John Briggs is a former nationally syndicated children’s TV critic who enjoys sharing old movies and music with his two children. He is the author of several middle-grade biographies, including Judy Garland: Little Woman, Big Talent and Mary Dyer, Friend of Freedom. He is also the author of an upcoming picture book, Leaping Lemmings, from Sterling Publishing. A native of Pennsylvania, he currently calls New York’s Capital District home, where he makes his living as a freelance book editor. In addition to writing, John likes baseball, tea, and lecturing his preteen son on just about everything.
Welcome to my blog, John. This children’s biography, Judy Garland: Little Woman, Big Talent, tells the story of Judy’s struggles in landing the role that most children absolutely adore: The Wizard of Oz. Please tell us about your book.
The book covers Judy’s life from her time as a little girl in Minnesota singing Jingle Bells in her parents’ theater to her time as a superstar in movies and on stage. Most of the book focuses on her rise to fame in Hollywood, from her first movie at the age of seven until she landed the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Of course, The Wizard of Oz gets its own chapter because, after all, it is the most watched movie of all time.
I am a Judy Garland fan. I have seen so many of her films. One of my favorite movies is In the Good Old Summer Time, which has little Liza Minnelli at the very end of the movie. Where did you get your inspiration for this book?
I was hired to write a children’s article about any celebrity from Hollywood’s Golden Age (my choice), and the one celebrity from that era kids still know is Judy Garland. At a time when they’ve largely forgotten Mickey Rooney or think of Shirley Temple as a drink, they still know Judy thanks to The Wizard of Oz. Of course, like most writers, I way over-researched the topic and realized I had enough for a book. I talked to my publisher, and they loved the idea, particularly after we realized there had never been – and this is amazing to me – a kid-friendly book about Judy Garland. But we didn’t forget about Liza. There’s a great picture in the book of Judy holding up Liza as a baby, and I tell the story of Judy reading the script for Liza’s first starring role in a film, even though Judy never got to see the movie. Talk about a talented family!
I learned that Judy was 17 when she got the role of Dorothy. What kind of research did you have to do?
Tons. I read several books, and utilized great websites like the Judy Garland Database and others. I watched several TV interviews with her from Barbara Walters and Mike Douglas to get stories directly from Judy. I also watched old footage of Judy from the Oscars and movie premiers to add flavor to some of the stories in the book. Then there was research on the three dozen photos we used, and so on. It was a lot of work, but getting Judy’s life right for young readers – so that they realize just how talented and driven she was – was absolutely worth it. I wanted her to be as real as possible to kids and not just ‘the girl who played Dorothy.’
Now since you have learned so much about Judy Garland, please tell us your thoughts about her.
I am absolutely amazed at her determination to keep going after suffering one failed audition after another. She just didn’t give up. She came so close so many times only to have a door slammed in her face. I think kids can learn a lot from her. Judy was told she was too short, too heavy, not pretty enough, etc., but she had talent and she knew it. We talk a lot these days about helping kids with their self-esteem, and Judy is proof that you have to believe in yourself first and foremost. Work hard, keep trying, and eventually you’re going to succeed. I tried to bring that out in this book because it seemed to be an underlying theme to her life.
Judy Garland sounds like a great example for everyone. Now it’s time to tell us something about the real you that we’ll never forget.
I grew up in rural Pennsylvania in a place so remote we couldn’t get TV reception. I actually didn’t see The Wizard of Oz until I was twenty-eight. To this day I don’t watch a lot of TV, but boy, do I love to read. I have no doubt that led to my life as a writer and editor, and I’m sure glad it did. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have written Judy Garland: Little Woman, Big Talent!
No TV? So you didn’t watch cartoons on a Saturday morning? Haha. Thank you for this interview, John. Visit John at http://johnbriggsbooks.net. Remember to stop by each week and read a new interview with a book giveaway. Here is a bit of trivia from John's website.
- It’s the most watched movie of all time.
- Over the Rainbow is ranked as the number one movie song of all time.
- MGM wanted Over the Rainbow cut from the film.
- Judy Garland wasn’t the first choice to play Dorothy. She wasn’t even second. She was third.