I just finished reading Judy Garland: The Secret Life of an American Legend by David Shipman, and it left me feeling very sad for her.  What an utterly painful, tragic life- despite her triumphs.   The young only know of her as the girl who played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and who sang Over the Rainbow.   But, Judy Garland was a very diverse and gifted vocalist.  Yip Harburg, the lyricist who wrote the words to Over the Rainbow (which was voted the greatest movie song of all time by the American Film Institute), said that Judy Garland had the “greatest voice of the first half of the 20th century.”  If you’d like to hear how great her voice was, just listen to her sing The Man That Got Away from A Star is Born.  Here it is on Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2h3SjisivsA&feature=related

What a voice! Who else can sing like that?  And it’s amazing because even then, at age 32, she had already been through the wringer.

She was born Frances Gumm in Minnesota in 1922. Her parents were both Vaudeville performers, and they brought their three daughters into the act from the age of 3, including “Baby” as Frances was called. Her father, Frank Gumm, was gay (despite having had three daughters), and as you might expect, it put a lot of strain on the marriage.  However, before the marriage ended in divorce, the family moved from Grand Rapids to Los Angeles, mainly because it was considered safer for him.  But, like other Vaudevillians, they did a lot of travelling, and it was in Chicago that George Jessel suggested changing the name of the three girls from “The Gumm Sisters” to “The Garland Sisters”.  That stuck.  Frances, herself, chose the name change to Judy, and it was inspired by the Hoagy Carmichael song of that name.

When her oldest sister left to get married, it broke up the act, and Judy, who was always the most talented of the three, signed with MGM ; she was 13.  Then her father died of spinal meningitis, and from then on, MGM essentially became her parent.

(Judy’s relationship with her mother, Ethel, deteriorated after her father’s death, and they eventually became completely estranged.  Her mother had to take a low-paying clerical job at Douglas Aircraft to survive, and she even sold stories about Judy to the tabloids to make ends meet.  Her attempt to sue Judy for support late in life failed. Ethyl died ignominiously- her body found in a parking garage. She and Judy never reconciled.)

But getting back to young Judy, MGM became like a parent and controlled every aspect of her life, including her food.  She tended to be pudgy as a child, and they were constantly restricting what, and how much, she ate.  And like most teenagers, Judy rebelled and tried to get the food she wanted.  None of it was health food.  The problem was that she did not have a movie star’s figure. She was very short- less than 5 feet tall, and she had no waistline. None! So, even in her teens, she had to wear tight corsets in order to project a figure.  It’s amazing she could sing wearing them.

But, the worst thing was that they got her hooked on drugs. It started with amphetamines by day for weight control. But that’s a form of speed, so she couldn’t sleep at night. But, there was a simple solution: heavy duty barbiturates, which are knock-out pills. This was a 14 year old child! It was criminal child abuse. Didn’t they know that it would wreck her?  Did they even care?

Her first big movie was Broadway Melody of 1938 which was followed by The Wizard of Oz, which of course made movie history.  Over the Rainbow became one of the most covered songs of all time, but back then, Americans only wanted to hear Judy Garland sing it.  She was the ultimate good girl, which led to her nine collaborations with the ultimate good boy Mickey Rooney, starting with Babes in Arms.

But, it was all a Hollywood mirage. Judy started smoking at age 9, drinking at age 13, and popping pills at age 14. And she was quite precocious about men. She was drawn to older men.  Her first serious crush was for bandleader Artie Shaw.  But, when he married Lana Turner, who was still a teenager herself and only 6 months older than Judy, Garland was devastated.  She sought solace with a musician, David Rose, and at the age of 19, she married him.  But, it only lasted a couple of years. She said he was more interested in his model train set than in her.

She met her second husband, Vincent Minnelli, on the set of Meet Me in St. Louis. And incidentally, a song from that movie, and sung by Judy Garland, became a very popular Christmas song and still is:  Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.  I’m sure you know it- it’s very pretty but also wistfully melancholy. Well, it was much more melancholy in its original form.  The original first verse went:  “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last/Next year we will all be living in the past. “ Judy thought that was way too morose, so she changed it to: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/Let your heart be light/Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.” Great improvement.

Vincent Minnelli was an up and coming director, and he was gay, and Judy knew it.  And, she didn’t mind because she thought it would give her the freedom to have affairs with other men while married.  And the fact was: Judy was bisexual. In her wedding photo with Minnelli, there is a woman in the line, Mary Aster, who had been a lover of Garland’s.  Judy liked the idea of being married, but she never went for monogamy. Her attitude about sex was wild and cavalier. She relished having as many lovers as she could- of both genders. But, Judy and Vincente did have a child together, Liza Minnelli. The name “Liza” was inspired by the George and Ira Gershwin song of that name.

In 1946, Minnelli directed Garland and Gene Kelly in The Pirate. By then, Judy’s lifestyle was having visibly destructive effects. She did not look good. She was only 24, still young enough to play the ingénue, but she looked much older. The makeup task of suiting her to the role was more challenging than that in The Wizard of Oz, where she was a 16 year old playing an adolescent.  Judy had her first nervous breakdown during the making of The Pirate and she was placed into a psychiatric hospital for several weeks.  She completed the film, but shortly afterwards, she made her first suicide attempt by slashing her wrists. Over the years, she would have many suicide attempts.  It goes to show that you can’t dose yourself with mind-altering drugs day and night without sinking into hellish depression.  MGM responded by putting her into Psychoanalysis, which was very popular in Hollywood at the time, but unfortunately, it did her no more good than it did Marilyn Monroe.

That trend continued and worsened with subsequent movies.  She completed Easter Parade with Fred Astaire, who was always very patient with her, but she slashed her neck once during the making of it.   She barely got through Summer Stock with Gene Kelly, which was interrupted by another trip to the psych ward.  Because of her deteriorating mental condition and severe drug abuse, she lost her roles in Annie Get Your Gun, Showboat, and The Barkleys of Broadway (which fortunately resulted in the last great teaming of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers).  And then, during the making of Royal Wedding, which also starred Fred Astaire, she was summarily fired by MGM- not just from the movie but from the whole studio.

That brought vast changes in Judy’s life. She and Minnelli got divorced. She got a new manager, Sid Luft, who eventually became her third husband.  And since no movie studio would hire her because of her erratic behavior, she turned to live concerts to make money, starting with a big production on Broadway, and then a big show at the Palladium in London.  Then, she and Sid got married, and Liza came to live with them, as did Sid’s son John.  Then, Judy gave birth to their daughter Lorna, named after a character from the Clifford Odets play, Golden Boy.  But through it all, the tantrums, the breakdowns, the drug abuse, and the suicide attempts continued. She would get so exhausted performing that they would keep ammonia capsules handy to revive her when she felt faint.

In 1954, Sid worked out a deal with Warner Brothers for Judy’s movie comeback in A Star Is Born. It was plagued with all the same problems as before, but at least her weight was at a good level, and though there were a lot of costly delays thanks to Judy, the picture got finished and was considered excellent. Judy was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, and she was the presumptive winner.  So, it was a shock when the Oscar went to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl.  Groucho Marx called it “the biggest robbery since Brinks.” Judy was disappointed, but she had her new baby boy Joey to console her.  His name was taken from the old standard, “Happiness is just a thing called Joe.” So, all her children’s names were inspired by show business.

Despite rave reviews, A Star is Born was a flop at the box office and lost a ton of money.  So, there were no movie offers after that, and Judy turned to television.

The night before her first television special, she overdosed on sleeping pills, and in the morning, she could not be aroused. Sid carried her to the bathroom and put her in a cold shower. That woke her up, but she was unable to move her body. They called her doctor who recommended loading her up with tea.  So they did that, and she slowly started coming around. By the time, they got to the studio, she could walk, but she still couldn’t talk. So, they went through the rehearsal  dry- with no singing. By the time the show was to begin, she did have her voice back, but the first two songs came out a little garbled. But, by the end, she was able to sing normally.

Despite declining health, Judy was very productive in her last decade, the 1960s. Her concerts were well received on both sides of the Atlantic, culminating in her Carnegie Hall performance which was described as “the greatest night in show business history.”  Her television series ran for 26 broadcasts and was exceeded in the ratings only by the very popular Bonanza.   And she made three movies in the 60s, including Judgment at Nuremberg, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.  But through it all, there were numerous hospitalizations: for acute hepatitis (liver), cirrhosis of the liver, acute pyelonephritis (kidney), spastic colitis, repeated bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia, and life-threatening drug overdoses.  Once, someone with a photo of her having her stomach pumped at a hospital in London after a drug overdose blackmailed her for $50,000, which she paid. Years later, it was found to be her own manager.  Her divorce from Sid Luft was probably the longest in history, dragging on for years in court.  She had to hire 24-hour bodyguards for her two children with him- lest he kidnap them.

After her television series ended, she began a world tour in the company of a young man, Mark Herron, an aspiring actor whom she met at a party. The first stop was Australia, where the Sydney concert went well. But, the Melbourne concert was a disaster. She was late getting there, and she seemed to be drunk.  The audience was brutal, and she fled the stage within 40 minutes. She hurried to Hong Kong, but the bad press followed her. There, she made her most serious suicide attempt yet by overdosing on Seconol.  It put her into a deep coma which lasted for days. She was said to be “clinically dead.” Specialists from the US were rushed to Hong Kong to try to save her.  And she did come out of it with her doctors saying that she would never be able to work again. But, they were wrong.

Upon regaining consciousness, Judy was informed that her sister Suzy had succeeded at committing suicide in the same manner in Las Vegas, although probably using a different drug.  Then, Judy was determined to marry Mark Herron, who happened to be gay. They went through two marriage ceremonies in Hong Kong, but the legitimacy of it was in question because her divorce from Sid Luft had not been finalized.  They topped it off with a third ceremony in Las Vegas, but that was only six months before they divorced, with each accusing the other of extreme violence.

But, in November 1964, Judy proudly did a live concert with Liza in London which was well received.  Afterwards, Liza announced her engagement to Peter Allen, a musician friend of Mark’s, who, like Mark, was gay. Judy approved of the marriage. But by the time of the wedding, Judy and Mark were already divorced, and it was Liza’s father, Vincent Minnelli, who escorted Judy to the wedding. They hadn’t laid eyes on each other in 16 years.

The last few years of Judy’s life were very sad and miserable.  She was sick, unable to work.  But, she did so anyway because she had to. She was broke and had debts galore, including being hounded by the IRS.  In 1967, she was offered a small role in Valley of the Dolls, mainly because the story was based largely on her life.  But, she didn’t get along with the actress playing her, who was Patty Duke.  And mentally, she wasn’t up for it; she couldn’t remember her dialogue or take direction. They had to let her go.

By then, Judy was truly a basket case. Her younger children, Lorna and Joey, went to live with their older sister Liza and her husband.  All Judy could do was take whatever small gigs she could.  But, her voice was gone; her health was gone; her money was gone; and most of her friends were gone.

Three months before she died, Judy married her fifth husband, a young nightclub owner from London, Mickey Deans. Yes, he too was gay.

On the evening of June 21, 1969, in his small London apartment where they lived, Judy and Mickey had a huge argument, and she went storming out.  He watched television for a while and then went to bed. The next morning, a phone call for her awoke him.  He looked for her and found that the bathroom door was locked.  He shouted and banged, but there was no response. When he finally crawled in through a window, he found her sitting on the toilet. She was dead, and rigor mortis had set in. She was 47 years old, and $4 million in debt. The autopsy revealed that she had died from an overdose of Seconal.  The coroner said that it was “accidental,” but many believe that she finally succeeded at committing suicide.

I think the lesson of Judy Garland’s life is that you can’t pharmacologize basic biological functions like eating, sleeping, and wakefulness without inviting ruin and disaster.  And starting such nasty interventions early in life, as she did, guarantees that you are never going to have a normal life.  That’s why it was such a crime what Louie B. Mayer and the other MGM execs did to her.

In one respect, it’s better today: the studios aren’t so powerful. They don’t own anybody any more.  But, the mindset of our culture is still very drug-happy, and there are still plenty of doctors willing to prescribe drugs, and of course, illicit drugs are readily available.  And, talented stars are still dying tragically, such as River Phoenix, Heath Ledger, Brittany Murphy, and most recently, Amy Winehouse.  The solution has to begin with a change in attitude about drugs- by individuals and by society at large.

I have been asked to weigh in on Global Warming, and I can tell you that I am opposed to the dogma of Global Warming. I realize that I am not a climatologist, but there are certain facts that are indisputable. One is that world temperatures peaked in the 1990s and have been cooling ever since.  Here in Central Texas, we have been getting progressively colder winters. Last winter saw record-breaking cold (13 degrees) and more sub-freezing days over the course of the winter than in 50 years.  Two, over Earth history, temperatures have fluctuated a lot, but there is no consistent correlation with higher CO2 levels, i.e., there have been warm periods with lower CO2 and cold periods with higher CO2. So, other factors are always involved. And one of them is number three on our list: sunspot activity. Sunspot activity is in decline, and we are approaching what is called a “solar minimum.” This is not in dispute. And solar minimums are associated with decreasing temperatures, including ice-ages.  And speaking of ice-ages, we’re due for one.  Most inter-glacial periods last for 10,000 years.  Ours has already lasted for 11,000. So, we are overdue for an ice-age, and it is now known that the transition to an ice-age can take place very quickly.

But, what if the fearmongers of global warming are right and it comes true? It would by no means be an unmitigated curse.  Yes, there would be the coastal flooding problems, but there would be time to prepare for that. But what about the boon to agriculture? Think about all the immense swaths of untapped virgin farmland across large stretches of Russia and Canada (the two largest countries in the world) that would become arable because of longer growing seasons.  It would be a boon not just to those two countries but to the entire world as food became plentiful and cheap.

Remember what we are talking about with global warming: we are talking about more solar energy reaching the Earth. And solar energy is the ultimate source of all energy on Earth with the exception of hydropower which harnesses gravitational energy.  But all the rest comes from the sun, directly or indirectly. So, would it be so terrible if we had more of it?

But again, unfortunately, it looks like there is a greater chance of global cooling than global warming in the decades ahead, and I truly regret it.

Politically, I urge you to vote against anything and everything that pertains to governmental attempts to combat global warming.  It’s all part of the march to tyranny, in my opinion. That doesn't mean that you should not be conservative about your fuel use, your so-called "carbon footprint," because there are other reasons  to do so which are valid, such as reducing air pollution.  But indubitably,  the  global warming mantra is part  of the statist, globalist, power-driven mentality that is the enemy of humankind.

I was prompted to write this piece after reading that the majority of Americans don’t see a dentist even once a year.  And if they are not seeing a dentist, it means they are not getting their teeth professionally cleaned.  I have my teeth professionally cleaned every 4 months, and I have the dentist examine my mouth once a year, which includes 4 bitewing x-rays, to see between the teeth.  The total cost of this care per year is about $350.

Americans need to realize that oral decay, and particularly chronic gingivitis, can ruin your health. The link between rotten gums and heart disease is proven.  The infective process in the gums leads to the dispersion of plaque-inducing, inflammatory molecules throughout the blood stream, causing heart attacks.  Gum disease increases your overall risk of dying- by a wide margin. You are a ticking time bomb if you have bad gums.

Obviously, prevention relies on sound nutrition and good dental hygiene at home.  Green vegetables, beans, and raw nuts are the best foods for teeth-building, and they comprise a big part of my diet. And although I’m a big fan of fruits, and I eat my share, the fact is that fruits do not serve your teeth as well. If your diet is too high in fruit, your teeth will definitely suffer. The sugars in the fruit are, obviously, an issue, and so are the fruit acids, which can dissolve dental enamel. In moderation, fruits are fine, but don’t eat fruits at the expense of vegetables and other plant foods.  Grains, too, are not considered the best for your teeth.  As I said: vegetables, beans, and nuts are where it’s at when it comes to building strong teeth.

As regards dental hygiene at home, I try to brush after every meal, and I floss thoroughly at least once a day.  Sometimes, I will floss twice a day. For instance, if I have had oatmeal, I will floss immediately afterwards because oatmeal tends to accumulate a lot between the teeth.

Keep in mind that I have a goal: to live a long life and never require dentures. Dentures are one aspect of aging that I would like to skip. To do that, it’s going to take superior nutrition and diligent dental hygiene.  But, knowing how important it is, I am up for the task.

A recent study found that not only do millions of Americans forgo dental care, but millions live in areas that are underserved by dentists.  “A severe shortage of dentists in rural and minority areas is contributing to the persistent and systemic barriers to oral health care,” the report noted. The economic downturn is also taking a toll. It is estimated that 5 million American children are not seeing dentists at all because of their parents’ lack of money.  And, the report said that two-thirds of American seniors do not obtain adequate dental care due to insufficient income. This is really a tragedy. And yet, they keep telling us that we are the richest country in the world.

"We have the lowest ratio of dentists to population that we have had in 100 years," says Shelly Gehshan, who directs the Pew Children's Dental Campaign. "This is a serious problem that leaves 40 to 50 million people out of reach of a dentist at any given moment."

I urge you to make your teeth a priority. The few hundred dollars I spend each year on professional dental care is worth every penny, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s a paltry sum, so why worry about it.  Besides, I economize in other ways; for instance, I don't buy medical insurance. I say, get your priorities straight, and your teeth are a priority.

People ask me how I can stand the summers in Texas. But, I tell them that it’s no problem for me because I have watermelon, and I have swimming.  I swim practically every day in the summer, usually in the late afternoon. And it completely relieves the oppression of the summer heat. I was a competitive swimmer in high school, and I have been swimming ever since.  Swimming is my favorite fitness activity- that along with bicycling.  And I swim all year long, although not nearly as much in the winter.  Here in Austin where I live, there are public pools that are open all year, including ones that are non-chlorinated.  My rule is that if it’s sunny and in the 60s, I’m good to go for swimming, whether it’s December, January, or February.

Swimming is surely one of the best exercises.  It sets your whole body in motion and uses all of your muscles- although the upper body much more than the lower body.  And, swimming is truly a natural movement.  Swimming is a primordial activity, meaning that it was something that prehistoric humans (who were anatomically the same as you and me) were doing tens of thousands of years ago.  It’s significant that American researchers found primitive people in the Amazon swimming the front crawl.  And, Australian researchers found primitive people on the Solomon Islands swimming the front crawl as well- half a world away.

Today, it is common to refer to the front crawl as the “freestyle” but that’s really a misnomer.  It started being called the freestyle because in competitive swimming, when you have  a race in which any stroke is permitted, the crawl is the stroke that everyone  chooses to swim because it is the fastest and most efficient stroke.  But, the crawl is a much better description of what the stroke involves.

Let’s pursue that idea of crawling through the water. We know that when a baby crawls, it is a natural activity that is mediated instinctively. No one has to teach a baby how to do it.  And it involves the same brain centers that control the natural cadence of walking.  Swimming the crawl is to aquatic locomotion as walking is to terrestrial locomotion. Am I saying that swimming the crawl is as natural and instinctive to a human as swimming the dog paddle is to a dog? Not quite, but close.

Swimming does good things to your body.  For one thing, it stretches you out, especially when you swim the crawl.  When you reach that arm forward, you are stretching the distance between your hand and your feet.  It’s the only common exercise I know of that does that.  There was an episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer began swimming in the East River because the YMCA pool was too crowded.   And he said, “An hour in that chop, and I come out two inches taller.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the general idea is true.

And swimming does good things for your mind too. It’s a stress reliever.  When you swim the crawl, the natural cadence of the brain takes over.  You focus on the movement.  It  takes over your mind. And of course, your whole world is different. You’re in this aquatic environment which is very stimulating and very different.  Get into the water and start swimming the crawl, and do it earnestly.  I don’t mean strain yourself, but really try to cut through the water diligently.  Then see if you can worry, fret, and fume  about something at the same time.  You can't.  It's impossible. Swimming clears your mind.  You come out of the water mentally refreshed and renewed.

When I swim in natural water, such as a river or creek or lake, I feel closer to my  ancient human roots than at any other time.  In Austin, we have the Barton Creek Greenbelt, and with good Spring rains, the creek fills with fresh, soft rain water, and it’s fabulous to swim there.  The college kids go there to mix and mingle and drink beer.  But, I go there to swim. Sadly, there were no Spring rains this year, and the creek remained dry as a bone.  But, I am already hoping for next year.

A study in the journal Neurology found an association between olive oil consumption and a lower risk of stroke. This was a French study involving 7,625 participants.

Cécilia Samieri, PhD, of the University of Bordeaux and her associates analyzed data from 7,625 participants aged 65 and older in the Three-City Study involving Bordeaux, Dijon and Montpellier, France. Olive oil consumption frequency was determined from dietary intake documented upon enrollment between 1999 and 2000, and was categorized as no use, moderate use, or intensive use (characterized by the use of olive oil multiple times daily, both as a dressing and in cooking).

During a median follow-up period of 5.25 years, 148 strokes occurred in the study population. Adjusted analysis of the data revealed a 41 percent lower risk of stroke among intensive olive oil users compared to those who reported no use. The protective association was found for ischemic stroke, but not hemorrhagic stroke.

In a secondary study of 1,245 subjects for whom plasma fatty acid measurements were available, those with the highest levels of plasma oleic acid (a biological marker of oleic acid intake from olive oil) had a 73 percent reduction in stroke risk compared to those whose levels were lowest.

American Academy of Neurology member Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD of Columbia University remarked in an accompanying editorial that "Although the Mediterranean-type diet shares many features with many other healthy dietary patterns, it is distinct in its high fat content, mainly from olive oil."

"Our research suggests that a new set of dietary recommendations should be issued to prevent stroke in people 65 and older," commented Dr Samieri, who is affiliated with the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Bordeaux. "Stroke is so common in older people and olive oil would be an inexpensive and easy way to help prevent it."

It’s noteworthy to me that this protective effect from olive oil was observed without any kind of dietary restrictions. This is France we’re talking about,  and French cooking.  Besides using olive oil, they also use vast amounts of butter, meat, and other foods that are suspected of being atherogenic. Yet, without limiting anything else, the inclusion of olive oil made a startling difference in stroke risk.

However, I believe it makes a big difference whether you use olive oil as a dressing on a big green salad or if you fry lamb chops in it. Imagine if, in addition to using a high quality extra-virgin olive oil, you largely steer your daily diet towards unrefined plant foods, including many fruits and vegetables, plus leafy greens (both raw and cooked) and legumes, whole grains, etc. I dare say that you are going to do fabulously well.

I use extra-virgin olive oil every day, and it is the only oil I use.