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Judy Garland’s former manager opens up about enduring four years with the troubled starlet

Judy Garland’s former manager opens up about enduring four years with the troubled starlet

Judy Garland’s former manager has revealed the dark, violent and drug-warped side of the Wizard of Oz star in an exclusive interview with DailyMailTV. 

When, as a 23-year-old ‘schlepper, coffee-getter and file clerk’ in the early 1960s, she was offered a job as Garland’s manager, it was a dream come true.

But Phillips could never have bargained for the life-changing experience she would have with the deeply unstable actress, who during the four years they worked together chased her with a carving knife, slit her wrists and set herself on fire in front of her – and even sexually assaulted her in the back of a car.

Yet despite her erratic late boss’ crazed violence, Phillips still holds a deep admiration for the woman she calls ‘the world’s greatest performer’.

Judy Garland’s former manager Stevie Phillips, 83, has opened up to DailyMailTV about what it was like working for the troubled star

Phillips said that in the four years working together, Garland chased her with a carving knife and sexually assaulted her in the back of a limo

Stevie Phillips is pictured in an undated photo with Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli 

The 83-year-old shared her memories of the iconic singer just before the release of the new movie Judy, a biopic in which Renée Zellwegger plays Garland in the last years of her life, performing in London before she died of a drug overdose aged 47 in June 1969.

Phillips says she first met Garland when she was 23 and working as a secretary at New York-based Freddie Fields Associates.

The actress was down and out, rejected by Hollywood as too old and too difficult to work with. But Fields had hatched a plan to relaunch her career, hoping to prove Garland’s reliability on a US singing tour before taking to the stage in London.

Garland is the subject of the new biopic Judy out in theaters now 

Phillips was tasked with a job that sounded simple, but often proved near-impossible: getting Garland out on stage each night in a fit state to perform.

‘When I met her and started to work with her, it was at a moment when she was totally war-shot in Hollywood,’ the former manager told DailyMailTV.

‘She was unreliable, undependable. They were not going to give her another movie so she moved to London. Freddie went over there, found her in a walk-up flat, unable to get so much as $500 for a gig anywhere. He told her he could give her a career back, make her a star again if she would cooperate with him.

‘It wasn’t but two days before my boss and his partner David Begelman saw they couldn’t build a business and take care of her at the same time. She was totally time-consuming, she needed attention 24/7.

‘They prepared a concert tour for her to establish her reliability. If she could make it out on the stage at 8pm every night, they were persuaded Hollywood would take another look at her. It was my job to get her out on the stage every night.’

With barely two days’ training, the young secretary was thrust into the role of stage manager, lighting director and handling a crew of 30 ‘fairly rough guys’ and one extremely volatile star.

‘I was treated like roadkill,’ Phillips told DailyMailTV. ‘But if they thought I was going to be left by the side of the road, they knew me not. I was 23, ambitious and determined not to fail.’

The former manager said Garland was unpredictable and constantly surfing a cocktail of amphetamines, ‘downers’, and a German mass-market white wine called Blue Nun.

‘At the point when I met Judy, she was a confirmed addict and alcoholic. She could no longer drink hard liquor, her liver was distended,’ said Phillips.

‘She was in enormous emotional pain coupled with great physical pain. The amount of drugs she took got her back to even, to ground zero, to a place where she could perform. Without them I don’t think it could have happened.’

The 83-year-old shared her memories of the iconic singer days ahead of the release of the new movie Judy, a biopic in which Renée Zellwegger plays Garland in the last years of her life

The film starring Zellwegger and Garland chronicles the last few months of the star’s life

Phillips said she was conflicted, knowing that the pharmaceuticals were destroying her boss but also enabling her to create historic performances for enthralled audiences.

‘Once she got on the stage she was in a place that had always seemed to me made her exquisitely happy. The audience loved her, she was thrilled by their acceptance of her, and she never cheated. I never saw her give less than the maximum performance she could give,’ Phillips said.

Phillips said getting the job with Garland was a dream come true as she would watch her in theaters growing up 

‘But sometimes the amount of drugs she took caught me with her at a time when she was not at ground zero. And those were terrible times. I felt immensely sorry for her and I wish I could have changed it, but I couldn’t have.’

In 2015, Phillips released a memoir of her time working with the star, titled Judy & Liza & Robert & Freddie & David & Sue & Me. 

Sitting in her New York City apartment overlooking Central Park, Phillips said the memories are still vivid.

The former manager recounted one horrific episode in 1961. She was helping Garland dress in her Plaza Hotel suite in New York when she saw the singer strike a match and set herself alight.

The star looked down at the blue nightgown burning up her leg, then matter-of-factly walked to the bathroom to extinguish it, saying to Phillips: ‘I better wear tights’.

Garland self harmed again with terrifying ease two years later. While in the middle of a conversation with her manager in her suite at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Boston, the singer looked Phillips dead in the eyes, smiled, and slit her wrists.

‘She cut through an artery,’ she said. ‘I learned that blood doesn’t leak out. It gushes. It gushed all over the bedspread, it gushed all over the drapes, it gushed all over me.’

Phillips said the actress’ disturbed episodes left her deeply affected, but it wasn’t until Garland turned the violence outwards, on her, that she considered quitting.

‘We were playing gin rummy after a concert in Las Vegas. She got off the stage at 2am. There were times she wanted to go out to see other performers, there were times we would end up in a diner, and times when she just wanted to sit and play cards, take drugs that would put her to sleep,’ Phillips remembered.

‘One night she got up from the couch in the penthouse at the Sahara Hotel. She was more asleep than awake, and she fell. The steel and glass coffee table that sat in front of the couch went up through her face. It caught her lip pretty near the middle, the side of her nose, grazed the edge of her eye, and cut deeply into her forehead.

‘She fell flat down onto the carpet – a white carpet I might add – blood pooling around her head in a large circle. I was scared to death she was gone. I didn’t want to touch her. I tried taking a pulse and couldn’t feel anything,’ Phillips said.

The young manager summoned her courage and called the hotel desk, trying to hide the fear in her voice as she asked the operator for Garland’s entertainment director, Stan Irwin, an old hand at dealing with unstable artists.

‘I said to the operator, ‘Miss Garland wants to talk to Mr Irwin, would you kindly ask him to come up.’ One never said anything that was telling over the phone. Judy was persuaded that operators sold information to the press,’ she said.

Irwin rushed to the room, rolled over Garland’s limp body and after finding her pulse, called a doctor.

Attention and the spotlight was paramount for the singer, both in her relationships and on stage, Phillips said. ‘I never saw her give less than the maximum performance she could give’

Garland, the doctor concluded, was not unconscious but asleep, and was so drugged up she had not woken when her face slammed into the glass and metal table. Spotting her varied bottles of pills, he said ‘She’s not taking these any more’, and swept them into his black bag.

But the ordeal was far from over for the exhausted manager.

‘They carried her into the room, and the doctor said ”It would be really wise to sleep in the other bedroom tonight, and I’ll have a nurse here first thing in the morning. But don’t worry about it, she’s going to sleep for 10 hours”,’ said Phillips.

She had 100% of my sympathy most of the time. Though not exactly when she was running after me with a knife

‘Not so. In approximately two and a half hours she was standing at the foot of my bed, and her face was now distorted by the effects of the fall. She woke me, she took my foot and was banging it. She said ”where are my drugs?” She would not accept my truthful response.

‘She went into the kitchen and got the largest carving knife out of the drawer that she could. She came back into the bedroom and threatened me with it. At this point I was out of bed, I was getting my shoes on, and we started having a little chase round the suite.

‘I ran into my room. There were no locks on the door, so I put all my weight up against one side and she put all her weight up against the other. At one point I jumped away from the door and she went flying onto the bed. I was hoping the knife wouldn’t go into her.’

Phillips sprinted to her own separate hotel room downstairs and bolted the door, refusing to emerge until her boss eventually persuaded her with a $200 raise.

‘I was certainly ready to leave, I had enough at that point,’ she said. ‘Yes I was scared, but at the same time I was always incredibly conflicted. I wanted to save myself to be sure, but I also wanted to save her.

‘I felt incredibly sorry for her, always. As glorious an actress, singer and performer as she was, she had 100% of my sympathy most of the time. Though not exactly when she was running after me with a knife. 

‘But by the time I got down to my room, I cried, and it wasn’t out of fright. I knew I could leave the hotel if I wanted to. I had my credit cards, my independence, my brain. But I didn’t. I wanted to be an agent, I was going to manage this somehow. And when David told me she wanted to apologize and wanted me to be with her during the healing process, I went back.’

Phillips witnessed the breakdown of the relationship with her estranged husband and father of her children, Sid Luft, and says she was caught in the middle

Phillips said Garland was betrayed by her agent and Phillips’ boss, David Begelman (pictured right with Barbra Streisand, who cheated on his wife with the actress while embezzling thousands of dollars from her

Phillips puts much of Garland’s instability down to the men who dominated her life, beginning with the head of movie studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Louis B Meyer (pictured with Garland and her mother) She claims the studio gave her speed to shed pounds, kick starting her drug addiction

Phillips said the string of crazed episodes left a mark on her, and she struggled to watch the sadness of a woman she idolized as a child.

‘The years many events like that happened, took their toll on me,’ she said.

‘I was a lonely child. My parents were in the retailing business, they were gone before I woke up in the morning and home after I went to sleep as a kid. My entertainment was going to the local movie house on Saturdays for a quarter.

‘I could sit there from 10 in the morning until six at night when the maid came to pick me up. I fell in love with Judy Garland. I saw all the MGM pictures, the one that impressed me the most was Meet Me in St Louis, because it was about family in St Louis, and it was the family that I wish I had.

‘Who knew that I would get to meet the real thing, and she would have no resemblance whatsoever to the role she played in that film. It was just an irony in my life.

She wanted to think that they all cared deeply about her. They pretended to love her, and they stole all her money

‘I knew I couldn’t change it. I knew by the end of the time I was with her, the despair, the disillusionment, the disappointment that she’d had from the people that she worked with,’ she added.

Garland was troubled from a young age, and Phillips puts much of her instability down to the men who dominated her life, beginning with the head of movie studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Louis B Meyer.

‘She had an oppressive mother who put her on the stage, but the drugs started with the weight problem. She had a tendency to put on a little bit of weight, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer found that unattractive and so they gave her what I assume was speed. Once you have that in your system it’s real hard to sleep, so they gave her downers,’ Phillips said.

‘She was a caring person. She cared for her children, her audience, and her art perhaps most of all. But she was a mess, and the mess had to do with drugs and alcohol. I wanted to go back and throttle Louis B Mayer and say ”Why did you do this, why did you start her on drugs?”’

Phillips said Garland was betrayed by her agent and Phillips’ boss, David Begelman, who cheated on his wife with the actress while at the same time embezzling thousands of dollars from her.

‘She was exploited, and there were many things in that exploitation that she refused to acknowledge. She wanted to think that they all cared deeply about her. They pretended to love her, and they stole all her money. It was crippling emotionally,’ she said

‘I saw what happened with David Begelman. He was vile, it was disgusting. He was a complete liar, totally deceitful and although I suspected he was stealing from her I didn’t know for sure until a few years later.

‘When the checks would arrive at the office, I saw him sign her name on the back. I didn’t have access to the accounts, I had nothing to do with the money. I have no way of knowing whether the checks went downstairs into the Chase Bank in her account or in his.

‘However, years later when David Begelman was the head of Columbia Pictures, he was caught red-handed forging [movie actor] Cliff Robertson’s name on the back of a check. At that point it was easy for me to conclude that he had done the same thing with Judy’s money,’ she added.

Phillips says she was in the middle of Luft and Garland’s nasty split, recalling a time when a nanny – hired by Luft – kidnapped the children from her care and ended up at Luft’s

Garland is seen greeting her daughter Lorna and son Joey two years before her death in 1967. She struggled to maintain a relationship with her three children as she battled substance abuse

Garland is seen embracing her eldest daughter Liza Minnelli in a photo from her final year

Phillips also witnessed the breakdown of the relationship with her estranged husband and father of her children, Sid Luft, and was caught in the middle of the warring former couple.

She recalled one day taking Garland’s children to the New York Central Park Zoo with a nanny while Luft and Garland hashed out their divorce settlement in a nearby hotel.

Phillips says her sole responsibility was to make sure Garland was on stage at 8pm every night and ready to perform, despite her drug addiction 

She left the children with the nanny to call Garland from a payphone to check she was ready for them to return, but when she got back to the zoo they had vanished.

‘I had a feeling that this nurse, that I had never really seen with Judy, was in Sid’s employ,’ Phillips said. ‘I went up to Sid’s room at the hotel, knocked on the door and when he opened it I saw the children sitting on the carpet playing with some toys.

‘I said ”the children are in my charge, do you mind if I take them back up to Judy?” He shut the door on me.

‘I took a breather, went back to Sid’s door, knocked again, and said ”Look, the children are in my charge, I’m responsible, I’m not going back to Miss Garland and telling her I lost them,” whereupon he picked me up and threw me across the hall.

‘He was a big brute of a guy, and I think I was all of 120 lbs. He hurt me. I crawled to the elevator where they had those stands with sand in them where you could put out a cigarette. I pulled myself up and went to the lobby.’

Phillips staggered to the hotel’s payphone and called Garland, who promptly arranged for two ‘goons’ to break in to Luft’s room and steal back the children. They, Garland and Begelman were bundled into a limousine and headed straight for the airport.

Phillips said the physical and emotional abuse she suffered working under Garland gave her a steely confidence that helped her become a successful agent, but laments the lack of a Me Too movement back then to protect women in a deeply sexist workplace.

‘I learned how not to let people not to take advantage of me. There was no Me Too movement then, but I saw some things around me that were regrettable to say the least,’ she said.

‘Certainly the casting couch was alive and well. I was at that point polite but tough, earning the kind of salary women in that day never imagined. Guys: I’d like to think they were scared of me.’

Garland struggled with depression and drug addiction throughout her life, attempting suicide on multiple occasions and suffering numerous mental breakdowns, kidney failures, fluctuating weight battles and exhaustion

‘Once she got on the stage she was in a place that had always seemed to me made her exquisitely happy,’ she says of the troubled star 

One particularly shocking sexual advance she was forced to field came not from a male boss, but from Garland in the back of a limousine.

‘I thought of her moods like a roller coaster. At the top of the roller coaster she was very manic, chatty, funny, talking too fast and too much. At the bottom of the roller coaster she was almost comatose, she could not hear the sound of a human voice,’ Phillips said.

‘It was in the middle that you could discuss business with her, sign contracts, talk about the future, her dreams. It was somewhere between the top and the middle, that day in the car.

‘She was chatty, we were conversing and we came to a bump in the road. The car lurched and she grabbed hold of my knee just to steady herself and then she didn’t let go.

‘Her hand kept moving until it was in my crotch. I was thinking to myself ”Oh no, this is not good. This is not what I want. I don’t want to offend her, I don’t want to upset the good mood that she’s in. I don’t want any of this. What am I going to do?’

‘All of this happened in no more than three seconds, and I took her hand and put it back in her lap, and she went on chatting as if it never happened. She never did anything like that again.’

Philips said Garland reveled in her ‘sexual promiscuity’, and was desperate for attention from both men and women – leading to rumors she had a lesbian affair with her vocal coach and creator of the Eloise books, Kay Thompson.

‘I think she had many kinds of relationships, certainly she slept around before I knew her,’ Phillips confided. ‘There were all kinds of rumors about her affairs. The rumors I heard were that she’d had a relationship with Kay Thompson. But I wasn’t there, I wasn’t in the bedroom.’

Attention and the spotlight was paramount for the singer, both in her relationships and on stage, Phillips said – chuckling as she recalled when Garland could not bear to share the latter.

‘She threatened during the concert tour that she would bring me out on stage with her, because she wanted the audience to acknowledge me and what I had meant to her on the tour,’ Phillips said.

‘She picked a song that was perhaps the hardest in her repertoire, Just In Time. The arrangement that her conductor had prepared for her had 11 half-tone key changes. A whole tone key change is hard enough, a half-tone virtually impossible. But her voice was made of liquid magic and she could do that with no stress at all.

‘I learned the arrangement and the day came when she called me out on the stage. We were starting to sing, she saw that I was going to do it and the joke was over. Suddenly I felt two strong arms pushing me back into the wing. ‘Let’s give the little lady a big hand,’ she said.

‘She was jealous. She certainly didn’t need to be, she was the greatest entertainer in the world. She was too good to share a stage with anybody even for a moment,’ said Phillips.

Phillips  could not bring herself to enter the singer’s funeral parlor when she died in 1969 of a barbiturates overdose 

When Garland left Fields’ agency to perform in London during the final years of her life, Phillips was rewarded for her grueling service with a job as an agent – almost unheard of for a woman of her age in the 1960s.

When she heard in 1969 that her old boss had overdosed on barbiturates, Phillips said she was not surprised.

‘For years I got a call three times or five times a week at three or four in the morning. Her voice was slurred, you couldn’t understand the words and I’d know she’d taken too much,’ she said. ‘There were stomach pumpings for sure.

‘I imagined to myself that someone got a call at four in the morning, and maybe they didn’t come. Or maybe it was just that her system could no longer stand the abuse.’

But the talent agent was so overwhelmed with memories of her intoxicating experience with Garland, she could not bring herself to enter the singer’s funeral parlor.

‘I was so deeply upset by her death that I found it impossible to walk by her coffin, even though I was living across the street from the funeral parlor,’ she said.

‘I just sat on a bench outside central park and I watched the line as it made its way into the Frank Campbell Funeral Home and back out again. I sat thinking about everything we had endured together: the terrible times, the fun times.

‘It was terrible. It was sad, expected, and a loss to the world of entertainment as well as an audience who adored her.’

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