Joey Luft honors mother Judy Garland with new show

Joey Luft remembers his mother Judy Garland with a show of songs and stories.
Joey Luft remembers his mother Judy Garland with a show of songs and stories.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Joey Luft remembers it well: appearing on the 1963 Christmas episode of his mother Judy Garland’s CBS musical-variety series with his two older sisters, Lorna Luft and Liza Minnelli.

On a recent afternoon, Luft was rewatching the show, his eyes wide and a smile dancing across his face as his younger self broke into “Where Is Love?” on the classic yuletide show.

“She opened the show with ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,’” said the 59-year-old Luft, a slight man who is a bundle of energy. “Our living room [of the Lufts’ house] on Rockingham Avenue was copied so the Christmas show looked like our living room.”


Though half-sister Minnelli, who is an Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy award-winner, and Lorna Luft have followed in their mother’s footsteps, their baby brother has largely lived out of the public eye.

“I’ve been more behind the camera,” said Luft, who has studied photography and sound and has worked as a kind of editor-runner.

Though he may not be famous, “I have a life that has been fascinating,” said Luft, who appeared with his siblings at the Oscars this past March for a 75th anniversary tribute to “The Wizard of Oz,” the 1939 classic that made Garland a star. “I can tell stories for days.”

He’s finally getting the opportunity to tell the stories about his mother in “A Judy Garland Concert With Joey Luft,” which opens Friday and continues through Sunday at the Pasadena Playhouse.

The evening features colorized footage from “The Judy Garland Show” of the legend performing such standards as “Stormy Weather,” “Come Rain or Come Shine” and of course “Over the Rainbow.” In between clips, Luft and the show’s producer, John Kimble, his childhood friend and longtime associate of his late father, producer Sid Luft, will talk about Garland.

“It’s just so fun just getting out there and talking about her and letting people know, ‘Here’s what really happened,’” said Luft in a recent interview at Kimble’s Culver City home.


“I don’t want to talk about the bad things,” said Luft, who was 14 in 1969 when his mother died of an overdose of barbiturates. “That isn’t what my mom was about. She was a performer. She was a mother. She loved people. She was the most caring person. She had the greatest sense of humor.”

Luft stood up to imitate his mother when she guest-starred on NBC’s “The Jack Paar Show.” “He introduces my mom and she comes on stage with a broom,” said Luft, as he mimes sweeping the floor. “She puts the broom down and walks over and sits down with Jack and said ‘People told me I would clean up in this business.’”

The story lead to another memory of watching a hockey game with Lorna and Garland in his mother’s bedroom. “My mom was kind of tired and she looked kind of frustrated,” said Luft. “I said ‘How do you feel? She looks at us, walks over to the TV and she goes, ‘How do I feel? See that hockey game? You know the puck? That how I feel.” And she walks off. Then we started laughing.”

His father was Garland’s third husband and is credited with resurrecting her career after she was fired from MGM in 1950. He colorized the black-and-white “Judy Garland Show” before his death in 2005 at the age of 89.

“It took us years and years to do because there was so much detail and so much work to go into it,” said Luft. “My dad spent so much money that near the end of his life he went broke because he put so much into it. He wanted to put a show together.”

“We have cleaned up all the audio and made it look like it was shot yesterday,” added Kimble.

Kimble said that they have booked a fall tour of the show in Canada, invited theaters to a workshop production of the show a few weeks ago in Culver City and currently are making tweaks to the evening before they open in Pasadena. The playhouse will also have an exhibit of rare photos from Garland’s life and career as well as Michael Siewert’s collection of costumes from many of her classic films.

Luft’s siblings won’t be attending the show. Lorna lives in Palm Springs and is awaiting the birth of a grandchild. “Liza is in New York,” said Luft. “She was going to come out and see the show but she couldn’t make it out.”

Luft hopes his show will keep the memory of his mother and her talent alive for years to come.

“They know ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ but people don’t even know Judy,” said Luft, who added that he could listen to her recordings for hours. “The show is to educate people and show who she was and what she did and what she was all about — one of the world’s greatest entertainers.”

Follow Susan King on Twitter at @mymackie


‘A Judy Garland Concert With Joey Luft’

Where: Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. Molina Ave., Pasadena

When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $40-$75