Somewhere Over the (Digital) Rainbow

by Andy Smith

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday August 28, 2016

"I suddenly knew that this was the beginning of a new life ... Hollywood thought I was through; then came the wonderful opportunity to appear at the London Palladium, where I can truthfully say Judy Garland was reborn."
-- Judy Garland, on her 1951 comeback engagement at the London Palladium

Almost five decades after her early death, Judy Garland will make another potentially legendary comeback -- as the star of a 3-D hologram concert film featuring highlights from her 1960s TV variety hour.

A collaboration between Garland's son, Joey Luft; his friend, the producer John Kimble; and HologramUSA, the premiere is tentatively planned for June 2017.

HologramUSA, the Las Vegas-based firm supplying the technology, has already created concerts featuring older legends like Dean Martin (which premiered in Las Vegas) as well as the highly publicized hologram of the late Tupac Shakur that premiered at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2013. Shows featuring Whitney Houston, Buddy Holly and Patsy Cline are in the works.

Revisiting the Scene of an Earlier Triumph

The collaborators are hoping for the production to premiere in June at the London Palladium, the site of Garland's renowned comeback in 1951, says Kimble, managing director for Royal Rainbow Productions.

Garland's revitalizing Palladium shows came almost two years after her departure from MGM, highly publicized visits to sanitariums, and headlines documenting her erratic behavior and during the end of her marriage to director Vincente Minnelli. English fans welcomed her at a time when (outside of radio) she was nearly unemployable in America.

Kimble says the performance will include not only the film, but also storytelling from Luft, an audience Q&A and possibly a celebrity host, if the right person can be found for the assignment.

The Project's Genesis

A childhood friend of Joey Luft, Kimble for many years also worked for Joey's father, Sid Luft. After the elder Luft died in 2005, "Joey and I got together and came up with this idea to use parts from her TV show and let Joey tell stories he's never told before. Positive memories that he's never had a chance to talk about," says Kimble.

"It will be a one-hour attraction in the style of a Broadway show," says Alki David, founder and CEO of HologramUSA. "There will be a lot of narrative and a lot of music."

"It's a love letter to his mother," adds Kimble, who says that the film and Luft's commentary will focus on the good times with Garland, her love for her children and her wry sense of humor.

So Many Showstoppers to Choose From

Kimble and Luft are culling material from Garland's star-studded and critically lauded hour-long variety series that ran for just one season on CBS in 1963-1964, beaten in the ratings week after week by NBC's "Bonanza."

Though the show is available on DVD, and through a wonderful selection of YouTube clips (many featuring guests like Ethel Merman, Martha Raye, Barbra Streisand, Mickey Rooney and Peggy Lee), Kimble and Luft believe that hologram technology will capture and accentuate the live-concert feel of the show's musical numbers, especially those from the final episodes, many of which jettisoned the uneven sketches and banter for what was essentially a Garland concert.

"Towards the end of these shows, she did mostly concerts," says Kimble. "So there's a lot of material that would be similar to a concert at Carnegie Hall. We're working to recreate that atmosphere using the hologram technology's 3-D effects."

"A good thing about doing a hologram is you can create everything the way it was. The technology is so far advanced now," he adds.

Why England?

Another reason for premiering the film at the Palladium is Garland's enduring popularity in England. When she headlined two shows a day at the Palladium, it was "right after the war, and English people were being turned on to American culture," he says. "When she came, it was like getting the Beatles. There was nothing like it."

He adds: "She's still huge in England. It's where she started her concert career, and they welcomed her whenever she came back. She's also especially popular in Ireland, Germany, Austria and Japan -- but, really, the biggest place is England."

A Family Affair

Kimble and Luft have known each other for almost five decades. "I met Joey on the beach when we were 13 years old. We're both 61 now," he says. "My mom worked at 20th Century Fox, but I'd never met anyone famous. We became best friends. When Judy died in 1969, he was sleeping over at my house, and we had to wake Joey up to tell him."

Kimble has nothing but good things to say about the sometimes controversial Sid Luft, Garland's husband from 1952 to 1965 and her manager for most of that time.

Luft is credited with masterminding many aspects of the performer's Palladium and New York Palace Theatre comebacks in the early 1950s and her success in the 1954 musical remake of "A Star Is Born."

"Late in the 1980s, I ran into Sid. He had just been awarded all the rights to the Judy Garland material," he says. "I said, 'Can I work for you?'" The question led to many years of collaboration.

"We got close during this time. I had a real respect for him. He was like a father to me," he says, adding that Luft "really took care of Joey and Lorna when Judy died."

Singing on the Swings

Joey Luft says that HologramUSA first approached him about developing the project. "They came to us. They had wanted to do this project for quite awhile. The goal was to take the performances from the TV show so that you can really create a concert."

With sisters Liza and Lorna, Joey appeared on the show's still-popular Christmas Special and attended many of the live tapings for other episodes. He can frequently be seen in the audience.

"I remember going to the shows every week when they were filming. They were shot on Friday and then shown on Sunday," he says. "I have a lot of nice memories, especially of the Christmas show."

Encouraged by his parents, Joey got a taste of show business as a drummer. But, unlike his sisters, he preferred photography and working behind the scenes to taking center stage.

Garland's youngest has many positive memories of home life with his mother. "She would sing around the house and try to get all of us to sing together. We would be on the swings and she'd encourage us to sing songs from Oliver or West Side Story."

He sat in the audience during Garland's legendary 1961 Carnegie Hall performance, and it was at about this time (at age seven) that he began to appreciate the scope of his mother's talent. "Honestly, I'd seen her three or four times before I realized she could sing that well. I didn't know she was that good."

"Fond memories, seeing this," says Luft, summing up the experience of compiling material for the concert film.

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