Gay Iconography: Does Judy Still Matter?


As a young star working for MGM, Judy had a string of successes working with Mickey Rooney. The breakneck pace of cranking out film after film for the studio laid the groundwork for Judy's tragic struggle with drugs, having been given pills as a child star to keep up. These early years also reinforced the idea that Judy was not a conventional beauty. She was made to wear caps on her teeth and rubber discs in her nostrils, and also called fat and a hunchback. 



An iconic song in any context, Over the Rainbow was declared No. 1 on the Recording Industry Association of America and National Endowment for the Arts' "Songs of the Century" list, as well as No. 1 on the American Film Institute's "100 Years … 100 Songs." It's also a quintessential gay anthem, telling the story of what it means to dream of a place where one truly fits in. It (at least partially) inspired the Rainbow Flag we fly today, and cemented Judy into the bedrock of the community with "friend of Dorothy" becoming synonymous with being gay. Many even say that Judy's death was part of the impetus for the Stonewall Riots.



It's hard not to love this over-the-top performance from 1949's In the Good Old Summertime. It even maintains its campy charm in GIF.



Even the banter that Judy shares with Barbra Streisand before this performance on The Judy Garland Show embodies a sort of self-aware humor and diva attitude one expects from icons. Once they start singing, however, the electric energy between those incredible voices reminds us while not all gay icons are as immensely talented, the legends are. 



Long before Mariah Carey cornered the holiday music market with "All I Want For Christmas," this classic from Meet Me In St. Louis was essential listening to make the yuletide gay.

Does Judy's legend still feel as relevant to the gay community today? Why do you think some folks are reluctant to identify with Judy Garland? Sound off in the comments.


  1. Jack M says

    This headline is puzzling. Does she still “matter?” In what way? If you mean, is she relevant as a beloved figure in the gay community, then of course. I sense an implication that the passing of time renders someone irrelevant. Indeed, it does not.

  2. Joey Y says

    I think that the reason modern gay men don’t identify strongly with Judy Garland is pretty obvious. They are male, they are not women. They have plenty of gay male stars out there to look up to now, and they don’t all come with tragic stories. If I was around 20 again, I would think I’d identify more with NPH or Matt Bomer, who seem to have perfectly normal domestic lives and successful careers, or if you expand the net, someone like Tim Cook.

  3. Derrick from Philly says

    Put a three year old boy in front of two television monitors. One has Beyonce or Lady Gaga, the other has Judy as Dorothy singing “Over The Rainbow”. If the boy is Gay his attention goes to Dorothy…later on he’ll learn about Beyonce and Gaga.

    I won’t even read what Miss Rick has to say on this subject.

  4. *****overTX says

    I think that she may be a “beloved figure in the gay community” for an older segment of the gay community. I would doubt that she is as much of a “beloved” figure for those that hold Lady Gaga, and/or Madonna, or Cher in such high esteem. The passage of time and change has made her less relevant simply because younger gay men have more “divas” to lavish their appreciation upon. JMO

  5. jeo says

    I obtained my gay card without even knowing why I should find Judy Garland relevant. I’m still not sure.

  6. throwslikeagirl says

    She matters because one hears every emotional moment of her life in every single note she sings. She was the consummate performer. The Best.

  7. says

    She matters to the gays who are paragons of culture and taste 😀

    I dunno, it’s one of those things – being gay doesn’t mean you have to love Judy, and loving Judy doesn’t mean that you’re gay. And yet many of us “family” do love her. Her voice was amazing. Judgment at Nuremberg is amazing. Oz is ICONIC. THAT SONG is iconic.

    There will people of every generation who dismiss what came before, or during, or after “their time” – then there are lil’mos like me who have always had a fascination with icons – be Karen Black, Quentin Crisp, Sal Mineo, Barbra, etc.

    Here’s what Judy has become to mean to me, as I’ve grown – I look at her and wonder what I’d have felt had I been a young gay man growing up in *her* heyday….I often think about things like that: if i was the age I am now, back in the 40s/50s/60s/70s/etc…. what would have been my escape, who would have been my inspirations, what would have been the art and music i turned to in a time when the world was against *me*.

    I’m thankful that Judy, and others, were there for you – my elder gay brothers and sisters, as whatever inspiration you gleaned from those icons you put into your lives, and your lives opened the doors for ME.

    i tip my hat to y’all, and all who inspired you.

  8. Francis says

    She still matters to me, but younger gays have divas today they follow and adore the way gay men 30+ love Judy.

  9. DB says

    I had not heard of this actress till I just read this post, although I am fairly certain I saw the ‘Wizard of Oz’ movie as a kid (but none of the other movies referenced). Was she openly gay? I can say with great certainty that most gay people under 45 have not heard of this actor or realize she was a gay civil rights activist. No gay person in my generation (Generation X) cares about this Garland actor in any way, shape, or form. The gay icons known by my generation include Barack Obama, Gene Robinson, Lou Reed, Ellen Degeneres, Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, James Franco, Macklemore, Anderson Cooper, Jason Collins, Tom Ammiano, Mark Leno, Nancy Pelosi, Mary Bonauto, Bayard Rustin, Robbie Rogers, Anderson Cooper, Gavin Newsom, and Edith Windsor.

  10. BZ says

    This may come as a bit of a shock to you, but not all gay men are the same age. To gentlemen of a certain age who are “friends of Dorothy” she will always “matter” and the question is absurd.

  11. Michael W. says

    I’m 45 and she has never mattered to me. Not trying to be mean, just honest. I’ve never seen the attraction. The same with Barbra Streisand. Now, Lynda Carter and Dolly Parton–they’re a different story!

  12. Lulu says

    JUDY will always matter to me more than MADONNA, CHER OR GAGA – nice to see an article here about a diva other than these three!!!

  13. kaccompany says

    If reading these comments on a regular basis doesn’t make you wanna turn in your gay card, nothing will. I like Judy Garland because she was a gifted vocalist. None of the others mentioned here are either of those things… *perhaps* with the exception of Beyoncé.

  14. Matt says

    She was relevant only because there was a cohort of alcoholic, drug-using, lonely gays who suffered from mood disorders and saw themselves as quasi-women. Accordingly, they identified with an alcoholic, drug-using, lonely, woman with mood disorders.

    Fortunately, she is gone, that era is gone, and those afflicted gay men and their destructive attitudes are mostly gone.

  15. Kevin_BGFH says

    Like Michael W., I’m 45. And Judy has always mattered to me. Even as a little kid, she was my first favorite celebrity. I grew up without electricity, but every year we went to my aunt’s house to watch “The Wizard of Oz.” I didn’t know she was a gay icon. I didn’t understand that these crushes I had on boys meant I was gay. I was only a year old when she died. But somehow, Judy Garland still spoke to me.

  16. Babs says

    Kiwi, I am confused by your comment. You write as if you weren’t around in the 1960s. I’ve seen your pics. Either you were around in Judy’s time or someone left you out in the sun too long!

  17. Mitch says

    Wow, Matt. So you think that the epidemic of alcoholism and drug abuse suffered at the hands of gays and lesbians are mostly gone?
    You have never been to a treatment facility? An AA Meeting? An NA Meeting? I am assuming. Much like yourself.

  18. Shelly says

    As a lesbian, I gotta say i really don’t “get” this whole “female gay icons” thing. Never have. And I’m unaware of any parallel to the phenomenon on our side, though I really have never had any real connection with a “community” as such, living in a rural area. It seems kind of odd to me, though, and I wish I understood where phenomena comes from and why it persists.

  19. Matt says

    I am under 45 and ADORE Judy. Don’t give a fig about Barbra or Gaga, but Judy was a consummate entertainer: an excellent actress, a peerless interpreter of songs, and a pretty funny lady to boot. She may have been a tragic icon to tragic gay men during her lifetime, and it’s difficult and heartbreaking to read about her many troubles, but I appreciate her now for her stupendous talents. I don’t think she “matters” to most people anymore, but these days, who really DOES “matter”?

  20. MarkSquared says

    Matt, seriously, what a myopic and nasty view. Judy is an icon first and foremost because she was a powerhouse performer. I’m willing to bet that none of the current crop of “divas” could pack Carnegie Hall by simply standing center stage in a spotlight and singing. No gimmicks. No over the top costumes. Just an orchestra and that incredible voice.

  21. MarkSquared says

    To clarify, my pervious comment was in response to the Matt who posted at 03:05:58, not the Matt directly above my comment!

  22. dw says

    This 44 yr. old never understood the reasoning of why we’re supposed to like her music (or Liza’s or Barbra’s.) I don’t hate her but I’m definitely not a fan either and she’s no icon to me. *shrugs* To each their own and all that.

  23. says

    @Markwsquared – yes, and your reply was to a trolling comment from this site’s resident closet case, who still blames most gay people for the fact that he never grew a pair.

    it’s judy’s fault his balls never dropped. or something.

  24. anon says

    The original post was about all divas not Judy Garland in particular. Even in the past, not 100% of gay men adored Judy, particularly since there was the high-brow divide between her and opera divas like Maria Callas. Then there’s the divide between the sincere and the campy, as you can see in diva movie star preferences. And the difference between being an icon or a star with devout fans was always melodramatic to begin with.

  25. MarkSquared says

    I don’t know how best to describe this, but as a child, before I knew I was gay (only suspected I was different), I used to lip sync in the mirror to Judy’s “Zing Went the Strings of my Heart.” Something intangible drew me to her, and many of my friends have shared similar experiences. There’s no generational contest going on here as to whose divas were “better.” To each his/her own!

  26. says

    DW – totally. Some gay men just don’t like those famous icons. Just as some gay men, despite enjoying sex with other men, don’t have any of our other “perceived stereotypical traits”, like being cultured, interesting, creative, well-dressed, articulate and fun to be around.

    to each their own :)

  27. Robert says

    I think Judy is forgotten at times, and she really is the consummate singer. Nobody put the gut into their performances like she did – and she only got better with time.

    I even feel like she gave the definitive performance of Ol’ Man River. Which should be wrong on so many levels, but there you have it.

  28. Paul R says

    I have nothing against any of the “divas” mentioned in these comments, but I too have never had much interest in Judy, Barbra, Bette, or Cher. It’s both a generational thing and taste in music. I have music playing pretty much every moment I’m awake (I work from home, so it’s OK), but their music just isn’t the type I especially enjoy. I prefer female performers like Siouxsie, Karen O. (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Annie Lennox, or even Kate Bush. All nutty in their own ways, just like those of the past, but easier to relate to. I’m 41, if that matters.

    Also, I hate musicals because it makes zero sense to me that people would be walking around or having conversations in song. So I guess I have to turn in my gay card too.

  29. says

    Do you also hate fantasy/sci-fi/horror films because it “makes no sense” to have things that aren’t real be treated as if they’re real, Paul R?

    It’s not your gay card that needs turning in. What you lack is a free joyous and liberated sense of imagination and suspension of disbelief.

  30. YSOSERIOUS says

    I came up after Judy’s heyday as an Icon, Cher and Diana Ross and Bette Midler were our go-to Icons back then. Guys who dressed up like Judy and lip-synced her music (a barometer of Icon status) were still out there.

    While I understand younger folks not cleaving unto bygone era’s Icons, and rejecting those Icons who came later (I for one never got Ms. Houston, or Ms. Knowles or such; while I took to Aguilera, Gaga, and Bjork like a fish to water). Icons are not one-size-fits-all.

    But I think true Icons are respectable, no matter if you ‘get’ them or not.

    So even if I never spent hours learning to mimic her mannerisms or the exact timing of her vocals, Garland is and will probably always be in Icon (so long as the US of A remembers movies).

    She was a deliciously talented and gifted artist who was mutilated by the powers that be to try and make her fit some ‘standard’ that she didn’t in an attempt to make her more ‘marketable’.

    Is she My Icon? No. Is she still relevant as an Icon? Absolutely.

    We may not see ourselves as ugly ducklings or outsiders with tortured lives, but it only takes one song, one live performance, and you know you’re in the company of greatness.

  31. throwslikeagirl says

    On this 50th anniversary of John Kennedy’s assassination, I encourage folks who question Judy Garland’s talent, to find and listen to her rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, sung on her television program the week of his death. Stunning. Incredibly moving.

  32. says

    As a young boy of about 10 to 12 back in the early 1960’s I was obsessed with everything Judy. This was L-O-N-G before I knew anything about sex or being gay…. I gravitated to her on my own and at that time there was no looking back. I also let everyone know I loved her. She was the the first and a very identifiable icon.
    I am only sorry that her sad life and addictions may have tarnished my feelings for her. It is often difficult to watch her and not think that she was “on something” or had the look of a body that had been through hell, especially in the later years, she looked 80 at 46. Very Sad.

    But we all hold a special place in our hearts for or first love… Her gay icon status is historical and even the youngins that do not identify with here must respect history. Gays assembled at her concerts in droves. Perhaps for the first time gays in society were a real group.

    Barbra Streisand was very fortunate to learn from Judy on what not to do with your talent, meaning respect yourself and treat yourself and body good. That is why Barbra endures and has had over 50 years on top!

  33. Turf says

    Yeah whatever she was great, but that was decades ago. Why are people still talking about her? Being gay has NOTHING to do with Judy Garland. God, you guys are so old.

  34. diverca says

    I understand that Judy is not relevant to many of the gays today; icons are very much of their time. When you think about movie stars in general, only Marilyn and James Dean have truly achieved worldwide image recognition throughout the years, and I’ll bet most folks under 45 haven’t seen any of their movies. But Judy’s talent was unique and anyone seeking definitive performances of the classic American songbook will discover her talent and range. Also remember that her victim image resonated with many closeted gay men in the 1950s and 60s and as still happens today, they sought refuge in music and art. And her status as a gay icon will always be relevant because, whether she knew it or not, she was and is an indelible part of the Stonewall uprising.

  35. Kevin F says

    I’m 45 and I love Judy Garland. I wouldn’t say its a “gay thing,” but I wouldn’t be too quick to say it wasn’t either.

    What I find appealing about her are her strengths as a performer.

    If you watch the Wizard of Oz (and I recommend the new blu ray in 3D) , I think part of what makes the film work is how convincing she is as Dorothy. This holds true in her other films as well. In Star Is Born, she turns in an amazing performance. Even in some of her less well remembered films (Harvey Girls, I Could Go on Singing, The Clock, etc, etc, etc) she turns in convincing performances. Most importantly, these are good films that are worth seeing.

    This isn’t even mentioning the films she made with Mickey Rooney. I think if someone enjoys Glee they would probably enjoy these films as well. I think of the Andy Hardy films as being the Grandparents of Glee. Lots of hardworking performers and crew turning out good entertainment.

    Her musical career is unmatched. There is no way any can listen to the CD of Judy at Carnegie Hall and not be blown away by her versatility and talent. Even her scratchy old Decca recordings pack a wallop. She brings the American Songbook to life with great grace, power, and feeling.

    Every time I hear people make the statement that they don’t care about Judy Garland, I always wonder if they even know anything about Judy Garland past the Wizard of Oz. I imagine seeing a film or two or listening to one of her albums would quickly change the minds of a lot of people. They might not become “fans,” but I think they would gain an appreciation.

  36. Jon says

    Judy’s live recording “Judy at Carnegie Hall” is considered one of “the greatest nights in show business history” and many still consider it one of the best live recordings of all time.

    Cynics should take a listen. It is truly incredible.

  37. Kevin G says

    Consider this, in 50 years when the generation that grew up with Judy pass on, and the current Y and Millennial generations are in the same place in our lives, will we recall Judy as an icon? Not likely. Instead, the icon that is given a similar level praise as Judy in 2043 will be someone from today.

    She can be, and likely is, an icon for the generation that grew up with her. No one is taking that away from her, or from you. But the generation today who only knows her from Oz and a few other movies, may say Cher or Gaga or NPH are their icons (as examples, don’t come down on me for giving these examples, there are probably better icons).

    Each generation will have its own icon, you can’t force yours onto another. Judy wasn’t the first, nor will she be the last. Should gays recall who she was and what she stood for, certainly. But her impact on their life is a far cry from her impact on older generations.

  38. Hank says

    Your headline seems designed to stir up cross-generational animosities . Why? What purpose does that serve? Think about what kind of (virtual) community you want to create with your posts.

    Why not simply post an appreciation of Garland for those who might not know her, and an explanation of how, and why, so many gay men of her time identified and took her to heart? Regardless of whether one is a fan, she is indisputably an important figure in gay history . Her funeral is considered to have been one of the triggers that set off the Stonewall riots. It’s like saying ‘does Oscar Wilde still matter?’ Judy matters to any gay man, of any age, who wants to know his own history .

  39. Cubby says

    Elvis said Judy was the greatest performer of all time. He’s not the only one who thinks that. As far as equating Judy with modern-day icons, there’s room for all of them, but Judy will be number one, always. She’s why Stonewall happened in the first place. Read some gay history!

  40. Derrick from Philly says

    Nobody is saying that Judy is an icon for ALL Gay men. But it’s amazing how most Gay boys react to “The Wizard of Oz”. And then I remember Gay men 30 years younger than me reacting to particular Garland movies, “I Could Go On Singing”. And her appeal certainly crossed racial lines–among Gays.

    Many Gays of my generation were also into other stuff such as Roller Derby (which was the dumbest sh.t I ever saw in my life), and also comic books and super heroes. Those kind of Gay guys took forever to come out of the closet…and that’s all right.

    Those of us who were into Judy, Barbara and Diana Ross could never get into any closet.

  41. Rich says

    My first encounter with Judy was seeing The Wizard of Oz as a 4 or 5 year old. I found the movie frightening and never managed to warm up to Judy as a consequence.

    The connection between Judy’s death and the Stonewall riots makes her relevant to gay history. I don’t feel personally connected to her, but others do and I don’t need to judge that.

  42. Turf says

    She sang really well. End of story. She never even acknowledged her gay fans or even made clandestine trips to gay bars. Why is everyone up her butt?

  43. Thomas says

    The expression “friend of Dorothy” has nothing to do with Garland’s character from Oz. It is a reference to the writer Dorothy Parker, who was the original fruit fly. If you are going to educate the children about gay icons, you gotta know who Parker was. Maybe next time you can choose her as a subject for Gay Iconography.

  44. Rick says

    “As a lesbian, I gotta say i really don’t “get” this whole “female gay icons” thing. Never have. And I’m unaware of any parallel to the phenomenon on our side, though I really have never had any real connection with a “community” as such, living in a rural area. It seems kind of odd to me, though, and I wish I understood where phenomena comes from and why it persists”

    In a nutshell, Shelly, the entire “diva/female icon” phenomenon among effeminate gay men is a reflection of their having internalized the larger societal idea that their sexual attraction to other men equates to deficient masculinity (or totally absent masculinity). They therefore tend to think of themselves as pseudo-women and because of that, they see themselves in female actors, singers, politicians and the like–as (rightly)bizarre as that seems to women, themselves, whether they are straight women or lesbians.

    Not all gay men are like this–only the ones who believe that their sexuality makes them inferior to straight men. In fact, the flip side of the “woman as icon” phenomenon is the fact that these same gay men WORSHIP straight men as icons of masculinity. If you want to see evidence of this go over to tumblr and you will find blogs put up by gay men with titles like “Str8t Men Rule” or “Obey the Straight Man” or “Fag Inferior”…..dozens of them.

    HMentally healthy gay men don’t think like this, but many gay men–especially the effeminate ones–do….so the whole female icon thing is really just a reflection of their own lack of self-esteem and self-respect and sense of inferiority.

    It really is kind of sad.

    And the reason you don’t see an equivalent phenomenon among lesbians is because there is no equivalent among women to masculinity among men. I could write a book on the subject, but in a nutshell, that is it.

  45. says

    Oh sure….
    Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, the Kartrashians and the long list of today’s vapid pop celebrities will all be recalled with great affection and loving nostalgia 50 years from now… Hell NO!

  46. Rick says

    Oh, and Shelly, let me add to that that the reason these same gay men do not regard other gay men as icons, no matter what their stature in the world at-large(Elton John, for example)–but instead tend to hate on such successful and talented gay men and criticize them viciously… because they see them as being inferiors, as well. This is also why all the male sex symbols they lust after are heterosexual, as you will see if you visit this site on a regular basis.

    Effeminate gay men are, in fact, the only group in society that have such a low opinion of themselves–and such an acute sense of their own inferiority, that they exclusively “iconize” members of a totally different group, namely heterosexual women…..and regard only members of a totally different group (namely straight men) as really and truly sexy.

    Be glad that lesbians have not been so afflicted….Hopefully, as the culture becomes gradually less homophobic, the factors that caused the low self-esteem among gay men that spawned these other cultural phenomena will disappear……that is, in fact, what the comment in this thread from the first “Matt” was suggesting.

    So there is some hope, going forward.

  47. Matt says


    While what I wrote was harsh, it is just a more candid version of what you can read about Garland on any gay culture site. If you poke around, you will find such sites explaining the Garland phenomenon along the following lines:

    “Many gay men identified with Judy Garland because she led such a troubled life. Her difficult relationships with men, her addictions and her insecurities – all these she suffered through while putting on a happy face to the public and singing about a happier place over the rainbow. Gay men identified with that.”

    I’ve probably read 50 variations on the above. Gay men of that era were beaten down and had a low view of themselves. They identified with a troubled, addicted, lonely woman because they saw themselves as troubled, addicted, lonely non-men (perhaps not women, but not men either).

    Thank God that era is gone. Of course we have addiction and loneliness and other problems in 2013. But no gay man has to accept it as their fate. No gay young man would choose icons on that basis. We can choose to identify with male icons – gay or straight – who possess positive traits or compelling life stories. Gay boys today are going to look up to Macklemore or NPH or Matt Bomer or Chris Colfer, not a long-deceased woman who, however talented, was a victim. Indeed, even if gay boys today were to pick a female icon, it would not be because they identify with her victimhood. Gaga is neither an addict or a victim.

  48. Acronym Jim says

    While I love Babs, Judy, and Bette, none of them can hold a candle to the greatest Diva of them all, Paul Lynde.

  49. dommyluc says

    I admire Garland for her talent. The fact that I’m gay has little to do with it. But how could you not include the most wrenching, gutsy vocal Judy ever did on film?

  50. E. Carpenter says

    I’m over 60, and I remember first hearing nearly all of these comments (including the same simple-minded psychological analyses of various categories of gay men) in the early 1970s.

    Ms. Garland has been evoking the same wide range of opinions for what – 50 years? Amazing. I do like her rainbow song, but I’ve never understood the rest of the fuss about her.

  51. Randy says

    For me, she never was really relevant. For someone to be relevant to me, they need to do more than inspire imitation.

    That said, her 1963 christmas special is kind of nice.

  52. says

    She will forever be a part of history whether we, as individuals, responded to her or not. In 100 years she will still be an important part of gay history, as will other “divas,” though it remains to be seen which of today’s stars will stand the test of time. The importance of any one performer is different than it was in Judy’s day, for gay people and all people. Many more choices, many more here-today gone-tomorrow stars.

    The Wizard of Oz was important to me as a kid. I had no idea Judy was a gay icon till much later. I was of the post-Judy generation but still completely understand why she mattered–any gay person should be able to understand and appreciate this if they have any sense of our history. Why she mattered tells an important story. Of course many don’t care, because history outside their own seems trivial, just as the next generation will find silly and trivial whatever you find important. (Everyone judges everyone’s idols but their own till time puts it all in perspective.)

    My divas, whom I only thought of as divas in retrospect, were Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, and I still regard them as fondly now as in my impressionable youth. You keep your divas for life!

  53. rebarb says

    Of course she still matters! Her talent wit, and humanity still shines through even after the forty four years that have gone by since her untimely death. I can’t imagine Beyonce, Gaga or Rhiana being revered some forty plus years after they’ve died can you?

  54. says

    @Rick, your predictiable omments aren’t of interest to me (cut and paste from a million past identical comments) but I would be genuinely interested to know who was important to you, as a gay man of a certain age, musically or otherwise when you were in your youth? (You were a youth once, right?) No judgement intended, even if your comments are nothing but … Simply curious, if you’re capable of more than your 2 talking points.

  55. Macmantoo says

    Earlier today I was checking out cruises for the coming year. On Holland America I was checking to see if they have Friends Of Dorothy gatherings. Made me think about Judy Garland.

  56. Bob R says

    It’s a generational thing I think. I love Garland and have her on both vinyl and CD. Along with Streisand, Shirley Bassey, Marlene Dietrich and Ethel Merman. As a young gay man who frequented gay bars routinely on weekends, many had live drag shows and these “diva’s” performances were always the staple product. I can remember almost every gay performer did a Judy Garland or a Bette Davis imitation!

    Judy and the rest are still iconic for me. I really don’t understand or care about Cher, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyonce or the rest. I don’t listen to their music and own none of it. They’re simply not of “my” generation and I trust there is nothing wrong with that. Just as Judy and the others I mentioned are not of today’s generation. And there’s nothing really wrong with that, either.

    So, I can’t fault younger folks for not being into Judy and the others. I do, however, think they will and should always be a part of gay history, much as I’m sure Cher and the others will be eventually.

    So I suppose to many of us, Judy Garland still matters and is still an icon, but I also recognize that recognition and iconic honor diminishes with every passing year and generation of gay folks.

  57. MarkSquared says

    @ Matt. No. She was an amazing vocalist who can make the hair on the back of your head stand up. That’s why she resonates with many gay men.

  58. Stephen in Laguna says

    In the early 60s i used to love to watch the Judy Garland show. I would have been 6 or 7 years old and I still remember on saturday morning when I had to vacuum the living room I’d listen to my parents’ records on the stereo. I’d pretend like the upright vacuum cleaner was a microphone and I’d pull the cord around the room like Judy did on stage. She mattered to me then (though I didn’t know why) and of course she matters to many of us now.

  59. MARTIN says

    Judy Garland was the greatest actress/performer/singer of the 20th Century.
    As a gay man in my early 60s, she still matters to me.

  60. Diver39 says

    I don’t think Judy Garland should ever be pigeon-holed or revered simply as a gay icon. You can like her or not, but she towers above most in her generation in terms of talent, and certainly above most today. And yes, Rick, Matt and Turf, she knew well her effect on gay men and did in fact have a number of gay friends (and husbands, but that’s another story). And I do hope you are trolls because I really hate how you think.

    Again, I get that Judy’s sound, the music she sang and the movies she made are of a specific era, and some folks now (and then) are not and were not fans. It’s tragic that she burned out at such a young age–and her last years were full of horrible stories of missed shows, late arrivals, drunken behavior, failing vocal chops–all of which took on a stark presence next to the incredibly innocent and lovely Dorothy Gale from Kansas.

    For those who don’t know her, I hope this thread encourages you to check her out. Even if you don’t like her, it doesn’t hurt to understand what the conversation is about. There are some great singers out there today, including Gaga and Miley and Beyonce, but there’s reason why Pat Benatar used to close her shows with “Over the Rainbow”. And to put things in context, Judy sang “swing” which was the new hot sound and not pleasing to the generation or two who came before her!

  61. Avenjer says

    Judy’s secret, as to why she is a gay icon…… that, like the majority of the LGBT community, Judy was constantly told that she wasn’t ever good enough—and she proved her haters WRONG. She was a survivor. She endured. She had her demons yes, but even those never stopped her climb to the top. Her film roles were characters who wanted to make their dreams come true and live life as they pleased, in happiness. And her real life struggles poured out of her emotional performances on film and in song. Anyone with a brain could feel her vulnerability and empathy towards anyone of any sex or age, who felt like they weren’t good enough. And what she was saying back to them in her tiny gestures and shimmering eyes was “you are good enough.” She believed in “over the rainbow”…in a life that was better than what some hater was telling us to have. And she wasn’t going to stop until she reached that better life—and she didn’t want us to stop reaching to make a better life for ourselves either. One commenter said she did nothing for the gay community–not true. On youtube you can find an interviewer asking about her gay fans—who she loved. She understood us. Being gay was not a problem to her. She loved everyone. Her father was gay. Her ex-husband was gay. She like us. She gravitated to us. She knew us intimately and as family. She was a huge star. An oscar winner. She told her daughter Liza to never try to be “Judy”–don’t sing “Judy’s” songs no matter how much they begged Liza to. Because she knew the public would try to compare Liza to Judy–and ask who sang it better? Instead she said don’t be “me”, be the best version of “YOU” and you’ll make it. That was amazing advice from someone who even through all her troubles could look at life very clearly with an understanding of how the world works and what people think. And of how they try to force you into a box they want to put you into. And she was saying never get in that box or “closet”. Live life how you want to. Be who you want to be. And the people that matter will love you for it. I’m in my 30’s and have great respect for those who came before us. They gave us what we have now, they paved the way. And yes, Cher, Madonna, Gaga, NPH, Ellen, the cast of Will & Grace, Queer as Folk, Tom of Finland, our many gay activists in politics—everybody—they all helped and made their marks too. But you have to be a pretty lazy fool to not ever bother to take a moment and learn about our history. Perhaps these gay icon features here on towelroad will inspire people to learn more about our rich and diverse history in our LGBT community.

  62. abel says

    Little Kiwi, what a perfectly lovely thing to say, and thank you so much for saying it! Bless you, young’un!

  63. topdawg says

    Any professional singer will tell you Judy was phenomenal even if they don’t care for her “type” of music… country singers, rap artists, rock singers, it goes across all genres. I find it interesting how so many burgeoning gay boys love so many of the same movies, and did from an early age, including “The Wizard of Oz,” “Harvey Girls,” and “Meet Me In St. Louis,” etc. before finding out that Judy was a “gay icon.”

  64. jonvincent says

    Two reasons:
    1) The legend exists that Judy Garland’s death is what propelled a bunch of angry queens to protest from the Stonewall in NYC.

    2) The famous phrase “Are you a friend of Dorothy?” The wizard of oz inspired many gay men at that time because they too wanted to escape middle america (Kansas)and go to OZ and Judy Garland as Dorothy was that inspiration.

  65. JeffNYC says

    As long as gay men care about talent–real talent, true talent, deep talent, talent that carries with it that certain spark of genius–then there will be gay men to whom Judy Garland matters.

  66. Matt says

    It is entertaining to read some of the comments by the JG fans. But they can’t even coordinate the defense of their goddess.


    “She was a survivor. She endured. She had her demons yes, but even those never stopped her climb to the top.”


    “It’s tragic that she burned out at such a young age–and her last years were full of horrible stories of missed shows, late arrivals, drunken behavior, failing vocal chops. . .”

    So either she’s a survivor who endured and didn’t let her demons impede her career . . . Or she’s someone who didn’t survive or endure, and instead died tragically young, and whose demons did impede her career.

    Well, you fellas work out the myth that you want to believe. My take is that while she was undoubtedly a talented actress and singer and probably a nice person as well, there is no reason any gay boy or young man today should feel a special affinity for her.

    I would hope that gay boys would look to positive, role models, who exhibit strong character and good values, to build both their self-confidence and their hope for a good future. The last think they need is to identify with “tragic figures” who, however nice and talented, had addiction issues and died young.

  67. m says

    i don’t get any of it. i know its a part of gay history and icons and divas are important to many. i just feel lost by the whole thing. they don’t speak for me.

  68. BrianM says

    Like some here, I was fascinated by Judy/Dorothy when I was a very small child. I cannot tell you why the fusion of actress and character was so appealing any more than I can tell you why I like the color blue.

    That early fascination led to an interest when I was a teenager in her other work, and I loved her more. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I knew that I couldn’t share that with other boys at school, just like I couldn’t tell them I really, really liked Harrison Ford in a way that I didn’t think they did. (Although we all loved Star Wars.)

    Many gay men of many ages have expressed a similar reaction to Judy. I once found that kind of spooky, but I think it speaks to the emotional roots of being gay.

    That doesn’t mean that every gay man has to feel this way, or even like Judy Garland, of even like her. But it’s an undeniable shared experience for many gay men of all ages.

  69. says

    “Well, you fellas work out the myth that you want to believe. My take is that while she was undoubtedly a talented actress and singer and probably a nice person as well, there is no reason any gay boy or young man today should feel a special affinity for her.”

    @Matt, there’s no myth to work out, this isn’t a test or a court defense, however much you long to make it one. She was undeniably important to gay men, especially gay men of certain generations. Judging whether she should have been important doesn’t change her significance, which will remain as part of our history. No one is forced to know or appreciate that history, but it exists nonetheless.

    Of course there is no particular reason a young gay person today should have any special place in his heart for Judy (not all men of prior generations related to her), just as there’s no reason a future gay boy will have much reason to care about Gaga or Macklemore or Neil Patrick Harris or whoever. Who even knows what their place in history will be (footnotes or something larger?) whereas Judy’s place is already established. That and what she meant personally to some gay men isn’t really up for debate.

  70. SCVMalcolm says

    TO me she is still the Icon she was way back then…. When she died, it was a major blow to the gay community. We felt that we had lost our own treasure! Some friends of mine and I met and then headed to the William B. Campbell Funeral Home in Manhattan. The lines stretched for blocks of people waiting to walk past her coffin and pay their respects. After we left the Funeral Home, one friend said: “Why don’t we head down to the Stonewall and drown our sorrows?” By this time it was late and I had to go to work the next day, but my friends went. Everyone there was down. All were talking about the death of Judy. When the cops raided the place, this time the gays had it! They fought back hard and long and that was the start of the Gay Revolution in June of 1969, and her death caused the uprising which made June Gay Pride Month. No icon will ever have a wake like that!!!

  71. SCVMalcolm says

    OH! The BIG difference between her and those that followed, Judy Garland could NOT acknowledge her gay following then!! Neither could her fans acknowledge to all that we were gay! Back then the Gay Icons were hardly ever gay, or else they were not Icons! You guys today have heroes or stars that are gay. The only living, Internationally known. living gay Icon today, in my book is Nobel Prize Winner, Bishop Desmond Tutu of So. Africa!

  72. johnny says

    My favorite gay icon is the guy I see in the mirror every morning. I’m a survivor of many tragedies and I’M STILL HERE, dammit.

  73. Matt says


    I am sorry to break this to you, but Desmond Tutu isn’t gay. I wish he was, but he isn’t.


    I never said that she wasn’t important to some gay men. I specifically said that she was important to some gay men and that they latched onto her because they identified with her “troubled life” and I also said that you could find this explanation on any number of gay culture websites.

    I just don’t think it’s a good or healthy thing. The question Towleroad posed is: Does Judy Still Matter? I say “no” because there is no longer any reason for a gay kid to naturally identify with someone who died young after a troubled life. Happiness and longevity are not just for straights anymore!

    It isn’t just a question of the passage of time that renders her irrelevant, although obviously that is a factor. When the basis for the initial identification with the icon fades, the icon fades. When the identification endures, the icon status endures. That is why 10 year old boys today still know and admire Chuck Norris and Cassius Clay and Bruce Lee, even though these guys are dead or, in the case of Norris, old and crazy. They like their on-screen or athletic exploits and they want to be those guys.

    So thank God gay boys in 2013 are not looking at JG and saying “That’s me!” The fact that JG doesn’t endure as an icon among gay boys is a great sign that things really are starting to get better.

  74. av control says

    i watched the wizard of oz most years as a kid with my family, but it was never my favorite movie and i didn’t feel connected to the character of dorothy (or judy) from it. the winged monkeys freaked me out, and the movie overall felt dark to me then.

    i didn’t gain an appreciation until my mid 30’s when i started noticing the wizard of oz and judy garland meant a lot to some of the guys in my life when they were young, so i gave it and judy a second look. the friend who really got me interested in judy ( and joni mitchell and laura nyro and others) was born in 1974 and ten years younger than me.

    i still love judy’s version of ‘where or when’ from ‘babes in arms,’ and think ‘the man that got away’ is about as good as it gets.

    outside of being any type of icon, judy was a great performer, and a big part of the golden age of movies.

    i’ve read a number of books about her and always felt bad that she had so much talent but it wasn’t enough to save her from the circumstances and decisions of her life.

    her icon status for me relates to the tragedy of her life in relation to the limitless possibilities and talents she seemed to be gifted with, so i guess i’m saying she seemed like she should have lived a charmed life happily ever after somewhere over the rainbow, but she didn’t.

    my admiration of her as an icon is that even with her flaws that her talents and gifts still shone through. i can relate to her struggles and that she still got out there and did as much as she could, as long as she could.

    she didn’t have a happy ending, but we don’t all get happy endings. she left some good behind and her example may encourage people (not just gay men) to go on with life. i think she may fade with time and that she doesn’t have to be everything to every gay man or the gay community, but there will always be someone interested in what she was about.

    just having one of her tunes in my head while on the way to work or performing some other chore is pretty good sometimes. thanks judy. you icon you…

  75. says

    @Matt (judgments sounding an awful lot like Rick’s but whatever), you don’t need to look at gay culture websites when many gay men have personally shared here why they find Judy relevant. It goes deeper than her “troubled life.”

    I can assure most 10 year-old boys wouldn’t have any more of a clue who Cassius Clay is (especially since he hasn’t used the name in decades) than who Judy Garland is. If they see Mohammed Ali they don’t see the cocky young fighter (whom my brother idolized); they see a fragile old man who maybe got knocked around too much. That’s how the passing of time works. Icons, whoever they appeal to and for whatever reasons, fade. But, Mohammed Ali, like Judy Garland, has an important and permanent place in history. (Chuck Norris, not so much.) And it’s only natural that the relevance of “icons” fades with time because times change. Icons endure in history, but mostly not in the present tense. Marilyn Monroe and Jim Morrison aren’t very relevant to today’s youths (except for oldies radio in Morrison’s case) but their icon status endures.

    Your simple-minded dismissal of Garland is wrapped up in what you consider to be appropriate and inappropriate icons for gay men. Boys in 2013 surely aren’t looking at JG and thinking that’s me! They’re looking at Gaga and thinking that, or at NPH, or at Jack Andraka, or at Frank Ocean, or at their gay uncle. It’s true that there are many more possibilities today now that closet walls have come down.

  76. "Mother" says

    I think that the AIDS epidemic has reduced Judy’s importance somewhat, as many of the people who would have introduced her story of woe to a new generation had passed away in similar tragedy before the next generation came along. Similarly, many of today’s younger gay men don’t recognize the contributions of “the Divine Miss M” as iconic, though I think she can be partially blamed for taking camp into the mainstream and away from the Gay community. Sadly, as time passes and we become more integrated into the general community, our icons matter less. But Judy will remain an icon as long as there are still gay men marrying straight women for cover or comfort.

  77. Brian says

    My husband and I thought that calling the gay happy hour on the Queen Mary 2 “FRIENDS OF DOROTHY” so last century.

  78. anon says

    Okay, now that I’ve read the comments and no one has stood up to defend Maria Callas, I think we can safely say that the diva persona has a finite lifetime, and Judy’s days are numbered. It’s all a question of numbers and demographics. However, if the question is whether she’s still important right now, the answer based on the comments here would be “yes”.

    Keep in mind that both Judy and Maria had weight and drug problems and lots of marital difficulties. Maria was even tossed overboard for Jackie Kennedy (there’s a calendar coincidence for you)! Both were very insecure women that were too old for feminist thinking to sink in. There are many parallels, though only Judy committed suicide.

  79. says

    My favorite story that’s in Chauncey or Duberman somewhere:

    In the early 1980s, the Naval Investigative Service was investigating homosexuality in the Chicago area. Agents discovered that gay men sometimes referred to themselves as “friends of Dorothy.” Unaware of the historical meaning of the term, the NIS believed that there actually ”was” some woman named Dorothy at the center of a massive ring of homosexual military personnel, so they launched an enormous and futile hunt for the elusive “Dorothy”, hoping to find her and convince her to reveal the names of gay servicemembers.

    LOVE all the stories here of boys who knew they were friends of Dorothy / fans of Judy before they knew what that meant.

  80. Rick says

    “I would be genuinely interested to know who was important to you, as a gay man of a certain age, musically or otherwise when you were in your youth? ”

    @Ernie I don’t know that I had any “icons”, but what did I listen to? Well, the first three records I bought when I was 12 years old were “Love or Let Me Be Lonely” by the Friends of Distinction, “Ma Belle Amie” by the Tee Set, and “No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who.

    Over time–Derrick will be shocked out of his gourd by this by this–I gravitated towards R&B and listened to black music, mostly on black radio stations, much to the chagrin of most of my white classmates–I listened to and bought the records of quite a variety of artists, among them the O’Jays, the Temptations, Ben E. King, Al Green, the Staples Singers, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, Aretha Franklin, etc.

    I also came to like “hippie music”–the Mamas and the Papas, the Grassroots, the Byrds, etc., although they were all slightly before my time…..

    In college, I got into country-and-western for a few years–my favorites were George Jones, Gene Watson, Moe Bandy, Willie Nelson, etc.

    I have always had a fondness for classical music, especially opera. I started out with Tchaikovsky (having no idea that he was gay at the time), explored his symphonies and piano music….and then moved on to sterner stuff, with Wagner eventually being my favorite operatic composer and Brahms my favorite symphonic composer. I loved Pavarotti, like everyone did–have never been as fond of Domingo….and among my favorite sopranos were Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman (again, go into shock, Derrick)

    I am also a big fan of world music–especially West African music (more shocks for DerricK) and had the time of my life at the Festival in the Desert in northern Mali a few years ago before the troubles in that area. Youssou N’dour and lots of others among my favorites in this genre.

    I also love Dixieland jazz–New Orleans-based brass bands

    That answer your question?

  81. Rick says

    “Judy’s secret, as to why she is a gay icon…… that, like the majority of the LGBT community, Judy was constantly told that she wasn’t ever good enough—and she proved her haters WRONG. She was a survivor. She endured. She had her demons yes, but even those never stopped her climb to the top. Her film roles were characters who wanted to make their dreams come true and live life as they pleased, in happiness.”

    Of course, none of this could be said of male performers, many of them gay or bisexual, of the same era, right? James Dean, Sal Mineo, Rock Hudson….which, I guess, is why they are not gay male icons, whereas all the straight women you mentioned are…….(sarcasm intended)

  82. Dback says

    Over at, I posted a lengthy 2-part essay about gay men and their divas, and did we still need them or not today. Unquestionably, Garland was the pre-eminent entertainer of the mid-20th century–film, concerts, TV, she did it all. Not even the other icons like Sinatra, Elvis, or Michael Jackson did what she did as completely, thoroughly, and brilliantly. (Streisand comes closest.) She is inarguably part of what might be called “the emerging gay consciousness” as a bunch of lonely, fractured, closeted individuals began to meet each other and form communities. And first, last, and always: That Voice.

  83. says

    It does answer my question, Rick, thank you. I find your list genuinely interesting and share some of your enthusiasms. I wish you’d post more comments like this that go beyond your repeated talking points … But I won’t hold my breath.

    Gay men also responded to the male icons you mentioned, all of whom, like Judy, will continue to occupy an important place in gay history. Montgomery Clift was mine, and I wasn’t alone. He, with his male beauty and talent and, alas, his similar tragic trajectory, had a much more formative role in my life than Judy did. It all depends on where and when one is coming from.

  84. jamal49 says

    I liked Judy Garland but I also liked many other leading actresses of that era. I didn’t buy Judy Garland’s records but I enjoyed some of her films, particularly three of her last four films (Judgement at Nuremberg, which gave her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress; A Child Is Waiting, a non-singing, dramatic role directed by the late John Cassavetes; and I Could Go On Singing aka The Lonely Stage which should be required viewing for her rendition of “Hello Bluebird” which succinctly shows why she was JUDY GARLAND.) She is a fascinating woman and her life’s story is very interesting if not excessively melodramatic. She packed a lot into her brief 47 years on this planet.

    Every gay generation probably has its “icons”. But, as far as “icons” go, I think those such as Madonna and Lady Gaga are much more positive because they are women of their times: in control of their lives and careers and their images and their finances and able to use their celebrity in positive, powerful ways.

  85. Troll#7 says

    She still matters as a pop icon but as a gay icon – Nope. I don’t think I have any friends that have ever even said her name aloud. Psst, it’s 2013, not 1963 !

  86. Acronym Jim says

    As I type this, there are five pages of comments on whether or not Judy Garland still matters as an icon for the gay community. The post has fallen off the first page, yet the comments continue to grow.

    That’s pretty solid evidence that, yes, she does.

  87. Hylas says

    I also never got why a subset of gay folks are so fascinated with Judy, Barbara, whomever. Of course, I also don’t get why the general population follows thinks like the “real housewives” or “american idol” or whatever.

    Now, give me a Patriots or Red Sox game and I’ll be equally odd looking to a subset of gay folks.

    So, I guess that I’m saying “to each his own” even if I don’t understand why some old gay folks like kitchy pop culture stuff so much.

  88. graphicjack says

    I am 43 and came out in the late 90s, but of course I believe Judy is still relevant to the gay community. I wasn’t around when Judy was alive—she died in summer 1969, I was born in December 1969, but I have seen many of her films and I am well aware of other gay icons like Marilyn, Barbra, Bette, Diana Ross and Cher, who were all at the peak of their fame before my time.

    Judy will go down in history books as the biggest icon of them all. The Stonewall riots started the day of her funeral, some say BECAUSE of her funeral. Even if younger gays don’t know who she is anymore, she is a part of our history… not the first gay icon or the last, but perhaps the most important one. If there was a “gay history” course, she would be one of the classes. Every generation is going to have their own icons… for me, it’s Madonna, for younger queers I guess it’s Gaga, Britney or Katy Perry or someone, but Judy is still tops. She sang “Over the Rainbow” for crap’s sake. ‘Nuff said.

  89. Mike says

    This post should have included a clip of The Man That Got Away. That song will immediately turn you into a fan of Judy Garland’s. Btw, I just turned 30 this year, so I don’t think her gay icon status is dependent on what generation you are from. I think it’s dependent on happening to encounter some of her music/movies these days. If I hadn’t flipped to A Star Is Born on TCM one night a couple years ago, I’d be a Judy novice like most men my age.

  90. Matt says

    Hey Ernie:

    Of course I have ideas about what are good role models and what are bad role models for gay kids? You don’t?

    I referred to Ali as Cassius Clay. Of course boys know him by his popular name. But the point is: they know him and love him even though his career peaked decades ago. Bruce Lee died only 4 years after Garland, but a huge number of boys know who he is, and every boy who has ever taken martial arts knows and loves him. Chuck Norris, despite being 70 and crazy, is a big thing. So you can’t just fob Garland’s declining icon status off on the passage of time. It’s something else that is causing her to fall into irrelevance for gay youth.

    These ancient celebs remain icons because boys want to BE them or BE LIKE them or SEE something of themselves in them. That doesn’t happen with JG and gay youth. If it did, she would still be an icon in those circles and her pic would be up on the wall in all the GSAs and there would be thousands of YT videos and FB pages about her.

    BTW, please know that you are exposing yourself as a dullard when you write things like “Marilyn Monroe and Jim Morrison aren’t very relevant to today’s youths . . . but their icon status endures.” Genius, their icon status endures only because there are some people alive in the world who continue to identify with them. When those people – really American Baby Boomers – die off, the icon status won’t endure. And if these celebs are not relevant to youth, then that dying off process will happen sooner rather than later.

    That’s whats going on with your beloved Judy. Whatever icon status remains is rapidly diminishing, drawing on an ever-shrinking pool of damaged gay men from the Silent Generation and the Boomer Generation who identify with addiction, loneliness and early death. If she is replaced as a icon by Gaga, NPH, Andraka, Colfer or really almost anyone else who is happy and healthy, that is a great thing.

    Ask yourself Ernie: why haven’t you been able to identify with a happy, dynamic, character-driven men? Of all the talented actors and singers in all the world and in all of history, why do you choose as your icon a woman who was an addict who died young and died alone? I have seen your blog. It’s lovely photography, but there isn’t one pic of yourself or of any other human being to be found. It strikes me as terribly lonely. Is that the real basis of your identification with JG?

  91. Acronym Jim says

    Shorter MATT/RICK/ET-SOCKPUPPET-AL: “I’ll get you and your little icon too.”

    Too paraphrase another icon, “can you say “transparent?”

    I knew you could!

  92. says

    Whoa, @Matt. Lot’s of misplaced projection in your last comment, cowboy!

    The men you claim are still icons to boys are so only in your imagination. Chuck Norris an icon? You need to get out more. But, hey, if he does it for you or anyone else, more power to you. Catch him on the late show.

    Judy is not “my beloved Judy”–she was never my icon (as I said in my earlier comment) so I have no personal investment in defending her icon status, just an awareness of her place in gay history, which is assured.

    It’s flattering, I suppose, that you’ve taken the trouble to analyze my social life based on a slice of my photographic work, but I can assure you I’m not lacking for male influences or companionship–my husband’s amused at your concern, though!

  93. says

    Little gay boys will always be latching on to female divas.

    It happens everywhere, too. Each culture has different icons, but the pattern’s the same.

    And no amount of hand-wringing and homophobic defensiveness is going to change that fact, until gay boys start growing up in families in which they aren’t different from their parents, which means probably only gay boys who grow up in gay families. Until those are the majority (i e never), don’t hold your breath.

    Read some Halperin (How to be Gay) or Koestenbaum (The Queen’s Throat).

    PS I am indeed amused :-)

  94. Rob says

    I associate Judy Garland with a love for gay men at a time when gay men were seen as sick perverts and forced into the closet. Her tribulations mirrored their own, and of course she famously had a gay dad. Homosexuality was what Wilde called “The love which dare not speak its name.” It was so despicable to be gay, that people really avoided saying it. A euphemism was needed and “Friend of Dorothy” fit the bill. She was a light of love and acceptance to a group of people in a very difficult situation. The closet may have changed, for many, but her importance certainly hasn’t.

    I will always be a friend of Dorothy’s.

  95. Verisimilitude says

    Garland still “mattering”? Wow. I think the answer to that question bears directly upon the very timely and serious question of whether or not astounding, world-beating talent still matters in an age where artifice trumps art and mediocrity overshadows magnificence. Unlike many, I don’t think it was ever so much the Garland personal woes that made her a major drawing-card for gay people. The enormity and undeniable nature of her talent, however, did. She had unusually BIG talent, and a pathos that was expertly communicated through the prism and discipline of that talent. That’s always been an alluring combination and beacon for many (though certainly not all) gay people. Moreover, one has only to look at the still-disseminating legacy of Garland’s astonishing body of work as it is being rediscovered and newly discovered amid the convenience of the Information Age. She was one of the biggest blockbuster superstars of Hollywood’s ‘Golden Era’ and almost all her classic films (which “hold up” strikingly well) are now available for the first time (relatively speaking) in a variety of mediums, still stirring not only American but –quite significantly–worldwide interest, sales and renewed awe for her achievements. Her records are still available and, due to the sheer quality of the original arrangements, song selections, and performances, they retain a markedly timeless appeal. In the past 15 years alone there have been award-winning documentaries about her life, a ratings-smash miniseries biopic, hit Broadway plays about her, frequent film festival retrospectives, posthumous Grammy awards, “All Time Best” list awards in every category, remasterings and theatrical rereleases of her biggest movies (not just Oz), the rights to her acclaimed 1960s TV series were recently sold at auction for millions (with plans to market and repackage the now-legendary line-up), tributes to her iconic performances on popular television programs like ‘Glee’ and ‘Bones,’ talk of a major motion picture biopic, and so on and so forth. Also, as millions across the world watch these talent competitions, many are digging into the archives of American greatness for a look at those few timeless stars who could really rock the talent and, inevitably, Garland is part of *that* conversation. Six year-old moppets on YouTube are warbling ‘Over the Rainbow’ and declaring Garland to be their inspiration. High school troupes are staging productions of her work. She is being brilliantly satirized by creative teams like Punchy Players, etc. etc. The jaw-dropping thing about all of this? Garland died almost 45 years ago. Honestly, in the broad picture, I think she’s more relevant as a reference-point for “excellence in American entertainment” than she was at the time of her death, due to this progressive rediscovery of her vast body of work via new media. Because of the sheer diversity of her achievements (film, stage, television, recordings) her legacy is blossoming in ways that are not possible for, say, Elvis (whose film work cannot be considered classic by any stretch of the imagination). I guess I’m surprised that such a question of “still mattering” is even being posed, for any community. Certainly, the gay community (always youth-driven, as it ought to be) is enamored of current stars, but one finds it difficult to imagine that any of them will manifest the “longevity of legend” that Garland earned by so much versatile success packed into so short a life. You’ll see Streisand live-on forever, but not quite like Garland. Hard to say with the other usual suspects (Cher, Midler, Minnelli, et al.). Way too early to tell with the new crop. Lastly, I think the key aspect about Garland these days is that she has become immortal not only for the gay community, not any longer. If some in the gay community claim they don’t “need” her anymore, then I would counter that a strong case could be made that Garland no longer needs them, in a good way. She has transcended, because of the widespread rediscovery of the broad scope of her immense talent, and has pivoted more to the place she occupied in her Golden Era years: a powerhouse and mythical talent of classic proportions beloved by anyone and everyone. Gay fandom indeed carried the torch for her in the uncomfortable years after her unsettling death, but the multi-media/Information Age has enabled her accomplishments to speak for her, now. She doesn’t need to be propped-up by any one community, no matter how fickle or fanatic. That being said, I think she will indeed remain a timeless gay icon, but the emphasis will adjust to the trajectory being taken by her general public perception these days, and the focus for gay fans (old and new) will be upon the immensity and quality of her many career achievements, and no longer upon meaningless personal drama. That’s as it should be.

  96. Lawrence Schulman says

    Judy Garland was many things. Above all, she was a great singer and actress. Insofar as her gay icon status, I first discovered this fact when I attended her opening night at the Palace in 1967. I was unaware, although I was gay. What I have learned over the years is that Judy, and Judy in concert, was a kind of spiritual and physical gathering place where gays could congregate in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. It was a safe place where they could engage in some kind of worship of an artist who spoke to them on many levels. Film historian Richard Dyer has spoken of Judy’s ordinariness (she is just like me), her androgyny (male/female), her kitsch sense of humor (cynicism, wit). These are all attachments to the gay community. I would add one more. In the age before Stonewall, gays could not express themselves openly. They could often not be honest with their entourage in this pre-coming-out era. Judy expressed so much emotion in her singing and acting that it was an honesty that traversed gay listeners through the heart. All the emotion gays could not express in the pre-Stonewall era was expressed by this little woman: suffering, passion, inadequacy, love. Judy spoke for the gay community. Last, Judy’s father, Frank was bisexual, and just as much as the gay community found this emotional link with her, she found a link with the gay community as a way of dealing with the loss of her father in 1935. So, the street went both ways.