Born Frances Ethel in Minnesota, Judy Garland was the youngest child of Francis and Ethel Gumm. Garland's parents were vaudevillians who settled in Grand Rapids to run a movie theatre that featured vaudeville acts. Her mother was descended from Patrick Fitzpatrick, who emigrated to America in the 1770s from Smithtown, County Meath, Ireland. "Baby" as Frances was called by her parents and sisters shared her 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 and Dorothy Virginia on the stage of her father's movie theatre during a Christmas show and sang a chorus of "Jingle Bells."
In 1928, The Gumm Sisters enrolled in a dance school and appeared with the troupe at its annual Christmas show. Garland and her sisters made their film debut; in a 1929 short subject called The Big Revue and appeared in a few other shorts until 1935. In 1934, the sisters, who by then had been touring the vaudeville circuit as "The Gumm Sisters" for many years, performed in Chicago at the Oriental Theatre 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. The trio broke up in August 1935, when Suzanne flew to Reno and married musician Lee Kahn.
In 1935, Garland was signed to a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The studio did not know what to do with Garland, as at age 13 she was older than the traditional child star but too young for adult roles. Garland's physical appearance created a dilemma for MGM. At only 4 feet 11.5 inches, Garland's "cute" or "girl next door" looks did not exemplify the more glamorous persona required of leading ladies of the time. She was self-conscious and anxious about her appearance. "Judy went to school at Metro with Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, Elizabeth Taylor, real beauties," said Charles Walters, who directed Garland in a number of films. "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." Her insecurity was exacerbated by the attitude of studio chief Louis B. Mayer, who referred to her as his "little hunchback". During her early years at the studio, she was photographed and dressed in plain garments or frilly juvenile gowns and costumes to match the "girl-next-door" image that was created for her. She was made to wear removable caps on her teeth and rubberized disks to reshape her nose.
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 the all-star extravaganza Broadway Melody of 1938, in which she sang the song to a photograph of Gable.
MGM hit on a winning formula when it paired 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, Garland, Rooney, and other young performers were constantly given amphetamines, as well as barbiturates to take before bed. For 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, Garland was plagued throughout her life with self-doubt and required constant reassurance that she was talented and attractive.
In 1938, at the age of 16, Garland was cast in the lead role of Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, a film based on the children's book by L. Frank Baum. In this film, Garland sang the song for which she would forever be identified, "Over the Rainbow". Although producers Arthur Freed and Mervyn LeRoy had wanted Garland from the start, studio chief Mayer tried first to borrow Shirley Temple from 20th Century Fox. Temple's services were denied and Garland was cast. 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 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 more than $2 million. From the conclusion of filming, MGM kept Garland busy with promotional tours and the shooting of Babes in Arms. 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-day appearance schedule for the two stars.
The Wizard of Oz was a tremendous critical success, though its high budget and promotions costs of an estimated $4 million coupled with the lower revenue generated by children's tickets, meant that the film did not make a profit until it was rereleased in the 1940s. Following this recognition, Garland became one of MGM's most bankable stars.
In 1940, she starred in three films: Andy Hardy Meets Debutante, Strike Up the Band, and Little Nellie Kelly. During this time Garland experienced her first serious adult romances. The first was with the band leader Artie Shaw. Garland was deeply devoted to Shaw and was devastated in early 1940 when Shaw eloped with Lana Turner. Garland began a relationship with musician David Rose, and on her 18th birthday, Rose gave her an engagement ring. The studio intervened because Rose was still married at the time to the actress and singer Martha Raye. The couple agreed to wait a year to allow for Rose's divorce from Raye to become final, and were wed on July 27, 1941.
One of Garland's most successful films for MGM was Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), in which she introduced three standards: "The Trolley Song", "The Boy Next Door", and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Vincente Minnelli was assigned to direct this movie. After some initial conflict between them, Garland and Minnelli entered a relationship together. They were married June 15, 1945 and on March 12, 1946, daughter Liza Minnelli was born.
During filming for The Pirate in April 1947, Garland suffered a nervous breakdown and was placed in a private sanatorium. She was able to complete filming, but in July of that year she undertook her first suicide attempt, making minor cuts to her wrist with a broken glass. During this period, Garland spent two weeks in treatment at a psychiatric hospital in Stockbridge, Mass. Due to her mental condition, Garland was unable to complete a series of films. MGM made the decision to suspend Garland on July 18, 1948. She was replaced by Ginger Rogers. She was suspended from the picture, "Annie Get Your Gun" in 1949, and replaced by Betty Hutton. Garland was next cast in the film Royal Wedding with Fred Astaire but was suspended and replaced by Jane Powell.
In 1951, 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. Garland and Luft were married on June 8, 1952. She later gave birth to the couple's first child, Lorna Luft.
In 1954, Garland filmed a musical remake of the 1937 film A Star is Born. Upon its September 29 world premiere, the film was met with tremendous critical and popular acclaim. Garland was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and, in the run-up to the 27th Academy Awards, was generally expected to be the winner. 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 anticipated acceptance speech. The Oscar was won, however, by Grace Kelly for The Country Girl.
Garland continued to make numerous film and television appearances up until The Judy Garland Show in 1964. With the demise of this television series, Garland returned to the stage. Most notably, she performed at the London Palladium with her then 18-year-old daughter Liza Minnelli in November 1964. The concert was one of Garland's final appearances at the venue. She made guest appearances on the The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, The Hollywood Palace, and The Merv Griffin Show.
Garland sued Sid Luft for divorce in 1963 and later married tour promoter Mark Herron. By early 1969, Garland's health had deteriorated. She performed in London 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, Garland was found dead by Deans in the bathroom of their rented Chelsea, London house. The coroner stated at the inquest that the cause of death was "an incautious self-overdosage" of barbiturates and stressed that the overdose had been unintentional and that there was no evidence to suggest she had committed suicide. Her death certificate stated that her death had been "accidental." Garland had turned 47 just 12 days prior to her death. Her Wizard of Oz co-star Ray Bolger commented at Garland's funeral, "She just plain wore out."
I was born at the age of twelve on an MGM lot