Fans of the late actress and singer Judy Garland usually associate her with two things: her immense talent and her troubled life. They remember her on June 22, the anniversary of her death in 1969.
Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, on June 10, 1922, according to biography.com. She was the daughter of vaudeville professionals and was singing in public by the age of 2 1/2. She became the major attraction in an act called the Gumm Sisters.
The family relocated to California in 1926. Frances and her two older sisters studied dancing and acting there. Their mother served as their manager and agent and arranged a number of paid performances for them, including a few short films.
In 1934, the trio appeared at the Chicago World’s Fair as the Garland Sisters. Frances adopted the name “Judy” after the sisters played with comedian George Jessel at a theater. A year later, she appeared in what became a solo act.
At age 13, Judy Garland signed a movie contract with MGM. Shortly thereafter, her father died. Garland made several Andy Hardy films with Mickey Rooney. Said to be just shy of 5 feet tall, she was a good physical match for the diminutive actor.
The performer’s problems with medications began during this period. Under pressure from MGM about her weight, she received amphetamines to boost her energy level and keep her weight under control. She soon became dependent on amphetamines plus another drug that helped her sleep. Problems with drugs followed her the rest of her life.
Most people born before 1960 associate Judy Garland with what most fans consider her greatest triumph, her role as Dorothy in the musical The Wizard of Oz, which came out in 1939. For this role, she received a special Academy Award. Several other musicals followed.
After working in films, the actress spent the latter part of her career primarily as a singer. She performed at Carnegie Hall and won two Grammy Awards. She sang and starred in The Judy Garland Show on TV in 1963 and 1964. In 1967, she earned good reviews when she returned to Broadway in At Home at the Palace.
Judy Garland was married five times. At 19, she married bandleader David Rose. On the set of a film, she met her next husband, director Vincent Minnelli, father of her daughter Liza. After her second divorce, she went into an emotional tailspin and gained a reputation for being an unreliable performer. MGM terminated her contract in 1950.
The singer met her next husband, producer Sid Luft, while trying to rebuild her career. They married in 1952 and had two children. While the relationship soured, in 1954, Garland completed A Star Was Born and received an Academy Award nomination for her work. Her last two marriages occurred in the 1960s.
Judy Garland, suffering from personal and financial woes, traveled to London. She died there of an accidental overdose on June 22, 1969. Daughters Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft both became singers.
During my childhood in the 1950s, everyone in my extended family associated Judy Garland with personal problems. It wasn’t until I reached my teens that I even saw The Wizard of Oz. Decades later, I had an opportunity to see one of the five surviving pairs of ruby slippers in a museum in Washington, DC. I couldn’t tell the size, but among Garland fans, the rumor has always been that some of the shoes made were a size 4B, and at least one pair was a 6B, the shoe size of the actress who stood in for Garland.