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Local author explores a forgotten Judy Garland film in new book, 'C'mon Get Happy'

cover of C'mon Get Happy
Courtesy of David Fantle
University Press of Mississippi
cover of C'mon Get Happy

Judy Garland's performance of Get Happy is incredibly famous in the quintessential Garland songbook. However, the movie it came from has not endured in the spotlight in the same way. Get Happy is the closing number of the 1950 MGM musical movie Summer Stock starring Garland and Gene Kelly. Despite coming from the production company known for churning out musicals, its classic musical moments and lead actors — the film isn’t listed alongside other classic movie musicals Garland and Kelly were known for.

A new book called, C’mon, Get Happy: The Making of Summer Stock,studies the motion picture, from start to finish and after its release, revealing the studio system that was at work in Hollywood’s Golden Era.

David Fantle is a film historian and an adjunct professor of film, pop culture, and public relations at Marquette University. For Fantle and his co-author, Tom Johnson, C'Mon, Get Happy has been decades in the making. As young, enthusiastic journalists, their research started them on a path that eventually led to an in-person conversation with Gene Kelly 40 years ago. Over the years, they've compiled their research and consolidated it to focus on Summer Stock and the enduring legacy they believe the film has.

Fantle notes there's a central reason why the film tends to go overlooked: "The plot, probably, is what people dismiss the most. Because the plot, arguably or admittedly, I could say, is not really advancing the art of the film musical." He adds that neither Garland or Kelly thought much of the plot, but the motivation in making the film was a collective effort in support of Garland.

"At this point in Judy's career, this was 1949 when they started production. Judy's career was a little bit rocky [and] she had a marriage that was all but over with director Vincent Minnelli. She had a growing addiction to prescription medications, she had a three-year old toddler to care for, Liza Minnelli. So, a lot of things — they're working against Judy at the time," says Fantle.

Fantle also describes the nature of Garland and Kelly's relationship. Garland helped Kelly adjust from stage performing to screen performing, which helped his career have the success that it did. This motivated Kelly to complete the project.

"While Gene wasn't thrilled with the plot of Summer Stock, he knew - and the studio knew - that they needed to surround Judy Garland with people that were friends of hers and people that she trusted," Fantle adds.

"We want to make it clear that Judy Garland was not the sole reason the film took six months to complete."

-David Fantle on the central theme of this book

When examining the film over 70 years after its release, Fantle says that Summer Stock still has great numbers and remains one of the last great tap dance musicals. "In 109 minutes I think you're going to see more show stopping numbers than many of the more well-known musicals of that era," he says.

David Fantle and Tom Johnson will be giving two talks related to the book. One taking place Friday, Oct. 13 at 7:00 p.m. as a part of the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books & a talk at the Jewish Community Center Sunday, Oct. 15 at 1:00 p.m. Pre-registration is not required but advised. Walk-ups are welcome.


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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