Judy Garland (June 10, 1922 — June 22, 1969)
was born Frances Ethel Gumm
in Grand Rapids, Minnesota
. According to most sources, Judy made her show business "debut
" during a Christmas
show at her parents' theater in Grand Rapids on December 26, 1924, where she sang numerous verses of "Jingle Bells
." Judy and her two older sisters (Susie and Ethel) became a trio shortly after her debut. In 1926 the Gumm family moved to Lancaster, California
, and shortly thereafter Frank Gumm bought the town's local theater
. The girls were soon taking dancing and acting lessons at various schools in the Los Angeles
area, and within a few years they attracted a following of fans in the Southern California
area through appearances on local radio
The Gumm Sisters began appearing in short films in 1929, when Judy was seven years old. Judy's first feature film appearance was in the 20th Century Fox hit, Pigskin Parade in 1936. The Gumm Sisters traveled with their mother to Chicago in 1934 to perform at the World's Fair. While appearing at the Oriental Theatre, George Jessel (a well-known comedian of the era) suggested to the girls that they change their name to Garland. Frances took the name "Judy" some time later because she liked the peppy sound of it, and she liked the Hoagy Carmichael song of the same name. In September 1935, thirteen-year-old Judy auditioned for MGM, and was signed immediately. She sang "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart", accompanied by Roger Edens (of the MGM music department) at the piano.
Judy was officially elevated to star status by MGM in December 1938 while she was filming The Wizard of Oz. She had just completed her sixth feature film, Listen, Darling. Judy emerged from Oz as a superstar. After Oz was released, Judy was just about the most popular young actress on earth. Oz is certainly Judy's best remembered film today (it has been seen by more people than any other film ever made), but many of her other films have also become classics.
Judy was in a total of 43 films, from short subjects to full-length feature films. Between 1939 and 1950 she made 22 feature films; an average of two a year. She was the reigning "queen of the musicals" during that period, making more musicals than any other actress. After leaving MGM, she made two films for Warner Brothers and several for United Artists. In addition to making movies, Judy also cut records, made many public appearances, toured scores of army camps during WWII, appeared on hundreds of radio shows, appeared on dozens of television shows, and performed at over 1,000 concert and nightclub engagements. But her films were an important part of her career. Nearly all of Judy's movies at MGM were major hits, and nearly all of them broke all box office attendance records (including her own).
Judy left MGM in 1950, after filming Summer Stock. Her illness had become steadily worse since about 1947, and she was no longer able to function at the pace that MGM demanded of her. She began her concert career in 1951, when she reopened the Palace Theater on Broadway and broke all attendance records with a show which was held over for 21 weeks. In 1954 she returned to movies under contract with Warner Brothers to produce A Star Is Born - her personal masterpiece of film work (and certainly one of her best films). During the remainder of the 1950s, she recorded albums for Capitol Records and continued her concert touring, with many very successful tours in the US, England and Europe. She also appeared in several television specials.
In 1960, she renewed her film career, appearing in another series of films, including Judgement at Nuremberg, for which she received another Academy Award nomination. In 1963/64 she had her own television series on CBS, The Judy Garland Show. The show was a critical success, but did not score well in the ratings (primarily because CBS refused to move her spot which was across from Bonanza on NBC - one of the most popular series of all time). After her TV series was cancelled by CBS, Judy found herself financially in ruins with her health failing rapidly. She continued to perform at concerts, nightclubs, and on an occasional TV program. But her life seemed to spiral out of control as she married and remarried within a period of 3 years, broke many concert and night club engagements, and was often in court battling over lawsuits with night club owners and producers. Most of the money she did make was seized by the IRS for back taxes. Finally, her home was seized by the IRS, and she found herself homeless. She had to work, but was really too ill to perform.
Judy was found dead in her bathroom by her last husband, Mickey Deans, on June 22, 1969, less than two weeks after her 47th birthday. The official cause of death was listed as an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. More than 22,000 people paid their respects at Campbell's Funeral Chapel in New York on June 27, 1969. She was laid to rest at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.
John Fricke, Judy Garland: World's Greatest Entertainer, Holt, 1992