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"Being Judy Garland—sure I've been loved by the public. I can't take the public home with me."
- Judy Garland

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      'I'm sick and tired of being called "poor Judy Garland". Maybe this will distress a lot of people but I've got an awfully nice life. I really have. I like to laugh. I like to have a bag of popcorn and go on a roller-coaster now and then. I wouldn't have been able to learn a song if I'd been as sick as they've printed me all the time'
      - Judy Garland

    Judy Garland is one of the great legends of the movies; yet paradoxically, considerably less than half of her professional career - which occupied the best part of 44 of her 47 years of life - was spent in films. The intervening pppeeeeriods were taken up with her ever-growing and unkindly publicized personal problems. She was impatient with the view, constantly expressed by the popular press, that she was a show business tragedy. On one occasion she confided:

      'People say and print and believe - the stupid ones, and that's the minority - that I'm either a drunk or a drug addict. It's a goddam wonder I'm not.'

    She was born Frances Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, on June 10, 1922. Her parents, Frank and Ethel Gumm, had had a vaudeville act for a while before they settled in the movie business. Her father became a cinema proprietor and her mother - bent perhaps on fulfilling her own thwarted ambitions through her children - had formed the two older daughters into a sister act that performed in the vaudeville part of the cinema's shows. As legend has it, Baby Gumm (as the adored and spoiled youngest child was known) made her debut when she was around two and a half years old, bringing the house down with a rendering of Jingle Bells; with great delight . she encored repeatedly until she was dragged off, struggling, by her father. She had tasted, for the first time, the adulation of audiences which was, it seemed, eventually to become a necessary drug like all the rest. Unsatisfied, she was later to confide:

      'Being Judy Garland—sure I've been loved by the public. I can't take the public home with me . . .'

    When they moved to California, the whole family had to work in vaudeville - the parents as Frank and Virginia Lee and the children as the Gumm Sisters - to eke out the meagre takings of the new cinema.

    It soon became clear that Baby Gumm was the star, even though one unfeeling manager advised her:

      'You may sing loud but you don't sing good'.

    At six she had a solo spot at Loews' State Theatre in Los Angeles, singing I Can't Give You Anything but Love, dressed as Cupid. With so precocious a repertoire and technique and so loud a voice, it was hardly surprising that audiences paid her the dubious compliment of suspecting she was a midget.

    When she was 11 she changed her name. The Gumm girls had been rushed into a vaudeville bill in Chicago to replace a drop-out act - and arrived to find that they had been billed as 'The Glum Sisters'. The compere of the show was George Jessel, who persuaded them that it was not a good stage name anyway and proposed Garland instead. A little later, Frances took the name Judy from a current Hoagy Carmichael hit song.

    Mrs Gumm had battled, without success, to get her children into movies. Their only appearance had been with a troupe of other infant performers, the Meglin Kiddies, in a 1929 short - The Old Lady and the Shoe. In 1934, however, Judy Garland acquired an agent, Al Rosen, and at least one admirer within MGM, Joseph Mankiewicz. Between them they managed to arrange an audition. The story is a show business legend - how Judy was summoned at such short notice that she had not even time to change out of her play clothes or do her hair.

    No doubt this impromptu and informal appearance enhanced the child's open and appealing personality. She made sufficient impression on Ida Koverman, Louis B. Mayer's influential secretary, and Jack Robbins, the company's talent chief, for them to bring in the studio rehearsal pianist, Roger Edens, and send for Mayer himself. Mayer, who was harassed by the current internecine struggles of the company, came reluctantly. He listened without a word and a few days later offered a contract - unprecedentedly without asking for a screen test.

    The MGM days began inauspiciously with the sudden death of Frank Gumm, which can hardly have helped Judy Garland's emotional and psychological development. Despite this, she was later to say that the first days were 'a lot of laughs'. Labour laws required the studio to give its children adequate schooling and Garland found herself in a class-room with Lana Turner, Jackie Cooper, Deanna Durbin, Freddie Bartholomew and other youthful actors. With Durbin she was teamed in a short, Every Sunday (1936), which was so unpromising that Durbin's option was dropped (she was triumphantly snatched up and made into a star by Universal) and Garland was loaned to 20th Century-Fox for Pigskin Parade (1936), a college musical in which she sang three songs, hated herself for looking like 'a fat little pig with pigtails', and won one or two favourable notices.

    The studio still had no plans for her; it was Roger Edens who conceived the ruse that finally convinced MGM what a treasure they had on their hands. Clark Gable's thirty-sixth birthday was celebrated with a studio party on the set of Parnell (1937) and Edens devised a special treatment of You Made Me Love You with Garland doing a monologue, Dear Mr Gable, in the character of a devoted admirer writing a fan letter. Gable was greatly touched and Garland was launched. MGM at once put her - and Edens' Dear Mr Gable number - into Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937).

    She then co-starred with Mickey Rooney, with whom she found an instant sympathy, in Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937) and with another school-fellow, Freddie Bartholomew, in Listen, Darling (1938) - in which the two youngsters kidnap the widowed Mary Astor and take her on a search for a suitable husband. In Everybody Sing (1938) she appeared alongside the great Broadway veteran, Fanny Brice.

    In all of these films Garland sang, for the public had already succumbed to the extraordinary voice. It was thrillingly strident (as a child she had been disrespectfully dubbed Little Miss Leather Lungs) with a heartrending catch, miraculously expressive and, even in those early days, so mature that she was able to give convincing interpretations of the great torch songs like Fanny Brice's My Man. The musical staff at MGM, where the gifted Arthur Freed was already the dominant influence, wisely preferred to exploit the vivacity and humour of her gifts in songs like Swing, Mr Mendelssohn and Zing Went the Strings of My Heart.

    Garland was teamed with MGM's most popular juvenile, Mickey Rooney, in the Andy Hardy series which acquired a new musical flavour. Garland acted and sang in three of the series - Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940) and Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941) - although the studio saw fit to remove Garland's songs from the release print of the last of these.

    This series was interrupted by the film which firmly and finally established Garland as a major star, brought her icon status and a place among the immortals and gave her the theme tune which she sang and continually enriched until the end of her life - Over the Rainbow. Frank Baum's series of Oz books for children had begun to appear in 1900 and had become best-sellers. A silent version of The Wizard of Oz had been made in 1925 with Larry Semon and Oliver Hardy. MGM were prepared to lavish colour and S2 million on a new version. They also intended to lavish Shirley Temple on it but, when she was not available. Garland was accepted as a second choice. There was difficulty and indecision over directors, but credit for The Wizard of Oz (1939) finally went to Victor Fleming as it did for Gone With the Wind (also 1939 and isn't Victor Fleming one of the most underrated directors in the history of cinema?). The script was intelligent, the technical achievement high and the cast distinguished: but it was Judy Garland's picture.

    Audiences adored Garland - as they were to go on doing - for her vitality, her gaiety, her openness, her intimacy and the generous, friendly, loving nature in her. But behind the scenes life was taking on a darker aspect. Her irrepressible joie de vivre included a hearty appetite: but the malted milks and Hershey bars to which she was addicted made her fat. At only 4' 11½" she found it easy to put on weight. Mayer himself laid down what she might eat (mostly chicken soup) and what she might not. She discovered, among other evidence of the studio's parental care for her, that the lifelong friend with whom she had moved into a bachelor apartment, had become a company spy, paid to report on her every move. So, it transpired, was her own mother.

    To help her fight off the pangs of hunger she was given the newly fashionable drug Benzedrine. To counteract its over-stimulant effects, she was given sleeping pills: to wake her up again, more stimulants and then other pills to calm her nerves. Despite all the later efforts of her friends and publicists to play down the inevitable effects of all this 'medication', the dependence was to become a nightmare and culminated in her death due to an accidental drug overdose.

    The public could not have enough of her and the company worked her mercilessly. She was threatened with the fate that had afflicted Mary Pickford 20 years before: public and studio would not let her grow up. When she played the dual role of a girl and her mother in Little Nellie Kelly (1940), Mayer is said to have gone around wailing:

      'We can't let that baby have a baby'.

    Mayer and the studio did not hide their displeasure when, in 1941, Garland married orchestra leader David Rose and it is certain that they did nothing to ward off the rapid break-up of the marriage.

    In the next three years Garland appeared in a number of attractive musicals - Ziegfeld Girl (1941), For Me and My Girl (1942), Presenting Lily Mars and Thousands Cheer (both 1943).

    In 1944 came Meet Me in St Louis, still the most cheering and charming of all the MGM musicals, in which Garland sings some of her most memorable songs. Her dramatic talent - about which she continued to have doubts - had become much more refined: her great achievement in this film is to subsume herself into the whole ensemble of finely cast actors portraying an ordinary family of 1904 and the excitements of the great St Louis Exposition.

    The director of Meet Me in St Louis was Vincente Minnelli, whom she married - this time with the studio's delighted approval - in July 1945. In March of the following year their daughter Liza was born. She was delivered by Caesarian section. From that point on, Garland was involved in many well-publicized lawsuits, breakdowns, and suicide attempts. But it took quite a while before her spectacular unhappiness actually showed itself onscreen. In such period musicals as the aforementioned Meet Me in St Louisand The Pirate (1948) - also directed by Minnelli - and Easter Parade (1948), as well as dramas like Minnelli's The Clock (1945), she was never anything less than charming.

    After hitting rock bottom in the early 1950s after Summer Stock (1950) - that year she was even replaced as the star of Annie Get Your Gun - Garland bounced back, all vibrant and vulnerable, as aspiring actress Vicki Lester in Cukor's 1954 remake of A Star Is Born, a hand-tailored comeback vehicle she produced with then husband Sid Luft. It earned her an Oscar nomination (she lost the Best Actress Award by the smallest known margin to Grace Kelly), but sadly, there were no follow-ups.

    She was excellent in later straight dramatic roles in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961 also Oscar-nominated) and A Child Is Waiting (1963), but the singing sequences in her last film, I Could Go On Singing (also 1963), show the emotionally turbulent performing style she developed in her adult years, a style that apparently corresponded perfectly to her own state of inner turmoil.

    She experienced financial difficulties in the 1960s due to her overspending, periods of unemployment, owing of back taxes and embezzlement of funds by her business manager. The IRS garnished most of her concert revenues in the late 1960s.

    Garland's final years were spent going from disappointment to disappointment: losing film roles, helplessly turning in shoddy live performances, marrying one younger man and divorcing him six months later when she discovered his affairs with other men, and so on. A "comeback" TV variety show gave her one last burst of glory in 1963-64, but though she recorded tracks and filmed costume tests for Valley of the Dolls she had to be replaced by Susan Hayward when shooting began. An accidental overdose of sleeping pills took her life in 1969; her Wizard of Oz co-star Ray Bolger commented sadly:

      "She just plain wore out."

    Her funeral was held 27 June 1969 in Manhattan at the Frank E. Campgell funeral home at Madison Avenue and Eighty-first Street. Twenty-two thousand people filed past Judy's open coffin over a twenty-four hour period. Judy's ex-husband, Vincente Minnelli did not attend her funeral. James Mason delivered the eulogy. Judy's body was then stored in a temporary crypt for over one year. The reason for this is that no one came forward to pay the expense of moving Judy to a permanent resting spot at Ferncliff Cemetary in Ardsley, New York. Liza had the impression that Judy's last husband, Mickey Deans had made the necessary arrangments but Deans claimed to have no money. Liza then took on the task of raising the funds to have Judy properly buried.

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j u d y   g a r l a n d   d v d s  ]

j u d y   g a r l a n d   v i d e o s  ]


books | gallery
dvds | posters | videos
judy garland
the wizard of oz
fred astaire | ray bolger | james mason


Judy Garland
Signature Collection
6 Disc Set incl.
a star is born (2 disc), love find andy hardy, ziegfeld girl, for me and my gal, harvey girls, in the good old summer time
uk dvd set reviewed & in stock
the most important garland boxset ... ever!

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Changes last made: 2015