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Judy Garland considered Meet Me in St. Louis her favorite film, and rightly so, as it introduced three of her classic songs: “The Boy Next Door”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, and “The Trolley Song”.
Given the Technicolor musical’s great success, it may surprise to know that she was at first hesitant to join the cast. In fact, Director Otto Preminger told her to pass on the role and do Harvey Girls (read about that here). Joseph L. Mankiewicz encouraged her to find more mature roles, rather than playing another youngster in love. Even MGM stuido head Louis B. Mayer wondered if the musical had enough plot to work.
Thankfully, producer Arthur Freed convinced her the role was perfect for her, and Garland found a smash hit in the nostalgic family tale.
1. There was a different boy next door.
Gil Stratton, who had appeared in Girl Crazy, was originally cast as Judy Garland’s love interest. However, his service in the United States Army Air Corps kept him from the role. Van Johnson then accepted the role, only to drop out later (though he starred beside Garland later in In the Good Old Summertime). Robert Walker was considered, but Tom Drake got the part.
2. Margaret O'Brien won a special Academy Award.
However, O’Brien almost didn’t get the part. When her mother requested more money, the studio threatened to cast another young girl and even had her fit for costumes. For her performance, O’Brien received a special Juvenile Academy Award. “Tootie was fun because I could do a lot of the things I maybe wouldn’t normally do myself,” O’Brien said. “So I loved playing Tootie.”
3. Judy found love on the set.
Judy Garland and Director Vincente Minnelli fell in love on set and became engaged when he gave her a unique black onyx ring. Speaking about the romance, actress Dorothy Raye said, “And it was almost like a friendship, and an enjoyment of conversation and enjoying each other’s company and time spent together. And we watched it grow so slow, it didn’t hit us for a while.”
4. It took a while to crack “The Trolley Song”.
The idea for a song about a trolley came from Arthur Freed. At first, the songwriters composed several songs for the trolley ride, before Freed explained he wanted a song about the trolley. The songwriters felt it was too on the nose, but did it anyway. Little did they know that “The Trolley Song” would sell approximately 500 thousand copies before the film was even released. Interestingly, the song was actually inspired by a picture of an old trolley which had the caption “Clang! Clang! Clang! went the jolly little trolley ”.