Judy Garland – Poker player

It is a pity that primarily due to the many books written about her, Judy is generally remembered as a superstar who destroyed her life with drink and drugs.  That may have been true at the end of her life; and she did go through periods of deep depression brought about by men she loved deeply and who she thought reciprocated her love,  dumping  her, often unceremoniously, and in Artie Shaw’s case, violently.

But in the main, Judy’s life was one of fun, laughter and a lot of hard work.  No other artist I have worked with – and I have worked with many singing stars, were as meticulous in rehearsal as she was.

When I composed the opening number for her show in Paris (Lionel Bart providing the lyrics),  she rehearsed it with me for two days until every inflection in her voice, every hand movement etc, all were finalised.

Yeah, she worked hard and she played hard. Then, it sometimes felt like being involved in a comedy movie. Like the time after a show on a rainy Sunday night in Leeds.

A few friends from Hollywood came to see the show.  One of them, a film writer, had brought a huge cream cake with a golden horseshoe  wedged into it and “Good Luck Judy” written in chocolate on top.

Once the show was over and we were rid of all the local VIP’s and reporters crowding her dressing room, her husband,  Sid Luft, suggested we all relax with a few hands of poker.

As I recall, present were her agent Harold Davison (who also acted for Frank Sinatra and Engelbert Humperdinck),  Freddie Finklehoff, who had written her last movie, plus his wife, as well as Judy,  Sid and, for one hand only, me.  It was much too wild a game for me.

I remember I was dealt two pairs and opened the bidding with a pound.  Finklehoff on my left then said, “Your pound and up fifty”. Then Sid Luft said, “Hell lets make it an even hundred”

And so it went with hundreds of pounds being wagered on each hand.

I remember Judy saying to me “Come and sit next to me and bring me some luck”    But she didn’t need it. She was, I found out later, an expert poker player.

But around 11pm, the caretaker came into the room to tell us he was locking everything up and we had to leave. So we all limousine’d it down to Leeds station where our sleeper train was standing.

Sunday,  late at night on Leeds station was in those days, a very dreary affair – as was the train.  The general idea was to board this grubby old train after10.30 pm and go to your sleeping compartment, the train being scheduled to leave at 2.30 am.

Having arrived, everyone in evening dress with Sid Luft having draped the cake’s Golden horseshoe around his neck, and all slightly pissed on Champagne, Judy asked the surprised looking guard a question which  I found hilarious.

She said “Where is the club car? Y’see we want to go on  playing cards”.  I  had to explain that even the best trains in England had not yet got around to having a ‘club car’ let alone a chance of finding one on this old heap of rust.

Judy was adamant. She turned to Sid saying “But I want to go on playing.  I’m hot tonight and I wanna win their dough”  Sid, tall and beefy, said,  “Sure baby” and he went off into the neighbouring Station Hotel to return with six waiters, four of them lugging a large round table, one holding two ice buckets replete with champagne and the other with a table cloth under one arm, his other hand holding  a tray and six Champagne flutes.

And so ladies and gentlemen, on a dreary rain-soaked Sunday night,  on a dreary platform beside an even drearier looking train, sat six elegantly dressed  people, playing cards as if  they were sitting in an exclusive club in Mayfair.

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At 2.25 am, five minutes before the train was due to leave, the rather discombobulated guard – who had never seen anything like this before (as neither had I) came up to us to say the train was about to leave and we must now get on board.

About one minute before the train was ready to leave to make its way to London, Judy said to her husband, “Sid I’m hungry. Do you think you can rustle up some food”?

“Sure I can honey” Sid said, opening the door of the carriage and getting off the train.

“Jesus, Judy” I said “Sid is going to be left behind. The train is going to leave now – this instant”

Judy opened the carriage door and yelled “Hey Sid”. He turned around as she yelled to him,

“And bring some more Champagne”.

There was a look of mischievousness in her eyes that I knew so well. She reached into her handbag and took out a huge roll of pound notes (which she had won at the poker table).

She peeled of wads of notes which she gave to all of us saying, “look at that sign above the window. It says ‘Communication cord for emergencies. Mis-use carries a five pound fine’. Okay, everybody. Find a communication cord and if the train starts to move, pull it!  When some guy comes to find out what the problem is, pay him the five pound fine. But don’t let the train leave the station until Sid gets back”.

And so that is exactly what we did.

Sid got back at 3.30 am with a pile of  smoked salmon sandwiches and a bottle of Champagne.  By that time we had been joined by the guard and the train driver.  Judy was entertaining them by singing to the tune of Colonel Bogie:

“Hitler, has only got one ball, Goering has two but very small.   Himmler, has something similar -But poor old Goebells Has no balls, at all.”

The train left at 4.30 am arriving at two hours late ‘due to a mechanical fault’ .

That was the Judy I knew.

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