Old Hollywood Songs: The Man That Got Away

Today's song is The Man That Got Away performed by Judy Garland in A Star Is Born (1954).

Judy Garland's tour de force performance of The Man That Got Away in A Star Is Born (1954) sealed her status as one of the greatest singers in old Hollywood history, but the song did require a little fine tuning before it made it to the silver screen.

A Star Is Born was Garland's comeback film after a rocky few years in the early 1950's. Garland was fired by MGM in 1950 for her erratic behavior on Royal Wedding (1951), but she made a comeback as a concert singer during legendary engagements at the London Palladium and the Palace Theater in New York.  Garland's next step on the comeback trail was to make a movie. She and her third husband, Sid Luft, chose a musical remake of the 1937 drama, A Star Is Born, which is about the transformation of plain Esther Blodgett into Hollywood actress Vicki Lester.  

The Man That Got Away is one of five songs that Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin wrote for A Star Is Born. Arlen, who co-wrote Garland's signature song, "Over the Rainbow," came up with a bluesy, sophisticated melody that he called a "tapeworm"  because of the complicated way the song unfolded. Johnny Mercer wrote a set of lyrics, but Arlen wasn't satisfied with their witty, lighthearted tone, so he called upon composer and lyricist Ira Gershwin to retool Mercer's work. Gershwin immediately connected with the song -- he came up with the title the first time he heard the melody -- and he wrote bittersweet lyrics that reflected the doomed relationship between Esther and alcoholic actor Norman Maine (James Mason).

Garland's recording of the song showcased her soaring vocals, but it took some tinkering before director George Cukor got the right mood for the number. Here's two outtakes that were filmed before the version that is in the final film:

The Man That Got Away was nominated for best original song at the 1954 Academy Awards, but it lost to "Three Coins in the Fountain." Garland recorded a hit version and it became a popular number during her concert tours. Here she is performing the song live.

The Man That Got Away also became a popular song for male vocalists such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, who usually changed the title to The Gal That Got Away.  Here's Sammy Davis, Jr. performing a dynamite version.

The Man That Got Away continues to be a popular standard. The romantic comedy P.S. I Love You features Hilary Swank singing along to Garland's version and singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley frequently performed the song during his concerts. Here's Buckley's version.

Go here, for more old Hollywood songs performed by Judy Garland.


  1. I never saw those outtakes of Cukor working towards he right mood before! What a difference the right mood makes to the song.

    Love this song and really enjoyed your post on it!

    1. The second outtake makes Judy look like a waitress with that ugly outfit and serving the coffee.


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