This weekend marks the centennial of the birth of Judy Garland, who was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota on June 10, 1922. The name we know her by was fictional, of course. And it’s interesting to wonder whether the great fame she experienced or endured could have happened had she retained her unsightly original surname, Gumm, under which she and her siblings performed for the first time as a vaudeville act. The Gumms remained together for several years, enduring unexpected laughter from the public and, according to legend, billing on one occasion as “Glum Sisters”.
There are different versions of how they ended up becoming garlands. But as for Judy, a man who claimed responsibility for the rebrand also admitted, in an echo of Shakespeare, that she was so naturally talented the name was irrelevant.
The Irish part of her heritage, which she leaned heavily towards, was Fitzpatricks of Dublin. And she certainly seems to have felt at home in this city, particularly when she sold out the sprawling Theater Royal for two weeks in 1951 while adding an impromptu serenade from her dressing room window for fans who didn’t could get tickets.
After performing the traditional song A Pretty Girl Milking her Cow for the film Little Nelly Kelly, she even took the trouble to learn the original Irish version An Cailín Deas Crúite na mBó for the Royal run. Meanwhile, in an arguably even more impressive display of her commitment to being one of us, she was said to have been a regular visitor to the nearby Mulligan’s pub.
By a poignant coincidence, this month also marks the 60th anniversary of the closure of the Theater Royal, which was blamed by its owners – the Rank organization – on the advent of television. The arrival of the money was perhaps a more important factor. In the rising economic tide of 1962, they could earn much more by getting rid of the site.
Dubliners appear to have taken the shutdown stoically. Too stoic for a commentator, Myles na gCopaleen of this newspaper which, although itself in need of a major overhaul at the time, tried to spark a popular uprising on the issue.
A week before the end, on June 22, 1962, he warned Rank that the apparent calm in the face of their arrogant decision was deceptive: “The present attitude of the royal leadership is one of unreserved impudence. Something has to be done about this. Something will.
With apparent seriousness, he went on to urge the government to “stop [Rank’s] nonsense to close and sell to burglars at the end of the month, then start negotiations for the purchase of the theater as national property”.
More typically, he concluded with an appeal to his supposed friend, the taoiseach: “Come, Lemass! Be a big boy! Don’t miss doing it just because I was the first to suggest it. I’ll leave you a bottle of stout under the counter at Milltown Golf Club.
But even bribing the taoiseach with a drink couldn’t prevent the closing. The fixtures and fittings for the theater went up for auction on July 12, including 3,000 cinema seats, the central heating system and – yes – the final curtain itself.
Small consolation for some Dubliners was that, as part of the bold new 12-storey office block that was to replace the theatre, plunging Poolbeg Street into darkness, developers had pledged to ‘spotlight’ Mulligan’s .
The thing that replaced the Theater Royal was finally demolished this spring, much to the delight of most Dubliners. I’ve met a few people over the years who claimed to love Hawkins House, but they had to be the original architects, or their descendants, because only a mother could have loved it.
I would have preferred the demolition to be done by the old fashioned method of dynamite, or something similar. They could have sold thousands of tickets for a lottery in which the winner would have had the honor of pressing the button.
Instead, the building was first shrouded like a giant modern art installation, then gradually dismantled with minimal dust or drama. Even the cathartic effect of seeing him slowly disappear from the rostrum that is the Irish Times press room – located on the second floor of a building opposite – has been denied to most of us by labor from a distance.
His brutalist neighbors are all gone too now. Meanwhile, and encouragingly, Mulligan’s is still there, minus the spotlight of the 1962 master plan, but now itself shining like a little beacon in a storm, having seen the whole block ahead of it rise and to come down.