Life as a young, talented, wealthy, and beautiful star in the 1900s would be perfect, right? This is not always the case. Judy Garland, a well-known Hollywood actress, certainly proved that the lifestyle of a star is not always simple. She endured endless hardships just to please her fans, which is why she is so beloved by many. Judy Garland, a singer and actress known for her brilliant role in The Wizard of Oz, is one of the most memorable Hollywood actresses of the 1930s. Garland’s love for theater and wonderful singing talents started very early due to her family’s great musical influence.
To begin with, “Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota to vaudeville performers Frank and Ethel Gumm” (Petersen 1). Being raised by vaudeville parents, Garland’s love for music was inevitable. Furthermore, “[Garland] sang in her father’s theater from the age of four as one of the Gumm Sisters” (“Judy Garland” Columbia 1). The Gumm Sisters’ act was a sensation, and it helped Garland develop a real talent for singing. As they slowly gained popularity, “[… ] The Gumm Sisters began to appear on radio shows” (Petersen 1).
Their frequent radio appearances further proves that the sisters had a real flair for singing. By the time the Gumm Sisters reached the pinnacle of their career, “[… ] Frances stood out as the star performer of the trio” (Petersen 1). Young Frances Gumm was more lively and energetic than her sisters. Her wonderful singing and dancing abilities encouraged her to stand out. If it was not for Judy Garland’s family, she would never have become the star she was. The early 1930s brought nothing but glory for young Judy Garland. It all started in 1935 when, “[… ] Garland auditioned with MGM studios and was signed to a $100 per eek contract” (Petersen 1). If the elation of being hired as an actress was not enough, receiving a hefty contract must have overwhelmed young Garland. At this time of economic distress, she was very lucky to earn such an ample payload. Garland made her first movie appearances, “[… ] in ‘Every Sunday’ (1936), ‘Pigskin Parade’ (1936), and ‘Listen, Darling’ (1937)” (Petersen 1). These first few appearances served as stepping stones for Garland. These early films gave her more experience in the field of motion pictures, and helped Garland gather a fanbase. Her career as a singer started when “[… ] she sang Eden’s tune ‘Dear Mr.
Gable’ [… ] in MGM’s Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937) [which] led to a recording contract at Decca Records” (Evensen 1). Although Garland is remembered for her career in acting, it is important to note that she was also an extremely talented singer. Throughout the 1930s, Garland lived a happy and carefree life in the Hollywood spotlight. Perhaps Garland’s biggest success was her role in the classic and beloved movie The Wizard of Oz. Garland’s big break came in 1939 when, “[… ] Fox would not release the child star Shirley Temple to appear as Dorothy in MGM’s long-awaited Wizard of Oz (1939), and Garland was cast instead” (Evensen 1).
The casting of Judy Garland was an excellent choice for MGM. Garland was obviously more fit for the role than Shirley Temple. The plot of The Wizard of Oz, “[… ] focuses on the characters that Dorothy meets in Oz and their journey to meet the Wizard, who they hope will grant them each one wish” (Petersen 2). Without such an alluring plot line, Garland’s role in the film would not have been as outstanding as it was. After the film release, “Garland received a special miniature Oscar in 1940 for her role in the film” (Evensen 1). The Oscar she received further confirms that Garland was absolutely extraordinary in The Wizard of Oz.
Garland’s role as Dorothy was very cherished by fans: “[… ] [Garland] would always be the plucky girl from Kansas who yearned for a place where ‘the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true. ” (“Judy Garland” St. James 1). Dorothy’s inspiring and innocent character captivated Garland’s supporters. Many were unwilling to accept Garland as any other character. Garland’s role in the film The Wizard of Oz is what made her into a movie star. Her memorable song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” had a surprising impact on Garland’s career and her adoring fans.
Her song was so touching that, “In her stage concerts, she used the song as a finale, as it had profound significance for her and often brought tears to the audience’s eves” (“Judy Garland” St. James 3). It is clear that the song not only had a great significance to Garland, but to the audience members as well. The optimistic and encouraging words of the song touched the hearts of many. The song spread worldwide, and, as a result, “Somewhere over the Rainbow’ became an anthem of hope in England during World War II” (Judy Garland” St. James 3).
The comforting message in Garland’s beautiful song encouraged the English to persevere through the difficult war. Without the inspiring words that Garland delivered, many of the English probably would have given up. One source says that, “[The song ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’], which she sang wistfully, became almost a symbol for her career” (“Judy Garland” Dictionary 2). The symbolic meaning of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is mirrored in Garland’s dissatisfaction with her life. She was always longing for a life of perfection, a figurative place over the rainbow.
Garland would never be happy until she was over the rainbow, but, unfortunately, this place of perfection didn’t exist. The lyrics of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” had a deep and personal meaning for everyone, especially for Garland. The sad truth is that Garland’s life wasn’t always joyous. By the time Garland was almost twenty years old,”[… ] she had married (on 28 July 1941) and divorced composer-arranger David Rose, had an abortion, begun using barbiturates and amphetamines, and started seeing a psychiatrist” (Evensen 2). The use of barbiturates and amphetamines for energy and weight-loss gave Garland a slightly negative reputation.
All of this stress at a very young age was a lot for Judy Garland to handle. It is not very surprising that Garland became overwhelmed by the pressures of being a Hollywood star. The hardships of depression took a toll on Garland in 1950 when, “[… ] [Garland] slashed her throat with a piece of glass. Her injury, however, was not life threatening” (Petersen 2). Obviously, Garland must have been in an overwhelming amount of emotional pain if she had attempted to take her own life. By 1947, Garland was suffering with nervous breakdowns and suicidal thoughts, and she was briefly checked into a mental hospital (Petersen 2).
The severity of Garland’s substance abuse and mental health only worsened throughout the years. Surprisingly, the life of the brilliant star, Judy Garland, was actually very troublesome. Garland’s sudden and tragic death left fans devastated and heartbroken. On June 21, 1969, Mickey Deans, her fifth husband, discovered Garland dead in the bathroom (Petersen 3). The passing was sudden, but predicted by many. Her drug abuse foreshadowed an early death. Police and doctors said Garland had accidentally overdosed on sleeping pills, which resulted in her death (Evensen 1).
The accidental and completely avoidable death is tragic. If only Garland had more supervision, she could have lived on to amaze audiences. Mel Torme, a good friend of Garland, described her funeral in his book: “And so they all came to Campbell’s to say good-by. The curious, the sick-in-mind, the jaded few who viewed the whole thing as a ‘happening,’ the genuinely moved and saddened majority, silently remembering the Golden Days of Garland” (ix). A very diverse group of individuals had come to say goodbye to Garland. She really touched the lives of many different people. Garland’s fans were heart-broken by her passing.
Garland’s death and mourning may have been very brief, but her legacy lives on today. Impressively, “[… ] Garland performed in over ninety movies and television programs” (Petersen 1). All of these programs that Garland performed in provide entertainment for the current and coming generations. Garland delighted audiences all over the nation, “[… ] but she appealed in particular to gay men” (“Judy Garland” St. James 4). There were lots of attributes Garland had that attracted gay audiences; her bubbly personality, striking confidence, and innocent beauty must have factored into this.
It it believed that, “[Her status as a gay icon] may have started with her role as the girl who want to go over the rainbow in The Wizard of Oz” (“Judy Garland” St. James 4). The complete acceptance of a gay lifestyle was reflected in the symbolism of Dorothy wanting to go over the rainbow. Furthermore, “The rainbow from the film is mirrored in the gay pride rainbow symbol, and the phrase ‘friend of Dorothy’ was accepted in the 1970s as code for being gay” (“Judy Garland” St. James 4). Garland’s tremendous impact on gays is mirrored in their everyday lives.
Unfortunately, she didn’t keep a perfect reputation: “Garland’s frequent suicide attempts in the last twenty years of her life became part of her legend” (“Judy Garland” St. James 4). Many regarded Judy as one of the saddest Hollywood stars in history due to the suicide attempts. Garland left behind three children as well, and, “Like her mother, Liza became a triple threat – an actress, a singer, and a dancer” (“Judy Garland” St. James 4). She is greatly remembered for presenting the nation with the new star, Liza Minnelli. The daughter was just as talented as her mother was.
Many say that Liza is a mirror-image of Judy Garland. Garland had another daughter, “Lorna [Luft] [who also] had a show-business career and made concert appearances” (“Judy Garland” St. James 4). Garland left behind another lovely, aspiring daughter that was accepted by the nation in place of Judy Garland. Lorna wrote a book about her mother, Judy Garland, known as Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir, which was later made into an Emmy Awardwinning television film (“Judy Garland” St. James 4). The truthful depiction of Garland’s life disheartened audiences, which is likely why it won an award.
Today, Garland’s legacy can still be seen by all. In conclusion, the admirable talents of Judy Garland in movies like The Wizard of Oz, and her unbelievable life makes her one of the most memorable Hollywood actresses of the 20th Century. After her sensational role in The Wizard of Oz, she moved into a rocky life of substance abuse, precarious marriages, and serious mental health issues. Her death and legacy was a tragedy for all, but Garland’s life must never be forgotten. It is essential to acknowledge the arduous life that Garland endured and the glory she brought to the Hollywood world.