Contrary to the biopic “Judy,” the first encounter between Judy Garland and her future husband Mickey Deans was in no way a “meet-cute” at a party. In fact, their first encounter was decidedly unglamorous.
As the film tells it, Garland (played by Renee Zellwegger) was invited to a party by her daughter Liza Minnelli (Gemma-Leah Devereux), who, by that time, had already wowed audiences in a chip-off-the-old-block way with a Tony-winning performance in “Flora the Red Menace.” We see Garland and Deans (Finn Wittrock) lock eyes across the crowded room, his approach, flirtation, flying sparks, and so on.
But the truth is, there was no happenin’ Hollywood party, no instant chemistry, not even a magical moment when their eyes met. The truth: They first met when he delivered drugs to her hotel room in the middle of the night.
“One night when we were in New York she ran out of Ritalin, and I ended up calling her friend John Carlysle in California in the middle of the night to see if he could find us some,” Garland’s youngest daughter, Lorna Luft, writes in her book, “Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir.”
In 1961, Garland’s doctors started her on Ritalin, a stimulant currently used to treat attention deficit disorder. Although Luft was only 15 or 16 at the time, she had become her mother’s caretaker of sorts, making sure she ate, slept and moderated her prescription drug intake, including for Ritalin.
Luft said Carlysle called Charlie Cochran, a mutual friend of his and Garland’s, who, according to her book, “didn’t yet understand the real implications of her medication problem and thought nothing of the request for Ritalin. Half the musicians they knew took Ritalin and other stimulants to keep themselves alert for late-night performances.”
And that’s where Deans entered the picture. He was a jazz pianist and the manager of a popular New York disco called Arthur.
“Charlie called around and eventually showed up in the wee hours of the morning with a couple of Ritalin for my mom and a man he introduced as ‘Dr. Deans.’ I was thankful to see them,” Luft wrote. “It meant that my mother had her medication and I could go back to bed. What I didn’t know was that ‘Dr. Deans’ was disco manager Mickey Deans, who two years later would become my mother’s last husband. To this day John regrets what he did, and he is still my good friend.”
Garland and Deans married in March 1969. She died three months later of an accidental overdose of the barbiturate Seconal.