Montage: Hippodrome Casino, Judy Garland plaque and Talk of the Town programme

A Hollywood legend in Leicester Square

Judy Garland was just one of the many American stars who for almost a quarter of a century brought a touch of glamour to the Talk of the Town

For the Wizard of Oz star, the visit to London’s West End was taking her close to the end of the rainbow. Just months after Judy Garland’s performances at the Talk of the Town in 1969, the 47-year-old actress was found dead in her home in Cadogan Lane, Belgravia.

Those shows form the centrepiece of Renee Zellweger’s brilliant performance in the 2019 hit movie Judy, which tells the story of The Wizard of Oz star’s world famous but desperately chaotic life.

The film also captures the atmosphere of the famous entertainment venue, which brought Hollywood glamour to London audiences. The Talk of the Town was opened in 1958 and for the next 24 years it was a showcase for international stars.

The big names drawn to Leicester Square included Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Tom Jones, Diana Ross and the Supremes and Shirley Bassey – the full list is very long. The fame of the Talk of the Town spread beyond the West End because some of the performances were broadcast on television, while others were recorded to produce live albums.

In 1982, impressario Lord Delfont had to call a halt because of escalating costs. It was the end of an exciting chapter for the theatre, which began life in 1900 as the London Hippodrome, and was originally home to circus and variety performances.

The building, designed by architect Frank Matcham, has had various roles over the decades and is now the Hippodrome Casino. Inside the building a memorial plaque celebrates Judy Garland’s appearance and declares her to be “The greatest entertainer who ever lived”.

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