Judy's other half
by John F. Karr
Sid Luft was Mr. Judy Garland for 13 years, from 1952, when the aspiring producer married the star, until 1965. Just think of the inside stories he never told. Until now, that is. A manuscript he left unfinished at his death in 2005 has just been published as Judy and I – My Life with Judy Garland (Chicago Review Press, $30). It is not only a swell addition to Judyanna, but also a revelatory look at the inside workings of the movie biz. It should fascinate and scare Hollywood fans of any ilk. Even the ones who don't give a hoot for Ms. Garland.
Luft dispenses with his own back-story in what is, after all, his autobiography, in 124 pages, leaving the subsequent 321 to the story of greater precedence. It's an intimate look at the time when Luft loved Judy, managed her career, fathered two of her three children, and strove, sometimes successfully, to contain her drug intake and to survive the tumult of her life.
Luft has been categorized as an overly frequent fornicator, a brute and a brawler (he'd been known as "One-Punch Luft"), and worst of all, a social climber and mere dabbler who had aspirations for power and class. He admits to all this, with thorough amplification. Despite his love for Judy, his insecurities caused him to be unsupportive or entirely absent from her life at multiple key moments. Like when she had to have an abortion alone. "I was as unjustified as I was insensitive," he admits. Yet you cannot doubt that he truly loved Judy. She wasn't merely his access to the high lifestyle he longed for, as has been claimed, but also a beloved woman whose career was his utmost interest.
Most of all, and unlike the other three of her four husbands, Luft wasn't gay. Atlantic columnist Mark Steyn wrote, "Luft was an all but unique figure: a rare friend of Judy who wasn't a friend of Dorothy." Just listen to Luft rhapsodize: "She had a very sensuous body and, up close, her skin was like porcelain, pure white. She had incredibly kissable lips. You don't fall out of love with somebody like her."
And what exactly was "somebody like her?" Well, Luft writes that she "was a very rare mix of shattered nerves and insecurities, self-destructiveness and suicidal tendencies, but also a true genius. She was to me the greatest talent who ever lived."
Luft writes with neither sensation nor sentiment. Much like himself, his writing is masculine and unflinching. Imagine Hemingway writing about the girl from Oz. It makes for a pretty fascinating book. I'd really like to know what Liza and Lorna make of it.