Gay Icons – Judy Garland

Tony Guadagnino is a marketing consultant. Located in New Jersey, his clients are based across the country, focusing on social media to build their presence on the internet. He studied creative writing in college and is currently working his first novel on the subject of bullying. He lives with his partner Mark.

Last month I started my article on gay Icons. Let us continue with the topic.

As a refresher: What makes someone a gay icon? Nobody knows how since there is no Rule Book to qualify as one, yet we are enriched with so many past, present, and future Icons. All the people who are labeled one tend to not only embrace the LGBT Community, but they also have distinct qualities of glamour, strength, flamboyance, and attitude.

In my last article, one of the things I discussed was how the phrase “friend of Dorothy” could have started either from the 5th Installment of The Wonderful World of Oz series, or the infamous movie. Upon reading my first installment, a co-worker of mine had asked if women could be classified as a “friend of Dorothy” as well. In further research that I have done, I was able to conclude the answer is ‘Yes’; however, the phrase does lean more towards men of the LGBT Community. After all, the phrase was used for men in the military to secretly know their true sexual identity without being dishonorably discharged.

But let us focus on the movie, which is celebrating its 80th birthday this year. The motion picture can be looked upon as a microcosm of the gay world. Before coming out, men (and women) had lived a humdrum life, doing boring chores day-after-day, yearning to be someplace else. After coming out (aka, going over the rainbow), their lives are colorful, happy, playful, meeting new people and being embraced by folks who will embrace you, no matter who you are. (Some say the Cowardly Lion represents the stereotypical gay character.) Of course, you always face prejudice and rejection (symbolized by the wicked witch). Nevertheless, most of your life is beautiful and sunny, walking down the yellow brick road of life to a place of calmness and acceptance.

If we focus on its star, then we are talking about (as The Advocate once stated) the Elvis of all Gay Icons – Judy Garland. Born Frances Ethel Gumm in 1922, Judy was only sixteen years old when she starred in the movie musical. Besides Oz, she starred in other classics as Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, In The Good Old Summertime (cameo by Liza Minnelli), Summer Stock, and A Star Is Born. Her persona in each of these films was of a woman who was renowned – her characters were strong women with a zest for life, decorated in pretty costumes and surrounded by elaborate sets. Not only did you watch Judy, but you also related to her characters; you rooted for them, and how many of us wanted to BE her in those movies?

Many people do not know this, but Judy was one of the first celebrities who embraced the gay community. She loved visiting gay bars with her gay friends Roger Edens (Hollywood studio musician), Charles Walters (choreographer) and George Cukor (movie director). Two of her husbands were known homosexuals – Vincent Minnelli (Husband #2) and Mark Herron (Husband #4). Indeed, her father was also a “closeted” homosexual. A performer of vaudeville, Frank Gumm would have quick relationships with young men (some still in their teens), then skip town and “hit the road” before anyone would find out.

Still, Judy Garland’s life could be compared to many literary characters as a “tragic hero.” Judy battled many demons in her lifetime, and her 30-year addiction to pills ultimately took her from the planet. Yet, she never faltered. She was regarded as a strong woman who worked hard for her success. Members of the LGBT Community face challenges on a daily basis (myself included). We all have those inner demons that we fight to survive. Part of us probably looks towards Judy for the inner strength she had to survive the short time she was on this planet.

Judy Garland died in London, on June 22, 1969, twelve days after her 47th birthday. Her funeral was held on June 27th, ironically coinciding with the beginning of gay liberation in America – the Stonewall riots. In my opinion, I believe it is more coincidence than a plan of action that the two events on the same day; yet, I cannot leave out the possibility that somber feelings of beloved Judy that circulated at The Stonewall that day could have triggered the spontaneous, violent demonstrations.

Judy Garland sits on the top tier of Gay Icons. The next installment, I will continue discussing more actresses from the Hollywood era.

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