Arnold Gordon (Part 1): Befriending Judy Garland at Manos in Shinjuku

Per David Price,
Per David Price, ” June 23, 1964 … joining the Allen Brothers for a song during the opening night of their of their Tokyo Hilton engagement.”

Arnold Gordon was having a blast. He made his way from England to Tokyo so he could to the Tokyo Games in 1964. He hitchhiked from Paris to Pakistan, took a boat to India and then another boat from Bombay to Tokyo. He got to see boxing and gymnastics, as well as enjoy the nightlife in the area around the Olympic Village.

According to this fascinating interview of Gordon, taped by the BBC as part of the run up to the London Olympics in 2012, Gordon told this tale. You can find it starting at the 1 hour 1 minute mark of this program called, Saturday Live BBC.

I was living in Shinjuku, which was the great center of Tokyo, where everything was happening, I was sharing a house with some Australians. Now and again some of the athletes when they finished their running and jumping or whatever they did would come around to our house, and sit and drink beer. I remember a couple of Russian athletes were brought down to our house because it was a getaway from being watched and being looked after.

We would go out and eat and drink. It was wonderful. There were so many people there. Lots of artists who were working therein cabarets and shows. And we would meet after midnight at a restaurant called Manos, which was run by a rather crazy Russian. It was where we went to eat Russian food. People would come down after they finished their acts. The atmosphere was quite fun. One of the artists who was appearing in Tokyo at the time was Judy Garland. And she used to come down there after she finished her cabaret act. We got to know her very well. We got to sit and talk with her. She used to buy us drinks. It was a small group of foreigners so you got to know each other very well. In fact, one of my best friends, Peter, in fact eventually married her daughter Liza. So we mixed very well.

One evening they were playing one of her records, old vinyl, so she went up to the DJ and grabbed the vinyl off the turntable and said that’s a horrible recording. I can sing better than that. And then she sat at the piano, and sang “Over the Rainbow”. I’ll never forget it. Just thinking about it gives me shivers down my spine. It really was magical. Everybody stopped and listened to her. OK her voice was not as good as it used to be before, but it was Judy Garland singing to us, “Over the Rainbow”. But to see her, she was a bit short and dumpy. Not as attractive as she was earlier in life. But she was a feisty, fun person to be with. She sat at the piano and sang. Even today, 40 years later, I can still feel a tingle when I hear Judy Garland singing as if she is only singing to us. Oh it takes me right back, to my youth. It really does.