Biography of Judy Garland

Judy Garland
Photo by Central Press / Hulton Archive

Judy Garland ( June 10, 1922 - June 22, 1969 ) was a singer and actress who gained nearly equal acclaim in both fields. She was the first solo woman to win a Grammy Award for Album of the Year, and the American Film Institute named her one of the 10 greatest female stars of American cinema.

Early Years

Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Her parents were vaudeville performers, and soon Frances joined her older sisters Mary Jane and Dorothy to become the singing and dancing act the Gumm Sisters.

The details remain murky, but around 1934, the Gumm Sisters, in search of a more appealing name, became the Garland Sisters. Soon after, Frances officially changed her name to Judy. The Garland Sisters group broke up in 1935 when Suzanne, the oldest of the sisters, married musician, Lee Kahn.

Later in 1935, Judy was signed to a contract with film company MGM without the usual screen test. However, the studio was not sure how to promote the 13-year-old Garland; she was older than the usual child star but still too young for adult parts. After a few unsuccessful projects, her breakthrough moment came when she was paired with Mickey Rooney in the 1938 film Love Finds Andy Hardy.

Personal Life

Judy Garland's turbulent personal life was marked by several instances of heartbreak. When Judy Garland was 13 years old, her 49-year-old father succumbed to meningitis, leaving her emotionally devastated.

Years later, her first adult love, bandleader Artie Shaw, eloped with actress Lana Turner leaving Garland crushed. She received an engagement ring on her 18th birthday from musician David Rose who was at the time still married to actress Martha Raye. After the divorce, Judy and David were briefly married.

Just three years later, in 1944, the marriage ended. 

Following an affair with legendary director Orson Welles, while he was married to actress Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland married director Vicente Minnelli in June 1945. They had one daughter, singer and actress Liza Minnelli. By 1951 they were divorced. During the late 1940s, Garland was hospitalized following a nervous breakdown, underwent electroshock therapy to treat depression, and began to have serious problems with alcohol addiction.

During June 1952, Judy Garland married her tour manager and producer Sid Luft. They had two children, singer and actress Lorna Luft and Joey Luft. They divorced in 1965. In November 1965, Garland married tour promoter, Mark Herron. They were divorced in February 1969, and she married her fifth and final husband Mickey Deans in March.

In 1959, Judy Garland was diagnosed with acute hepatitis, and she informed doctors that she was unlikely to have more than five years to live. She said she would likely never sing again and remembered feeling relief at the diagnosis because it reduced much of the pressure in her life. However, she recovered over a period of several months and began performing concerts again.

 

Film Career

Following her success in a series of films with Mickey Rooney, the teenage Judy Garland was cast in the lead role of 1939's The Wizard of Oz. In the movie, she sang what became identified as her signature song "Over the Rainbow." It was a critical success and Garland earned a special Juvenile Academy Award for her performance in both The Wizard of Oz and Babes In Arms with Mickey Rooney.

Judy Garland starred in three of her most successful films in the 1940s. In 1944's Meet Me In St. Louis she sang "The Trolley Song" and the holiday classic "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." For 1948's The Easter Parade, she teamed with legendary dancer and actor Fred Astaire. She starred in 1949's In the Good Old Summertime with Van Johnson. It was one of her biggest box-office successes and featured the movie debut of Judy Garland's three-year-old daughter Liza Minnelli.

By 1950, Judy Garland earned a reputation for being difficult while filming new projects. She was accused of showing a lack of effort while drugs and alcohol also interfered with appearing on time for shoots. In 1954, Garland made a celebrated comeback in the second film version of A Star Is Born. Her performance earned accolades from critics and audiences alike, and she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. In 1961 she earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in Judgment at Nuremberg, but her days as a top Hollywood actress were over.

Music Career

The last two decades of Judy Garland's life were dominated by her success as a singer in concerts, TV shows, and on record. In 1951, she launched a highly successful tour of Great Britain and Ireland performing for sold-out audiences. The songs of vaudeville legend Al Jolson were a centerpiece of her concerts. During the tour, Garland experienced a rebirth as a performer. In 1956, she became the highest-paid entertainer yet in Las Vegas earning $55,000 a week for a four-week engagement.

Judy Garland's first appearance on a TV special took place in 1955 on the Ford Star Jubilee. It was CBS' first full-scale color broadcast and was a received stellar ratings. Following three successful TV specials in 1962 and 1963, Garland was given her own weekly series, The Judy Garland Show. Although it was canceled after only one season, The Judy Garland Show earned four Emmy Award nominations including for Best Variety Series.

On April 23, 1961, Judy Garland performed a concert at Carnegie Hall that many consider the highlight of her live performance career. A double album of the show spent 13 weeks at number one on the album chart and earned a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. After her TV series ended in 1964, Garland returned to the concert stage. She performed live at the London Palladium in November 1964 with her 18-year-old daughter, Liza Minnelli. A 1964 Australian tour turned disastrous when Garland was late to take the stage and accused of being drunk.

Judy Garland's final concert appearance took place in Copenhagen, Denmark in March 1969, three months before her death.

Death

On June 22, 1969, Judy Garland was found dead in the bathroom of a rented house in London, England. The coroner determined the cause to be an overdose of barbiturates. He indicated the death was accidental, and there was no evidence of suicidal intent. Garland's The Wizard of Oz co-star Ray Bolger said at her funeral, "She just plain wore out." Although initially interred at a cemetery in upstate New York, in 2017, at the request of Judy Garland's children, her remains were transferred to the Hollywood Forever cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

Legacy

Judy Garland's reputation as one of the greatest entertainers of all time remains strong. More than two dozen biographies have been written about her since her death, and she was listed by the American Film Institute at #8 among all-time greatest female movie stars. The American Film Institute also listed her performance of "Over the Rainbow" as the top movie song of all time. Four more, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Get Happy," "The Trolley Song," and "The Man That Got Away" are listed in the top 100. Garland received a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1997. She has been featured twice on U.S. postage stamps.

Judy Garland is also considered to be a gay community icon. There are differing reasons offered for that status, but the most common include identification with her personal struggles and her relationship to camp culture. In the late 1960s, news accounts of Garland's nightclub performances disparagingly commented on homosexual men being a disproportionately large part of the audience. Many also credit "Over the Rainbow" as being an inspiration for the gay community's ubiquitous rainbow flag.