Most of us observe the celebrity lifestyle from a distance. The closest we ever get is watching a star-chasing, syndicated television show. For a good portion of the world, that’s fine. But there are others who desperately want to be a part of the merry-go-round. Of those, few ever get the chance. John Carlyle’s life was different. He wanted something and pursued it until he had his own stories to tell. Those stories have become his autobiography, Under the Rainbow: An Intimate Memoir of Judy Garland, Rock Hudson & My Life in Old Hollywood.
Carlyle, a Baltimore native, left his hometown for a more promising life and found it on the cusp of stardom and obscurity. He began his journey at Manhattan’s Palace Theatre in the beginning of the 1950s. After securing a job as an usher, he became enthralled with the lively performances of Judy Garland, a frequent headliner who commanded the adoration of everyone in the room. Everyone from the Palace’s higher-ups to the janitor, Turner, watched in awe as she lit up the stage. When Garland ended her run after nearly 300 performances, a mixture tears and applause lingered in the air. Garland had become a film entity after The Wizard of Oz; but by the time Carlyle had made her acquaintance, was enjoying more success playing her “Two-A-Day” shows in front of a live audience. Carlyle fought his way through the show business ranks and finally landed a small role in the 1954 classic A Star is Born (though his scenes would ultimately be cut). It was on the set of Star that he reintroduced himself to Garland. It took only Carlyle’s offering of a cigarette to Garland for his world to change. He became part of the in-crowd, traveling in Hollywood’s elite circle and enjoying the fruits of knowing the right people. As baffling as it may seem, he never became a “star” in the classical sense; he merely knew the stars on a personal level. The majority of Carlyle’s story revolves around his seesaw relationship with Garland through the years. Their on-and-off friendship (and occasionally more) built itself like a winding road with a cliff at every turn. Nevertheless, they remained close until Garland’s tragic death in 1969. Carlyle balances his Hollywood recollections with the intricate minutia of his many relationships, even before achieving any level of status.
Carlyle tells the story as if he wrote it while still experiencing his own life. His frequent childhood flashbacks lend realism to an otherwise fairytale existence. And what Hollywood account would be complete without a bit of drama? Carlyle’s affiliation with so many high-profile personalities was not always smiled upon. Carlyle, openly gay, was seen with various male stars that, if they were gay, remained in the closet. He even found Howard Hughes, the billionaire recluse, extremely handsome (though nothing was inappropriate). The reader can easily distinguish the author’s own sense of fantasy and reality. Carlyle writes with the intent of solidifying his place in history. However, it is these small, yet unheard stories of Hollywood that would be lost forever were it not for the book. His memories are fascinating, and save for a few random trips back to adolescence, translate really well in to the written word. The 325-page memoir is rife with emotion and surprises. With a foreword by TCM host and longtime Carlyle friend Robert Osborne, Under the Rainbow: An Intimate Memoir of Judy Garland, Rock Hudson & My Life in Old Hollywood serves to make John Carlyle the representation of every ordinary person with a dream of life in the fast lane.