By August "The World of Tomorrow" desperately needed a shot in the arm to inspired visitors through its turnstiles. The fair got exactly what it needed when Hollywood's favorite juveniles appeared in The Big Apple.
Calling in the Big Guns
By August the fair continued to flounder badly at the turnstiles and every effort to boost attendance seemed unsuccessful, including Mayor La Guardia's tour through the mid-west.
The early parade of second rate European royalty and New York socialites through Perylon Hall created an elitist image the fair simply could not shake. Too many individuals associated the fair with Grover Whalen in top hat and formal wear. The fair's final months had to appeal to "the man on the street" or face disaster.
Then, seemingly, fate stepped in and the administration hit upon their one cracker jack idea – get the silver screen's biggest stars to endorse "The World of Tomorrow." Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney were in The Big Apple to promote Judy's "The Wizard of Oz." Why not promote the fair, too?
On August 14, Judy and Mickey, chaperoned by their mothers, arrived at Grand Central Station. 5,000 screaming fans greeted the pair. 150 specially chosen boys and girls then escorted them to the Waldorf Astoria.
Associates close to the eighteen-year-old Mickey believed he would be the next George M. Cohan: actor, singer, dancer and song writer. However, the teen idol informed the press: "I only get $65 a week allowance, and I have to buy everything out of that." Judy, sixteen years old, countered she only received $40 a week. She claimed her goal in life was to become a fine actress like Bette Davis.
Judy and Mickey were in New York to perform between showings of "The Wizard of Oz" at the Capitol Theatre, one of the last of the great movie houses to offer finally a live stage show.
A sure sign of a successful opening in New York always entailed a police presence. For the opening day of "The Wizard of Oz" and Mickey and Judy's appearance, a detail of forty patrolmen and several mounted police were pressed into service to control the throngs hoping to attend the film's premier.
Crowds of "the jitterbug set" started forming outside the Capitol at 5:30 A.M. and when the ticket office opened at 8:00 more than 10,000 were waiting in line to enter the 5,486-seat theater. Two hours later, the queue, five and six abreast, stretched in a circuitous route around mid-Manhattan. To expedite matters, ticket sellers left the box office and sold tickets to the waiting crowds on the sidewalks.
Under contract to MGM, Mickey and Judy performed seven forty- minute shows between the screenings of "Oz," starting at 9:15 A.M. and concluding at 10:45 P.M., without extra pay. Specially prepared and delivered meals of hamburgers by the Waldorf-Astoria kitchen were their own perk.
As a follow-up to the initial showing of "The Wizard of Oz," the theater management chose a series of shorts. The crowd cat-called impatiently. Suddenly Mickey bounded out of the wings, followed by Judy. For the next forty minutes the two wowed their screaming aficionados.
Judy began with "The Lamp is Low" and the torch song "Comes Love." Mickey, who had never appeared on a stage before, followed up with a take-off of the film "Test Pilot" impersonating both Clark Gable and Lionel Barrymore (which won rave reviews). To show his versatility, he then did a drum solo with Georgie Stoll's band.
The two joined together on "Good Morning" and "God's Country" from their upcoming movie "Babes in Arms." They finished the show with Mickey's own composition, "Oceans Apart."
Howard Barnes concluded his review of The Wizard of Oz and the accompanying stage show: "If Hollywood must come 'in person,' this is the way it should be done."
Unfortunately, due to the stress of such a strenuous schedule, Judy collapsed on stage one time and was out for over four minutes. The doctor who examined the young star suggested she eat a regimen of bacon, eggs and toast between the shows instead of her usual chocolate cake and Coke.
On August 24, America's two favorite teens visited "The World of Tomorrow." Accompanied by twenty fair police, Mickey and Judy signed the guest register in the New York City pavilion and then joined Mayor La Guardia on the building's steps for a bit of banter.
Judy "dressed in schoolgirl fashion" – a white angora sweater, pink silk skirt and low sport shoes, without a hat. Mickey chose a green suit and brown oxfords and was also hatless.
Playing to a bevy of sound projectors, the Mickey traded quips with the mayor.
"Mr. Mayor, I have a lot of friends out on the Coast and elsewhere who would like to come to your wonderful Fair. Is there any place they can stay besides expensive Park Avenue hotels?"
"Why, Mickey, New York is just like any other city in the country. The only difference is that we have 50,000 places for people who visit the Fair to stay as low as 50 and 75 cents, and we have better food for less money."
The two then admitted this was not their first visit to the fair. Following their final performance on Tuesday evening, they toured the Amusement Zone undetected and enjoyed every ride, including two trips up and down on the parachute jump. Mickey enthused: "Boy, what fun!"
Later that same week, Mickey left The Big Apple to return to Hollywood to begin filming "Judge Hardy and Son." He was replaced by Bert Lahr and Ray Bolger, Judy's co-stars in "Oz" for the next two weeks. Mickey's replacements earned $3,500 and $1,500 respectively. However, the Capitol grossed $68,000 during the Mickey-Judy days.