Judy and I : my life with Judy Garland

This autobiography from Judy Garland’s third husband, Michael Sidney “Sid” Luft was published nearly 12 years after his death. The book details Luft’s childhood, early years prior to meeting Garland, and his life with the legend leading up to her death in 1969. Luft never finished writing this book, having stopped around 1960 when he was excluded from his wife’s life by Judy and her new handlers. The remaining portions of the book were cobbled together by Randy L. Schmidt (with the permission of the Sid Luft Living Trust) using interviews, tape recordings and other resources that Luft left behind prior to his death in 2005. In keeping with the title, the book does not attempt to document the 36 years of Luft’s life that followed Garland’s passing.

As a young man, Sid Luft was defiant, rebellious and enjoyed adventure. He was interested in aviation and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, later working as a test pilot for Douglas Aircraft. He developed a fondness for horse racing, boxing, gambling and women that would earn him a reputation as a man’s man. In the 1930s, he met up-and-coming actress/dancer Eleanor Powell in Atlantic City and they began a casual affair. Luft eventually followed Powell out to Los Angeles where he became a jack-of-all-trades, and one of these trades involved producing films. By 1950, he had married twice, had one child and had served as producer of two B-grade films.

The heart of the book is centered on Luft’s life with Garland, whom he met at MGM in the 1930s. A romance did not develop until 1950 when Judy was in the midst of a professional and personal crisis. Judy had fled to New York after being fired by MGM and was in the middle of an unpleasant separation from her husband, director Vincente Minnelli. She was also haunted by the stigma of a half-hearted but well-publicized suicide attempt that she was trying to live down. Luft was able to see the woman behind the legend and was charmed, admiring her wit, irreverent sense of humor and beauty. For Judy, Luft was the antithesis of all her former flames. She had found a man who was literally willing to fight for her and protect her. The pair began a relationship that culminated in marriage and two children. Luft, at Judy’s insistence, also assumed the role of her business manager.

Professionally, Luft was directly responsible for some of Judy’s greatest triumphs, including the legendary Palace concert engagements of the early 1950s; a record contract with Capitol Records; the remake of A Star is Born, for which she received her only Best Actress Oscar nomination; and what is generally considered the high point in her music career, the 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall.

Judy was soaring in her professional life but her personal life was often in turmoil. She was generally fine at the beginning of her relationships. Old lifelong insecurities about being in front of the camera took place, and she turned to drugs in order to cope, which made her unpredictable and unreliable. All of this caused mayhem in her family and professional life, with Luft as a stable presence.

In the early 1960s, Judy turned her back on her husband, phasing him out of her professional career. She began an affair with David Begelman who, along with Freddie Fields, were operating as her new managers. Judy transferred power of attorney to the pair (whom she ironically referred to as “Leopold and Loeb”), putting all her trust in them. Begelman and Fields would land Judy very high profile gigs but they were embezzling large amounts of her money. Luft showed Judy evidence of the embezzlement, however she was dismissive of the matter. Her new agents had convinced her that her forthcoming television venture, The Judy Garland Show, would establish her financially for the rest of her life. It did not and ended after one season. Luft estimates that Judy earned as much as 12 to 15 million dollars between 1961 and 1966, yet she was always in debt, and by 1968 she found herself literally having to sing for her supper. Luft held Fields and Begelman directly responsible for Judy’s appalling financial state during her final years, and he battled them in court for over a decade following Garland’s death before the lawsuit was dismissed without a resolution.

Luft and Garland’s marriage continued to fall apart and in 1965, following a legal battle where Luft took custody of the children, they divorced. Sid stayed in touch with Judy until the end. They would periodically speak over the telephone and see one another at family events, but Luft mostly watched from the sidelines as Judy briefly married two more times, was fired from multiple projects, had her home taken away by the IRS, and finally died at age 47.

It is arguable that the book’s raison d’etre centers on its ability to give the reader a first-hand account of an entertainment legend during an extremely prolific and troubled period. While Luft is able to show that he was much more than “Mr. Garland," much of his personal history is overshadowed by the specter of his relationship with his legendary wife and, the most compelling parts of the book center on his life with Judy. Luft’s story is not completely lost in the narrative, and the book gives him the opportunity to defend himself against the accusation of Svengali, a charge that was leveled against him for decades. The book stands as his defense, showing that Judy asserted agency and control over her career and her life. Triumph or failure, Judy Garland was the person who made the final decisions, even when they were poor ones. Luft’s years with Garland were, quite possibly, the only period in her life where she experienced some inkling of normalcy, and the book provides a window into that all too brief moment in time