Get Happy author Gerald Clarke got the autobiographical scoop of his career the old-fashioned way: at the library.
Ensconced in Columbia University’s collection were 68 pages of an unpublished Judy Garland autobiography originally (and rather ironically) commissioned by Clarke’s publisher, Random House, in 1959. And for nearly 40 years, no one — not one newspaper reporter, magazine scribe, or Garland biographer — had unearthed the late star’s unfinished memoir, on which Garland collaborated with ghostwriter (and Meet Me in St. Louis screenwriter) Fred Finklehoffe. ”I knew that [Random House founder Bennett Cerf] had tried to sign [Garland], but the fact that a manuscript existed, I don’t think it was general knowledge,” says the book’s editor, Bob Loomis. Clarke discovered the papers by accident while researching another book (a collection of Truman Capote’s letters). Coming across gossip-column clips that said Judy Garland was doing a memoir, he sent his researcher to look in the Random House archives at Columbia to see if any letters existed about the project. There were about 30. ”My researcher said, ‘Oh, by the way, there’s also an autobiography,”’ he says.
Though at the time he was nearly finished with Get Happy, Clarke folded many of the never-before-published bits into his chronicle: Garland’s abortion at age 20 at a dreary clinic just outside L.A. and Louis B. Mayer’s sloppy overtures to the teenage actress on MGM’s infamous casting couch among them.
Wary of another writer publishing the juicy info before the release of Get Happy, Clarke, a former Time senior writer, kept mum about his find for a year. He initially refused to tell even Random House about his sources. ”I was afraid,” he explains. ”I was in the news business, too, and I know how these things go. One casual word here and there… I was a little worried. A lot of things are there someplace or the other; you just have to look for them. But I have to admit this was pure luck.”