colour sequence in Emerald City. Whether this was true or not, I couldn’t say.
But when it came to getting what she wanted, when she wanted it, Miss Garland was remarkably focused. She had decided that Peter Allen would be an ideal husband for Liza, her daughter from her marriage to Vincente Minnelli, and that was how it was going to be. No ifs, buts or maybes.
It was decided then. The Allen Brothers would pack up and, instead of hawking their professional arses round Asia or returning to Australia, would follow Judy Garland and Mark Herron as they headed for Europe.
By November 1964, they were ensconced in a flat at 48 Lower Sloane Street, London, while they waited for Judy to pull the levers that would turn the little troupe into international stars.
Alas, it never happened, though it seems she did try, calling agents in the United States and introducing them to her London theatre contacts.
Clearly, the only one that she really cared about was Peter and she had decided to move heaven and earth to make him a star on the world stage -“ as well as making him into a suitable husband for her daughter Liza.
The decision had been made long before Peter and Liza first met, at Trader Vic’s bar, underneath the London Hilton on Park Lane, but if Peter was at all concerned about Judy’s plans he didn’t let on to me.
Come straight here! he demanded in a letter dated 12 November 1964. He was keen for me to be part of the circus that surrounded Miss Garland -“ for whom he was adept at inventing a variety of noms de guerre, such as Edith Piaf.
I keep getting hysterical letters from my poor, bewildered Maman, who daily blanches at the Daily Mirror headlines which have been splashing Edith Piaf and our photos over the front pages, thanks to some sweet girls here who still work for the Sunday Sydney Truth [newspaper]! I haven’t the heart to tell them!
He had also been struck by the number of African and Caribbean residents in London, reminding him of a journalist from Sierra Leone at the Tokyo Olympics whom he’d dubbed Miss Lumumba after the assassinated leader of a Congo separatist movement, Patrice Lumumba.
I keep stopping every second person on the street with: -˜Miss Lumumba, when did you get here?’ he wrote. I am always wrong but that, girl, will give you the hint that there are just a few of the coloured folk here. Rather disconcerting when an old, black Southern Mammy comes out with -˜one and threepence, love’ like Tommy Steele.
But the main business was still at the court of Judy Garland, who was preparing for an historic performance at the London Palladium which gushing media commentators were predicting would equal her legendary show at Carnegie Hall.
Peter and Mark escorted Judy and Liza to the theatre, the two couples in the flies on either side of the stage waiting for the curtain to go up. Peter wrote with what he called a small anecdote which, in passing, seems to dismiss any pretension of serious emotional commitment in his forthcoming nuptials with Liza Minnelli.
The band strikes up the overture; breathlessly, Jenny* Garland Gumm stands in the wings of the Palladium with a hushed house of Queens falling out of the balconies and all sitting in the Royal Box dressed as Princess Margarets or Jackie Kennedys.
Then her lover leaves her to sit in the front row as the overture ends. An identical scene is being played at the other side of the wings, rather like a flashback, but there is no gelatine on the lens.
The boy does not seem to be altogether in focus and for one instant one sees CSR Sugar imprinted on his face [a mocking reference to heavy camera lens filters] while the girl’s face is lit rather harshly.
Truth is, this is no return to childhood for Frances but is, in fact, a portion of her flesh and blood, ready to carry on the tradition, when she is allowed out of the attic.
Ooooo, I thought. Nasty.
The boy has a gentle, quality face with hints of royal bearing -“ he is a Queen! He, too, bids farewell to his love and totters to the seat in the front row where he is joined by Frances’s lover. It appears at first glance this is a coincidence but, no -¦ for in fact, one perceives that, under the seat, their hands are slowly entwining.
Miss Piaf enters and 2,000 Queens are wheeled out to be replaced by 3,000 more identically attired ones. The daughter is greeted by polite applause until she melts the Queens’ hearts with a tender ballad which leaves several weeping silently.
The show goes on while stamping Queens collapse three tiers. At one point, Miss Garland sits tenderly on the piano stool doing a ballad and the two in the front row move closer until they are arm in arm.
Then suddenly, Miss Jolson sweeps across the stage to sing to her lover. The lads smile back while trying to disengage themselves unobtrusively. Piercing eyes of eagle-faced Queens discern part of what is happening.
The concert is possibly better than the Carnegie Hall album and I am conning for the uncut version with mistakes, false starts and -˜How disastrous!’
After the Garland concert, Judy organises for the London Palladium to host a presentation by the Allen Brothers for the show business contacts she has corralled.
Peter wrote: These two young lads had an audition at the Palladium at 10 in the morning. Every agent was there and they are booked solid for a year -“ how lovely for them.
It was now time for Peter to meet his potential father in law.
I am off to Paris on Tuesday for three days to meet Vincente Minnelli and what will happen in the Silver City I dread to think. Love, Grace.
Peter wrote later, insinuating that when he’d met Mr Minnelli a certain frisson had passed between them, something I’m quite happy not to think about too deeply.
He was still adamant that I should join them in London. Come soon as Father misses you and Mark misses you. Truth was I missed them too -“ but I also was missing things like money to buy airline tickets and any sense of to-hell-with-the-consequences impetuousness.
Peter had patiently tried to school me in the ways of getting other people to pay your way but I’d been a bad student. Sigh.
By the time I did get to London, in January 1965 -“ to take up a job in journalism -“ the Garland caravan had long moved on. To America. She had married Mark Herron (only to divorce him in 1967) and plans were underway for Liza to marry Peter in the United States. But it was not the end of my involvement.
Peter wrote frequently about his new life in the United States, the letters almost literally frothing with excitement when he met some of his idols, like Mabel Mercer, Carol Channing and the Million Dollar Gams lady, Betty Grable. Best of all, he saw a performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide which he’d loved ever since I played him the original cast recording, including the memorable Jewel Song:
And here I am, my heart breaking,/ Forced to glitter, forced to be gay.
Liza was booked to play London’s Talk of the Town nightclub in early 1966 and Peter delegated me to be her gatekeeper for the duration.
I dutifully took to my tasks, like holding her head in the loo while she barfed up a night of excessive drinking, taking her to premieres like Roman Polanski’s Cul-De-Sac, to dinner with people such as Sarah Churchill, to mutual back-scratching sessions with Charles Aznavour and other performers and to Paris for her engagement at the Olympia.
At one stage she claimed she’d been sent photos of Peter frolicking in the sea at New York’s Fire Island and demanded to know if he was gay.
The wedding went ahead, anyway, though it put a lot of pressure on Peter. He wrote about it as if it were a movie script with someone else playing his role.
The boy is seen slipping quietly into the bathroom for a quick consultation with a Health And Strength magazine that has been secreted there earlier, he wrote. What else is a poor girl to do???
There followed Peter’s golden age of song writing, often working with people like Carole Bayer Sager. Not everything he touched turned to gold and the Broadway show he wrote -“ Legs Diamond -“ was not a success.
But his songs were dazzling, including hits like Tenterfield Saddler, I Honestly Love You, Don’t Cry Out Loud and, of course, I Go To Rio and I Still Call Australia Home.
We kept in touch during all those years and the first time he sang the full version of I Still Call Australia Home was in my house in the Adelaide Hills.
But time was passing. I had begun my descent into old fartdom and he had contracted AIDS. After giving some final concerts in Sydney, Peter died in 1992 at his home in San Diego, in the arms of his long-time lover and manager, Greg. No one invited me to the funeral.
But Peter’s life is worth celebrating and the new production of The Boy From Oz with Hugh Jackman promises to be amazing. Just don’t expect to see this story on stage.
Â© The New Write 2006
*For those who don’t recall, Jenny -“ or Mrs Norman Maine -“ was the name of Judy’s character in A Star Is Born.
Ted Josephs was working as a freelance journalist in Tokyo prior to the 1964 Olympic Games. He is now retired.