There was no place that Judy Garland felt more at home than under the spotlight, belting out her greatest hits for adoring fans.
“Once she got out on stage, she was real,” her personal assistant from the early 1960s, Stevie Phillips, exclusively tells Closer about the beloved The Wizard of Oz star. “Everything that came out was totally genuine — and it was remarkable. Her voice was liquid magic.”
Judy in 1950.
Judy’s fans, who made her 1961 Grammy-winning album, Judy at Carnegie Hall, a huge hit, loved her and she loved them back. “A really great reception makes me feel like I have a great big warm heating pad all over me,” gushed Judy.
But when the curtain closed, Judy’s unquenchable desire for attention continued, and it dominated her private life. “Judy was needy to the point of desperation,” recalls Stevie, whose memoir Judy + Liza + Robert + Freddie + David + Sue + Me will be published June 2. As Judy’s road manager and confidante from 1960 to 1964, Stevie was responsible for getting her to shows on time — and she witnessed the worst of her bizarre behavior.
Judy in 1950.
Stevie started working with Judy at a promising time in the star’s career. Judy had just returned to New York and was “the healthiest I would ever see her,” recalls Stevie. Though the former superstar was taking such unglamorous roles as a witness in Judgment at Nuremberg, she was planning her comeback. But the stress of returning to the spotlight quickly threw her into a downward spiral.
Stevie remembers a night when Judy — who at that point had already become tabloid fodder due to her erratic behavior — deliberately set her own night-gown on fire by dropping a lit match in her lap. “She looked at me…with a smile. It said, ‘OK, feast your eyes on what I’ve done. Will you abandon me?’ It was the acid test,” says Stevie, who was only 25 at the time.
Judy as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz in 1939.
In addition to terrifying episodes like this, Stevie saw Judy ingest handfuls of uppers to wake up, more pills to fall asleep and other drugs like Ritalin in an attempt to regulate her moods. It was a cycle that began, sadly, when she was just 17 and the studio execs at MGM wanted to control her weight during the filming of The Wizard of Oz. “She would take a cocktail of pills: red, yellow, green, purples, grays, whites, whatever,” washed down with Blue Nun, a German wine, recalls Stevie.
To read the full story on Judy and her mother, pick up the new issue of ‘Closer Weekly’ on newsstands now!