Women’s History Month: Judy Garland

Judy Garland (1922-1969), beloved actress.  Her iMDB bio reads as follows: “She was born Frances Ethel Gumm on 10 June 1922 in Minnesota, the youngest daughter of vaudevillians Ethel Marion (Milne) and Francis Avent Gumm.  Her mother, an ambitious woman gifted in playing various musical instruments, saw the potential in her daughter at the tender age of just 2 years old when Baby Frances repeatedly sang “Jingle Bells” until she was dragged from the stage kicking and screaming during one of their Christmas shows, drafted her into a dance act, entitled “The Gumm Sisters”, along with her older sisters Mary Jane Gumm and Virginia Gumm. However, knowing that her youngest daughter would eventually become the biggest star, Ethel soon took Frances out of the act and together they traveled across America where she would perform in nightclubs, cabarets, hotels and theaters solo.”

This past Sunday I was able to view The Wizard of Oz on the big screen with my good friend Nau.  I have seen the movie hundreds of times but never in a theater.  It was great.  Loved every second of it!  Judy Garland endured a lot of mistreatment during the filming.  I will cover that in greater depth in my blog on the movie, but to give you an idea:  She was 16 at the time of the filming and beginning to blossom into her teenage years. Because she was playing the part of a ten year old, she was forced to wear a tight binding corset to remain looking young.  The munchkins harassed her, oftentimes putting their hand up her skirt.  Because of child actor laws, she was supposed to only be on set a certain number of hours.  To get around this, hair and makeup would go to her house at 3AM to wake her up there and prepare her for immediate filming upon arriving at the studio.  Those are only a few of the items but you get my point.

Hers is truly a heart wrenching story.  People saw her on the screen and in the tabloids, living a lavish life, and thought that she had everything she could ever want.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Because of her mother’s push for success and her father’s closeted homosexuality, Judy’s family life was not a happy one. On more than one occasion they were forced to leave a town because of her father’s illicit affairs.  All of that would change in 1935 when Frances Gumm was signed by MGM and her name changed to Judy Garland (a mash up of “Judy” from a popular song of the time and film critic Robert Garland). Her father would pass later that year from meningitis.  Her career faltered after signing MGM, with few to no gigs until she famously sang “You made me love you” at Clark Gable’s birthday party in 1937 and finally received the recognition she was due.  In ramping up her career, the studio worked her tediously.  In an effort to keep her energy up, she was given a plethora of pills by the studio’s doctor. To keep her weight where the studio wanted it, amphetamines were added to her pharmaceutical diet. And so began her lifelong battle with addiction.

She was propelled to stardom in 1939 with the release of The Wizard of Oz.  Her performance of Over the Rainbow earned her a special juvenile Oscar in 1940. In 1941 she married David Rose, a bandleader who had just divorced Martha Raye two moths earlier.  They eloped to Vegas.  In 1942 she was forced to abort a pregnancy when MGM and David persuaded her that she needed to keep up her good-girl image.  She would be haunted by it for the rest of her life and the action led to the couple separating in 1943.  She reluctantly filmed Meet Me In St Louis in 1944 which turned out to be a huge success.  It was the first color feature she performed in since Oz.  She and the director, Vincente Minnelli fell in love and after the filming of the movie moved in together.  They announced their engagement during the filming of They Clock in 1945 (which was directed by Minnelli) and married later that year.  After a three month honeymoon in New York, Judy discovered she was pregnant.  Liza Minnelli was born via caesarean section on 12 march 1946 and the couple was jubilant. The marriage deteriorated in 1947 when Judy’s mental health began to falter with hallucinations, making filming with her difficult. She began an affair with Yul Brynner but soon returned to her husband.  Her mental health briefly improved and she began filming Easter Parade with Fred Astaire which was noted as a successful comeback.  All would be short lived because at that time she attempted suicide more than once.  She was placed in a mental health facility and once again regained her strength.  She returned to film in 1949 with In The Good Old Summertime, in which Liza made her film debut in an uncredited cameo.  Over the next couple of years she was suspended and replaced during two different films by MGM before making her final film for them in 1950 (Summer Stock).  At the age of 28 she was suspended for a third time from MGM and they let her go.  Her marriage also came to an end and she was having multiple affairs.

She would travel to London to star at the Palladium while beginning a relationship with Sidney Luft.  In 1951 she returned to New York to make an appearance on Broadway when she realized she was pregnant again.  She married Sid, making him her third husband.  On 21 Nov 1952 she gave birth to her daughter, Lorna Luft.  Judy signed with Warner Brothers to remake A Star Is Born.  During that time she had affairs with her leading man, James Mason as well as Frank Sinatra. She won a Golden Globe for her performance as Esther Blodgett but lost the Oscar that year to Grace Kelly for her performance in The Country Girl. Judy would return to the theater to work and in 1955 would give birth to her son, Joey Luft.  Sid picked up a gambling addiction and lost millions of dollars of Judy’s money. She would be nominated again for an Oscar in 1961 for her role in Judgment at Nuremberg.  She would lose out to Rita Moreno in West Side Story.

Her addiction to both alcohol and drugs were the topics of numerous headlines.  She and Sid separated and finally divorced in 1965 after 13 years of marriage. In 1963 she made her final performance in I Could Go On Singing and in 1965 married her fourth husband, Mark Herron.  That marriage lasted only five months.  After a number of additional affairs, she would end up in London where she met and married Mickey Deans, the fifth and final husband, in 1969.

She continued working on stage, appearing several times with her daughter Liza. It was during a concert in Chelsea, London, that Judy stumbled into her bathroom late one night and died of an overdose of barbiturates on 22 Jun 1969 at the age of 47. Her daughter Liza Minnelli paid for her funeral, and her former lover James Mason delivered her touching eulogy.

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