Legendary actress and recording artist Judy Garland, was born on this past Friday in 1922 (she would have turned 89), and almost immediately began a career that spanned a lifetime. With her birth name of Frances Gumm she performed with her sisters during the hay day of Vaudeville and transitioned smoothly into an MGM discovery at the age of 13, signed to a contract without a screen test, almost unheard of at the time, though the studio had no idea what to do with its protege. Her vocal talents garnered attention after she sang “You Made Me Love You”, at a studio helmed birthday party for leading man, Clark Gable, and soon she was cast in musical after musical.To keep up with this fast paced work cycle she was put on stimulating amphetamines, and sedating barbiturates to fall asleep at night. Weight became another huge issue and something she would battle her entire life, as a teenager at MGM, studio head Louis B. Mayer referred to her as “the fat one”, she was soon put on a strict diet.
1939 proved to be the year that would seal Garland’s fate as one of the brightest constellations in the heavens, it was the year she was cast as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, a part that was originally supposed to go to Shirley Temple, it became her signature film featuring her signature song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. It was at this point Garland became one of the top box office draws in the world, appearing alongside Mickey Rooney in the Andy Hardy films, while performances in Meet Me in St. Louis, The Clock, The Pirate, Easter Parade and Summer Stock cemented her stardom.
After she left MGM in 1950 (actually she was fired because of frequent tardiness, a result of too many drugs augmented by her continual work load) she appeared in less films, instead concentrating on concerts, records and television. Her appearances at the Palladium and Carnegie Hall are legendary, in fact a recording of her performance called “Judy at Carnegie Hall” has never been out of print. Though professionally she excelled, personally her life was in a ever continual downward spiral, dependences on alcohol, drugs, failed relationships and near fatal bouts of Hepatitis left her a shell of her former self. In 1969 (at age 47) she passed away, a result of what the coroner referred to as “an incautious self-overdosage”. Ms. Garland left a remarkable impact on entertainment, an effect that is still noted and seen today. One can only hope that she met the peace she so sorely needed her whole life, in death.