What Happened To Judy Garland's Role In Valley Of The Dolls?

From Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" to Esther Smith in "Meet Me in St. Louis," Hollywood legend Judy Garland has played many iconic roles. But there are other roles she never got a chance to play. One of these is the part of Helen Lawson in the 1967 cult classic "Valley of the Dolls," based on Jacqueline Susann's bestselling novel of the same name. 

Garland was first contracted to play Lawson in February of 1967, according to The Judy Room. Her casting brought immediate star power to the film, the New York Daily News recounted. But it was also slightly ironic, because another character in the film, the pill-popping singer Neely O'Hara, was reportedly inspired by Garland's own story and struggles. "But nobody was allowed to say that," actress Patty Duke, who played O'Hara, said in a 2009 interview. "I wasn't allowed to say I was playing Judy" (via Marc Huestis). 

A star is fired

Judy Garland wasn't offered the role of O'Hara because she was 45 at the time, according to the New York Daily News, too old to play the ingenue. But she was the right age for the Ethel-Merman-inspired Lawson, The Judy Room. "Let's face it: the role calls for an old pro over 40," Garland said of her casting at the time. "That's for me. It's for sure I am no longer Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz' ... The part of Helen Lawson is no more me than the part in 'Judgement at Nuremberg.' It doesn't pertain to me."

Judy Garland's participation in "Valley of the Dolls" didn't last long, however. She began to work on the film on March 27, 1967, and was reportedly fired exactly one month later, according to The Judy Room. There are several opinions as to what happened. Some say that Garland objected to obscenities and nude scenes in the film or the similarities between herself and the Neely O'Hara character. Others say that author Jacqueline Susann persuaded her that the part was not right for her. Still, others that she objected to the script or that director Mark Robson disagreed with her approach to the character. 

Fall and rise

There is also evidence that Judy Garland's personal struggles got in the way. In an interview, her brief co-star, Patty Duke, recalled that Garland was "charming and funny" on set, but Robson kept her waiting to film all day, during which time enablers allegedly plied her with alcohol (via Marc Huestis). By the time Robson was ready for her, she "couldn't function very well," Duke recalled. Eventually, studio president Richard Zanuck told her, "It's better that we just call it a day," the New York Daily News reported. The role went to Susan Hayward instead.

There is still some evidence of Garland's brief stint in "Valley of the Dolls." She pre-recorded the song "I'll Plant My Own Tree," for the film, according to The Judy Room, and the recording still exists. There is also footage of her wardrobe test, according to HuffPost. Garland got some things out of the experience as well. She received half of her promised paycheck, according to The Judy Room. And she wore the suit from the wardrobe test when she appeared at The Palace not long after, HuffPost explained.