Carlyle, John, “UNDER THE RAINBOW: An Intimate Memoir of Judy Garland, Rock Hudson & My Life in Old Hollywood”.
Carroll and Graf Publishers, 2006.
“Under the Rainbow” is a book that is going to be met with a great deal of controversy and welcomed lovingly at the same time. I was very surprised to find it in a shipment of new books sent to me by Betsy Steve at Carroll and Graf. The name alone brings back memories of two gay icons who are no longer with us. “Under the Rainbow” is a memoir dealing with the last ten years of Judy Garland’s life as well as what was the beginning of the fall of Hollywood
Most of us are well aware of what an icon Garland has been to us. She was a survivor, she made it through drugs and depression, a life and career that soared and hit rock bottom more than once, a series of unsuccessful marriages but above it all she was “our Judy”. There are those that say her apparent suicide and subsequent funeral were either indirect or even direct causes for the Stonewall riots which was the beginning of the gay liberation movement.
For the final decade of her life she had one constant companion and confidant, John Carlyle, who was an openly gay man. He was with as she lost herself to booze and drugs and faded out of the limelight. Gone was the Dorothy of “The Wizard of Oz” and in her place was a woman who had in many ways relinquished the control of her life. At the same Hollywood began its slow decline. Carlyle told of the Hollywood that once was the city of “glitz and glitter” and shows the skeleton of a town where gay men lived their lives in closets. At that time there was a king maker for the young and beautiful men who came to Hollywood looking for that lucky break into the movies. Henry Willson, who is also the subject of a new biography, created the personae of many of the macho men of the golden age of Hollywood. He created Rock Hudson and he created John Carlyle. In 1954 when Willson “discovered” Carlyle who was a mere 23 years old the homosexual underground of ‘Tinsel town” was hush hush. Willson had him cast as an assistant director in the classic “A Star is Born”. Even though the scene never made it to the final cut, Carlyle met Garland and the two began a friendship which lasted until her death. He was more than just a friend; he was occasionally her lover as well. Garland seemed to have had a penchant for gay men and even went as far as marrying one.
Garland’s and Carlyle’s relationship mirrored Judy’s life—rocky and uncertain. In the 1960s she lost much of her box office power and her star quality and lived a lifestyle we shudder to think about. She was desperate and lonesome and even tried to marry Carlyle who was not interested in that kind of arrangement. Yet he stayed her dear friend throughout.
This book is just as much about gay Hollywood of the period. He tells of his sexual liaisons with Marlon Brando and with James Dean, He was friendly with Rock Hudson and Raymond Burr and tells of their double dates and he relates how Montgomery Clift sunk into drink and despair. His female friends included the legendary Mae West as well as Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr and Joan Fontaine. He tells secrets and exposes people and it is so much fun reading this book. A great piece of literature it is not, a wonderful read it is.
It is somewhat sad to look at the Hollywood of today and compare it to the Hollywood that was. But Carlyle gives us a chance to experience all of the glamour and all of the scandal. Skillfully written and easy to read, once you start you will not want to stop. I haven’t ha this much fun with a book in a long, long time.