Easter Parade: Judy Garland Fired her Hubby Vincente Minnelli

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In an industry given to the latest success–you are as good as your last picture—Vincente Minnelli’s triumphs with Meet Me in St. Louis and The Clock didn’t count for much.   And while some saw artistic merits in Yolanda and the Thief and The Pirate, it was hard not to acknowledge the commercial failure of both pictures.

Nonetheless, over the years, The Pirate has developed a cult status. Looking back, it’s one of Minnelli’s underestimated musicals, though its particular brand of artifice and fey eccentricity were too innovative and peculiar at the time.  
After The Pirate, the studio offered Minnelli no new assignment, and he did not force the issue. To maintain his emotional balance, Minnelli read scripts and again accepted the chores of screen tests.   He was deeply annoyed that Metro blamed him for ruining Judy’s career.   All of a sudden, even Arthur Freed was distant with him when they met on the lot. 
For the first time since Cabin in the Sky, he became idle, with no assignments in sight.   Still getting $2,500 a week (from his 1946 contract), he continued to mark time by directing screen tests for M.G.M.’s new talent. Minnelli felt he was being punished for Judy’s mishaps.   He and Judy had become victims of the intense, inseparable link between their private and professional lives. 
The rigors of The Pirate marked the start of a frustrating period for Minnelli at Metro. Up until then, his rise to eminence was secure, but the failure of this picture signaled trouble.   Oblivious to all matters but the work itself, Minnelli was at first too slow to absorb the impending trouble.
Minnelli decided to take a more emotionally-nuanced approach to his next musical Easter Parade, a kind of Tin Pan Alley Pygmalion set in New York circa 1911.   The failure of The Pirate shattered his self-confidence, his determination to be innovative with each and every project.   He decided to “play it safe” with Easter Parade, by imbuing the film with the same emotional nostalgia that had marked Meet Me in St. Louis.  
Rehearsals began in September 1947, but numerous crises made it a difficult production from the start. Minnelli was casting the supporting roles in Easter Parade, when Freed called him into his office. Looking grim and uneasy, Freed said, “Vincente, I don’t know how to tell you this.” Minnelli knew immediately that something was wrong, fearing that perhaps the front office had decided to scrap the picture.
Freed’s words then came tumbling out. “Judy’s psychiatrist Dr. Kupper thinks it would be better all around if you didn’t direct the picture.”
Minnelli was utterly stunned.
“Why not?” he asked.
“Dr. Kupper feels Judy doesn’t really want you as the director, that you symbolize all her troubles with the studio.”
Freed’s tone was slightly kinder when he said, “It would be better if you don’t do it.” Minnelli and Judy had always trusted and confided in Freed. But, now, Minnelli felt that Freed simply gave in to Judy’s demand; ultimatum in fact.
There was nothing for him to say; the matter was settled. If their working together created emotional problems for Judy, then the “solution” was obvious; they would not work together. Minnelli would stay home with Judy and give her as much attention as needed.
Minnelli left work for the day, trying not to feel betrayed.   Yet he kept wondering why didn’t Judy tell him directly? Why did it have to go through other people as mediators?   Weren’t married couples supposed to discuss openly such issues with each other?
Upon arrival, Judy met Minnelli at the front door with the usual friendly kiss.
“Hello, sweetheart,” Minnelli said
“Hey, darling,” Judy said, ushering him into the living room.
He sat down to read the evening paper by his easy chair.
Liza came toddling in, and Minnelli had a few giggles over her nightly antics.
Conversation with Judy over dinner was formal and stilted.   After dinner, Minnelli read scripts and Judy settled in with a book.   They were both in bed early that night.   Lying in the dark in bed, where so many differences are ironed out, no mention was made of the catastrophic happening.   Minnelli felt that Judy’s reasons for demanding his departure were like the wart on a person’s nose, too obvious to ignore, too tactless to mention.
Good or bad, the doctor’s advice was not an issue.   But stunned, wounded, and betrayed, Minnelli wondered why Judy had not told him herself.   Judy never said a word about Easter Parade the next day, or the following weeks.   Judy never acknowledged that she had in fact removed her husband from Metro’s potentially biggest movie of 1948. 
Once Minnelli was taken off the picture, Charles Walters, a former choreographer turned director, too over.   Other problems had to be resolved quickly as well.   The Goodrich-Hackett script was given to Sidney Shelton for a refurbish. Then, the star Gene Kelly broke an ankle and was replaced by Fred Astaire, who was practically brought out of semi-retirement.
 
Judy told the Gershwins that she was relieved not to work again with her husband.   She felt that their problems would get worse if they continued to spend all their time together.    At least now they didn’t have to argue in front of the crew, and then pretend that everything was O.K. at home.    Judy held that that their artistic relationship was getting unhealthy, that Minnelli was pushing her in the wrong direction, particularly after The Pirate, which represented Minnelli’s rather than her taste.    Rewriting history to her convenience, Judy claimed that, as a director, Minnelli had remade her image to suit his fantasies—not hers or her fans.
The new, perverse “twist” now was that it was Minnelli’s turn to pay for it.   Ironically, Judy was showing resilience by working happily on Easter Parade, a project she knew Minnelli had truly desired.   Minnelli was a convenient target to blame. In the studio era, directors were more expendable than movie stars, who had more tangible value at the box-office. 
End Note
If you want to know more about Minnelli and Judy, please read my new book, Vincente Minnelli” Hollywood’s Dark Dreamer (St. Martines Press), the very first biography of the legendary director.