6/3/11 - how to fire someone

In today's excerpt - Judy Garland gets fired by MGM during the early days of filming Annie Get Your Gun while coming off the set in full Indian costume. Garland was perhaps the most popular entertainer of her era—dazzling audiences on film, radio, television and records—but had become increasingly unreliable. MGM was the grandest studio of Hollywood's golden era. Annie Get Your Gun was one of the most popular Broadway shows of its day—and was viewed as a sure-fire Hollywood box office smash:

"Judy would use her amazing sense of humor to tell the story. It was a sad moment in the tale of what had once seemed the perfect relationship between a studio and a star who had achieved that status purely as a result of their own fostering. Yet, in the retelling by people who were in receipt of the tale, it all reads like the script of a very funny story indeed. George Schlatter, who was later to produce Judy's television show, told me about it.

" 'They really ripped her off when she did Annie Get Your Gun,' he said. 'She worked hard and did her best, but they thought she was difficult. Yet nobody would tell her. They decided to fire her on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend and when everybody had gone home. They sent a little guy down to the set to tell her, 'Miss Garland, you've been fired.' '

"That was an old Hollywood trick. Part of Tinseltown lore has it that Jack L. Warner, head of production at the studio he controlled with his brothers, would disappear when an employee was about to get sacked. It got so that every time Warner took off unexpectedly for some unknown destination, people would ask, 'Who's got fired now?' The answer would come when the assistant usually assigned to the firing task would reveal the name of the latest victim.

"Few of those ex-employees would react as Judy did, with that very unusual sense of humor that, strangely, came to its fore in the midst of some disaster or other—although it did take time for this firing to get the Garland touch. As George Schlatter explained to me: 'She was dressed as an Indian in war paint. She went through the halls of the Thalberg building at MGM looking for someone to attack. She had a tomahawk and was wearing moccasins and buckskins, running through the halls saying, 'I'm going to find them and scalp them.'

"It would have been even funnier to have been a fly on the side of her tepee at that firing moment. She told the gofer that she was being left high and dry. She didn't know what tribe she belonged to, so where was the reservation to which she had to go? The man, who didn't see things the way she did, just shrugged his shoulders and walked off, unaware of the humour. There are some people who just can't take a joke.

"Plainly, Judy was furious. George Schlatter understands how she felt. ... 'In Judy's case, they were cowards. They were all terrified of her.' "


Michael Freedland


Judy Garland: The Other Side of the Rainbow


JR Books


Copyright 2010 by Michael Freedland


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