Judy Garland, The Greatest Entertainer (1922-1969)


judy garland
Judy Garland

Judy Garland was a singer and actress who died in 1969, aged only 47, but she had already become an international phenomenon, one of the greatest performers in history, and her status as a showbusiness legend has increased as time has gone on. She had a great natural singing talent and her sincerity and depth of feeling formed an emotional link with audiences everywhere.

Judy showed great versatility in both musical and dramatic roles, and after starting as a child performer in vaudeville, achieved fame in movies, radio, television and then as a live concert performer. She won a Golden Globe Award, Grammy Awards, a Special Tony Award and was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award for her work in films. In 1999, the American Film Institute placed her at number eight in their list of the greatest female stars in the history of American cinema.

She made a total of thirty-two feature films, and after receiving a special juvenile Academy Award in 1940, she was nominated for two other Oscars (for 'A Star Is Born' and 'Judgment at Nurenberg'). Several of her musicals rank amongst the greatest ever made, including 'Babes in Arms', 'Meet Me in St Louis', and 'Easter Parade'. If all this weren't enough, she also starred in one of the most popular and widely seen movies in history, 'The Wizard of Oz'. It is little wonder that Judy Garland has been described as 'The Greatest Entertainer'.

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Biography

She was born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, the youngest of three sisters. Her parents ran a movie theatre in Grand Rapids that featured vaudeville acts, and it was there that Judy first performed onstage at the age of two, singing 'Jingle Bells'.

Within a few years she had joined her older siblings to form 'The Gumm Sisters', even then her remarkably powerful and mature voice caused her frequently to be singled out for particular praise. It was obvious she had a very special talent.

When she was 12, Frances and her sisters had been touring the vaudeville circuit for over eight years with only moderate success. They were advised by actor George Jessel to change their name from 'Gumm' which audiences found amusing. In late 1934 they were renamed 'The Garland Sisters' and at the same time Frances changed her name to Judy after a popular contemporary song by Hoagy Carmichael. Within a short time, in August, 1935, Judy's elder sister, Suzanne, got married and the sisters' act was disbanded. Judy ws 13 and it gave her the opportunity to move from vaudeville to the big screen.

Judy auditioned with MGM and was signed up by Louis B Mayer. She also signed a contract with Decca records and cut her first single, "Stompin' at the Savoy". In 1936 she made her first film, a short called 'Every Sunday' co-starring Deanna Durbin and in the same year, on loan to Twentieth Century Fox, she made her first full-length movie, 'Pigskin Parade'.

Judy's first taste of national stardom came in 'The Broadway Melody of 1938' when she sang "You Made Me Love You" to a photograph of Hollywood heartthrob, Clark Gable. The combination of fragility and strong voice was sensational put her firmly in the public eye. Also during this time she began a series of highly successful films with Micky Rooney, the first being 'Thoroughbreds Don't Cry'in 1937 followed by the first Andy Hardy movie, 'Love finds Andy Hardy' in 1938, and she went on to make a further seven films with him.

In 1939, at the age of 16,Judy appeared in the lead role of Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz' the film which made her a household name and for which she is most fondly remembered. She was awarded an honorary Oscar for her performance as a juvenile and she also sang the song 'Over the Rainbow' with which she was to be identified for the rest of her life. It was released in the same year as 'Babes in Arms' her next movie with Micky Rooney and it cemented her position as one of MGM's pre-eminent stars.

Judy continued to work hard and be worked hard by the studio and she appeared and enlivened a number of standard movies over the next few years, including 'Strike Up the Band' and 'Little Nelly Kelly' in 1940 and 'Ziegfeld Girl' in 1941 with her exemplary singing of "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows". She very capably partnered Gene Kelly in 'For Me and My Gal' in 1942 and 'Girl Crazy' the following year enabled her to perform another score from Rodgers and Hart.

The rest of the 1940's proved a fruitful period in Judy's movie career. In 1944 she made the outstandingly successful 'Meet Me in St. Louis' directed by her lover and future husband, Vincente Minnelli, in which she introduced three songs which have become standards: "The Trolley Song", "The Boy Next Door", and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

In 1945 Judy appeared in her first non singing role in the well received romantic comedy 'The Clock', also directed by Minnelli, and the following year she made 'The Harvey Girls' in which she sang the Academy Award-winning song "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe".

In 1945, Judy married Vincente Minnelli,and the following year gave birth to a daughter, Liza Minnelli, which gave her a break from movies. She came back strongly in 1948 with 'The Pirate', again directed by her husband, Vincente Minnelli and in the same year she made an ideal foil and partner for Fred Astaire in Irving Berlin's 'Easter Parade'. It seemed as if Judy was on the top of the movie world, but there were serious problems behind the scenes. Even during the filming of 'The Pirate' Judy had suffered a nervous breakdown and been placed in a sanitarium and in July of that year she attempted suicide for the first time, attempting to slash her wrist with a broken glass.

Judy had started in Hollywood as a happy, high spirited young girl, extremely popular with film crew and fellow cast members, but within a few years she began to experience mood swings and became erratic, unpunctual and less prepared for her work. Her problem was an increasing addiction to barbituates and amphetamines, originally given to her at the start of her career with MGM in the 1930's to help her control her weight, to keep her energy levels high and to help her sleep at night. Her dependency gradually increased and she also began drinking heavily when her marriages and love affairs started to go wrong.

After 1948 Judy's problems worsened and she became more irrational and volatile and continued to be potentially suicidal. She was replaced in 1949 by Ginger Rogers in 'The Barkleys of Broadway' and in 1950 she was unable to complete the musical 'Annie Get Your Gun'. After she recovered from another failed suicide attempt, her contract was finally terminated by MGM.

Judy was only 28 but her career appeared to be already finished but her determination shone through. In 1951, after divorcing Vincente Minnelli, she undertook a four-month concert tour of the United Kingdom, arranged by her new manager, Sid Luft. The tour was a great success and judy received rave reviews from the British press. She went on to repeat her triumph in America at the Palace Theater on Broadway where her 19 week run broke all records. Judy was awarded a special Tony Award for her contribution to the vaudeville tradition. She had proved her critics wrong and was back with a vengeance.

Judy married Luft, the architect of her amazing comeback, in June 1952 and gave birth to their first child, Lorna, in November of that year. With Luft's help Warner Bros. were persuaded in 1954 to finance Judy's next comeback project, her first film in 4 years, 'A Star is Born'. It was a great success and generally regarded as a personal triumph for Judy, her best movie to date. It proved to be a perfect vehicle for Judy's singing and acting and included in the film's six Oscar nominations was one for Judy for Best Actress. She won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical but to most people's astonishment, the coveted Academy Award went to Grace Kelly for 'The Country Girl'.

Despite this major success, no film offers were immediately forthcoming and so Judy returned to live concert performances starting with Las Vegas in 1956, followed by a series of shows in New York.

After a serious bout of hepatitis in 1959 Judy made a strong recovery and resumed her touring schedule but with some very mixed performances. In 1961, at the age of 39, she appeared in her first movie for seven years. In 'Judgment at Nuremberg' she had a testing role as the survivor of a concentration camp. She gave a riveting and poignant performance and she received another Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. In the same year she had another major triumph, this time on the concert platform of the Carnegie Hall.

Judy continued to make headlines for the rest of her life, but often for the wrong reasons, as her constant battle with alcohol and drugs, although under medical supervision, made headlines wherever she went.

She made just two more movie appearances, in 1962 as a teacher of a mentally challenged pupil in 'A Child Is Waiting' and the following year in the aptly named British film 'I Could Go on Singing' which only came alive when Judy was, in fact, singing.

Judy had been a regular performer on the new medium of television and had a successful special full-scale color broadcast in 1955 on CBS which was a ratings triumph. In 1962 'The Judy Garland Show' featured Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as special guests and from September, 1963 Judy hosted her own weekly show which ran for one season and was nominated for four Emmy Awards.

Judy returned to the stage in 1964 with a concert at the London Palladium and for the next few years she continued to tour, often appearing with her children. She had huge financial problems, owing large sums in back taxes to the IRS, and she needed to keep working. Her health problems got steadily worse and during the sixties she had to battle depression and weight gain as well as her ongoing alcohol and barbituate dependancy.

Judy made, what was to be her final concert appearance in Copenhagen in March, 1969. She died on June 22nd, 1969,in Chelsea, London. the cause of death was given as accidental "self-overdosage" of barbiturates. She was buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. She was 47.

Personal Life

Judy's love life was complicated. She was married five times, to David Rose, Vincente Minnelli, Sid Luft, Mark Herron, and Mickey Deans and she had many affairs, often with older men such as Tyrone Power, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Frank Sinatra and Orson Welles.

Her first serious romance as an adult was with band leader Artie Shaw when she was 17 years old. She was deeply in love with Shaw and was devastated when he eloped with Lana Turner in early 1940.

She then began a relationship with musician David Rose,to the displeasure of MGM as Rose was still married at the time. The couple waited a year to allow for Rose's divorce to become final, and were wed on July 27, 1941. However, their marriage went downhill after MGM and Rose insisted that Judy should have an abortion to preserve her image. They separated in January 1943.

Judy met Vincente Minnelli on the set of 'Meet Me in St. Louis'and they began a romance when filming ended in 1944. They soon began living together and when her divorce from David Rose came through they married in June 1945. The following year, Judy gave birth to their daughter Liza Minnelli.

She and Vincente Minnelli divorced in 1951 and the following year Judy married producer Sidney Luft. She gave birth to the couple's first child, Lorna, on November 21 that year and then a son, Joseph,in 1954. She and Sid had a voatile relationship which resulted in a number of attempts to file for divorce. They finally separated permanently in 1963 and in May 1965, their divorce was finalized.

Judy married actor Mark Herron on 14th November 1965 in Las Vegas, but they separated after 5 months of marriage apparently due to his homosexuality. After a brief affair with a young journalist, Tom Green, Judy began dating Mickey Deans, a musician and discothèque manager who became her fifth and final husband in March 1969.

It was Deans who, three months after their wedding, discovered Judy lying dead in the bathroom of their home in Chelsea.

Summary

There is no doubt that Judy was an immensely talented performer and a much loved show business personality who, at the time of her death was rapidly achieving the status of a legend. But all her life she was chased by her own personal demons. After MGM cynically used and abused her, causing her to become addicted to wake-up pills and sleeping pills when she was still a young girl, she was never able to stop the roundabout. Her personal life became a series of divorces, failed relationships, and alcohol and barbituate dependancy. It is a tribute to her massive talent that she is remembered today as 'The Greatest Entertainer'.


Judy Garland Academy Awards

No Wins:
Two Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actress ... A Star Is Born (1954)
Best Supporting Actress ... Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)
Juvenile Award
"For her outstanding performance as a screen juvenile during the past year." (1940)


Judy Garland Filmography

1930
1931
1932
1933
1934
1935
1936
Every Sunday
Pigskin Parade
1937
Broadway Melody of 1938
Thoroughbreds Don't Cry
1938
Everybody Sing
Love Finds Andy Hardy
Listen, Darling
1939
The Wizard Of Oz
Babes in Arms
1940
Andy Hardy Meets Debutante
Strike Up the Band
Little Nellie Kelly
1941
Ziegfeld Girl
Life Begins for Andy Hardy
Babes on Broadway
1943
Presenting Lily Mars
Girl Crazy
1945
Under the Clock
Ziegfeld Follies
1946
The Harvey Girls
Till the Clouds Roll By
1947
1948
The Pirate
Easter Parade
1949
In the Good Old Summertime
1950
If You Feel Like Singing (Summer Stock - original title)
1951
1952
1953
1955
1956
1957
1958
1959
1960
1961
Judgment at Nuremberg
1962
Gay Purr-ee (voice)
1963
A Child Is Waiting
I Could Go on Singing
1964