Judy Garland Biography

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Birth Name: Judy Garland
Born: 06/10/1922
Birth Place: Grand Rapids, Minnesota, USA
Death Place: London, England, GB
Died: 06/22/1969

Born June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, MN, Frances Ethel Gumm was the youngest of three daughters born to two vaudevillians-turned-movie theater managers. Nicknamed "Baby," the young girl made her stage debut as a two-year-old singing "Jingle Bells" with her sisters. Their mother put together a musical act for the three girls, now known as The Gumm Sisters, and they cut their professional teeth in local productions, with the tiny Garland proving the undisputed standout. After a gay sex scandal involving their father threatened to ruin the family's name, the Gumms moved to California in 1926, where they began the arduous process of breaking into big-time show business. Around this time, she adopted the stage name "Judy Garland," as Frances Gumm was deemed not marquee-friendly. With national vaudeville experience under their belts, the siblings became "The Garland Sisters" and appeared in several short films, but when the eldest sister decided to get married, the act broke up.

Summoned to MGM for an audition, Garland landed a contract in 1935. Enormously gifted and winsome in a girl-next-door way, the young girl was shy and self-conscious about her appearance. In fact, she suffered emotional damage from being constantly compared against more glamorous studio peers like Lana Turner and described by studio head Louis B. Mayer as his "little hunchback." As frequently happened with contract players, she was loaned out to Twentieth Century Fox for her first full-length feature "Pigskin Parade" (1936). Back at Metro, Garland earned her breakthrough with her deceptively simple, plaintive rendition of "You Made Me Love You" sung to a photograph of MGM's leading man Clark Gable in "Broadway Melody of 1938" (1937). Using her tremulous vibrato and imbuing the song with that paradoxical fragility and resilience that would become her hallmark, she emerged as a star-in-the-making. MGM quickly snatched her back and began the grooming process.

The studio put her in her first leading role opposite frequent co-star and good friend Mickey Rooney in "Thoroughbreds Don't Cry" (1937). The irrepressible teens became a sensation, hitting upon the winning "let's put on a show!" format that made the duo irresistible to audiences, exemplified in the smash "Love Finds Andy Hardy" (1938). Her professional success came at a price, however, as the young actress was given drugs - uppers to lose weight and downers to go to sleep - by the studio in order to help her maintain her immense workload. This cycle of addiction - as well as feeling that her childhood had in essence been stolen from her by her mother and MGM - would haunt Garland for the rest of her life. She was an emerging teen starlet when Metro awarded her the coveted role of Dorothy Gale in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939). A generational classic from its almost yearly airings on television and a beloved cultural touchstone, the film was a modest box office success in its day. A timeless fairy tale featuring a talented cast and the magic of movie making at its finest, the film would cement Garland's best qualities and her performance would become iconic. Her famous rendition of the movie's best-known song, the Oscar-winning "Over the Rainbow" would become her signature theme for the rest of her life.

While history would mark "The Wizard of Oz" as a classic, 1939's "Babes in Arms" with Mickey Rooney solidified her standing with the studio and turned her into one of MGM's most bankable performers. For her charmingly spirited performance and her superlative singing in both pictures, she earned a special Academy Juvenile Award from the Oscars in early 1940. She and Rooney went on to be paired in a string of films, including several in the popular Andy Hardy series, including "Andy Hardy Meets Debutante" (1940). That same year, she scored with "Strike Up the Band" and "Little Nellie Kelly," and she went on to enliven run-of-the-mill projects like "Ziegfeld Girl" (1941) with her sterling rendition of "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows." The actress proved a fine partner for Gene Kelly in the Busby Berkeley-directed "For Me and My Girl" (1942), while "Girl Crazy" (1943) also offered her a fine opportunity to perform another Rodgers and Hart score and remained the best of the three films made from that source material.

Off-screen, Garland began a relationship with musician David Rose, and on her 18th birthday, they became engaged. The studio intervened because he was still married to singer-actress Martha Raye at the time. They agreed to wait a year to allow for his divorce to become final and were wed on July 27, 1941. Garland, who had aborted her pregnancy by him in 1942, agreed to a trial separation in January 1943, and they divorced in 1944. No matter how much she glittered onscreen, in her private life, Garland continued to spiral into self-destruction, struggling with addictions and weight issues. With so much barely controlled chaos swirling around her and no other reality than the heightened world of studio life, it was perhaps unsurprising that Garland was becoming quite troubled. Nevertheless, she had been trained that the show must go on, and for her entire life, the consummate performer would power through the pain to entertain.

In 1944, Garland starred as Esther Smith in the warmly nostalgic "Meet Me in St. Louis," directed by her future second husband Vincente Minnelli, whom she would marry in 1945. Onscreen, she seemed to glow as she introduced three new standards, gloriously delivered: "The Trolley Song," "The Boy Next Door" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The following year, she and Minnelli re-teamed for one of her rare non-singing performances in the unjustly overlooked wartime drama "The Clock" (1945). Her next picture, "The Harvey Girls" (1946), cast her as a frontier waitress and introduced the Oscar-winning song "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe," but she also proved effective impersonating stage star Marilyn Miller in that year's ersatz Jerome Kern biopic "Till the Clouds Roll By." After time off to give birth to daughter Liza Minnelli in 1946, Garland roared back in 1948 with several fine performances despite being overworked. She made a perfect partner for Fred Astaire in the Irving Berlin musical "Easter Parade" (1948), made a final feature appearance with Rooney in "Words and Music" (1948) and filmed "The Pirate" (1948) opposite Gene Kelly. The signs of her fragile psyche were beginning to manifest themselves on set, however, and during filming of the latter picture, Garland had a nervous breakdown and was placed in a sanitarium. Although she recovered enough to complete filming, she soon attempted suicide by cutting at her wrists with a broken glass.

The combination of Garland's mental issues, her increasing dependency on sleeping pills and the pressures of maintaining a Hollywood career took their toll, and her professionalism suffered, with the actress sometimes arriving late, unprepared or unable to work. She was replaced by Ginger Rogers in "The Barkleys of Broadway" (1949), Betty Hutton in "Annie Get Your Gun" (1950) and Jane Powell in "Royal Wedding" (1950), taking the latter setback so hard that she cut her neck with a broken water glass, which was sensationalized into the lurid tale that Garland had slit her own throat. MGM finally dropped her in 1950, and at age 28 with a young daughter and two failed marriages, Judy Garland was set adrift personally and professionally. Under the guidance of new manager Sid Luft - who became husband number three in 1952 - she began the second phase of her career, embarking on the first of her concert tours with now legendary appearances at London's Palladium and a 19-week engagement at Broadway's Palace Theatre, which shattered all attendance records and garnered her a special Tony Award.

With a rejuvenated career and a second child, daughter Lorna Luft, born in 1952, she set about to reconquer Hollywood with a project dear to her heart: a musical remake of "A Star is Born" (1954). With Moss Hart rewriting the original award-winning script, George Cukor directing, and original songs by Harold Arlen (who had composed "Over the Rainbow") and Ira Gershwin, the film came to be one of the year's most anticipated. Although Warner Bros. was unhappy with the original three-hour-plus running time and cut more than 30 minutes from the film, it still proved to be an artistic and personal triumph for Garland, who reportedly called the film "the story of my life." The finished motion picture picked up six Oscar nominations including well-deserved ones for Garland as Best Actress, as well as one for the song "The Man That Got Away," which became another of the singer's second signature numbers. The box office success and critical acclaim reaped by the film and the goodwill toward Garland for a spectacular comeback created a near universal belief that she would win the Best Actress Oscar. She took home the Best Actress Golden Globe and was hospitalized after giving birth to her son, Joseph Luft, so was unable to attend the Oscar ceremony. While a television crew waited in her hospital room for the winner to be announced, Grace Kelly's name was called and they packed up and unceremoniously left. Roundly deemed one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history, TIME said Garland had given "just about the greatest one-woman show in modern movie history."

With her film career failing to reignite, Garland returned to live performing, first in Las Vegas and then returning to Broadway's Palace Theater. Three years later, she collapsed and was hospitalized. The diagnosis was hepatitis and the singer was reportedly told that she would remain a semi-invalid. As if to prove the doctors wrong, Garland resumed her grueling performance schedule, which also included a 1960 Democratic fundraiser for John F. Kennedy, and landed her first screen role in seven years. Cast as a concentration camp survivor called to testify about her experiences in "Judgment at Nuremberg" (1961), she offered a heartbreaking performance. Along with the equally troubled Montgomery Clift, Garland was a standout in the large cast and both she and Clift earned Oscar nominations for their supporting roles. It was a fine cap to a year that had also seen her triumph in a concert at Carnegie Hall that was considered by many to be "the greatest night in show business history," spawning the classic two-album setJudy at Carnegie Hall, which won four Grammys and would remain a best-seller for decades.

Sadly, Garland was only able to make three more film appearances. John Cassavetes cast her as a teacher who becomes too involved with one of her mentally challenged students in "A Child is Waiting" (1962), she lent her vocals to the animated meow-sical "Gay Purr-ee" (1962), and single-handedly saved the soap opera-esque "I Could Go on Singing" (1963) with her powerhouse voice. Turning to the relatively new medium of television, she headlined a series of electrifying television specials as well as her own variety series "The Judy Garland Show" (CBS, 1963-64). While not a ratings winner, the show earned her three Emmy nominations and was later considered a time capsule that captured many wonderful performances, including several with Garland singing with daughter Liza. When the show was canceled, Garland found herself drowning in financial and health woes, and she embarked on a disastrous tour of Australia. She was cast as the aging Broadway queen Helen Lawson in "Valley of the Dolls" (1967) but was replaced by Susan Hayward when she unable to show up.

Ever the trouper, Garland continued to perform live up until just before her death of an accidental overdose of prescription pills 12 days after her 47th birthday in 1969. Recognized as one of the greatest stars of all time, Garland's legacy only continued to grow after her death, especially among the LGBT community, who embraced her as their ultimate icon. In fact, many suggested that Garland's death and funeral were one of the causes for the influential Stonewall Riots. Considered the ultimate vaudeville and musical performer with history's most poignant voice, Garland continued to fascinate, inspiring projects such as "Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows" (ABC, 2001) and a proposed Anne Hathaway biopic "Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland" (TBD). Although her life and career encompassed enormous amounts of both the sublime and the tragic, Judy Garland gave everything she had to her art and left behind an unparalleled body of work and a bittersweet but still beautiful legacy.

By Jonathan Riggs




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