Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 6, 2015


JUDY and LIZA and ROBERT and FREDDIE and DAVID and SUE and ME. Stevie Phillips. St. Martin's Press; 2015.

Picture this: The wife of David Begelman, who is having an affair with Judy Garland, knocks on the door of the latter's hotel room, and the two women get into a screaming, hair-pulling, vicious scratch and claw cat-fight while the staff of the prestigious hotel try gingerly to tear them apart. Sounds good; sounds dishy? Did this really happen, or was it wildly exaggerated? Who knows? That's what most readers will be interested in -- the dirt and the hysteria -- and Phillips is only too anxious to deliver. I admit I'm caught in the middle when it comes to this book. On one hand I get a little tired of obsessive fans of any celebrity who get hysterical if an author says anything even the least bit naughty or remotely human about that celebrity. On the other hand, Judy and Liza does tend to seem like one more example of a writer picking apart a corpse. Like other writers before her -- John Carlyle of Under the Rainbow comes to mind --  the essentially unknown Phillips attaches herself to Garland because she knows a book written without her on the cover will sell very few copies.

Stevie Phillips worked for David Begelman and Freddie Fields at their agency, where she was first assigned the difficult task of tending to an often inebriated, drug-addicted Garland as she went on the tour that would eventually lead to her comeback. [The stuff Phillips gleefully digs up on Garland makes the Broadway show End of the Rainbow seem like an old-time Disney movie in comparison.] After she finally parted from Garland, Phillips became an agent for her daughter, Liza Minelli (Robert Redford, Al Pacino, and others soon followed -- for a time), and helped to build up her career until Minelli [Cabaret] ultimately betrayed her. Judy and Liza is in part a memoir of Phillips' "life" with Garland, in part a biography which shows how far she rose in the business despite being a woman. She freely admits that she was in it for herself, not for women in general, but her claim that she later embraced feminism may seem a little hollow what with her first independent producing project being The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Although Phillips admits that Garland had a sense of humor, the author doesn't seem to see the humor in many of the situations she describes, incidents that Garland would probably have heartily chortled over herself. True, some of these situations were hardly amusing and were more pathetic than anything else. Phillips understandably lost patience with Garland's behavior and stayed with her as her lap dog out of blind ambition. Along the way Phillips bashes anyone who might have angered her while saying what wonderful friends they all were. Robert Redford went to another agency -- BAM! he has too many moles on his face. Super-agent Sue Mengers got more press than Phillips did -- BAM! Mengers was practically a fat cow. It's one thing for her to bash former boss, lover and crook David Begelman, but she's absolutely vile about the poor guy who closed down the real whorehouse in Texas that the play and movie were based upon -- apparently he ticked her off as well -- and seems to have it in for lesbians in general. First we're to believe that Garland made a crude pass at Phillips. That Garland may have been gay or bisexual is one thing; that she would have the poor taste to virtually try to molest the rather homely Phillips is something else. In the book's most hilarious and suspect scene, Phillips suggests that a whole bevy of voracious lesbians tried to have their way with her in a dressing room. Maybe this is Phillips' fantasy ...!

Which brings us to the book's credibility. It has already been mentioned by others that apparently Phillips has never been mentioned in any Garland biographies. Some of the anecdotes, such as the aforementioned cat-fight, seem exaggerated if not fabricated. There's probably enough true stuff in the book to make the rest seem plausible, and there's no secret that Garland was hardly the first or last star to be so difficult to deal with as to be nearly monstrous at times. While one can applaud Phillips' becoming successful in a male-dominated profession, she never comes off like a likable person. She admits dumping her first husband, whom she never loved, and marrying two more glamorous types who turned out to be stinkers (according to her); she is now alone in her dotage.

What Judy and Liza and Robert makes clear is that, as Phillips states, there really is no loyalty in Hollywood. While professing her love and admiration for Garland, she drags the woman out kicking and screaming on every other page, illustrating the worst aspects of Garland's character  -- and the author's.

Verdict: Undeniably a good read, and well-written (much of this is quite well-done and entertaining), but it's mostly gossip, and even on that level is not a must-read. **1/2 out of four.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill, I too read this book and I feel very similarly to the way you do about it. The author lived through an interesting time in showbiz history and there are a lot of entertaining true or embellished they are is anybody's guess.

She really does a terrible hack job on Garland especially, though...could Judy have really been such a total monster and inebriated wreck? My mother, who worked on the Ed Sullivan Show in the mid-1960s (she met the Beatles!), confirms that when Judy was scheduled to appear, they had to sit vigil and babysit Garland in her hotel room the entire day to make sure she didn't overimbibe before showtime.

And my mom always made me laugh when she told me that Liza's costumes smelled like body odor because she never washed them...lo and behold, I find the same Liza anecdote in this very mean-spirited book.

Maybe it's not the stories themselves, but the attitude this book takes toward everyone in it...that all these creative types may have talent but are horribly selfish, indulgent and downright evil...a jaundiced view!

In defense of John Carlyle's book...though that too told some Judy horror stories, it was written from a place of love and was obvious Carlyle adored Garland, despite her neediness and drama.

I can't resist these types of books, though, Bill - I'm obsessed! Thank you for covering it!

William said...

My pleasure! As you can tell I get a kick out of these books, too! I think you're right about the jaundiced view of many of these show biz tomes. It's as if the author never quite got their due and wants to make everybody pay for it. I've no doubt Garland could be difficult to manage at times, like most stars, but the book makes her into some kind of living "grotesque" -- I'm not a big, big Garland fan (although I have friends who refuse to read the book!) but even I thought it was all overdone and even unnecessary. Garland was talented. Garland had issues. End of story. The dirt about her has been dug up only to puff her the author's own ego. Sad.