Judy Garland

The Greatest Showwoman & A Triple Threat

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What I am most passionate about is to inspire you to see that your life is your own and biggest masterpiece.

Judy Garland was not only Dorothy from Kansas, she was the mother of Liza Minelli, one of the most successful entertainers of the US and a triple threat as a performer at MGM. She is a great reminder that life is short and that you should never let anybody tell you what to think about yourself. 



Frances Ethel Gumm was born on June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Her parents Ethel and Francis were active in vaudeville entertainment – after being constantly on tour, they had settled in Grand Rapids to oven a movie theatre focusing on vaudeville acts.

This is also where Frances and her two older sisters „Suzy“ and „Jimmie“ made their stage debut – at their parents’ movie theatre during a Christmas show singing „Jingle Bells“. They would do so for several years. 

The family finally relocated to Lancaster, California, when their father was accused of homosexuality in Grand Rapids. In Lancaster, they opened another movie theater and Ethel actively tried to promote her three daughters into show business. This was the start of the „Gumm Sisters“ Act. 

Gumm Sisters

In 1928, when Frances was six years old the three sisters enrolled in the Meglin Kiddies dance troupe run by Ethel Meglin. The troupe had been supported by Mack Sennett and apart from Frances and her sisters other notable attendees were Farley Granger, Virginia Grey, Ann Miller, Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple. So, with this troupe, the Gumm sisters performed during the annual Christmas show and made their film debut with the company as well in a short. Four other short movies followed in which they danced and sung. 

From that time onwards until 1934, the three would perform as „The Gumm Sisters“ in the vaudeville circuit. In 1934, they performed at the Chicago Oriental Theater with George Jessel. And Jessel is usually credited for changing the sisters’ name from „Gumm“ to „Garland“. How and why „Garland“ was suggested is debated on though. One version suggests that Jessel came up with the name after Carole Lombard’s character Lila Garland in the movie „Twentieth Century“. Another version that is backed by Judy Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft suggests that Jessel had described that the three sister „looked prettier than a garland of flowers“. Another explanation was given by Jessel himself on the Judy Garland Show in 1963, when he said he’d sent a telegram to Judith Anderson and it contained the word „garland“ that stuck in his head and thus he suggested it. But he himself denied the truth of this. No matter the origin, by the end of 1934, the Gumm Sisters had officially changed their name to the Garland Sisters. The change of Frances’ name to Judy followed soon after inspired by the Hoagy Carmichael song „Judy“. The sisters broke up the act when Suzanne married musician Lee Kahn. 

Start at MGM

It was shortly before stopping their act that Louis B. Mayer sent Burton Lane, a songwriter, to a theater to go and watch the Garland Sisters’ vaudeville act and evaluate it. Only a few days later Judy Garland was brought in for an audition and MGM immediately signed her because of her wonderful singing capabilities.

But, her looks were a challenge for MGM. At that time, Judy was 13 years old – too old to be a child star, too young to be an adult. Also, she was not as glamorous as other female lead stars at MGM like Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor or Lana Turner. 

So, instead of turning her into a glamorous leading lady, which she was too young for anyways, they groomed her into the exemplary „girl-next-door“.  

It was a rather cruel time for Judy Garland. At MGM, she was perceived as being not as glamorous as the others, Louis B. Mayer even referred to her as his „little hunchback“. They made her wear caps on her teeth and rubberized discs to reshape her nose. And although Judy was at a healthy body weight, MGM put her on a diet constantly. All this had a detrimental effect on Judy’s long-term mental health. Being exposed to such harsh criticism about her appearance made her deeply insecure and filled her with self-doubt, anxiety and depression. 

It is no wonder that Judy’s first feature film was not at MGM, but at a loan to Fox for „Pigskin Parade“, in which Judy sang three solos. MGM hit solid gold when they paired Judy Garland with MGM star Mickey Rooney – both in Rooney’s Hardy films and other MGM movies. 

The Wizard of Oz

In 1938, when Judy was 16, she got the role of her lifetime: Dorothy in „The Wizard of Oz“. Some of her most memorable lines and songs come from this movie, especially „Somewhere over the rainbow“. Although she was perfect for the role, she actually was just third choice – Shirley Temple had been first choice, but 20th Century Fox did not want to loan her and Deanna Durbin was unavailable.The promotional tour for the movie included not only Judy Garland but also Mickey Rooney, with whom Garland was already filming „Babes in Arms“ before the New York City premiere of „The Wizard of Oz“ at the Capitol theater. The movie actually did not turn any profit until its re-release one year later and subsequent showings because of the huge promotional costs as well as the many discounted tickets for kids. This movie made Judy Garland the most bankable star of the United States. 

MGM stardom

At that time she was merely 18 years old and was filming her first adult film roles as a grown-up. The first one was „Little Nellie Kelly“ in 1940, which featured her first on-screen romantic kiss and a death scene, the only one she ever did. In 1942, aged 20, Judy Garland starred in „For Me and My Gal“, the movie that Gene Kelly debuted in. 

„Presenting Lily Mars“ in 1943, when Garland was 21 years old, was the first to try to switch her image. Her hair got lightened and done up in a glamorous way, she was dressed in glamour robes and got presented as a glamorous leading lady to the public. One year lady, in „Meet Me in St. Louis“, Judy Garland had another chance to be the attractive leading lady. Difference being: Director Vincente Minelli. Minelli assigned make-up artist Dorothy Ponedel to tend to Garland. Ponedel really performed a make-over on Judy Garland – changing her eyebrows’ shape and length, modifying her hairline, changing her lip line and undoing the things that MGM had previously done: No more nose discs, no more dental caps, no blonde hair. It was such an impressive change that Garland had Ponedel written into her contract for all future MGM movies. And, if you watch „Meet Me in St Louis“ just for a few seconds, you will be mesmerized by Judy Garland’s appearance. Together with her great voice and acting, she is simply wonderful. 

On a side-note: Garland did one straight dramatic film in 1945 – „The Clock“. Although critically praised, the movie did not fly with audiences because they expected her to sing. So, she would not do a non-singing role for many years after that. 

Production Troubles & Mental Health Issues

That is when her streak of successes and her apparently smooth career crumbled. In 1947, during the filming of „The Pirate“, Garland suffered a nervous breakdown and was placed in a sanatorium. After recuperation, she finalized filming. But after production wrapped, she tried her first suicide attempt and was placed in a psychiatric hospital for a period of two weeks. 

When „The Pirate“ finally was released in 1948, it was the first Judy Garland film since „The Wizard of Oz“ to not turn a profit. Three factors contributed to the box office failure: First, the cost of the actual movie, second, the added costs because of the film delays due to Garland’s health issues, third: the public refused to accept her in a sophisticated film. 

Nevertheless, when Garland got better, she filmed „Easter Parade“ with Fred Astaire who filled in for her „The Pirate“ co-star Gene Kelly that had broken his ankle. The pairing was so successful that „Easter Parade“ became the highest grossing musical. Of course, MGM was thrilled by the success and teamed Garland and Astaire a second time for „The Barkleys of Broadways“. But, again, Garland’s health issues took center stage. She combined barbiturates with morphine pills and had developed a serious alcohol problem by that time. When migraine headaches set in as well, Garland would arrive late on the set and miss several shooting days. Her doctor advised her to cut back on work and rest more. MGM saw dollars only and suspended Garland on July 18, 1948 and filled her place with Ginger Rogers. 

Garland would come back and complete filming on „Words and Music“ as well as „in the Good Old Summertime“. But, when she was cast as Annie in „Annie Get Your Gun“ in 1949, troubles ensued. Director Busby Berkeley and Garland did not get along with the former not appreciating Garlands „lack of effort, attitude and enthusiasm“. When she failed to get Berkeley fired from the movie, she started to arrive late on set or not appear altogether. In May, she was finally fired from the movie and replaced by Betty Hutton. Once again, she was sent to a hospital to treat her addiction and establish a normal sleeping and eating rhythm. The success was only temporary unfortunately, When she came back half a year later, ready to film „Summer Stock“ with Gene Kelly, she went back on the pills to lose weight. The movie was a big hit with crowds, but failed to make a profit for MGM.

Next, Judy Garland was cast opposite Fred Astaire for „Royal Wedding“, when original leading lady June Allyson became pregnant. But when Garland repeatedly failed to report on set for shooting, her contract was suspended again on June 17, 1950. This last dismissal sent her over the edge and she cut herself with a broken glass on the neck. Although it was only a minor injury, it was blown up into a big suicide attempt. Garland’s own words on this: „ ll I could see ahead was more confusion. I wanted to black out the future as well as the past. I wanted to hurt myself and everyone who had hurt me.“ In September of that year, after 15 year, Garland and MGM parted company, 

Health and Drugs

Judy Garland’s drug abuse already started in her childhood, when she was a young starlet at MGM. She maintained that Rooney, herself and other young performers were prescribed amphetamines to stay awake and meet the demands of film production and barbiturates at night to finally sleep at night. Whether this was true only for her or for all young performers is debatable – Mickey Rooney as well as MGM denied these allegations. But, truth of the matter is – it was Judy Garland’s reality. No matter who gave them to her. 

The problem got even bigger during the filming of „The Wizard of Oz“. Again, there are different versions of what was going on behind the scenes – one version suggests that Garland was put on a diet by MGM that only consisted of cigarettes, chicken soup and coffee during filming to slim her down. Another version maintains that she was an anti-smoker at that time and did eat solid foods. Whatever version is true – fact is: she was put on a strict diet and either forcer or encouraged to add swimming, hiking, tennis and badminton to her routine to tone her up. This pattern of disordered eating, drug abuse and sleeping problems was established early on and ruled her life. 

Adding to this, Judy Garland experiences sexual harassment by powerful Hollywood men as well as colleagues that must have added even more stress on this already fragile teenager. According to her biographer, she was approached repeatedly for sex as a teen. Louis B Mayer himself groped her in his office. And her fellow actors on „The Wizard of Oz“ would harass her by putting their hands under her dress.

Radio Success

After her second suicide attempt and her dismissal from MGM, Garland cot a little help from her friends. Bing Crosby to be precise. He hosted the radio show „Kraft Music Hall“ that was taped in front of a live audience and invited Judy to be on the show. Although nervous initially, Judy would appear in total eight times on „The Bing Crosby – Chesterfield Show“ and blossomed into a live performer. Her career as a performer and singer was reinvigorated – far away from MGMs dominant reach.

Subsequently, she toured for four months to perform in sold-out venues in England, Scotland and Ireland in 1950. Judy said about this tour: „I suddenly knew that this was the beginning of a new life … Hollywood thought I was through; then came the wonderful opportunity to appear at the London Palladium, where I can truthfully say Judy Garland was reborn.”[

Her show was a tribute to vaudeville and her sold-out shows in New York in 1951 exceeded all previous record – she was called “one of the greatest personal triumphs in show business history“ and received the Special Tony Award for her contribution to the revival of vaudeville. 

She continued her stage work until the end of her life. 

Hollywood Comeback & Transcona Enterprises

In 1954, „A Star is Born“ went into production. Garland would star opposite James Mason and would also produce the movie together with her husband through their production company Transcona Enterprises. Warner Bros. Supplied finances, production families and crew. In the beginning, Judy Garland was fully committed to the movie and its production, but familiar patterns would soon emerge with Garland causing several costly delays. When the movie premiered, it was well received by audiences and critics. But Jack Warner was unhappy, demanded additional cuts to be able to show the movie multiple times per day. All in all, 30mins of footage were cut. This extra investment as well as the costly delays made the movie lose money in the end. This was quite the opposite of what Judy had envisioned from her production company – financial stability and independence. This was the only time Transcona would make a movie with Warner. Although „Time“ labeled her performance in „A Star is Born“ as “just about the greatest one-woman show in modern movie history“, Garland lost to Grace Kelly at the Academy Awards.

After, she would only film a couple more movies. The last movie role she was cast for was „Valley of the Dolls“ – but she faced some conflicts on set and was eventually dismissed from the movie. Instead, she focused more on Television and life stage performances. 

In 1956, Garland would do a four week stint at the New Frontier Hotel on the LAs Vegas Strip for US$55,000/week (equivalent to $620,258.46 in 2024). This made her the highest-paid entertainer to ever work in Las Vegas. The same year, she would return to Las Vegas to perform at the Palace Theater – again to raving reviews. 

Her appearance at Carnegie Hall in 1961 was called by many „the greatest night in show business history“ and the album „Judy at Carnegie Hall“ was certified gold and won four Grammy Awards.


Judy Garland started to appear on TV in 1955 for CBSs „Ford Star Jubilee“, the first full-scale color broadcast ever. It was a raging success and Garland signed a three-year, US$300,000 (equivalent to $3,433,723.88 in 2024) contract with the network. 

In 1962, Judy Garland made a new round of specials for CBS – the first one was titled „The Judy Garland Show“ with featured guests Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. It was such a success that CBS made $24 million offer for a weekly TV series to be called just like that $24 million back then would be roughly $243,771,655 today, That is insane. It was deemed „the biggest talent deal in TV history“. Nevertheless, the show folded after only one season or 26 episodes. One reason might have been the placement in the same time slot as Bonanza on NBC. The critically praised show was nominated for four Emmy Awards. 

Afterwards, Garland hit the stages again in 1964 to tour Australia and made one of her last appearances in the US at New York’s Palace Theatre in 1967, which was a 27-show engagement together with her kids Lorna and Joey Luft, performed at the „Talk of the Town“ nightclub in London for five weeks and made her final stage appearance in Copenhagen in March 1969. 


Artie Shaw – Judy Garland had her first adult relationship with bandleader Artie Shaw, when she was 17 years old.  Garland apparently was devastated when he eloped with Lana Turner. 

David Rose (husband #1) – Subsequently, Garland started a relationship with musician David Rose and he gave her an engagement ring for her 18th birthday. But, of course, MGM intervened as Rose’s divorce was not yet final. One year later they wed. Early in their marriage, Judy had an abortion on insistence of the studio executives. They had a trial separation after only 18 months of marriage and divorced one year later.

Johnny Mercer – Whilst Judy had to wait for Rose’s divorce to go through, she had an affair with songwriter Johnny Mercer. 

Tyrone Power – During her trial separation from husband David Rose, Judy Garland had an affaire with Tyrone Power that left her pregnant. She got an abortion and ended the affair. 

Orson Welles – Judy Garland also had an affair with then-husband to Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles in 1944. They ended the affair the following year and stayed on good terms afterwards. 

Vincente Minelli (husband #2) – Judy Garland met director Vincente Minelli on the set of „Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas“. They married in 1945 and had a child, Liza Minelli. They divorced 6 years later, in 1951, as Minnelli was having an affair with a man. 

Sidney Luft (husband #3) – One year later, she married Sidney Luft, the tour manager and producer of her inaugural and raved-about first tour of Europe and New York. They had two kids, Lorna and Joey. After 11 years of marriage and business relationship, Garland sued Luft for divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty. 

Glenn Ford – Garland conducted an affair with Ford in 1963 when she had her television show. He would attend the tapings of the show and would give Garland some stability during this time. But – apparently – when he realized that Garland wanted to marry him, he ended the relationship. Ford was a serial womanizer and did not want to settle down. 

Mark Herron (husband #4) – Husband #4, Mark Herron, was a tour promoter and Garland married him as soon as the divorce from Luft came through. The marriage lasted only for five months. Garland testified that Herron had beaten her. On top of that he was bisexual or gay – before and after the divorce from Garland he was in a committed relationship with a man, fellow actor Henry Brandon. 

Mickey Deans (husband #5) – When the divorce from husband #4 went through, Judy Garland wed nightclub manager Mickey Deans in London. Apparently she met him when he delivered stimulants to her. He might have enhanced Judy Garland’s drug use as a colleague remembered. She said: „He gave in to her and he fed her all the things she wanted.“

Financial problems

Much of Judy Garland’s wealth had been mismanaged for decades by those that she had entrusted with it. First, it was husband Sidney Luft and then her agents Freddie Field and David Begelmann. Mismanagement and also embezzlement resulted in Judy Garland owing about $4,733,734.57 in back taxes in 1966, when adjusted for inflation. Everything she earned from that point onwards went directly to the IRA and Judy Garland died with an estate of only US$40,000 (roughly $334,328.07 in 2024). Many of her bequests in her will could not be fulfilled because of the missing money. Her daughter Liza Minelli actually would work to pay off her mother’s debts.  

Declining health & Death

In 1959, Judy Garland was diagnosed with acute hepatitis and told to only have five years or less to live and might not be able to continue singing. She did recover though and continued doing live shows, television engagements and movies with the frantic pace that she was accustomed to. But by early 1969, her health had deteriorated. As her obituary in the LA Times lists „hepatitis, exhaustion, kidney ailments, nervous breakdowns, near-fatal drug reactions, overweight, underweight and injuries suffered in falls“ had taken a toll on her. Combined with her rampant drug use and anxiety, one can only imagine that her last shows must have been a challenge – some nights were probably really good, other probably really bad, with her arriving late, slurring her speech and being booed off the stage. 

She died in the fall of 1969 from an accidental barbiturate overdose. The coroner would state that the overdose was not intentionally ingested in large amounts, but had rather built up in her system over a longer time. 

Social Conscience & Courage

Despite her challenges, Judy Garland made times for matters close to her heart. She was an active Democrat, was a member of the Hollywood Democratic committee and supported various causes. She also donated money to the Democratic presidential campaigns of Roosevelt, Stevenson, the Kennedys and Wallace. She was also part of the Committee for the First Amendment and took part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. 


Judy Garland is a cultural icon and important on many levels. 

She was seen as a „triple treat“, because she was equally gifted in singing, acting and dancing. She was also a triple threat in that she could effortlessly switch between comedy, musical and drama. She had an adult contralto voice from when she was a teen that was so heavy with urgency and immediacy that everyone was captivated. She was one of the greatest talents of Hollywood and one of the greatest stage performers of our age.


Judy Garland was a close friend of John F. Jennedy and wife Jacqueline Kennedy. She would often vacation in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. The house she stayed in is officially named Judy Garland House. And apparently, Garland and Kennedy would have weekly phone calls which she ended with singing some lines from „Over the Rainbow“. 

With all my love!




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