Posts Tagged ‘Over the Rainbow’


Some devastating news stopped my presses a couple of years ago, and as it’s always done, my mind set up a thorny wall of a barrier to protect me from harm . . . “ignore it, and it won’t be true,” however ineffective, is a perfectly logical mode of self-preservation. It’s been about a decade since I’ve set foot in that magic kingdom down in Anaheim, and I think the chances of my returning someday were already pretty slim. Frequent were my childhood visits to Disneyland; Dad and I still talk about the splendid time we had on the day we went in the rain. The yellow ponchos we were forced to buy that day are still crumpled up in one of my closets, preserving any amount of childhood that will stay preserved. Having gone with every friend and every family member over the course of my 18-year stay in southern California, a piece of my heart melted away forever when I heard the Disneyland Villain Shop had opened and closed its doors for the last time. The next time I went down to visit my parents, I made sure my Ursula pin was still prominently on display in my childhood bedroom.

The villains get the best lines. The villains get the evil wardrobe. The villains get the brainlessly devoted sidekicks. Best of all, the villains get the strutting music. Leaving Disney for a moment and with much respect to Mr. Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow,” it’s the Wicked Witch’s theme music that provides me with a needed confidence boost. The attachment I felt to these wonderful villains—specifically to Disney’s interpretations of them—was perhaps not the fascination of other little boys, but luckily I remember feeling no shame about being able to recite Maleficent’s spells, not the latest baseball stats or trading deals. If any shame floated around somewhere in my subconscious, generously the Disneyland’s Villain Shop provided a comfort, knowing my love of evil was shared. This alleged subconscious shame wasn’t a gender role thing; it may have been the fear of my love of wickedness. A cartoon adaptation of Tallulah Bankhead who wanted nothing more than to make fur coats out of puppies . . . was I supposed to feel shame about loving someone so completely honest, witty, and selfish?

In college I enrolled in an anthropology course for no other reason than it fit the schedule and provided enough time to get home for Will & Grace drinking games. Anthropology 161: Narrative Folklore with Professor Alan Dundes would do; it was twice a week, had “p.m.” in its time slot . . . and it changed everything. Dundes divided the semester into genres: myth, legend, and folktale with a brief side trip into ballad. I was completely mesmerized by this brilliant Freudian folklorist who forced us all so often to disagree with him. Interpretations of folklore, including our beloved villains (both before and after their Disney makeovers), were not to be memorized; it was the method of various interpretations that had to be understood. With a few gems here and there, for 20 years I had been spitting back facts to the majority of my educators while retaining very few. Alan Dundes provided my young-adult self with comfort and curiosity, reminiscent of that young boy’s unique sense of belonging felt in the Magic Kingdom’s shop of misbehaviors.

Thank you, Professor Dundes . . .

Thank you, Disneyland Villain Shop . . .

. . . this 32-year-old and his witch’s hat will be forever grateful.




Dear 2012,

For the horror and wretchedness you threw at us in the last 12 months, I could peel you like a pear, and God Himself would call it justice. As satisfying as that would feel, it turns out that life’s good times were made that much sweeter by the bitterness of your reign. It’s with a smile that I reflect upon some of the highlights.

The year began with my falling deeper in love with Bogie in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Not too stinkin’ of a start!

The year ended a week ago, as I unwrapped not one but two copies of David Thomson’s The Big Screen for my birthday. Autumn brought me not two but three text messages quoting Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter: “Henry, I have a confession . . . I don’t much like our children.”

A summer visit from Dad brought into my life not four but five films of Mae West’s, a sharp and shapely woman admired by generations of fathers and sons for countless reasons.

Right before Thanksgiving, Olympia Dukakis reminded me of her limitless acting abilities in Elektra.

Two blessed friendships led me on trips to Hollywood, Dollywood and Graceland. Keeping me company on the road to each, Judy was right there for my entertainment, forgetting the words to “You Go to My Head” during every Carnegie Hall performance.

Idina Menzel walked barefoot on to the stage at Davies Hall and sang “Over the Rainbow.” A few months later, the San Francisco Symphony performed flawlessly the score of The Wizard of OzSandy and I each got a permanent, just for the occasion.

It was in my favorite restaurant where my favorite waiter told me Americans had elected in favor of protecting Big Bird . . . Michelle and I celebrated by ordering the chicken.

On October 6th, 2012, my love was justified, as no song lyric can touch the likes of “Rita Hayworth gave good face.”

And for all the other wonderful times and films that filled the year, I am grateful to you, dear and wretched 2012, for I predict that your successor will succeed where you failed.

Now be gone, before somebody drops a house on you!


Last Sunday Judy Garland would have turned 90 years old. I’ve long taken care of fawning over our beloved Judy, so this year I’ll let another voice chime in, one that’s slightly better than mine.

I have been fortunate to have spent some fantastic evenings at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. Highly enjoyable were the special screenings of Psycho, Casablanca, and The Wizard of Oz, during which the symphony provides the musical score. These were indeed impossible acts to follow, but eventually Liza Minnelli and her sequins popped in for a visit, and we all know how that went over for me. A few nights ago, I dyed my eyes to match my gown and floated down Van Ness Avenue to see Idina Menzel perform barefoot at the symphony . . . since then, I’ve been bragging about the experience to anyone who throws me even the most insincere form of “how are you?” This conversation starter of mine has a “hey look at my vacation slides” feel to it, yes, and it turned out that quite a number of folks had never heard of Miss Menzel. Tempting it was to burn for all of them a copy of a certain musical, but I was fresh out of the green CDs I buy at Walgreens . . . and, oh yes, apparently no one plays CDs anymore. It was in Wicked that the great Idina Menzel originated the role of Elphaba, the (un)fairly skinned young lady who is both forced into and chooses to become the Wicked Witch of the West. My abiding love for and attachment to this character matches the Witch’s own stubbornness in strength and is not to be mocked, particularly when discussing Margaret Hamilton’s should-have-won-an-Oscar performance in 1939.

Chills and goose bumps . . . so good you want to melt in your seat, but you stop yourself because you don’t want to miss the rest of her show. With and without a microphone, on stage and dashing through the aisles, Idina Menzel’s is a truly remarkable voice to hear and to feel. When the lights went down, I still could see her come out in the dark and stand behind her orchestra, the luminescence of her white dress refusing to remain in the dark. When the lights came up, Idina remained at the back of the stage and slowly the lyrics of her first song floated up to the first tier and found my well-guarded tear ducts: “Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high . . .” That witch!

I’m always impressed by anyone brave enough to sing this untouchable song outside the privacy of a car or shower. As expected, not only is Miss Menzel capable of nailing it, but she also brought tears to my usually dry eyes with the unique attachment that she now has to Oz and to Judy Garland. She went on to wallop us with numbers from Wicked, Rent, Cole Porter, and a bit of Barbra here and there, but with a single verse and chorus from “Over the Rainbow,” I surrendered to the Witch. Idina Menzel is more than just an unbelievable bundle of talent . . . you’ll believe in more than that before she’s finished with you.

Here’s to Judy on her 90th birthday, and here’s to one of her many courageous songs that continues to melt our hearts and minds . . . oh my!

Add Judy to your queue.

“The next one is sort of a strip-tease tempo . . . we don’t do it, we just talk about it!”

Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco is a theatre-in-the-round, allowing patrons to sit behind the stage as well as in front or on the sides. Those who sat behind the stage in December 2010 caught a few good views of the performer’s face, but mostly they were looking at her sequined back and red scarf. Every time she turned around to face them and I got a glimpse of her profile, I was absolutely certain I was staring at her mother. After slaying us with what we thought was her grand finale, Liza Minnelli poked her head out from behind the curtain and whispered, “I just saw the cutest thing.” She walked down to the front row and brought on stage a little girl dressed in a flapper outfit similar to one Liza wore in Cabaret (1972). Putting the little girl on her lap, Liza told the story of how her parents met on the set of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and ended her December concert with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

On April 23, 1961, Judy Garland performed live at Carnegie Hall. Exactly 50 years ago today, the woman whose voice remains my favorite of all time charmed that fortunate audience with 26 of her greatest songs. Along with “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “That’s Entertainment,” and “You Go To My Head” (to which she forgets the words, bless her heart!), Judy paused now and then for a bit of humorous story time. Although she was approaching 40, that laugh of hers still had the softness of a little girl’s.

Having worked a year at Beach Blanket Babylon, I’ll always have a little giggle of my own attached to the song “San Francisco.” When I sat down and calculated, I believe I saw the BBB cast perform that song close to 500 times. Aside from the theatre, many of these wonderful songs bring to life the many wonderful films of hers. Judy didn’t perform “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” but the medley of “You Made Me Love You”/”For Me and My Gal”/”The Trolley Song” brings me an all-too-familiar smile that beams with an “I love that movie!” Having covered Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and For Me and My Gal (1942), she moved on to “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” at the end of which she sighed one of our favorite Judy-isms: “I know, I’ll, I’ll sing ’em all, and we’ll stay all night!”  That line, which I’ve rewound more times than I’ll ever admit, was a ruby-red tornado that carried Judy and her audience smoothly into “Over the Rainbow.”

Of the 26 gems, still nothing pulls at my heart and tear ducts like “The Man That Got Away.” Along with “Swanee,” Judy pulled this extraordinary song from the soundtrack for A Star Is Born, a film for which Harpo Marx and I agree she should have won an Oscar. I can do the great Judy Garland little justice, if any . . . pour yourself a glass of ruby-red, fire up the record player, and celebrate with me the 50th anniversary of the untouchable Judy Garland’s performance at Carnegie Hall.

Thanks Miss Garland . . . I think I miss you most of all!

Add Judy Garland to your queue.

As our beloved Miss Garland discovered, the Yellow Brick Road is the perfect place to begin a journey into the unknown, especially when said journey is into the world of old movies. For many, The Wizard of Oz has followed us from childhood into our teenage years, when friends suggested we watch it backwards with certain party favors. Finally it’s a part of childhood we bring it into adulthood, a time when we realized we still remember each and every word.

At the tender age of out-of-the-womb, I was hooked on our VHS copy of the film the family had taped off of TV. The old Kit Kat commercials on that tape will forever be locked in my memory, as will the image of Michael Jackson’s sequin socks and Pepsi drinking. Watching my DVD today, I can pinpoint the moments when I expect the film to pause for a Kit Kat and Pepsi break. A scratch in the record becomes part of the song when you’ve never heard it any other way…

My experience of The Wizard of Oz — for I didn’t just watch this gem; I experienced it — was not always a shared one. Yes, I’m sure there were times early on when the family gathered together to watch Miss Garland in her razzle-dazzle slippers skip down yellow brick, but my memories begin a bit later than that. As I imagine is true with many readers, this was the first special relationship I had with a film, so for me naturally it took special preparation.

While the film as a whole was, and is, to be treasured on one of the highest shelves, there was one character who really got under my skin… and later, with the help of a green marker, onto the surface of my skin as well.

 Before I could begin my private viewing of the movie at the age of five or six, a certain black cape had to be balled up on the floor with a pointed black hat placed on top of it. As the necessary garments rested on the carpet, I’d grab the red-handled broom from behind the garage door, always holding it broom-side-up as I walked back to the stirring black pile. Since the cape remained tied even when an Oz session wasn’t in progress (I was one of the last to master the art of shoe tying), naturally I had to be cloaked first. Resurrecting her with the placement of the hat on my head, the Wicked Witch of the West once again returned to life. 

Who knows what outlet was provided by my dressing up as the terrifyingly brilliant Margaret Hamilton? I imagine 20 or 30 possible theories are all somehow correct, but it’s still a smidge of a mystery to me. I used to get angry when this part of my childhood was put on display by my family; I wasn’t so much embarrassed as I was protective of the memory —  I had created my own little Oz and didn’t really understand the raised eyebrows that seemed to scream “what a weird kid.” But in my mind… weird, no. Lucky, oh you betcha!

Margaret Hamilton’s performance was the first to spark in me whatever needed sparking, and I had begun to understand how movies could be a marvelous part of my life. That trusty hat, tied cape, and red-handled broom is my first memory of what I believed to be “confidence.” Ms. Hamilton’s Witch of the West is one of the finest in film villains — she won me over with that evil self-assurance and confidence that only a villain can have — and with this came what I later named my imaginary Oscar Time Machine. Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes paled in comparison to the importance of an Academy Award, the highest honor in the (or my) land. Before my exposure to glorious Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind, I was convinced Margaret Hamilton had been robbed of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar without even a nomination.

Ms. Hamilton’s wickedness was so real to me that long before Elphaba rose up in the Broadway curtain, I had already given her character a name. As I understood it, the Witch was not threatening our post-makeover heroine when she wrote “Surrender Dorothy” in the sky with her broom; rather she was simply announcing her arrival by writing her name for all of Emerald City to see — “Sorrenda” is perhaps how I would have spelled her name at the time.

 The Cowardly Lion’s accent is partially to blame here (if we even need to assign blame), as I heard no hard “r” at the end of “surrender” when he read the smoke signal aloud to the rest of the cast. Since I can’t help but smile at one of my many childhood misunderstandings that paved the way to creativity, I’ll dismiss the need to point a witchy finger in any particular direction.

One of the comforting aspects about The Wizard of Oz is that so many of us have these wonderful, embarrassing, green-marker-all-over-our-hand memories attached to it… and I’d love to hear yours! My loving worship of dear Sorrenda should by no means drown out the strong attachment I have to the rest of the cast. As I continue down my own brick road of (mostly) black-and-white, you’ll discover my love knows no bounds for the one voice to which none will ever compare… … …except maybe Liza’s.

In my next piece I’ll tackle a film of the radiant Judy Garland’s that perhaps my generation has not had the pleasure of viewing, since I only came to love it at the age of 28. Released 15 years after The Wizard of Oz, it has become one of my “Judy favorites” that manages to get me a bit teary every time. For those who have never voyaged beyond Oz, I encourage you to do so… you’ll probably hear a piece of “Over the Rainbow” in every song she sings.



Academy Awards (1940) for The Wizard of Oz: Best Music, Original Score, and Best Music, Original Song (“Over the Rainbow”). Miss Judy Garland received a special Juvenile Award at the ceremony.

My Oscar Time Machine: Best Supporting Actress for Margaret Hamilton (tied with Hattie McDaniel for Gone with the Wind).

Add it to your queue.