Despite her professional triumphs, Garland battled personal problems throughout her life. Insecure about her appearance, her feelings were compounded by film executives who told her she was unattractive and overweight. Plied with drugs to control her weight and increase her productivity, Garland endured a decades-long struggle with addiction. Garland was plagued by financial instability, often owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes, and her first four of five marriages ended in divorce. She attempted suicide on a number of occasions. Garland died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of forty-seven, leaving children Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft.
In 1997, Garland was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and several of her recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 1999, the American Film Institute placed her among the ten greatest female stars in the history of American cinema.
Biography of Judy Garland
Childhood and early life of Judy Garland
Named after both her parents and baptized at a local Episcopal church, ‘Baby’ (as Frances was affectionately called) shared the family’s flair for song and dance. ‘Baby’ Gumm’s first appearance came at the age of two-and-a-half, when she joined her two older sisters, Mary Jane (“Suzy”) and Dorothy Virginia (“Jimmie”) on stage for a chorus of ‘Jingle Bells‘ in a Christmas show at her father’s movie theater.
The Gumm girls performed at their father’s theater, accompanied by their mother on piano, for the next few years. In June 1926, following rumors that Frank had made sexual advances toward male ushers at his theater, the family relocated to Lancaster, California. Frank purchased and operated another theater there and Ethel, acting as their manager, began working to get her daughters into pictures.
The Gumm Sisters – Judy Garland
In 1928, The Gumm Sisters enrolled in a dance school run by Ethel Meglin, proprietress of the Meglin Kiddies dance troupe. The sisters appeared with the troupe at its annual Christmas show. It was through the Meglin Kiddies that Garland and her sisters would make their film debut, in a 1929 short subject called The Big Revue. This was followed by appearances in two Vitaphone shorts the following year, A Holiday in Storyland (featuring Garland’s first on-screen solo) and The Wedding of Jack and Jill. They next appeared together in Bubbles. The final on-screen appearance of The Gumm Sisters came in 1935, in another short entitled La Fiesta de Santa Barbara.
In 1934, the sisters, who had been touring the vaudeville circuit as ‘The Gumm Sisters’ for many years, performed in Chicago at the Oriental Theater with George Jessel. He encouraged the group to choose a more appealing name after the name ‘Gumm’ was met with laughter from the audience. ‘The Garland Sisters’ was chosen, and Frances changed her name to ‘Judy’ soon after, inspired by a popular Hoagy Carmichael song.
Several stories persist regarding the origin of the name ‘Garland’. One is that it was originated by Jessel after Carole Lombard’s character Lily Garland in the film Twentieth Century which was then playing at the Oriental; another is that the trio chose the surname after drama critic Robert Garland. Judy Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft stated that her mother selected the name when Jessel announced that the trio of singers ‘looked prettier than a garland of flowers’. Another variation surfaced when Jessel was a guest on Judy Garland’s television show in 1963. He claimed that he had sent actress Judith Anderson a telegram containing the word ‘garland’ and it stuck in his mind.
Judy Garland Signed at MGM
On November 16, 1935, in the midst of preparing for a radio performance on the Shell Chateau Hour, Judy Garland discovered that her father — who had been hospitalized with spinal meningitis — had taken a turn for the worse. Frank Gumm died the following morning, on November 17. Judy Garland’s song for the Shell Chateau Hour was her first professional rendition of “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart”, a song which would become a standard in many of her concerts.
Judy Garland next came to the attention of studio executives by singing a special arrangement of “You Made Me Love You” to Clark Gable at a birthday party held by the studio for the actor; her rendition was so well regarded that Garland performed the song in their all-star extravaganza Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937), in which she sang the song to a photograph of Gable.
MGM hit on a winning formula when it paired Judy Garland with Mickey Rooney in a string of “backyard musicals.” The duo first appeared together in the 1937 B movie Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry. They became a sensation and teamed up again in Love Finds Andy Hardy. Garland would eventually star with Rooney in nine films.
To keep up with the frantic pace of making one film after another, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, and other young performers were constantly given amphetamines, as well as barbiturates to take before bed. For Judy Garland, this regular dose of drugs led to addiction and a lifelong struggle and contributed to her eventual demise. She later resented the hectic schedule and felt that her youth had been stolen from her by MGM. Despite successful film and recording careers, several awards, critical praise, and her ability to fill concert halls worldwide, Judy Garland was plagued throughout her life with self-doubt and required constant reassurance that she was talented and attractive. Oscar Levant later remarked that “at parties, Judy could sing all night, endlessly …but when it came time to appear on a movie set, she just wouldn’t show up.”
Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz
Judy Garland soon landed the lead role of Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz (1939) at the age of sixteen, in which she introduced the song with which she would forever be identified, “Over the Rainbow“. Although producers Arthur Freed and Mervyn LeRoy had wanted Judy Garland from the start, studio chief Mayer tried first to borrow Shirley Temple from 20th Century Fox. Shirley Temple’s services were denied and Judy Garland was cast. Judy Garland was initially outfitted in a blonde wig for the part but Freed and LeRoy decided against it shortly into filming. Her breasts were bound with tape and she was made to wear a special corset to flatten out her curves and make her appear younger; her blue gingham dress (her only costume) was also chosen for its blurring effect on her figure.
Shooting commenced on October 13, 1938, and was completed on March 16, 1939, with a final cost of over $2,000,000. From the conclusion of filming, MGM kept Judy Garland busy with promotional tours and the shooting of Babes in Arms. Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney were sent on a cross-country promotional tour, culminating in the August 17 New York City premiere at the Capitol Theatre, which included a five-show-a-week appearance schedule for the two stars.
The Wizard of Oz was a tremendous critical success, although its high budget and promotions costs of an estimated $4,000,000, coupled with the lower revenue generated by children’s tickets, meant that the film did not make a profit until it was re-released in the 1940s. At the 1940 Academy Awards ceremony, Judy Garland received an Academy Juvenile Award for her performances in 1939, including The Wizard of Oz and Babes in Arms. Following this recognition, Judy Garland became one of MGM’s most bankable stars.
Adult stardom for Judy Garland
At the age of twenty-one, she was given the ‘glamour treatment’ in Presenting Lily Mars, in which she was dressed in ‘grown-up’ gowns. Her lightened hair was also pulled up in a stylish fashion. However, no matter how glamorous or beautiful she appeared on screen or in photographs, she was never confident in her appearance and never escaped the “girl next door” image that had been created for her. Adding to her insecurity was the dissolution of her marriage to David Rose. Judy Garland, who had aborted her pregnancy by Rose in 1942, agreed to a trial separation in January 1943 and they divorced in 1944.
The Clock (1945) was her first straight dramatic film, opposite Robert Walker. Though the film was critically praised and earned a profit, most movie fans expected her to sing. It would be many years before she acted again in a non-singing dramatic role.
Judy Garland’s other famous films of the 1940s include The Harvey Girls (1946), in which she introduced the Academy Award-winning song “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” , and The Pirate (1948).
Judy Garland Leaves MGM
During filming for The Pirate in April 1947, Judy Garland suffered a nervous breakdown and was placed in a private sanitarium. She was able to complete filming, but in July of that year she made her first suicide attempt, making minor cuts to her wrist with a broken glass. Following her work on The Pirate, Judy Garland completed three more films for MGM: Easter Parade (with Fred Astaire), In the Good Old Summertime, and her final film with MGM, Summer Stock (with Gene Kelly).
Judy Garland was unable to complete a series of films. During the filming of The Barkleys of Broadway, Garland was taking prescription sleeping medication along with illicitly obtained pills containing morphine. These, in combination with migraine headaches, led Garland to miss several shooting days in a row. After being advised by Garland’s doctor that she would only be able to work in four- to five-day increments with extended rest periods between, MGM executive Arthur Freed made the decision to suspend Judy Garland on July 18, 1948. She was replaced by Ginger Rogers. Judy Garland was cast in the film adaptation of Annie Get Your Gun in the title role of Annie Oakley. She was nervous at the prospect of taking on a role strongly identified with Ethel Merman, anxious about appearing in an unglamourous role after breaking from juvenile parts for several years, and disturbed by her treatment at the hands of director Busby Berkeley. She began arriving late to the set and sometimes failed to appear. She was suspended from the picture on May 10, 1949, and was replaced by Betty Hutton. Judy Garland was next cast in the film Royal Wedding when June Allyson became pregnant in 1950. She again failed to report to the set on multiple occasions, and the studio suspended her contract on June 17, 1950, replacing her with Jane Powell. Reputable biographies following Judy Garland’s death would state that after this latest dismissal, she slightly grazed her neck with a broken water glass, requiring only a Band-Aid, but at the time, the public was informed that a despondent Judy Garland had slashed her throat. “All I could see ahead was more confusion,” Judy Garland later said of this suicide attempt. “I wanted to black out the future as well as the past. I wanted to hurt myself and everyone who had hurt me.”
Judy Garland finds renewed stardom on the stage
In 1951, Judy Garland divorced Vincente Minnelli. She engaged Sid Luft as her manager the same year. Luft arranged a four-month concert tour of the United Kingdom, where she played to sold-out audiences throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland. The tour included Judy Garland’s first appearances at the renowned London Palladium for a four-week stand in April. Although the British press chided her before her opening for being ‘too plump,’ she received rave reviews and the ovation was described by the Palladium manager as the loudest he had ever heard.
In October 1951, Judy Garland opened in a vaudeville-style, two-a-day engagement at Broadway’s newly refurbished Palace Theatre. Her 19-week engagement exceeded all previous records for the theater and was described as “one of the greatest personal triumphs in show business history.” Judy Garland was honored for her contribution to the revival of vaudeville with a special Tony Award.
Judy Garland and Sid Luft were married on June 8, 1952, in Hollister, California, and Judy Garland gave birth to the couple’s first child, Lorna, on November 21 that year.
Judy Garland’s personal and professional achievements during this time were marred by the actions of her mother, Ethel. In May 1952, at the height of Garland’s comeback, Ethel was featured in a Los Angeles Mirror story in which she revealed that while Garland was making a small fortune at the Palace, Ethel was working a desk job at Douglas Aircraft Company for $61 a week. Judy Garland and Ethel had been estranged for years, with Judy Garland characterizing her mother as “no good for anything except to create chaos and fear” and accusing her of mismanaging and misappropriating Garland’s salary from the earliest days of her career. Judy Garland’s sister Virginia denied this, stating “Mama never took a dime from Judy.” On January 5, 1953, Ethel was found dead in the Douglas Aircraft parking lot.
Judy Garland in A Star Is Born
Upon its September 29 world premiere, the film was met with tremendous critical and popular acclaim. Before release it was edited at the instruction of Jack Warner; theater operators, concerned that they were losing money by being able to run the film for three or four shows per day instead of five or six, pressured the studio to make additional reductions. About 30 minutes of footage was cut, sparking outrage among critics and film-goers. A Star is Born ended up losing money and the secure financial position Judy Garland had expected from the profits did not materialize. Transcona made no more films with Warner.
Judy Garland was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and, in the run-up to the 27th Academy Awards, was believed to be the likely winner by both the public and critics. She could not attend the ceremony because she had just given birth to her son, Joseph Luft, so a television crew was in Garland’s hospital room with cameras and wires to televise Garland’s acceptance speech. The Oscar was won by Grace Kelly for The Country Girl (1954). The camera crew was packing up before Kelly could even reach the stage. Groucho Marx sent Judy Garland a telegram after the awards declaring her loss “the biggest robbery since Brinks.” Judy Garland won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical for the role.
Judy Garland’s films after A Star Is Born included Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) (for which she was Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated for Best Supporting Actress), the animated feature Gay Purr-ee (1962), and A Child Is Waiting (1963) with Burt Lancaster. Her final film, I Could Go On Singing (1963), co-starring Dirk Bogarde, mirrored her own life with its story of a world famous singing star. Judy Garland’s last screen performance of a song was the prophetic I Could Go on Singing at the end of the film.
Judy Garland on Television, concerts and Carnegie Hall
Beginning in 1955, Judy Garland appeared in a number of television specials. The first, the 1955 debut episode of Ford Star Jubilee, was the first full-scale color broadcast ever on CBS and was a ratings triumph, scoring a 34.8 Nielsen rating. Judy Garland signed a three-year, $300,000 contract with the network. Only one additional special, a live concert edition of General Electric Theater, was broadcast in 1956 before the relationship between the Lufts and CBS broke down in a dispute over the planned format of upcoming specials. In 1956, Judy Garland performed four weeks at the New Frontier Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip for a salary of $55,000 per week, making her the highest-paid entertainer to work in Las Vegas to date. Despite a brief bout of laryngitis, her performances there were so successful that her run was extended an extra week. Later that year she returned to the Palace Theatre, site of her two-a-day triumph. She opened in September, once again to rave reviews and popular acclaim.
In November 1959 Judy Garland was hospitalized, diagnosed with acute hepatitis. Over the next few weeks several quarts of fluid were drained from her body until, still weak, she was released from the hospital in January 1960. She was told by doctors that she likely had five years or less to live and that even if she did survive she would be a semi-invalid and would never sing again. She initially felt “greatly relieved” at the diagnosis. “The pressure was off me for the first time in my life.” However, Garland successfully recovered over the next several months and, in August of that year, returned to the stage of the Palladium. She felt so warmly embraced by the British that she announced her intentions to move permanently to England.
Her concert appearance at Carnegie Hall on April 23, 1961, was a considerable highlight, called by many “the greatest night in show business history.” The two-record Judy at Carnegie Hall was certified gold, charting for 95 weeks on Billboard, including thirteen weeks at number one. The album won five Grammy Awards including Album of the Year and Best Female Vocal of the Year. The album has never been out of print.
In 1961, Judy Garland and CBS settled their contract disputes with the help of her new agent, Freddie Fields, and negotiated a new round of specials. The first, entitled The Judy Garland Show, aired in 1962 and featured guests Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Following this success, CBS made a $24 million offer to Garland for a weekly television series of her own, also to be called The Judy Garland Show, which was deemed at the time in the press to be “the biggest talent deal in TV history.” Although Garland had said as early as 1955 that she would never do a weekly television series, in the early 1960s she was in a financially precarious situation. Garland was several hundred thousand dollars in debt to the Internal Revenue Service, having failed to pay taxes in 1951 and 1952, and the financial failure of A Star is Born meant that she received nothing from that investment. A successful run on television was intended to secure Judy Garland’s financial future.
Following a third special, Judy Garland and Her Guests Phil Silvers and Robert Goulet, Garland’s weekly series debuted September 29, 1963. The Judy Garland Show was critically praised, but for a variety of reasons (including being placed in the time slot opposite Bonanza on NBC) the show lasted only one season and was canceled in 1964 after 26 episodes. Despite its short run, the series was nominated for four Emmy Awards. The demise of the series was personally and financially devastating for Judy Garland who never fully recovered from its failure.
Final years of Judy Garland
Judy Garland sued Sid Luft for divorce in 1963, claiming “cruelty” as the grounds. She also asserted that Luft had repeatedly struck her while he was drinking and that he had attempted to take their children from her by force. She had filed for divorce more than once previously, including as early as 1956.
A 1964 tour of Australia was largely disastrous. Judy Garland’s first concert in Sydney, held in Sydney Stadium because no concert hall could accommodate the crowds who wanted to see her, went well and received positive reviews. Her second performance, in Melbourne, started an hour late. The crowd of 70,000, angered by her tardiness — and believing her to be drunk — booed and heckled Judy Garland. The performer fled the stage after just 45 minutes. She later characterized the Melbourne crowd as — brutish — . A second concert in Sydney was uneventful but the Melbourne appearance garnered her significant bad press. Some of that bad press was deflected by the announcement of a near fatal episode of pleurisy, followed by Garland’s fourth marriage to tour promoter Mark Herron. They announced that their marriage had taken place aboard a freighter off the coast of Hong Kong, however, Judy Garland was not legally divorced from Luft at the time the ceremony was performed. Her divorce from Luft became final on May 19, 1965, but Herron and Garland did not legally marry until November 14.
In February 1967, Judy Garland was cast as ‘Helen Lawson’ in Valley of the Dolls for 20th Century Fox. The character of ‘Neely O’Hara’ in the book by Jacqueline Susann was rumored to have been based on Judy Garland. The role in the film was played by Patty Duke. During the filming, Judy Garland missed rehearsals and was fired in April. She was replaced by Susan Hayward.
Returning to the stage, Judy Garland made her last appearances at New York’s Palace Theatre in July, a 16-show tour, performing with her children Lorna and Joey Luft. Judy Garland wore a sequined pantsuit on stage for this tour, which was part of the original wardrobe for her character in Valley of the Dolls.
By early 1969, Judy Garland’s health had deteriorated. She performed in London at the Talk of the Town nightclub for a five-week run and made her last concert appearance in Copenhagen during March 1969. She married her final husband, Mickey Deans, in London on March 17, 1969, her divorce from Herron having been finalized on February 11 of that year.
On June 22, 1969, Judy Garland was found dead by Deans in the bathroom of their rented Chelsea, London house. The coroner, Gavin Thursdon, stated at the inquest that the cause of death was — an incautious self-overdosage — of barbiturates; her blood contained the equivalent of ten 1.5-grain (97 mg) Seconal capsules. Thursdon stressed that the overdose had been unintentional and that there was no evidence to suggest she had committed suicide. Garland’s autopsy showed that there was no inflammation of her stomach lining and no drug residue in her stomach, which indicated that the drug had been ingested over a long period of time, rather than in one dose. Her death certificate stated that her death had been — accidental — . Judy Garland had turned forty-seven just twelve days prior to her death. Her Wizard of Oz co-star Ray Bolger commented at Judy Garland’s funeral, “She just plain wore out.” An estimated 20,000 people lined up for hours at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home to view her body. Judy Garland was interred in Ferncliff Cemetery, in Hartsdale, New York.
Legacy of Judy Garland
Judy Garland’s legacy as a performer and a personality has endured long after her death. The American Film Institute named Judy Garland eighth among the Greatest Female Stars of All Time. She has been the subject of some two dozen biographies since her death, including the well-received Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir by her daughter, Lorna Luft. Luft’s memoir was later adapted into the multiple award-winning television mini-series, Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, which won Emmy awards for two actresses portraying Judy Garland (Tammy Blanchard and Judy Davis). Judy Garland was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. Several of her recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. These include — Over the Rainbow, — which was ranked as the number one movie song of all time in the American Film Institute’s — 100 Years…100 Songs — list. Four more Judy Garland songs are featured on the list: — Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas — (#76), — Get Happy — (#61), — The Trolley Song — (#26), and — The Man That Got Away — (#11). Judy Garland has twice been honored on U.S. postage stamps, in 1989 (as Dorothy) and again in 2006 (as Vicki Lester from A Star Is Born).
Judy Garland Filmography and performances
Discography of Judy Garland
Judy Garland awards and honors
Academy Juvenile Award (1939)
Special Tony Award (1952)
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (1954) for A Star Is Born
Cecil B. DeMille Award (1962)
Grammy Award for Album of the Year (1962) for Judy at Carnegie Hall
Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, Female (1962) for Judy at Carnegie Hall
Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1997)