In Judy Garland's dark maternal shadow

May 24, 1998|By Paul Moore | Paul Moore,Sun staff

"Me and My Shadows: Living with the Legacy of Judy Garland," by Lorna Luft. Pocket Books. 417 pages. $25. The Life magazine photograph from 1969 remains etched in memory. Singer and screen idol Judy Garland and her younger husband pose unsmiling, each casually smoking a cigarette, moments after getting married. What lingers is Garland's ravaged face, with its huge and haunted eyes. Six months later she was dead.

Although Garland's "other daughter," Lorna Luft, never mentions the 1969 photo in her unsentimental and insightful new book, she writes that when nightclub manager Mickey Deans became her mother's fifth husband, Garland was in the final stages of prescription drug addiction and "was dying in front of his eyes."

By this time, Luft had for years cared for her out-of-control mother and her younger brother. At age 13, she had cleaned up the blood-spattered house after her enraged mother got into a vicious fight with her fourth husband. When her mother's medication reached toxic levels, Luft learned how to put a stick NTC her mother's mouth to keep her from choking. Finally, at age 15, an emotionally and physically exhausted Luft moved in with her father, producer Sid Luft.

Much of this remarkably candid memoir dispels myths and corrects misconceptions. Until Luft was 9, her mother was loving and attentive, and her family life was stable. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were neighbors, and their daughter, Leslie, was Luft's best friend. But Garland's addiction to prescription drugs, which began when she was given them as a child star at MGM, produced increasingly erratic behavior.

Her marriage to Sid Luft, who adored her and tried hard to make it work, fell apart. Lorna Luft maintains that her father was unfairly criticized for the divorce and her mother's later problems. The author also expresses exasperation with the enduring image of Judy Garland as a tragic heroine who was profoundly unhappy, neglected and betrayed. Luft maintains that her mother's illness became so overwhelming that "there wasn't enough love in the world to save her."

Luft writes that Garland was always heterosexual and that although some gay men became symbols of love and support, most were hangers-on who offered her misguided worship. The author also insists that her mother did not commit suicide in 1969. She writes that Garland was never seriously depressed and that evidence shows she took a normal Seconal dose and then accidentally took another one.

After Garland's death, Luft struggled professionally (Her first singing appearances were on her mother's TV show.) She began her adult singing career in the 1970s, often billed as Judy Garland's "other daughter." But despite praise for her talent, she has had only modest success.

Luft's personal life became a series of drugs and parties (She was a Studio 54 regular), and she eventually became addicted to cocaine. Her marriage to musician/producer Jake Hooker ended a messy divorce.

Her close relationship with her famous half-sister, Liza Minnelli, has become strained in recent years. Luft writes honestly about helping get Minnelli committed to the Betty Ford Center and about her sister's continuing drug and alcohol problems.

Despite occasional lapses into 12-step jargon and New Age platitudes, Luft's writing is intelligent and economical. Her own life, now on solid ground, is a testament to her resilience and is a legitimate story of redemption. In this age of self-serving revelations, Lorna Luft's story rings true.

Paul Moore is The Sun's executive news editor and is seriou student and fan of movies from the 1930s and 1940s.

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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