The surprising story of how President Kennedy called Judy Garland for a quick serenade

By Liz McNeil
Updated January 31, 2017 12:22 PM
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Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

He was the leader of the free world and had several global crises to handle, but that didn’t mean President John F. Kennedy didn’t have time for a quick serenade of “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz star herself: Judy Garland.

A new memoir by Garland’s third husband, Sid LuftJudy and I: My Life with Judy Garland, which is crafted from notes Luft left unfinished before his 2005 death — reveals that the president would sometimes call the star for an impromptu rendition of his favorite song.

The two first met when JFK was a junior senator from Massachusetts. They were introdsucactor Peter Lawford and his wife, Patricia — JFK’s younger sister.

“JFK was young, lanky and extremely outgoing,” Luft wrote in the memoir excerpted in this week’s PEOPLE. “He asked Peter and Pat to introduce him to ‘Dorothy’ in the flesh.”

The two struck up a friendship, and as Luft wrote: “In the coming years, JFK would ring Judy from either the White House or Camp David and ask her to sing to him over the telephone.”

“He’d request ‘Over the Rainbow,’ ” continued Luft. “Judy was located somewhere in New York and obliged the President with several renditions of his favorite melodies.”

Joey Luft, the son of Garland and Sid Luft, remembers how excited his mom would get whenever the president called.

“I remember he called her one time. I think it was after the election and she was jumping up and down in the living room. She campaigned for him and they were pretty close,” he tells PEOPLE.

Among the memories Sid Luft also shared were the glamorous parties he and Garland attended at the Lawford’s home.

“It was at the Lawford’s beach house that I was introduced to grass,” Luft wrote. “The scenes at the Lawford’s were heady – at times Jack was there or Teddy or some other member of the Kennedy clan. Peter knew damn well if he brought girls around, Jack would take over. He’d steal any girl in sight.”

For more about Judy Garland and Sid Luft’s marriage, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE — on newsstands now

In addition to their fun, Luft and Garland also saw another side of JFK — the constant back pain he revealed to only his close friends.

“Jack was in constant pain,” Luft wrote. “He was unable to sit through a movie, even if it was good. He could never sit longer than twenty minutes; he’d have to get up from his rocking chair. Maybe he just felt better lying down. I generally saw him kibitzing horizontally from the Lawford pool, afloat.”