As Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz”, Judy rose to worldwide stardom
The eternal Judy Garland was born 97 years ago today
Judy Garland, was born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The daughter of vaudevillians who ran a movie theater that featured vaudeville acts, Garland’s first stage appearance happened when she was only two-and-a-half, joining her older sisters Mary Jane and Dorothy Virginia on the stage of her father’s movie theater, as The Gumm Sisters. After the family moved to California, Garland’s talent was quickly noticed and by 1935, Louis B. Mayer from MGM signed the young actress. But the studios, despite recognizing her talent, also realized that Garland’s “girl-next-door” looks did not exemplify the most glamorous persona then required of leading female performers, which led her to become self-conscious and anxious about her appearance, something she would never overcome in her life. As Charles Walters, who directed her in a number of films stated “Judy was the big money-maker at the time, a big success, but she was the ugly duckling … I think it had a very damaging effect on her emotionally for a long time. I think it lasted forever, really.” Studio chief Louis B. Mayer attitude, also made things worse during that period as he referred to her as his “little hunchback”. Despite all that, Garland was a rising movie star, and MGM hit on a winning formula when it paired Garland with Mickey Rooney in a string of what were known as “backyard musicals”. They first appeared together in the 1937 movie “Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry”.
Judy Garland’s signature role and the one where her image still endures, is Dorothy Gale, in the iconic and influential 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz”. There, Garland sings “Over the Rainbow”, an absolute and enduring music classic. However, even if today we cannot envision any other actress playing the role of Dorothy, Judy Garland wasn’t the first MGM choice to play the iconic role. Back then, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer wanted the popular and established child star Shirley Temple to play Dorothy. He tried to borrow Temple from 20th Century Fox, but they declined. “The Wizard of Oz” was a tremendous critical success and gave Garland her place in film history. But its high budget and promotions costs of an estimated $4 million (equivalent to $72 million in 2019) meant that the film did not return a profit until it was re-released in the 1940’s and in subsequent re-releases. She received her only Academy Award, an Academy Juvenile Award in 1939 for “The Wizard of Oz” and “Babes in Arms”.
During the 1940’s Garland started to adapt to the adult Hollywood career, and landed in some popular movies at the time. During the mid 1940’s she was having a famous affair with Orson Welles, married at the time with Rita Hayworth, the affair ended in 1945, and that same year, she met director Vincent Minnelli, while filming “Meet Me in St. Louis”. Despite some initial conflict between them, they entered into a relationship and married later that year. In 1946, Garland gave birth to another future legend, Liza Minnelli, but the couple divorced in 1951. It was the beginning of a rapid descent into depression, mental problems, drug and alcohol abuse, which resulted in a career decline, despite always keeping her popularity. During the 1960’s, Garland had her own TV show, “The Judy Garland Show”, which ran only for one season but featured guests such as Frank Sinatra. By the late 1960’s, still in her 40’s, Garland’s problems with depression and drug use got increasingly worst. On June 22, 1969, the actress was found dead in the bathroom of her house in London, England from a barbiturates overdose, she was only 47.
Today, Judy Garland’s enduring colorful image projected in “The Wizard of Oz” lives on. It’s a strong and iconic Pop Culture symbol, but Judy Garland’s legacy will always be much more than that.
Look back at the iconic scene of the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” where Judy Garland performs “Over the Rainbow”
Also watch Judy Garland performing “Get Happy” in the 1950 movie “Summer Stock”
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