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Did Judy Garland Mainstream the Under-the-Table Blow Job?

Somewhere over the rainbow and under the appetizer lies the hard truth about this hotly contested beej

In the spring of 1966, Judy Garland allegedly gave her publicist-turned-lover Tom Green a blow job while dining out. Or as author Gerald Clarke put it in the 2000 biography Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland, Garland and Green “seemed to make love everywhere, Judy even disappearing under the tablecloth at a Santa Monica restaurant to perform oral sex while Green was picking at his appetizer.” It wasn’t the Tom Green Show exactly, but the spectacle continued nonetheless: “Forgetting the second course, they jumped into his snappy new Pontiac convertible and raced back to Rockingham Avenue.” 

Prior to reading this, I had no idea that Dorothy Gale from Kansas was such a fan of the discrete beej, though I’m well-acquainted with the under-the-table blow job from it being depicted many times over in pop culture. There’s the infamous podium scene in Police Academy; Al Pacino gets one in The Devil’s Advocate; the same goes for Hugh Jackman in Swordfish and Jason Biggs in American Wedding. The under-the-table beej has similarly appeared on the small screen — on Sex and the City and in the pilot of Shameless in particular. It doesn’t stop there either (to say nothing of furtive handies and foot-jobs).

To be fair, Garland didn’t invent under-the-table oral sex. It dates back to Victorian era sex workers who would give “below jobs,” which is actually where the term blow job came from. But would such a salacious move have been so seamlessly mainstreamed in Hollywood had it not been for Garland?

It’s hard to say, given the controversy surrounding the beej in question. Unlike earlier, more sanitized biographies of Garland, Clarke’s edgier account came from the star herself after he stumbled on a few gossip columns about her rumored autobiography. On a hunch, he sent his research assistant to check Random House’s archives, and found 68 pages of prose, as well as 30 letters on the topic. Combined with reports from exes like Green and anonymous sources, Clarke was able to weave together a darker, grittier and infinitely more sexual narrative of Garland’s life. 

The book revealed the secret abortion she was forced into by MGM at age 20, the sexual harassment she endured from producer Louis B. Mayer and further confirmed her previously documented love for going down on both men and women. “When you’ve eaten everything in the world there is to eat, you’ve got to find new things,” Garland once told her assistant Harry Rubin. Still, even Garland had her limits and complained to Rubin that Frank Sinatra only wanted blow jobs. “Well, you’ve gotta fuck once in a while, too, you know,” she allegedly said.

Clarke also wrote, “One ugly-minded lover bragged that after she gave him oral sex, he made her sing ‘Over the Rainbow’ so he could hear those famous words sung through a mouthful of semen.”

And yet, of all these revelations, the only detail that was disputed after the publication of Clarke’s book was the under-the-table beej. When Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft saw it mentioned in an interview with Clarke in the New York Times, she took to Page Six and wrote a scathing letter to Bill Goldstein, founding editor of the Books section, that claimed Green had admitted to lying to get back at Garland for writing about him negatively in her book. Journalist Steven Sanders, who wrote another Garland biography, Rainbow’s End, commented that the denial seemed suspect as it occurred only after Luft’s father and Garland’s third husband, Sid Luft, called Green outraged. 

Clarke never responded to Luft’s allegations that his book was based on false claims, but he made it clear in his Times interview that he wasn’t particularly interested in what she or Garland’s other daughter, Liza Minnelli, had to say about his work.I think that they now believe the mythology about their mother themselves. I don’t think they really know any more what she was like. It’s not that they’re lying, I’m not suggesting that. I just think that they’ve become victims of her myth as well,” Clarke explained to the paper. “I didn’t feel any obligation to try to slant the story to try to make them feel good. Nor the other way: I didn’t want to make them feel bad, either. I just wanted to tell the truth.”

A daughter’s impulse to protect her late mother’s image normally would be understandable. But an under-the-table blow job is nothing to be ashamed of; even uptight Victorians realized they were objectively awesome. So if Judy Garland gave Tom Green the beej in question, I hope she thought of herself as a quadruple threat that day — a true talent who could sing, dance, act and give such good head that it guaranteed no one would ever dare leave before dinner was served.