Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

TINTYPE TUESDAY: Judy Garland Is Trapped in a “Summer Stocky” Wardrobe

Welcome to a special venting edition of TINTYPE TUESDAY! I just need to get something off my chest, okay? Or rather, something off Judy Garland’s…

I watched Summer Stock again last night—so much fun, so underrated, and one of Judy’s most difficult films to complete, though, as usual, you’d never know it from her performance.

And let’s throw some extra love to Gene Kelly, who was uber-patient and fiercely loyal. Normally a bit of a perfectionist, he remembered how Judy had helped him when they worked together eight years earlier on his film debut, For Me and My Gal, and he helped carry his co-star—sometimes literally—through the long, demanding workdays. Once when Judy wasn’t up to coming in, he went so far as to feign a fall to deflect the blame for the delay onto his own, far sturdier shoulders.

In Garland’s most recent effort for MGM, Louis B. Mayer had fired her from  Annie Get Your Gun. Kelly, meanwhile, was coming off back-to-back hits with Take Me Out to the Ballgame and On the Town. Judy had gained some much-needed weight during a hospital stay in Boston, but was still physically and emotionally fragile. Even more insecure than usual, she begged Mayer to let her out of Summer Stock, but he pressed her to stay on.

summerstocky-10

Her reward—and here’s where the venting part comes in—was just about the most hideous collection of costumes ever to escape from the Closet of the Damned. To say nothing of her hair, which seems to have been set upon by millions of tiny, angry curlers with a score to settle.

I know Judy’s character, Jane, is supposed to be a hick, but look at her sister Abigail (Gloria DeHaven)! She’s a bumpkin too—but an MGM bumpkin, dammit! Cute, clingy gingham, adorable eyelet tops, gay colors—she seems to have kicked the sh#t off her shoes quite nicely, thank you. But poor Judy! She’s only three years older than Gloria, but the way they’ve dowdied her down, she might as well be Aunt Eller in Oklahoma! Or perhaps she could rewrite a tune from The Sound of Music: “I am 28 going on 68…”

Take the striped shift dress. Please. It helpfully gathers all the dazzling colors from the floor of a stable into one piece of fabric. I suspect she’s praying her humongous collar will open up and swallow her, like a giant clamshell.

Next come the overalls—and not movie-musical overalls. Actual farmer-wear. Only worse: they seem to have been starched. You get the feeling if she took them off, they’d just stand there, mocking her.

Then Judy’s off to feed the animals, in a stiff, shapeless shirt, paired with stovepipe pants that stop short at the ankles—perfect for a tiny woman who barely grazes the five-foot mark and is nervous about her weight. Yes, let’s make her legs look shorter and heavier! Her thick, clunky shoes further enhance to the stumpy effect. You know you’re in trouble when you’re out-glammed by Phil Silvers. And chickens.

And then, oh, goody, we’re back to ginormous collars—now with extra bunchiness! This time set off by a sparkly cardigan—the kind your grandma hauls out of mothballs for special occasions. All she’s missing is the lint-covered hard candy at the bottom of her pocketbook.

The next sequence contains a special tip for the ladies: If you ever get the chance to dance with a man as divine as Gene Kelly, be sure to whip out your old Brownie uniform. And don’t get all self-conscious if it’s busting at the seams, allowing a bit of frumpy corset to peek through. Men love that!

Perhaps the most amazing part of this fashion hellscape is that the designer was the legendary Walter Plunkett, who did the crazy-fun costumes for movies like Flying Down to Rio as well as Katharine Hepburn’s fantastical moth dress in Christopher Strong, her slinky black evening gown in Adam’s Rib, and much of her personal wardrobe. What in the name of Heaven—or Hades—was going on here?

I mean, Good God, up until now, this was pretty much Judy’s best outfit in the whole film:

summerstock-7But there’s always hope if you hang in there long enough. And finally— finally!—Judy gets to be Judy in the legendary Get Happy! number that closes the film. (She’s also slimmer, as the routine was filmed more than a month after the rest of the movie.)

But don’t give Plunkett credit for this one: her iconic outfit was designed by then-husband Vincente Minnelli for a number in Easter Parade called Mister Monotony, which was ultimately cut. But never mind how it happened. For whatever forces of fate got her out of those damn dung-colored dresses, shout Hallelujah…

TINTYPE TUESDAY is a weekly feature on Sister Celluloid, with fabulous classic movie pix (and backstory!) to help you make it to Hump Day! For previous editions, just click hereand why not bookmark the page, to make sure you never miss a week?

5 Comments

  1. ZZinDC

    You’re reading my mind. That whole first number, on the tractor, in the overalls – awful! She hadn’t looked so bad since Pigskin Parade.

    • All of that said (and I don’t disagree with any of it), not even those horrid costumes ‘pluncketted’ down on Judy could undermine her genuine talent. However in fairness, I do have to wonder how constrained Walter Plunckett was in choosing Judy’s costumes. Mean mindedness from the executive suite? I see the dirty hands of Dory Schary all over this.

      • Yes, I wondered if she was being sabotaged too… MGM’s treatment of her was an absolute crime. In some cases literally, as in plying her with pills when she was essentially a child…

  2. All of that said (and I don’t disagree with any of it), not even those horrid costumes ‘pluncketted’ down on Judy could undermine her genuine talent. However in fairness, I do have to wonder how constrained Walter Plunckett was in choosing Judy’s costumes. Mean mindedness from the executive suite? I see the dirty hands of Dory Schary all over this.

  3. Marc Leslie Kagan

    In the Words And Music which was filmed in 1948 Judy has two numbers in the film one is a duet with Mickey Rooney, “I Wish I Was In Love Again.” The gown that Judy wore for this number has no belt while her Johnny One Note number has the belt, since Judy has lost weight between the filming of the two numbers.

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