Judy Garland was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota on June 10, 1922. Her incredible talent would eventually make her one of the most popular Hollywood stars of the 20th century.
Meet Judy Garland
Originally named Frances Ethel Gumm, Garland was the daughter of former vaudevillians Frank and Ethel Gumm. The pair operated the New Grand Theatre in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. And that’s where Judy Garland made her performance debut in 1924 at just 2 ½ years old.
Her talent continued to grow at a young age, and when she was 12, she adopted the surname “Garland” at the suggestion of comedian George Jessel. She chose the first name Judy shortly thereafter, after the 1934 Hoagy Carmichael song. Judy Garland’s star rose quickly and in 1935 she was signed by the world’s largest motion picture studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), without a screen test. While this was a huge break for her career, studio executives would later go on to abuse Garland, contributing to issues with both her mental and physical health.
Garland began her prolific work for MGM with her first film appearance as a contract player in the 1936 short, Every Sunday. Her early work also included the start of her on-screen partnership with Mickey Rooney. The pair appeared in the 1937 film Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry, which was the first of their 10 films together.
A Breakout Role
At the age of 16, Garland took on her most well-known role as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz. The film was based on L. Frank Baum’s popular children’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. But one of the biggest icons of the movie was actually a departure from the source material. In the book, Dorothy wears silver slippers. However, screenwriter Noel Langley suggested ruby slippers for the film, since the bright red hue would stand out much better against the Technicolor yellow brick road.
Despite its status as a cinematic classic, The Wizard of Oz underperformed at the box office upon its initial release. It initially brought in an estimated $3 million against its $2.8 million budget. The poor box office performance was likely a result of the timing, as the film was released at the tail end of the Great Depression and it had to compete with Gone with the Wind, another 1939 release.
However, the movie still brought Garland her first and only Academy Award, a special award with a miniature statuette for “outstanding performance by a screen juvenile.” And Judy Garland’s noteworthy performance wasn’t the only lasting impact of The Wizard of Oz. In fact, researchers at the University of Turin recently studied over 47,000 movies and determined that The Wizard of Oz is the most influential film of all time, beating out other heavy-hitters like Star Wars and Psycho.
A Multi-Talented Star
Despite placing in the top ten at the box office three times during the 1940s and making more than $100 million for the studio, Garland was granted an early release from her MGM contract in September 1950. She quickly mounted a comeback by returning to her roots on the stage with triumphant performances at the London Palladium and New York’s Palace Theatre.
Garland also went on to star in the 1954 Warners Bros. musical, A Star Is Born, another film with which she’s commonly associated. She was favored to win the Oscar for Best Actress that year but lost to Grace Kelly for her role in The Country Girl. Comedian Groucho Marx referred to Garland’s loss as “the greatest robbery since Brinks,” a reference to the 1950 robbery of the Brinks Building in Boston, the largest armed robbery in the US at the time.
But there were other awards in store for Judy Garland. The two-record recording of her concert, Judy at Carnegie Hall, won five Grammy Awards in 1961, including Album of the Year and Best Female Vocal Performance. She continued to focus on concert performances and television appearances until her death at age 47 by accidental barbiturate overdose. Singer Frank Sinatra summed up her lasting legacy, saying, “She will have a mystic survival. She was the greatest. The rest of us will be forgotten, but never Judy.”
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