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Happy Birthday, Judy Garland!

Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, on June 10, 1922. She was the youngest daughter Ethel Marion (née Milne) and Francis Avent "Frank" Gumm, two stage performers who had settled in Grand Rapids to operate a movie house that featured vaudeville acts. Named after both her parents, "Baby as she was called shared her family's aptitude for song and dance. Her first appearance came at the tender age of two-and-a-half, when she joined her two older sisters, Mary Jane and Dorothy Virginia, on the stage of Frank's movie theater to sing a chorus of "Jingle Bells" during a Christmas show. She was so thrilled by the audience's response to her endearing performance that instead of bowing off at the end, she sang all the verses again. In June 1926, following rumors that Frank had made sexual advances toward male ushers, the Gumm family relocated to Lancaster, California. Frank purchased and ran another movie house, while Ethel, acting as their manager, worked to get her three daughters into show business.

The Gumm Sisters in The Big Revue
In 1928, the Gumm Sisters enrolled in a dance school owned by Ethel Meglin, who arranged for them to perform a musical number in The Big Revue (1929), a one-reel short film set in a glossy nightclub. This led to work in two Vitaphone shorts A Holiday in Storyland (1930) and The Wedding of Jack and Jill (1930) and a West Coast tour, performing in several vaudeville and radio shows. Their final on-screen appearance was in La Fiesta de Santa Barbara (1935), a Technicolor short comedy produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, featuring an all-star cast that included Robert Taylor and Gary Cooper. The trio was broken up when Mary Jane moved to Nevada to marry musician Lee Kahn.

By late 1934, Hollywood was becoming more and more interested in "the little kid with the grown-up voice" who had recently changed her name to Judy Garland. Several stories persist regarding the origin of the name "Garland." One is that it was originated by entertainer George Jessel with whom the Gumm Sisters performed at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago after Carole Lombard's character Lily Garland in Twentieth Century (1934), which was playing at the Oriental at that time. Judy's youngest daughter, Lorna Luft, later claimed that her mother selected the name when Jessel said that the trio "looked prettier than a garland of flowers." Garland herself chose the name "Judy," reportedly inspired by a popular Hoagy Carmichael song released in 1934.

In a publicity still for Pigskin Parade
In September 1935, Judy was spotted by songwriter Burton Lane, while appearing with her sisters at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. A few days later, he took the 13-year-old to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for an impromptu audition, in which Judy sang "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart" and "Eli, Eli," an old Yiddish tune popular in the vaudeville circuit, accompanied on piano by her soon-to-be vocal arranger and mentor, Roger Edens. Impressed by her performance, studio chief Louis B. Mayer immediately signed Judy to long-term contract with MGM.

Judy's physical appearance created somewhat of a dilemma for MGM. At only 1.51 m (4 feet 11.5 inches), her "cute" looks did not exemplify the most glamorous persona required of leading ladies at the time. During her early years at the studio, she as photographed and dress in plain garments of frilly juvenile gown to match the "girl-next-door" image created for her. In addition, she was forced to wear removable caps on her teeth and rubberized disks to reshape her nose. Judy was always very self-conscious and anxious about her appearance, an insecurity exarcebated by Mayer's referring to her as his "little hunchback."

After performing at various studio functions, Judy was finally given her first screen assignment as an MGM contract player, the musical short Every Sunday (1936), co-starring 16-year-old Deanna Durbin. With no new projects under development for Judy, the studio loaned her out to 20th Century Fox for her feature film debut, the musical comedy Pigskin Parade (1936), where she impressed everyone with her three solo performances. Back at Metro, she was put to work with Edens, who wrote new lyrics to the popular song "You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want to Do It)" and gave it to Judy to sing at Clark Gable's 37th birthday party on the studio lot. Her rendition of the song was such a hit that MGM immediately added her and the song to Roy Del Ruth's backstage musical Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937).

In a publicity still for The Wizard of Oz
MGM found a winning formula by pairing Judy with Mickey Rooney in a series of productions known as "backyard musicals." Beginning with the B picture Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937), the duo went on to co-star in seven additional films, including Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), Babes in Arms (1939) which earned Rooney his first of two Academy Award nominations for Best Actor Strike Up the Band (1940) and Girl Crazy (1943). Judy also appeared in a cameo role as herself in Rooney's Words and Music (1948), wherein they performed "I Wish I Were in Love Again."

Judy's big break came when she was cast in the lead role as Dorothy Gale in Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz (1939), based on the best-selling children's book by L. Frank Baum. Originally intended as a vehicle for Shirley Temple, whom MGM had hoped to borrow from Fox, the film was a tremendous critical and commercial success, catapulting Judy to international fame. It received six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and gave Judy a special Academy Juvenile Award for Outstanding Juvenile Performance. The Wizard of Oz also provided her with her signature song, "Over the Rainbow," which she would perform for the next thirty years.

As the 1940s began, Judy was given her first adult role opposite George Murphy in Little Nellie Kelly (1940), based on George M. Cohan's 1922 stage musical of the same name. This was a challenge for Judy, as the part required her to speak with an Irish accent, bear a child, play a death scene and receive her first adult kiss. Her transition from teenage star to adult actress was completed in Busby Berkeley's For Me and My Gal (1942), which marked the screen debut of Gene Kelly, who would become one of her lifelong friends. Meanwhile, in July 1941, Judy married musician David Rose in a small ceremony in Las Vegas. She became pregnant in 1942, but was forced to have an abortion by her mother, her husband and MGM itself. Judy and Rose separated in January 1943, before divorcing in June 1944. In the interim, Judy enjoy a brief though passionate love affair with married matinee idol Tyrone Power, whom she thought was "wonderful."

Judy in Meet Me in St. Louis
Judy's first film after her divorce from Rose was Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), the story of a well-to-do American family living in St. Louis, Missouri, in the year leading up to the spectacular 1904 World's Fair. For the film, make-up artist Dorothy Ponedel refined Judy's appearance in several ways, including reshaping her eyebrows, changing her hairline, modifying her lip line and removing her dental caps and nose disks. Judy was so pleased with the results that she used Ponedel as her make-up artist on every subsequent picture she made for MGM. Shot in "glorious Technicolor," Meet Me in St. Louis was a massive hit and introduced the standards "The Trolley Song", "The Boy Next Door" and "Have Youself a Merry Little Christmas".  

The following year, Judy was cast opposite Robert Walker in The Clock (1945), her first straight non-singing dramatic role. Directed by Minnelli, this touching World War II home-front film was widely praised by critics, who applauded Judy's skills as a dramatic actress. During the making of The Clock, Judy and Minnelli fell in love and eventually married in June 1945 at her mother's home, with MGM's blessing. The union lasted six years, ending in 1951, and produced a daughter, Liza Minnelli, universally known for her Academy Award-winning role in Bob Fosse's Cabaret (1972). During their honeymoon in New York, Judy pledged to stay off the prescribed drugs that had imprisioned her since the beginning of her Hollywood career and looked forward to a fresh start.

With Gene Kelly in a publicity still for The Pirate
Back in California, Judy was cast in George Sidney's The Harvey Girls (1946), in which she introduced the Oscar-winning song "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe." There followed a reunion with both Minnelli and Kelly in the swashbuckling musical The Pirate (1948), the story of a an actor who poses as a famous pirate to court a romantic Caribbean girl. During production, Judy suffered a nervous breakdown and returned to taking the pills that she had promised to quit. It was around this time that she made her first suicide attempt, cutting her wrist of a broken glass. She was then placed in a psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts, where she stayed for two weeks. Although some critics hailed the film's sophistication, The Pirate failed to attract audiences, ultimately becoming the only one of Judy's MGM films to lose money at the box-office.

After The Pirate, she was paired with Fred Astaire in Charles Walters' Easter Parade (1948), a nostalgic musical built around Irving Berlin's extensive song catalogue. The film was the highest grossing musical of that year and quickly re-established her as one of MGM's biggest stars. Judy's performances in Easter Parade include "I Want to Go Back to Michigan," "A Couple of Swells," "Better Luck Next Time" and "Easter Parade." Hoping to recreate the success of their previous picture, the studio re-teamed Judy with Astaire in The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), also directed by Walters. The assignment promised to be a fun and happy experience, but three weeks into rehearsals it became clear that Judy would not be physically and emotionally able to do the film. In addition to her presciption sleeping medication, she began taking morphine-based pills and also developed a serious drinking problem. When she missed several shooting in a row, MGM removed her from the picture and placed her on suspension. Ginger Rogers, Astaire's former partner, eventually replaced Judy in The Barkleys of Broadway, which was a big hit.

With Van Johnson in In the Good Old Summertime
During her two-month suspension, Judy rested, gained much-needed weight and regained her health, once again withdrawing from her prescribed medications. She returned to work in higher spirits to replace a pregnant June Allyson in In the Good Old Summertime (1949), a Technicolor musical version of Ernst Lubitsch's romantic comedy The Shop Around the Corner (1940). Co-starring Van Johnson in a role originally intended for Frank Sinatra, In the Good Old Summertime was a huge critical and commercial success and marked the last time that Judy would make it through the filming of an MGM musical without any major issues. Liza Minnelli made her screen debut at the age of two-and-a-half at the end of the picture, playing the daughter of Judy and Johnson's characters.

Although Judy was promised a vacation after In the Good Old Summertime finished production, the studio coaxed her into accepting the title role as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun (1950), based on the 1946 stage musical of the same name by Irving Berlin and Dorothy Fields. After two months of work, her lack of motivation became evident and her intense incompatibility with coreographer/director Busby Berkeley further contributed to her unenthusiasm towards the picture. She returned to taking pills, began arriving late to the set and sometimes she did not show up at all, which led to her being fired from the film. Judy was subsequently replaced by Betty Hutton, who went to receive a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.

Judy in Summer Stock
Following the tribulations of Annie Get You Gun, Judy spent three months in a hospital in Boston, Massachusetts being treated for her prescription medication dependence. In the fall of 1949, she returned to Hollywood noticeably heavier and was soon cast in Summer Stock (1950), her third and final collaboration with Gene Kelly. Still physically and emotionally weak, it was not long before her erratic behavior resurfaced. Fortunately, the affection and support of her co-stars and crew helped Judy complete the picture on time.

When principal photography on Summer Stock finished in the spring of 1950, it was decided that Judy needed an additional musical number. She agreed to do it, but on the condition that the song be "Get Happy" by Harold Arlen, one of her personal favorites. By the time she returned to MGM to shoot the sequence, a month after production had wrapped, she had been allowed time to rest and had lost a considerable amount of weight, which is why her appearance in "Get Happy" is much thinner than the rest of the film. In spite of all the issues, Summer Stock was a great critical and commercial success, with audiences applauding Judy's performances as though they were watching a live stage show.

As soon as she finished Summer Stock, Judy embarked on her long-promised vacation from the studio, but was called back three weeks later to re-team with Fred Astaire and Peter Lawford in Stanley Donen's Royal Wedding (1951), once again replacing a pregnant June Allyson. When Judy failed to cope with the demanding schedule, MGM suspended her from the film, ultimately replacing her with Jane Powell. Reportedly, this dismissal caused Judy to attempt suicide for the second time, slighly grazing her neck with a broken glass. In September 1950, by mutual agreement, she was released from her contract with the studio, thus ending a 15-year partnership.

Judy in A Star Is Born
In the spring of 1951, Judy reached a new level of stardom when she went back to her vaudeville roots for a four-month sold-out concert tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland. By this time, she was already romantically involved with Sidney Luft, a former test pilot turned producer whom she had first met during the making of Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937). Garland and Luft eventually married in June 1952 and welcomed two children, Lorna (born 1952) and Joey (born 1955), before divorcing in 1965.

To capitalize on her new-found success, Sid Luft made a deal with Warner Bros. for Judy's comeback to films. The proposed project was a musical remake of William A. Wellman's A Star Is Born (1937), which Judy had tried to convince MGM to do back in 1942, after she starred as Vicki Lester in a radio broadcast with Walter Pidgeon. Co-starring James Mason as Norman Maine, George Cukor's A Star Is Born (1954) went into production in the summer of 1953. Judy was on her best behavior during the early days of filming, but her famous insecurities slowly resurfaced and she began calling in sick, like she had so often done during her final years at MGM, causing several schedule delays.

Although A Star Is Born had the biggest premiere in Hollywood history up to that point, it ultimately lost money at the box-office after it went into general release. Critics, on the other hand, universally praised the film, with TIME magazine noting that Judy "gives what is just about the greatest one-woman show in modern movie history." For her extraordinary performance as Vicki Lester, Judy was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress and everyone expected her to win. When the statuette was given instead to Grace Kelly for her role in The Country Girl (1954), Groucho Marx sent Judy a telegram calling her loss "the greatest robbery since Brinks." Her performances in A Star Is Born include "Gotta Have Me Go With You," "The Man That Got Away," "Here's What I'm Here For" and "Lose That Long Face."

Judy in Judgment at Nuremberg
After A Star Is Born, Judy made her television debut in the first episode of CBS's anthology series Ford Star Jubilee (1955-1956), which was a ratings triumph. There followed a four-week engagement at the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas for a guaranteed $55,000 a week, the largest sum ever paid to a nightclub performer to that date. In November 1959, as she concluded a successful coast-to-coast tour, the 37-year-old Judy was diagnosed with severe hepatitis and subsequently hospitalized. Twenty quarts of fluid were drained from her body and she slowly began to recover. She was released from the hospital in January 1960, but doctors informed her that she likely had five or less years to live; if she did survive, she would be a semi-invalid for the rest of her life and would never sing again. In the summer of 1960, she returned to the stage of the London Palladium in better health than ever.

The 1960s seemed to have brought a second miraculous recovery for Judy. After a triumphant performance at Carnegie Hall in New York in April 1961, she renewed her film career with an important supporting role in Stanley Kramer's drama Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). Her emotionally intense performance as a German woman imprisioned by the Nazis due to her relation with an elderly Jew was universally praised by critics and earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She lost to Rita Moreno for West Side Story (1961).

With Burt Lancaster in A Child Is Waiting
A voice part in the animated film Gay Pur-ee (1962) was followed by a co-starring role opposite Burt Lancaster in A Child Is Waiting (1963), in which Judy played a teacher working at a mental hospital. Next, she was cast in the musical drama I Could Go On Singing (1963), with Dirk Bogarde. In the film, she performed  "By Myself," "Hello Bluebird," "It Was Never You" and the title song "I Could Go On Singing."

When her television special The Judy Garland Show (1962), featuring guests Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, became a success, CBS offer Judy the opportunity to star in her own weekly series. Although The Judy Garland Show (1963-1964) was a critical success, it did not fare well with the ratings, perhaps due to its being placed in a time slot opposite the hugely popular NBC western series Bonanza (1959-1973). Following the cancellation of her show after only one season, Judy returned to the stage and continued making guest appearances in a number of television programmes.

Shortly before her divorce from Luft was finalized, Judy signed with Electronovision to play Jean Harlow's mother in the biopic Harlow (1965), but withdrew from the project on her second day on the set (Ginger Rogers again replaced her). She was then cast in 20th Century Fox's Valley of the Dolls (1967), based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Jacqueline Susann, but was dismissed after a month of constantly missing rehearsals and replaced by Susan Hayward. Her pre-recording of the song "I'll Plant My Own Tree" survived, along with her wardrobe tests. Meanwhile, in November 1965, Judy married actor Mark Herron, whom she had hired as producer of her two London Palladium concerts with her daughter Liza in 1964. They separated only six months later, apparently due to his homosexuality, and divorced in February 1969.

For the remainder of the decade, Judy continued working on the stage, appearing several times with her children. By early 1969, her health had almost completely deteriorated. Still, she was able to perform at the Talk of the Town nightclub in London for a five-week run, before making her last concert appearance in Copenhagen in March 1969. That month, Judy also married her fifth and final husband, musician/entrepreneur Mickey Deans, whom she had met at her hotel in New York in 1966. On June 22, 1969, Deans found Judy dead in the bathroom of their rented apartment in Chelsea, London; she was 47 years old. According to coroner, the cause of death was "an incautious self-overdosage" of barbiturates, but there was no evidence suggesting that she had committed suicide. Forty-six years after her death, Judy Garland remains immortal.

(June 10, 1922  June 22, 1969)
When you have lived the life I've lived, when you've loved and suffered, and been madly happy and desperately sad well, that's when you realize you'll never be able to set it all down. Maybe you'd rather die first.

Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clarke (2001) | Judy Garland: The Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Legend by Scott Schlechter (2002) | Judy Garland: Beyond the Rainbow (1997)


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