Frances Gumm in Minnesota in 1922, Garland came from a vaudeville family
and was introduced to the stage at just two years old. The act become
the Gumm sisters, although Baby Frances was clearly the one audiences
wanted to see and hear. A visit to Chicago was an important step for
the girls, with the youngest once more attracting the most attention;
here, at the urging of comedian George Jessel, they changed their name
to the Garland Sisters. On their return to Los Angeles in 1934 the sisters
played a successful engagement at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
Soon afterwards Frances was personally auditioned by Louis B. Mayer,
head of M-G-M. Deeply impressed, Mayer signed the girl before she had
even taken a screen test. Frances now became Judy Garland.
EVERY SUNDAY (1936) a short film with Deanna Durbin was Garland's first
role at M-G-M. Her first major impact on audiences came with her third
film, BROADWAY MELODY OF 1938 (1937) in which she sang "Dear Mr
Gable". She was then teamed with M-G-M's established child star,
Mickey Rooney, a partnership which brought a succession of popular films
in the Andy Hardy series. By now, everyone at M-G-M knew that they had
a star on their hands. This fact was triumphantly confirmed with her
appearance in THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), in which she sang "Somewhere
Over the Rainbow", the song with which she would subsequently always
be associated. She won a special Oscar as "the best juvenile performer
of the year" for the role which originally had been intended for
However, the price and pressures of such fame were high. It wasn't long
before she first encountered drugs. Her friends began to notice alarming
differences; a gaunt look from severe weight loss and dark - blue circles
under her eyes. Besides psychiatric drugs, Garland was introduced to
psychoanalysis. Judy decided to start treatment, seeing Menninger associate
Dr. Ernst Simmel five mornings a week.
With her personal life firmly on the downward slide towards later disasters,
Garland's successful film career now took a further upswing. In 1942
she appeared in FOR ME AND MY GAL then made PRESENTING LILY MARS, THOUSANDS
CHEER, GIRL CRAZY (all 1943), MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), THE HARVEY
GIRLS, ZIEGFELD FOLLIES and TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (all 1946).
In 1945 she married Vincente Minnelli, who had directed her in MEET
ME IN ST. LOUIS. It was M-G-M's biggest grossing film after GONE WITH
THE WIND. In 1946 her daughter, Liza Minnelli, was born. The late '40s
brought more film successes with THE PIRATE, EASTER PARADE, WORDS AND
MUSIC (all 1948) and IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME (1949).
Under psychiatrist's orders, she began the first of many stays in psychiatric
hospitals. Then in 1949, not yet 27 years old, she was subjected to
the violence and electroshock. She was also given hypnosis to "calm
her nerves and help her lose weight". In 1951 her marriage to Minnelli
finished, and she attempted suicide. Her subsequent marriage to Sid
Luft and his handling of her career brought an upturn both emotionally
and professionally. She made a trip to Europe, appearing at the London
Palladium to great acclaim.
Her film career resumed with a dramatic/singing role in A STAR IS BORN
(1954), for which she was unsuccessfully nominated for an Oscar. A straight
dramatic role, in JUDGEMENT IN NUREMBERG (1961), for which she was still
nominated for an Oscar, enhanced her reputation.
Despite the personal traumas and the professional ups and downs, Judy
achieved another huge success with a concert at New York's Carnegie
Hall on 23 April 1961, the subsequent album of the concert winning five
Grammy Awards (and sold 2 million copies).
Early in 1968, Judy went to London and there married her fifth husband,
a 35 - year old discotheque manager named Mickey Deans. She began a
three week engagement at a London cabaret, which turned out to be the
worst flop of her career. Not only was she habitually late for performances,
but her voice frequently cracked and she constantly forgot her lines.
But she seemed to be recovering from the effects of this fiasco when
sometime during the night of June 22, 1969, she stumbled in the bathroom
of her London apartment. She was found dead in the morning by Deans.
The official coroner's verdict attributed her death to an accidental
overdose of sleeping pills. But Ray Bolger, Dorothy's Scarecrow friend
in THE WIZARD OF OZ, commented: "She just plain wore out."
Thousands of bereaved fans jammed the vicinity of the Manhattan funeral
home where her body lay in state.
Judy Garland biographer
John Fricke sums it up:
worked for nearly forty-five of her forty-seven years. She made thirty-two
feature films, did voice-over work for two more, and appeared in at
least a half dozen short subjects. She received a special Academy Award
and was nominated for two others. She starred in thirty of her own television
shows (the programs and Garland herself garnering a total of ten Emmy
Award nominations) and appeared as a guest on nearly thirty more. Between
1951 and 1969, she fulfilled over eleven hundred theatre, nightclub
and concert performances, winning a special Antoinette Perry (Tony)
Award for the first of three record-breaking Broadway engagements at
the Palace. She recorded nearly one hundred singles and over a dozen
record albums; Judy at Carnegie Hall received an unprecedented five
Grammys in 1962 (including Album of the Year) and has never been out
of print. Her radio work encompassed several hundred broadcasts, and
she sang at countless benefits and personal appearances for the military.
Earlier, between the ages of two and thirteen - and prior to signing
her MGM contract in 1935 - she fulfilled hundreds of live vaudeville
and radio dates with her two older sisters."
- John Fricke,
Judy Garland: World's Greatest Entertainer,
Holt, 1992, 1997
When and where was
Frances Ethel Gumm was born on June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Early MGM publicity material indicated she was born in Murfeesboro,
Tennessee and that she was a year younger than she actually was. Why
this misinformation was distributed by MGM is not clear.
Frances Ethel was
named after her father (Francis "Frank" Gumm) and mother (Ethel
Milne), former vaudeville performers who bought a theater and settled
in Grand Rapids. She was the third of three girls: Mary Jane (nicknamed
Susie, variously spelled "Suzy") was born in 1915, and Dorothy
Virginia (nicknamed Jimmie) was born in 1917. Frances was nicknamed
"Baby", and was known as Baby Gumm until 1934 when she changed
her name to Judy.
How did Judy get
her start in show business?
There are many variations on the story, but apparently Judy made her
show business "debut" during a Christmas show at her parents'
theater in Grand Rapids on December 26, 1924 (she was 2½ years
old). She sang numerous verses of "Jingle Bells" and thoroughly
enchanted the audience. Susie and Jimmie were already performing as
a song and dance duo at the time. The sisters became a trio shortly
after Baby's debut. They were billed as The Gumm Sisters, and appeared
at theaters and social functions in and around Grand Rapids.
In 1926 the Gumm
family moved to Lancaster, California where Frank bought the local theater.
The girls were soon taking dancing and acting lessons at various schools
in the Los Angeles area. Ethel was the girls' agent and manager, and
began finding bookings for the girls in theaters, night clubs and on
radio. Within a few short years, the girls had a following of fans in
the Southern California area, and were appearing regularly on local
When did Judy make
her film debut?
The Gumm Sisters appeared in a Meglin/Associated Films short subject
entitled Starlet Revue (aka The Big Revue) in 1929. Judy was seven years
old. The girls also appeared in three Warner Brothers Vitaphone short
subjects in 1929 (A Holiday in Storyland, The Wedding of Jack and Jill,
and Bubbles). In 1935, they appeared in an MGM short subject, La Fiesta
de Santa Barbara, billed as The Garland Sisters. Judy's first feature
film appearance was in the 20th Century-Fox hit Pigskin Parade in 1936
- the only time MGM ever loaned her out to another studio.
When did Baby Gumm
change her name to Judy Garland?
The Gumm Sisters traveled with their mother to Chicago in 1934 to perform
at the World's Fair. While in Chicago, they appeared at the Oriental
Theatre where George Jessel (a well-known comedian of the era) was headlining
the bill. When Jessel introduced the Gumm Sisters to the audience, he
noticed some quiet laughter, and later suggested to the girls that they
change their name to Garland. Frances took the name "Judy"
some time later because she liked the peppy sound of it, and she liked
the Hoagy Carmichael song of the same name. The rendition of the song
heard here is from the Judy Garland biodrama Rainbow. (©1975 Ten
Four Productions/NBC, taped off-air).
When did Judy sign
In 1935 Susie married, breaking up the act. Ethel began pushing Judy
toward a movie career, arranging for auditions at nearly every studio
in Hollywood. In September 1935, thirteen-year-old Judy auditioned for
MGM and was signed immediately. She sang "Zing! Went the Strings
of My Heart," accompanied by Roger Edens of the MGM music department
at the piano. He would become the most influential person of her career
(aristically), and would be closely associated with Judy throughout
her tenure at MGM and beyond. Judy was said to be the only person ever
contracted at MGM without a screen test, though the same claim has been
made with reference to several other stars. Judy's contract officially
started on October 1, 1935.
Dorothy with dog Toto in The Wizard of OzBorn Frances Ethel Gumm in
Grand Rapids, Minnesota, she was born into a family of vaudeville players.
One year, her parents and her two older sisters were performing in a
Christmas show. Young Frances got on the stage and stole the show with
a rendition of Jingle Bells; she was two and a half years old. The family
soon moved to Lancaster, California and the Gumm Sisters began work
on stage and in short films. Frances was soon known as Baby Gumm.
In 1934, the Gumm
Sisters were performing in Chicago with George Jessel. Jessel encouraged
the group to choose a more appealing name. They settled on the the Garland
Sisters, and young Frances chose the name Judy.
Garland was signed
at the age of 13 by Louis B. Mayer to a contract with MGM allegedly
without a screen test in 1935 (she had actually made a test for the
studio a few months earlier). Garland first got noticed by studio executives
after singing "You Made Me Love You" to Clark Gable at a studio
held birthday party for the "King of Hollywood". Her rendition
proved so popular that MGM placed Garland (and the song) in their all-star
extravaganza Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937). At the age of 16 (and after
a string of unsuccessful films), she got the role of Dorothy in the
film of The Wizard of Oz (1939), and was forever afterwards associated
with the song, "Over the Rainbow". After Oz, Garland became
one of MGM's most bankable stars, proving particularly popular when
teamed with Mickey Rooney in a string of "let's put on a show!"
musicals (The duo first appeared together in the 1937 b-movie Thoroughbreds
Don't Cry, they became a sensation and they reteamed in Love Finds Andy
Hardy and soon after in Babes in Arms) . She would end up starring with
Rooney in nine films. To keep up with a frenetic pace of making one
movie after another, Garland, Rooney, and other young performers were
constantly given amphetamines, as well as barbiturates to take before
bedtime. This constant dose of drugs would lead to addiction and a lifelong
struggle for Garland as well as her eventual demise. She would also
in her later life resent the hectic work and feel that her youth was
stolen from her by MGM, and she was plagued with self-doubt throughout
life and needed constant reassurance that she was talented, in spite
of filling concert halls to hear her, high critical praise, and several
A young JudyThroughout the 1940s her films increased in popularity,
making her the most critically and financially successful female musical
star of the time. Among her most successful 1940s films is the 1944
classic Meet Me in St. Louis, in which she introduced three standards:
"The Trolley Song," "The Boy Next Door," and "Have
Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Her other famous films include
The Harvey Girls (1946) (in which she introduced "On the Atchison
Topeka and the Santa Fe"), Easter Parade (1948), A Star Is Born
(1954) (considered by many to be her best dramatic performance), and
Judgement at Nuremberg (1961). She received an honorary Academy Award
for her performance in The Wizard of Oz, and was nominated for Best
Actress in A Star is Born, and Best Supporting Actress for Judgement
Renewed stardom on the stage and television
Early 1960sWhen her MGM contract was terminated in 1950 (depending upon
the source, she either asked to be released from the contract, or she
was fired due her unreliability on the set of the musical Royal Wedding),
Garland turned to television and live concert appearances.
Throughout the 1950s
and 1960s, she made enormously successful appearances in both media.
Her concert appearance at Carnegie Hall on April 23, 1961 was a considerable
highlight, called by many the "greatest single night in show business."
The live recording made of the concert was a best seller (certified
gold), charting for 73 weeks on Billboard (13 weeks at number one),
and won five Grammy Awards including Album of the Year and Best Female
Vocal of the Year.
After hugely successful
television specials and guest appearances in the early 1960s, CBS made
a $24 million offer to Garland for a weekly television series of her
own, called The Judy Garland Show, which was deemed at the time in the
press to be "the biggest talent deal in TV history." The television
series was critically praised, but, for a variety of reasons, lasted
only one season, and went off the air in 1964, after 26 episodes. Despite
this, the show won four Emmy nominations. The demise of the series was
personally devastating for Garland.
The shortcomings of her childhood years became more apparent as Garland
struggled to overcome various personal problems, including weight gain,
heavy drinking, and drug addiction. Her children are Liza Minnelli (who
is now a legendary singer and actress in her own right), Lorna Luft
(who is also an acclaimed singer), and Joey Luft (who is now a scenic
photographer). Of Garland's five marriages, the first four marriages
all ended in divorce. She died in 1969 at the age of 47 in London from
an accidental overdose of barbiturates. Garland was interred in the
Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York.