Is Judy Garland Still Relevant For Gay Men?09:13
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Judy Garland performs at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1961. (AP/Carnegie Hall)
Judy Garland performs at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1961. (AP/Carnegie Hall)

The play "End of the Rainbow," which portrays the drama behind some of Judy Garland's final performances, has ignited discussion in the gay community about whether or not anyone still cares about the legendary singer and performer.

For decades, as author Robert Leleux tells Here & Now's Robin Young, gay men exalted Garland and helped to make her a symbol of glamour culture. But recently he has found that they are turning away from the star. Robin's interview with Leleux is excerpted below.


Who is turning against Judy Garland?

My generation of gay guys don't seem to be as in love with Judy Garland as I think they ought to be.

Why should they be? 

Because I feel like there was an epitome of glamour culture that gay guys really helped to create, and I feel like Judy Garland really embodied. Every time Judy Garland fell down, she got back up again. That was terrifically inspiring to millions of people who also wanted to get back up again.

You write: "I have this theory that because of the holocaust that was the AIDS epidemic and its annihilation of the previous generation of gay men, the faith of our fathers risks extinction. Today, 'Judyism,' like Yiddish, is little more than a vague cultural memory." What is Judyism?

Author Robert Leleux, holding his book "The Living End: A Memoir of Forgetting and Forgiving." (Robin Young/Here & Now)
Author Robert Leleux, holding his book "The Living End: A Memoir of Forgetting and Forgiving." (Robin Young/Here & Now)

I'm a devout believer in Judyism. Judyism is a religious faith of which she is the goddess. I'm afraid. I feel like so much of gay culture is disappearing every day in the wake of the AIDS crisis.

You took a younger 22-year-old friend to see "Rainbow" and he didn't understand what all the fuss was about. He said he doesn't need Judyism anymore. 

To him it just seemed like cultural stagnation, continue to worship the same goddess generation after generation.

Is that a positive sign that being gay no longer means one thing? It doesn't have to mean you follow Judy Garland?

Right. And that's marvelous. But I always think it enriches a community  to be aware of where they've come from.

What did you think when you watched "End Of Rainbow?"

I thought [actress] Tracie Bennett's performance [as Judy Garland] was spectacular, I think that she should win the Tony. I had issues with the play because I feel like we do this thing with women geniuses like Marilyn Monroe and Virginia Wolf, where we find their tragic ends romantic.

And I don't think there's anything romantic about seeing someone great felled by addiction. I think the rainbow is much more important than the end of the rainbow.

We would never see Sinatra that way, there is no play with Elvis on the toilet or Sinatra staggering around in adult diapers. Part of that is because Tina Sinatra would like cut you, and there's no one protecting [Garland's] legacy that way.

Guest:

This segment aired on June 8, 2012.

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