Judy Garland's Personal Assistant On 'Judy'

Oct 5, 2019
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

"Judy," the movie, has opened to great reviews, boffo box-office and Oscar talk, beginning with Renee Zellweger as the indomitable, inmimicable (ph) and vulnerable Judy Garland.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JUDY")

JESSIE BUCKLEY: (As Rosalyn Wilder) There's a thousand people upstairs waiting to hear you sing.

RENEE ZELLWEGER: (As Judy Garland) So bring them another drink. And have them bring me one, too.

BUCKLEY: (As Rosalyn Wilder) I know it's not easy.

ZELLWEGER: (As Judy Garland) Oh, you do, do you?

BUCKLEY: (As Rosalyn Wilder) I mean, the shows - the shows have been a huge success.

ZELLWEGER: (As Judy Garland) So what? What difference does it make?

SIMON: The movie takes place in 1969, just a few months before Judy Garland died. She was performing at a London nightclub called Talk of the Town, and, boy, she was a mess. The young production assistant assigned to her during that engagement often had to wake her up, dress her, lug her to the theater, push her onstage and tell her she'd be marvelous. Some of the time, Judy was.

Rosalyn Wilder was that personal assistant 50 years ago, a real person who was an adviser on the film. She joins us from London. Thanks so much for being with us.

ROSALYN WILDER: My pleasure. Hello.

SIMON: Did you like the film?

WILDER: Yes, absolutely. What's not to like about it? We're remembering a legend.

SIMON: Well, how did it do by you? A great Irish actress named Jessie Buckley played you.

WILDER: I mean, absolutely astonishing. I met up with her, oh, quite a long time before shooting. And she came in and said, hello, I'm Jessie Buckley. And I said, yes, I know. Hello, me. And we both sort of sat down and laughed.

SIMON: When you first met Judy Garland, somebody must've told you she's a problem.

WILDER: No, the Talk of the Town was probably the most successful cabaret venue in London. And we had practically every big star from all over the world. And you may well imagine that quite a few of them had problems, but that was not something that we dwelt on. Somebody would say, Sammy Davis is here in a couple of weeks, or, Judy Garland is here in a couple of weeks, or Stevie Wonder. And we just said, fine. And we took them all as they appeared when they got to us and tried to make them welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'LL I DO")

JUDY GARLAND: (Singing) What'll I do when you are far away?

SIMON: She came to London and Talk of the Town at a pretty low moment of her life, didn't she?

WILDER: She did, indeed. Yes.

SIMON: That meant leaving her family. And then there was the drugs and drink.

WILDER: You know, she never actually turned up at the Talk of the Town really drunk. I mean, she may well have been taking pills, and she did want to take some pills when she was with me. But I just tried to make her believe that she could perform without the pills and reminded her that she was still Judy Garland and that she was still one of the legends of the time. And I think it was just that she maybe needed people to be nice to her for a change, and that was what made her go on.

SIMON: Were you in a position to see the special relationship between Judy Garland and so many of her fans who were gay?

WILDER: I mean, the - all the people who came to see her, I think, came because they knew that she was a big star. I think the destructive factor in all of it was Mickey Deans.

SIMON: Mickey Deans was the man she married...

WILDER: Married.

SIMON: ...In London, as it turned out, after knowing him...

WILDER: Indeed, yes.

SIMON: ...For about five minutes, yeah.

WILDER: Dreadful man.

SIMON: Yeah.

WILDER: He was just really difficult to deal with and made our lives much more difficult than poor Judy Garland did.

SIMON: Can you tell us what he did?

WILDER: Well, he wanted to control what she did. He made an illegal recording of her, which we had to snatch away from him. We spent most of our time trying to sort of hide him in a cupboard or get rid of him (laughter) so that he couldn't be a nuisance.

SIMON: Oh, mercy.

WILDER: And she depended on him. She would cling to anything because of the state that she was in. I can understand why she depended on him, but it was just, sadly, the wrong person that she chose.

SIMON: No. What did you take from your experience with Judy Garland through the rest of your career in entertainment?

WILDER: I hope it taught me to look at people who have problems and not judge them and do what you can to help them and to give them more confidence and to believe in themselves. And I truly believe that if that had happened to Judy some years earlier, she might not have come to the tragic end that she did.

SIMON: Do you wish that people had done more for her who met her at that time in London?

WILDER: I wish people had done more for her years and years and years ago. The destructive elements that got to her I think now would probably be considered unforgivable, but that was a travesty. She was a great, great, great singer and artist.

SIMON: Do you have a favorite Judy Garland song?

WILDER: "The Man That Got Away."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY")

GARLAND: (Singing) The night is bitter. The stars have lost their glitter. The winds grow colder. Suddenly, you're older.

WILDER: Just watching her walk onto the stage when the lights went on and I'd managed to sort of persuade her and see the reaction of the audience, there was a magic. I'm so, so pleased that I saw that. I'm so pleased that I was at least a small part of it. It was a privilege, and I'll never ever forget it.

SIMON: Rosalyn Wilder - she's played by Jessie Buckley in the film "Judy" - thanks so much for being with us.

WILDER: It's my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY")

GARLAND: (Singing) The dreams you dreamed have all gone astray. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.