When you hear the name Judy Garland, your mind likely creates the picture of Dorothy Gale, the innocent pigtailed girl from The Wizard of Oz.
However, unlike Dorothy Gale, whose “troubles melt like lemon drops,” Garland’s troubles snowballed into larger affairs that would plague her for the rest of her life.
Beginning with her childhood, Garland would continue to run into obstacles, when all she wanted was to go home.
Judy Garland wasn’t her original name
Although we know this famous starlet as Judy Garland, she was born with the name Frances Ethel Gumm. Born to Ethel Marion and Francis “Frank” Avent Gumm, Frances was the child of two vaudevillians who owned a vaudeville theater.
It wasn’t long until the life of show business began reeling in the young Frances Gumm. Her first brush with theatrical work occurred at the age of 2 when Frances and her three older sisters sang “Jingle Bells” during a Christmas show.
The girls continued to perform on that stage for the next few years, while their mother accompanied them on piano.
Her parents had a very strained relationship
Tensions were very high in her parents’ marriage, and Garland would often reflect on this throughout her career. According to The New York Times, Ethel Gumm and her daughters would spend a lot of time away from their father, Frank Gumm, to attend auditions.
Garland would say, “As I recall, my parents were separating and getting back together all the time. It was very hard for me to understand those things and, of course, I remember clearly the fear I had of those separations.” While the girls were away on auditions, Gumm would allegedly make moves on the young boys who worked in his theater.
They moved to Lancaster, California, following rumors
Although the family lived a content life in their corner of the world, they relocated to Lancaster, California, in 1926. The move occurred after rumors claimed that Garland’s father made advances toward the male ushers at their theater.
Yet, they could not avoid the theater bug, and it wasn’t long before they opened another theater in their new home.
It was in California where Ethel Gumm began encouraging her daughters to get into motion pictures.
Gumm soon became her daughters’ “momager,” and enrolled them in dance school to help extend their talents in the entertainment world. Eventually, the trio gained some popularity and began to tour as “The Gumm Sisters.”
There are multiple stories about where “Garland” derived from
One telling of Garland’s name origin states that the surname came from Carole Lombard‘s character, Lily Garland, in the 1934 romantic comedy, Twentieth Century.
Another story claims that the sisters chose the name because of the famed drama critic, Robert Garland.
However, Garland’s daughter, Lorna Luft, is confident that her mother chose the name when actor George Jessel exclaimed that the sisters “looked prettier than a garland of flowers.” Although this has never been confirmed, the Gumm Sisters soon became the Garland Sisters in 1934.
The young Frances then changed her name to Judy after being inspired by a popular Hoagy Carmichael song at the time.
Ethel Gumm pushed her daughters to their limits
Ethel Gumm would stop at nothing to achieve fame for her daughters. Many of the locations the girls performed at were extremely inappropriate for young children. Ethel Gumm would often push her children to their limits, and the performances seemed never-ending.
Garland recalled during a 1967 interview with Barbara Walters, “She would sort of stand in the wings when I was a little girl and if I didn’t feel good, if I was sick to my tummy, she’d say, ‘You get out and sing or I’ll wrap you around the bedpost and break you off short!’ So, I’d go out and sing.”
Judy Garland was guaranteed fame when she was signed to MGM
Judy Garland was groomed to live the glamorous life as a Hollywood starlet from a young age. She was signed to MGM Studios, where she met a young Mickey Rooney, and other young starlets such as Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor.
In 1937, Garland made her first film, called Every Sunday, which was a musical short. Charles Walters, who directed a young Garland in a handful of films, admitted, “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.”
She was constantly harassed about her looks by executives
Garland was hassled about her looks for the majority of her career. MGM Studios head, Louis Mayer, would often refer to Garland as “My Little Hunchback,” which many say was because of her height and the curvature of her spine.
It seems that once Garland signed to MGM, she also signed on to have her looks permanently on view for all to criticize. She would later admit, “From the time I was 13, there was a constant struggle between MGM and me — whether or not to eat, how much to eat, what to eat. I remember this more vividly than anything else about my childhood.”
Her father’s death affected her greatly
The death of Frank Gumm took a heavy toll on the young Judy Garland‘s heart, as the pair had a strong relationship. Garland was 12 years old when her father died.
Garland worked through her anguish, and she continued on the track to stardom.
The New York Times claims that she wrote, “The terrible thing about it was that I couldn’t cry at my father’s funeral. I’d never been to a funeral. I was ashamed because I couldn’t cry, so I feigned it. But I just couldn’t cry for eight days, and then I locked myself in a bathroom and cried for 14 hours.”
Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney remained friends
She went on to have her first feature film roles in Pigskin Parade and Love Finds Andy Hardy, with fellow MGM student, Mickey Rooney. The pair became a famous duo, and they went on to co-star in multiple Andy Hardy films.
Like Garland, Rooney also had a vaudeville background, and both came from troubled families. Garland was a busy girl, as she would attend school in the morning, vocal coaching and dance lessons at night, and she was often asked to sing at studio parties.
Her hard work paid off, because in 1939, Garland scored one of her greatest successes as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
Once she was on Clark Gable’s map, she shot to superstardom
One of Garland’s most famous house-call performances was at a surprise party for Hollywood Golden Age icon Clark Gable. Judy sang “(Dear Mr. Gable) You Made Me Love You” from her film Broadway Melody of 1938. At the end of the performance, Clark Gable walked right up to the 14-year-old and kissed her.
After that night, Garland’s schedule filled up quickly, and her days became packed with filming rehearsals alongside Mickey Rooney. Although Garland and Rooney were cast in many films together, Garland never played the love interest. In Love Finds Andy Hardy, she plays a young girl named Betsy who is in love with Rooney’s character. The love interest in the film was played by famous starlet, Lana Turner.
Much like her characters, Judy’s love For Rooney was never returned
After working alongside him for many years, it seemed pretty inevitable that Garland and Rooney would develop feelings for each other. However, much like the characters Garland played in her movies, her feelings were unrequited, and Rooney never saw her in a romantic light.
We can only assume that this broke Garland’s heart, as Rooney seemed to have romantic trysts with many other starlets in Hollywood. Rooney even admitted, “I began to meet my obligations to a good many of the gals in town who were dying to meet me. Who wouldn’t want to go out with me? I had my own car. I had some nickels in my pocket. And I was somebody.”
Garland was the third choice for the role of Dorothy
When Judy Garland was cast in the role of Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, she was not their first choice. Producers Arthur Freed and Mervyn LeRoy indeed wanted her cast from the beginning, but the studio chief wanted Shirley Temple from 20th Century Fox.
When Temple declined the offer, the studio asked Deanna Durbin, who was unavailable, and then the part went to Garland. Initially, producers wanted Garland to wear a blonde wig, but then they decided against it after seeing it on camera. Her blue gingham dress was chosen since it appeared slightly blurry on camera, which blurred her figure and made her look younger.
The Wizard of Oz movie set was a nightmare for Garland
On camera, Oz may seem like a dream, but for Garland, the film set was her own personal hell. Studios ripped away Garland’s childhood by forcing her to follow a rigorous regimen. She was banned from having a single bite of candy or anything sugary.
She was also put on a strict diet to maintain her figure. Her diet consisted of black coffee, chicken soup, and 80 or so cigarettes a day (which was intended to help curb her hunger).
Garland would eventually become dependent on these extreme dieting methods, which would continue to haunt her for the rest of her life.
The studio ran her ragged
Garland’s insecurities ran deep, and it seemed that being on The Wizard of Oz film set only made it worse.
She would sadly admit as an adult that, “I was always lonesome. The only time I felt accepted or wanted was when I was on stage performing. I guess the stage was my only friend; the only place where I could feel comfortable. It was the only place where I felt equal and safe.”
Her fellow leads in the show resented her, as they felt that the young teen upstaged them in the film. As a result, she was shunned by her castmates, and her only adult friend on set was Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West.
She married her first husband against studio wishes
It seems that Garland dealt with harassment from all ends of her life, with no way of escaping. At 19 years old, Garland married bandleader David Rose, with the belief that married life would be her escape from the madness around her. Her marriage angered studio executives and her mother, who believed that marriage would ruin her “good-girl” image.
Despite ultimatums on both ends, Garland went through with the marriage anyway on July 28, 1941. She became pregnant soon after the wedding, and it was terminated after pressures from the studio became too overbearing. Garland and Rose separated after only eight months, and they divorced in 1944.
She tried to break away from her good-girl image to no avail
Judy Garland wanted to break from the girl-next-door mold that she had been groomed to fill since she was a child. When Garland turned 21, she was given a role in Presenting Lily Mars, and her appearance was changed drastically.
Her hair was dyed blonde, and she was given beautiful and elegant gowns to wear. This was one of the only films that Judy would star in where she played a love interest, and not the best friend, girl-next-door archetype.
Audiences were outraged and confused about this new and womanly Garland. She soon returned to her most famous and fitting stereotype in Meet Me in St. Louis.
She found her second husband in bed with another man
Judy Garland met her second husband, Vincente Minnelli, on the set of Meet Me in St. Louis, and the pair had a daughter together, Liza Minnelli. Vincente Minnelli helped Garland branch out as an actress by pushing her to take on more mature roles.
Unfortunately, one day, Garland walked into her home only to find her husband had betrayed her with a male employee. The event traumatized Garland, and she suffered quite an emotional episode.
After the event, Garland showed up for work the next day as though nothing had ever happened. Once again, she would throw herself into work after a trauma, something that remained constant throughout her life.
MGM studios dropped her in 1950
During filming for the 1947 film, The Pirate, Garland suffered a nervous breakdown and was placed in a private sanitarium. Although she completed filming, she would often indulge in self-harm and was checked into the Austen Riggs Center, where she spent two weeks in rehab.
Although Garland saw great success with the film Easter Parade, her health continued to decline. Garland’s contract was suspended on June 17, 1950, because she would show up late or miss filming entirely. Her last film for MGM was Summer Stock, and in September 1950, after 15 years with the studio, Garland and the studio parted ways.
Her third husband had a gambling addiction
In 1951, Garland began rebuilding her career, thanks to producer Sid Luft.
She ended up marrying Luft that same year, a marriage which had its ups and downs. Although it was rumored that their relationship was a stormy one, it seemed that Luft had a positive influence on Garland’s career.
Although Garland considered herself to be more of a singer than an actress, he helped her get a starring role opposite James Mason in A Star Is Born, which earned her an Academy Award nomination.
Unfortunately, Luft had a deep love for casinos and spent many of his days at the table burning through Garland’s earnings. The pair divorced in 1960.
She had her own television show
During the early ’60s, Garland’s career was thriving. In 1961, she won Grammy Awards for Best Solo Vocal Performance and Album of the Year for her album, Judy at Carnegie Hall.
Garland also tried her hand at television, and she starred in The Judy Garland Show from 1963 to 1964.
Her daughters, Lorna Luft and Liza Minnelli, made appearances on the show, and Garland earned an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program in 1964.
Even when her television show ended, Garland was still considered to be one of the biggest entertainers in the world.
Her fourth husband was caught with her daughter’s husband
For some reason, Garland always found herself unlucky in love. During the summer of 1964, Garland happily married her fourth husband, Mark Herron, while she was technically still married to Sid Luft.
While romancing Garland, Herron introduced her daughter, Liza Minnelli, to his friend and her soon-to-be-husband, Peter Allen.
Eventually, Minnelli married Allen, but their wedding night was anything but blissful.
Minnelli caught her new husband in bed with Mark Herron on the night of their wedding, and it was eventually discovered that Allen and Herron had been having a secret affair. Garland and Herron divorced 17 months after the incident.
Judy and her daughter didn’t have a great relationship
Like her mother, Liza Minnelli started her career in showbiz at a young age. Starting on the stage at 2 years old, Minnelli performed on Broadway by the time she was 19, and she became the youngest actress to win a Tony for her performance in Flora, the Red Menace.
During Minnelli’s show opening, Garland exclaimed to costume designer, Donald Brooks, “Can you believe that’s Liza up there? We did that! You got her up there looking the way she does. And I got her up there because I’m her mother and conceivably her inspiration – the heck with her motivation.”
With Liza’s great success came great financial reward. It was during this time that Garland began having financial troubles, and Liza eventually became Judy’s caretaker and provider.
Garland was fired from Valley of the Dolls
In February of 1967, Garland signed a contract with 20th Century Fox to play Helen Lawson in Valley of the Dolls. Her character was meant to be an older woman who had a particularly bad temper. After Garland made it through wardrobe tests and a song for the film, she began having trouble when actual filming began.
It was said that she would lock herself in her dressing room, and rumors claimed that she was too drunk to perform. Other stories say that Garland hadn’t been comfortable with the role from the start. Regardless, Garland was fired from the film and took home a settlement payment of $37,500.
Judy Garland was adored by the LGBTQ community
Although Garland suffered through so much, she didn’t let it affect how she treated others. She remained a financial and moral supporter of various causes, including the Civil Rights Movement.
Garland was widely considered a gay icon, and The Advocate has referred to her as “The Elvis of homosexuals.” Many of the significant people in Garland’s life were avid figures in the LGBTQ community, and she would often frequent gay bars with openly gay friends Roger Edens, Charles Walters, and George Cukor.
HuffPost writes that, “To many in the gay community, Garland is more than just the child star who cemented her role in Hollywood history with 1939’s The Wizard of Oz or the comeback queen who triumphed at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1961. For them, she’s a pioneering icon who set the standard for other female stars beloved by queer audiences, including Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler and, more recently, Lady Gaga.”
She had a difficult relationship with all her children
It seems that Garland struggled to keep strong relationships with her children. Her son, Joey Luft, admitted to Closer that although Garland had good intentions and a lot of love to give, her deadly vices often interfered with her relationships with her family and the people around her.
He explained, “There were times when my mom wasn’t acting right, so I’d ask my dad, ‘Is she sick?’ and he explained it all to me.”
Liza Minnelli explained that her mother would experience extreme mood swings. She said, “If she was happy, she wasn’t just happy. She was ecstatic. And when she was sad, she was sadder than anyone.”
She still tried to find the rainbow in everything
Even though the media headlines that obsessed over Garland were anything but positive, she insisted that she was happy.
During an interview with Herbert Kretzmer, which is quoted in the book Judy Garland on Judy Garland: Interviews and Encounters, Garland explained to Parade that she was frustrated that the media portrayed her “as a neurotic kid, full of fits and depressions.”
She asked, “Why do people insist on seeing an aura of tragedy around me always? My life isn’t tragic at all. I laugh a lot these days. At myself, too. Lord, If I couldn’t laugh at myself, I don’t think I’d be alive.”
She struggled financially toward the end of her life
Toward the end of her life, Garland struggled financially, and she owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes to the IRS. In an attempt to stabilize herself financially, she began appearing at the Palace Theatre in New York. Her shows sold out, and the majority of Garland’s earnings from the shows were seized for back taxes.
In August 1967, she performed in front of 100,000 people at the Boston Common, and returned to do two more shows at Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum theater in December.
The production assistant from the show Talk of the Town said, “She did sometimes come in a little bit late and do a reasonably good show, and that was fine. But there were too many nights when she just didn’t come in at all. Or she came in terribly late, by which time the good will of the audience had largely disappeared. And one had to take an educated decision as to whether you were going to allow her to go on or not.”
Her ‘Talk of the Town’ show was the beginning of the end
Her Talk of the Town show garnered a lot of media attention, and The Observer described her appearance on the show as “thinner now, almost haggard, her hair flicked back like a boy’s. Her orange sequined suit makes her jaunty … with hand on hip, she struts and totters and stomps and prowls – tigerish and restless, her great brown eyes darting amongst the audience for a friendly face. ‘I haven’t been taught anything new since silent movies,’ she croaks.”
The beloved actress was desperately trying to hang on to the one thing she loved the most, performing. Unfortunately, she was often heckled by the late-night crowd, and she would frequently smoke and drink onstage as she sang her way through “I Belong to London,” “The Man That Got Away,” “You Made Me Love You,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
It was reported that one evening, she appeared onstage an hour and 20 minutes late, and was met with cigarette boxes and trash from the audience when she finally arrived.
She got a book contract in 1960, but never finished it
In 1959, Garland had to be admitted to the hospital due to hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver. The illnesses came about due to Garland’s dangerous free-time activities that she had become dependant on for over a decade. Stevie Phillips, the stars former agent, described the star as “demented, demanding, and supremely talented.”
While in the hospital, Garland was visited by Random House editor, Bennett Cerf. He gave her a deal it seemed she couldn’t refuse at the time. He offered her a $35,000 contract for an incredibly honest and raw autobiography about her emotional life and her career.
Although she got through 65 pages of recordings for the memoir, the book was never completed before she returned to Los Angeles. In 1966, she approached Random House in hopes of finishing the book, but they declined.
During her last years, she was homeless
Her daughter, Lorna Luft wrote in Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir admitted that by the mid-1960s, her mother was a “homeless broke.” Her need for some quick bucks had her singing in gay bars in New York only $100 a night. Garland had alienated almost everyone around her, and at this point, she had come to depend on fans.
She would lean on fans and often sleep on their couches, often showing up with just a few plastic bags holding all her possessions. It’s difficult to believe that one of the biggest stars of the time, ended up completely penniless. Her ex-assistant, Stevie Phillips said, “she was virtually a homeless person. She was sleeping on the couches of her fans. It was heartbreaking.”
She passed three months after marrying her fifth husband
Mickey Deans speaks in detail about his time with Judy Garland in the 1972 biography, Weep No More, My Lady. Deans was 12 years her junior, and he was a musician and former disco manager. When interviewed about their relationship, Garland heartbreakingly replied, “Finally, finally, I am loved.”
Her daughter, Lorna Luft, described in her book, Me and My Shadows: Living With the Legacy of Judy Garland, that Deans was a “dreadful man who became her husband. … I mean if she put an advert in a newspaper for the most unsuitable person to take care of her, she wouldn’t have had a better response. … I don’t know what possessed… well, I know what possessed her because he gave in to her and fed her all the things she wanted.”
He discovered her dead in the bathroom of their rented house in London on June 22, 1969, due to an accidental overdose.
Garland left a lasting legacy
Judy Garland’s legacy will forever live on, and has continued to inspire decades after her death. It was confirmed that there are three movies about her life that are in the works, and every song she has recorded has been reissued on compact disc.
When she passed, Liza was 23 and Lorna was 16. Liza has admitted in an interview, “You can’t ever get in the way of talent like my mom’s. No matter what people said, or what people did, or what drama was created, or what was going on. That talent will come through again, and again, and again.”
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