The Wizard of Oz

Poor Judy Garland. If ever there was a victim of the horrors of Hollywood it was she.

Told she was dumpy from an early age — one producer called her “my little frog” — she took uppers and downers during publicity tours with Mickey Rooney for the Andy Hardy series, became emotionally devastated by a series of lovers and marriages, took an overdose of barbiturates and died aged 47.

Yet she still managed to be a star among stars in The Wizard of Oz, now given its umpteenth re-release (this time in IMAX format), amply vouchsafed. She was the third choice behind Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin for the lead role and was forced into dresses that hid her figure and a severe bra that disguised the size of her breasts. She was just over 16 at the time.

Luckily the film’s songs were recorded before she had to get into her uncomfortable clothes and they were her passport to success as much as her acting ability. Or, at least, the way she sung them, like a human nightingale.

The film barely broke even on its first release, despite the plaudits of most critics, but it became one of the most treasured and successful of all time. There are many theories about how this was possible. But the most plausible was the fact that The Wizard of Oz perfectly expressed the dreams, hopes and fears of childhood, thus connecting with adults and children alike.

Does it really stand up to the acid test now, some 70 plus years on? The answer is that it does, because even its failings seem charming and its great moments are as powerfully nostalgic as ever.

And then there is Garland, such a slight figure on the screen that at times it seems she might disappear, but still a real superstar with a voice to die for. Watching the film again we should remember the young girl who eventually became a gay icon, trilling away at London’s Talk of the Town while virtually on her knees with sickness.

I saw that show and wondered how long she could possibly last. In many ways she was the architect of her own demise but the final responsibility belongs to Hollywood, which now praises her to the skies.

The Wizard of Oz is re-released at selected cinemas from today