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Joe Luft, Lorna Luft, USPS Executive Vice President Anita Bizzotto, Jesse Richards (Lorna's son, Judy's grandson), Vanessa Richards (Lorna's daughter, Judy's granddaughter)

By Kerrie Smith

June 10, 2006 would have been Judy Garland's 84th birthday.  What an appropriate date for the US Postal Service to unveil a stamp bearing the legendary singer's likeness!  Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall was packed to the hilt with family, critics and fans alike who rejoiced in this wonderful and well-deserved event.  She became the 12th "Legend of Hollywood" honoree in the Postal Service's continuing series of movie greats that has included Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant.

We were first dazzled with an array of clips highlighting Garland's early career, and every scene was greeted with wild applause -- her enchanting pairings with Mickey Rooney, Meet Me in St. Louis, For Me and My Gal, Ziegfeld Follies, The Pirate, the iconic tuxedo-and-fedora "Get Happy" number from Summer Stock, and of course the quintessential "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz.  Fans got to see an intense sequence of dramatic monologues from A Star is Born, work that she was never adequately recognized for by Hollywood.  Watching this one was reminded what a truly remarkable dramatic actress she was.  The montage was capped with an adorable and fitting clip from Girl Crazy, where Rooney, as Andy Hardy, enamored with Garland's Ginger, says, "They ought to put your picture on a postage stamp!"  Again, wild applause.

Robert Osborne, the film historian and anchor of TCM's classic movies, hosted the event.  He was joined by several performers and artists who were on hand to pay tribute to Garland through stories and song, including her daughter Lorna Luft, Dick Cavett, Michael Feinstein, Terrance McNally, Jane Powell, Diane Schuur and Rufus Wainwright.  In the audience guests like Kitty Carlisle Hart and Broadway's Karen Ziemba were acknowledged.

Although it was hard to avoid mentioning Garland's troubled times, everyone tried to focus on the positive. Osborne shared several personal stories, recounting some occasions in his youth where he was fortunate enough to attend parties in her home.  "She was a great hostess, she was funny and witty, and if she had real-life problems, it never showed," adding, "rather than tragic, she was zany."   He said his favorite memory was watching her dance with Burt Lahr at the famed El Morocco club.

McNally, Powell and Cavett sat with Osborne for a lighthearted chat about the singer and her legacy.  McNally talked of his love of Garland and delighted in knowing he was one of the few privileged to see the acclaimed Carnegie Hall concert ("1 in 5 people claim they were there but I really was!"), while Powell, 7 years younger than Garland, told of her brushes with her on the sets.   Touting Garland's humility, Powell joked, "If she ever thought she'd be on stamp, she'd say, 'Well gosh, I'm not Abraham Lincoln!'" Cavett added, "She'd probably make a joke about licking her back."  Cavett dished about her appearance on his talk show, and said that even though he had never met her before, "she made you feel like her best friend."

Osborne introduced Garland's children with Sid Luft, Lorna and Joe Luft.  Lorna (who looked fabulous, by the way) spoke poignantly about this momentous event.  "If you look up the definition of 'legend' in the dictionary, it says, 'Half fiction and larger than life - that was Mama.'"  She did touch on Garland's humanity. "Above all, she was a human being - she had her frailties and her feelings," but she brought it back to her mother's affection and tenderness: "No one could hug you harder, or tickle you on the back better.and you know no one could sing you to sleep better!"  

In her speech, U.S. Postal Service official Anita Bizzotto said Garland took the idea of the rainbow very seriously, and spent her whole life trying to get over it.  "This stamp will gives wings to Judy and everything she personified," she said. "Now, I'm not sure we deliver over the rainbow, but I can guarantee you, we will make sure the Judy Garland stamp travels quickly and easily on letters and packages to every address in America."

Before anyone critiqued the absence of Liza, there she was on screen, turning in a filmed tribute by proxy.  Hers was a brief and (as usual) wacky tribute to her mother, citing that she was a "true American" and that when JFK was shot she insisted on singing Battle Hymn of the Republic on her TV show - accompanied by clips of that performance. Then with a "thank you Mama!" she was gone. 

Then the family - Lorna and her children Jesse and Vanessa (who aptly wore shiny red shoes for the occasion), along with Joe Luft - gathered for the unveiling of the beautiful, larger-than-life stamp.  Artist Tim O'Brien designed the stamp using a portrait of Garland from a publicity photo for A Star is Born, while her signature is at the bottom.  "Isn't it pretty?!" Lorna gushed to the crowd.

Next up were several musicians who paid homage to Garland thru their music.  Since none wanted to even attempt to out-do Garland's all-too familiar versions, they each chose a piece that had some connection to her or evoked admiration and affection.

Diane Schuur, who made a stop at Zankel Hall before heading over to her show at the Blue Note, tickled the ivories in a smooth and easy rendition of "Them There Eyes," her milky voice rollicking through chain of jazzy scats. The result was absolutely delightful.

Rufus Wainwright - who this week will be recreating the entire songbook from Garland's Carnegie Hall show at the renowned concert hall - presented Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home", a song Garland sang at the Kentucky Derby in 1953.  Accompanied by his mother Kate McGarrigle on the piano, who lent her voice on exquisite harmonies, Wainwright's haunting voice made this a soulful, moving lullaby one won't forget too soon.

Michael Feinstein talked of his love of Garland, and citing Peter Allen as also being influenced by her, he offered "I Honestly Love You," a song he said, "I think Judy would have appreciated."  Although heartfelt, Feinstein's choice, a song by Allen from the 1970s made famous by Olivia Newton-John, felt strangely out of place, exacerbated by the fervent classical arrangement. 

Lorna Luft - truly the one person who really seemed to be reveling in the festivities - treated us all to magical version of Comden & Green's "Comes Once in a Lifetime," which her mother sang on her 1960s TV show.  The song, both a celebration of life and a reminder to enjoy every day as if it were your last, was a perfect way to cap off the evening.   Luft, by the way, while not Judy or Liza, had a strong, lush voice that easily recalled the Garland sound.

Finally, Osborne signed off, reminding us that while we mostly remember Judy Garland for all her memorable roles, "nothing was better than seeing Judy as Judy."  With that we were treated to a glorious, 20-minute montage of incredible clips.  From her variety show to her celebrated Carnegie Hall concert, we saw snippets of Judy in all her splendor, with her powerhouse voice, poignant eloquence and occasional playfulness.  Of course there were the requisite snapshots of Dean and Frank, Barbra, Liza, Mickey and the kids, but the real gems were of just her and a microphone. Highlights included "Swannee," "Until You've Played the Palace," "That's Entertainment," "By Myself," "When You're Smiling," "San Francisco," "Chicago," and a rendition of "Old Man River" that, even on celluloid, was so breathtaking the Zankel Hall audience actually gasped.

Thank our lucky stars!  Now we can be reminded of just how special she was every time we mail a letter.