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June 11, 2023

Amazing Behind the Scenes Photos of Judy Garland Performing “Get Happy” in “Summer Stock” (1950)

Summer Stock is one of Judy Garland’s (and MGM’s) most charming and enjoyable musicals, and notable in film history for two reasons: It was the last film Judy completed for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios; it features one of her most iconic performances: The spectacular “Get Happy.”

At the time it was made Summer Stock was a let down for Judy. After her artistic growth (and triumphs) with the Freed Unit in the mid-to-late 1940s (Meet Me In St. Louis, Easter Parade), followed by the professional and personal lows of the late 1940s, going into Summer Stock was a step backward to the “let’s put on a show” musicals she made with Mickey Rooney a decade earlier. In fact, Summer Stock producer Joe Pasternak had originally wanted Rooney for the role of Joe Ross, intending the film to be a nostalgic reunion for the two stars. But by 1949 Rooney’s box office clout had waned and Gene Kelly was offered the part. Kelly was definitely great box office, having just completed two major hits, both released in 1949: Take Me Out To The Ball Game and On The Town. Thanks to Kelly’s guidance, On The Town was also an artistic success with its advancement of dance on screen. Due to this, under normal circumstances Kelly would have rejected the Summer Stock script as not worthy of his talents. But as a favor to Judy, who was his helpful champion during his film debut when they co-starred in For Me And My Gal in 1942, Kelly agreed to make the film. He later said: “We loved her and we understood what she was going through, and I had every reason to be grateful for all the help she had given me.”

When she reported for work on Summer Stock in October 1949, Judy had just returned to the studio from the disappointment of being fired from Annie Get Your Gun and the resulting recuperative stay at the Peter Brent Bingham hospital in Boston (“Rehab” as it’s termed today). During her stay in Boston she had gained some needed weight along with some physical and emotional stability. Knowing that putting Judy on a crash diet for the film meant a return to the diet pills and the horrors that went with them, Pasternak wisely did not require any weight loss thus alleviating undue pressure on Judy. Still, after about a month of work on the film, Judy asked the studio to let her out of her contract and the film. She was fearful that she would lose the physical and psychological good health she had just achieved. Studio head Louis B. Mayer convinced her to carry on.

In spite of the issues, filming took only fifty days and was over budget a minor 43k (it was common for films to be over budget, especially musicals). Much of the final success of the filming can be attributed to the affection and support of Judy’s co-stars and crew. Everyone rallied around her because everyone loved her and wanted her to succeed. Ever the trouper, Judy delivered regardless of her physical and emotional weaknesses.

Summer Stock turned out to be a breezy and sparkling lark. Critics and audiences love it, making the film a financial and critical success. Audiences applauded Judy’s numbers as though they were watching a live stage show, something unheard of even today. Judy’s performance is, as usual, wonderful.

Judy’s final solo number in the film is also the last number she filmed at MGM: “Get Happy.” For years many critics and fans assumed the number was an outtake from a previous film and inserted into Summer Stock to pep things up at the end. The reason for this is that Judy’s physical appearance in “Get Happy” is much thinner than the rest of the film. This is because “Get Happy” wasn’t an outtake but an addition that was recorded and shot after most (but not all) of the production had been completed. During that time, Judy was able to get some more rest and lose more weight – a lot!

It was Judy’s idea to sing “Get Happy” as it was a personal favorite. She had requested that MGM buy the song. This means that it was obviously in the works to buy the song for Judy before production wrapped. It would take a bit of time for MGM to buy the song and then have Conrad Salinger or Skip Martin arrange the music for Judy before the actual pre-recording date. Judy also requested to perform it in the outfit that Vincente Minnelli originally came up with for Easter Parade’s outtake number “Mr. Monotony.” It became an iconic Garland look: A man’s tuxedo jacket and fedora. “Get Happy” turned out to be one of the best numbers Judy ever performed on film and was a fitting finale to her MGM era.

Also contrary to the legends, “Get Happy” wasn’t the last number recorded or filmed for Summer Stock. Kelly’s “Newspaper Dance” was recorded on March 31st and he filmed it in early April. The post-filming scoring sessions were completed in late April.

Not long after completing Summer Stock, Judy was called back to replace a pregnant June Allyson and reunite with Fred Astaire for Royal Wedding. Sadly, her health had not recovered sufficiently to allow her to endure the toll of making another big-budget musical, and she was suspended from the film. Contrary to popular belief, Judy was not fired by MGM. On September 29, 1950, she asked for (and was given) a release from her MGM contract. Within a year she would successfully begin the next era of her career: The legendary “Concert Years” which are chronicled here.


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