Born Frances Ethel Gumm, June 10, 1922, in Grand Rapids, MN; died January 22, 1969, in London, England; daughter of Frank Avent (a vaudeville performer and movie theater owner) and Ethel Marian (a vaudeville performer and act manager; maiden name, Milne) Gumm; married David Rose (a composer), July 8, 1941 (divorced c. 1942); married Vincent Minelli (a film director), June 15, 1945 (divorced, 1951); married M. S. (Sid) Luft (a film producer), June, 1952 (divorced, 1963); married fifth husband, Mickey Deans; children: (second marriage) Liza Minelli; (third marriage) Lorna Luft, Joseph Luft. Education: Attended Lawler's Professional School in Los Angeles, CA, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studio school. Made singing debut at father's Grand Rapids, MN, theater, 1925; family moved to Los Angeles, 1927; toured U.S. as member of singing-dancing act The Gumm Sisters (later became The Three Garlands), 1927-35; film performer, 1935-63, beginning with MGM, 1935-50; radio performer, beginning in 1936; recording artist, beginning in late 1930s; international concert performer, 1951-69; television performer, beginning in mid-195Os, including weekly television series The Judy Garland Show, 1963-64. Motion picture performances include Every Sunday Afternoon, 1935, Broadway Melody, 1938, Love Finds Andy Hardy, 1938, The Wizard of Oz, 1939, For Me and My Gal, 1942, Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944, Ziegfeld Follies, 1944, The Harvey Girls, 1946, Easter Parade, 1948, A Star Is Born, 1954, and I Could Go on Singing, 1963.

For more than three decades singer-actress Judy Garland claimed the hearts of audiences worldwide. She was the leading star of Hollywood musicals during their heyday in the late thirties and forties, playing wholesome, small-town girls loaded with big-time musical talent. Her rich, powerful voice and dynamic delivery celebrated mainstream American pop at a time when musicals still reflected either the eccentricities of vaudeville, or the conventions of opera and legitimate theater; she made American pop music acceptable, leading it to swing and later, to the mellow harmonies that dominated after World War II. When her movie career waned in the l950s, Garland became a premier concert performer, renowned for her rapport with an audience. The love of music and desire to please so evident in her screen portrayals became almost palpable on stage, and she inspired a devotion at home and abroad that occasionally assumed the dimensions of a cult.

Garland's failed marriages, her suicide attempts, and her battles with her weight, alcohol, and pills only enhanced her vulnerability and appeal; The Best of the Music Makers cited performer Jerry Lewis as commenting that Garland "communicates for the audience. All the things people can't say for themselves. All the stout women identify with her, the losers in love identify ... the insomniacs, the alcoholics and pill takers." Writing in the New Yorker, Ethan Mordden observed that Garland's "extraordinary singing style [was] so individual yet so uneccentric," allowing her to perform cabaret jazz, show tunes, or love ballads with equal mastery. "She made each song hers without taking anything away from the song," he decided. "Garland is ... strangely familiar, permanently contemporary."

Garland was born Frances Gumm, the third daughter of vaudeville actors. At the age of two she toddled on to the stage of the Minnesota theater her father owned to sing "Jingle Bells," and was so taken with performing that she had to be forcibly removed. Following relocation to Los Angeles, Frances and her sisters formed a singing-dancing trio, The Gumm Sisters, with their mother accompanying them on the piano. The girls became the principal support of their family as their father's health declined, performing in vaudeville theaters around the country. After being mistakenly billed as "The Glumm Sisters" at one stop, they changed their name to "The Three Garlands" (and Frances became Judy); the youngest Garland emerged as the star of the act--"the little girl with the great big voice." When a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) agent heard Judy sing he signed her to a seven-year contract on the spot, recognizing in the untrained thirteen-year-old a wealth of natural talent.

By her fourth film for MGM Garland had emerged as a juvenile singing star, drawing notice with her memorable rendition of "Dear Mr. Gable" in the 1938 Broadway Melody. The following year she landed the plum role of Dorothy in the musical fantasy The Wizard of Oz --through which she became a virtual American pop-culture icon--singing "Over the Rainbow," her remarkable performance earning her a special Academy Award. For the next decade she made more than twenty films, including the "Andy Hardy" and "Babes" series with Mickey Rooney and musical classics like Meet Me in St. Louis, The Harvey Girls, and Easter Parade, also introducing such popular standards as "The Trolley Song" and "The Atchison, Topeka and the Sante Fe." Her fresh appeal and musical energy made her an audience favorite, belying the troubling tenor of her life offscreen. In a studio system that perceived her as property, Garland was always told what to do, who to see, and how to look; from the beginning she was fed amphetamines to combat her natural chubbiness and barbiturates to bring rest. Hooked on pills and alcohol, exhausted by her unrelenting work schedule, and tormented by insecurity and fears, Garland began to crack by the late 1940s.

In 1948 Garland delayed the production schedules of several films, showing up late, unprepared, and unwilling; she eventually suffered a nervous breakdown. By 1950, MGM had released her two years early from her $5,000-a-week contract--the dismissal prompting one of the star's numerous suicide attempts. Still, by the next year, Garland was staging a comeback in a different venue (the first of many such comebacks during her late career), and her four-week live engagement at the London Palladium proved an enormous success. Her subsequent show at the Palace Theater in New York City broke box-office records, and she came to realize that performing in concert was what she liked best--"To retire the [onscreen] character that never was," suggested Mordden, "and simply to make the music." From her Hollywood days, working with some of the best composers and arrangers, Garland came away with keen musical judgment and a repertory full of popular favorites; she learned "the architecture of a song," according to Mordden, "the weight, the build, the climax, the embellishments." This mastery of performance, along with her musical gifts, made Garland America's most popular female singer during the l950s and 1960s.

Garland returned to the screen occasionally, most notably in the 1954 motion picture A Star Is Born. Unlike her earlier films, this movie suggested that show business stardom is not without price; Mordden noted that songs like "The Man That Got Away" and "It's a World" "sound different from the tunes Garland sang for L. B. Mayer--less golden and content." People critic Ralph Novak similarly observed that a "penetrating sense of tragedy and world-weariness began taking over Garland's voice" as her personal life deteriorated; her flawless diction became slurred at times, and her moving signature vibrato occasionally wavered out of control. Suffering from chronic hepatitis (due, in part, to her substance abuse) and failing with a weekly television series, Garland began to decline steadily after 1963. Her final concerts were fraught with drama and uncertainty: would she show? fall onstage? remember lyrics? retreat in terror? The suspense only reinforced the emotional ties she forged with her audiences; the entertainer once admitted that emotion was her business. "Garland's life demolishes that essential show-biz myth of her era--that to go out there a youngster and come back a star is heaven on earth," concluded Mordden. "The legend is sorrow, but the music remains vital.... She left behind ... her extraordinary ability to communicate through a song."

by Nancy Pear

Judy Garland's Career

Judy Garland's Awards

Special Academy Award, 1940, for The Wizard of Oz.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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