“And all around me I hear voices that I can’t ignore,
The voices of the stars who played the Palace long before.
The stars who entertained you until the rafters rang —
You don’t need their names, for the whole world acclaims them
For the wonderful songs they sang…”
~Roger Edens, introduction to the "Judy at the Palace Medley"
As someone who spends a lot of her time listening to voices emerging from scratchy recordings and then trying to inhabit them, these lines were insistently reaching out to me every time I got to this point in Judy Garland's recording of her "Judy at the Palace Medley." It was some time back in the autumn of 2015, and I was trying to decide which tune to add next to my Garland repertoire — either to the second half of my Symphonic Pops concert or to my nascent cabaret show. I'd been “auditioning” a lot of numbers from her many post-1950 recordings, but this one was having the same dramatic effect on me every time I heard it...
…And I was resisting it tooth and nail. Despite feeling an undeniable connection to it, there was the very real worry that a nearly-seven-minute song about long-gone Vaudevillians wouldn’t play to a 21st-century audience. And, of course, when Judy revived Vaudeville for a record-smashing 19-week run at the Palace Theatre in 1951, the audience would have remembered all of the originators of the songs in the medley as clearly as today’s audiences would remember Michael Jackson and Madonna — in fact, some of those Vaudevillians were still very much alive and sitting in the theater listening to her sing about them on opening night.
But finally, with the debut date of the new cabaret show fast approaching, I (somewhat anachronistically) took Leonard Cohen’s advice: “The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines,” and laboriously transcribed a piano reduction from the recording of Judy’s closing night at the Palace since there didn’t seem to be any published sheet music for the Roger Edens frame material. It was exactly a year ago today, April 1st, 2016, that I first tried it on for size — the show was Get Happy! Judy Garland 1944-’54, at Cleveland’s Bop Stop. And when I sang it, the audience didn’t walk out! — even though, as Judy herself quipped, “That’s the longest song ever written; that just goes on and on and on…I wish you’d talk to each other for a minute while I breathe ‘cause the longer the song goes on the tighter the dress gets and I’m in a lot of trouble up here…” Maybe the Bop Stop audience members were just applauding with gusto because it was finally over, but a big ovation by any means is nothing to sneeze at.
In the 1951 Palace run, the “Judy at the Palace Medley” was the third number out of nine (plus, usually, two encores) in the 45-minute set, which comprised the entire second half of the show, following five variety acts in the first half. And, of course, it was a revival of the traditional Vaudeville two-a-day, so they all turned around and did it again. The four Vaudeville tunes that make up the middle of the medley are “Shine On Harvest Moon” made famous by Nora Bayes, “Some of These Days,” associated with Sophie Tucker, “My Man,” sung by Fanny Brice, and “I Don’t Care,” sung by the “I-Don’t-Care-Girl,” Eva Tanguay.
I’m not sure whether Judy ever met Nora Bayes or heard her live, as she died when Judy was five years old, but she very likely grew up hearing the recording of Nora and her husband, Jack Norworth, singing the tune. She also was likely familiar with Eva Tanguay’s recording of "I Don't Care" from 1922, and had, herself, sung the song on film in the charming 1949 release, In the Good Old Summertime. Judy definitely knew Fanny Brice, as they appeared together in the 1938 film, Everybody Sing, in which Fanny reprised her famous “Baby Snooks” role for the cameras and, in a departure from the usual practice of pre-recording the music in a studio, she and Judy performed their duet “Why? Because” live on the set.
Of all these song-originators, Judy’s connection with Sophie Tucker was undoubtedly the strongest: Sophie played her mother in the MGM film Broadway Melody of 1938 and had even coached her on her singing while Judy was at the studio filming her next picture. Judy described her as, “the person who taught me to put a song over” and sang Sophie’s hit “Some of These Days” on Jack Oakie’s College radio show as a tribute shortly before Broadway Melody of 1938 was released. Clearly, Sophie’s coaching had an effect, as a reviewer for Film Weekly wrote, “Judy Garland, youngest member of the cast, can best be described as a ‘Tucker in her teens,’ her torch singing being unquestionably first-rate.” Touchingly, Sophie was one of the Vaudeville luminaries in the audience on Judy’s opening night at the Palace cheering her on.
In addition, Judy had personal contact going back years with many of the Vaudeville legends listed in Edens’ closing section of the song, most notably Georgie Jessel, who changed the Gumm Sisters’ name to Garland when they were on the bill together at the Oriental Theater in Chicago in August 1934. The way he tells the story on The Judy Show (episode #12) differs somewhat from Judy’s other accounts, but it’s completely gripping — what a raconteur, and what wonderful rapport they have! And, of course, she’d sung with Al Jolson before, including this on-air rendition of “Pretty Baby” in 1948; and she covered many of his signature songs over the years, including “Swanee” and “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby.”
There is one glaring inaccuracy in Edens’ list of Vaudevillians in the last section of the Medley, though: according to many sources, the final one he lists, “That Singing Fool, Al Jolson,” never actually played the Palace. When friends and colleagues teased him about that fact, Jolson said, “I can tell you the exact date I’ll play the Palace — the day Eddie Cantor, Groucho Marx, and Jack Benny are on the bill. I’m gonna buy out the house, tear up all the tickets but one, and sit there yelling, 'Come on, slaves, entertain the king.'” (Do you think he was bitter about it?) Perhaps it was Roger's posthumous rewriting of history to make it the way it should have been....or perhaps he just needed a name that rhymed with "Johnson and Olsen."
Meanwhile, having made the cut, the number stayed in my cabaret show through my New York City debut at Feinstein’s/54 Below last June, and I was just turning my attention back to the question of Symphonic Pops concert additions when a little miracle happened: In early August, Michael Feinstein and the Judy Garland Heirs Trust allowed me access to three of Judy’s original arrangements (you can read about this happening in detail in a previous post), and one of those was the original manuscript score of the “Judy at the Palace Medley.” This was the actual arrangement that was created for Judy’s Palace debut on October 16, 1951, with the vocal part arranged by Roger Edens, including the special material that frames the four Vaudeville-era song hits, and the full hand-written original orchestration, unsigned, but possibly by Buddy Bregman. Unfortunately, it was missing the first two pages and the last thirteen bars. But, still, what a treasure!
According to Sid Luft, Judy’s then-husband and manager, there were only about two months between the time he got the bright idea of getting RKO to reopen the Palace Theatre for Judy (it had fallen into disrepair and was showing B movies) and the opening night. Depending on who tells it, Sid’s inspiration came on August 12 or 13, 1951, then rehearsals with Roger Edens and Charles Walters began in L.A. on September 17th while the Palace Theatre was being spruced-up, then in early October they all moved to a Broadway rehearsal hall for the week until renovations were finished and they could move into the Palace, at 47th and Broadway, for production week. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but I feel like I can actually see the hurry in the way “Probably-Buddy” dashed off the arrangement for a copyist to fill in the details…missing, for example, the fact that the celli were so high as to be unplayable in one passage (and a big thank you to Larry Blank for catching that!).
During the autumn, I spent evenings and weekends copying all the parts from the original manuscript into Finale (a music-notation program that will generate a legible conductor score and individual instrumental parts), then painstakingly reconstructed the missing bits of the orchestration from recordings, then rearranged the saxophone parts to fit the full reed section that a Pops Orchestra has. At last, on March 25th, in the second half of a Garland Symphonic Pops Concert, I got to try it out with the Ohio Valley Symphony and conductor Ray Fowler for the first time. We were playing in a particularly felicitous location: the restored Ariel Opera House, an 1895 theatre that had once hosted Sarah Bernhardt, Will Rogers, and the Ziegfeld Follies. As the end of the song goes,
“And so, with deep humility, I stand in front of you
I’m proud to play the Palace — it’s like a dream come true.
That is why I’d like to shout it up and down:
Just to tell Broadway that the two-a-day is back in town!”
~Roger Edens, end of the "Judy at the Palace Medley"
In 2017, Vaudeville may be no more, and I may not be singing at the Palace, but getting to step into Judy's Palace Medley and to hear the original orchestration that I've heard hundreds of times on records, now enveloping my voice live...coupled with the echoes of my earliest childhood memories listening to Judy’s voice and the years I’ve spent on a deep-dive into her music...is a dream come true!
Here’s the video:
Judy Garland: A Portrait in Art and Anecdote by John Fricke
Judy Garland on Judy Garland, ed. by Randy Schmidt
Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clarke
Judy and I: My Life with Judy Garland by Sid Luft
Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise by Sam Irvin
Judy Garland: The Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Legend by Scott Schecter
The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville by Anthony Slide