Born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, United States, and passing away on June 22, 1969, in London, England, Judy Garland was an American singer and actress whose combination of exceptional talent and vulnerability made her one of the most enduringly popular Hollywood icons of the 20th century.
On December 26, 1924, at the age of 2 and a half, Frances Gumm made her debut at the New Grand Theatre in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, owned by her parents, Frank Gumm and Ethel Gumm, both of whom had previously performed in vaudeville. When she was just 10 years old, she became a singing sensation and received her first raving review from the entertainment news magazine Variety in 1932. Two years later, at the suggestion of comedian George Jessel, she legally changed her name to Garland. (She settled on Judy as her first name shortly thereafter, after hearing the 1934 Hoagy Carmichael song of the same name.) Judy Garland was signed to a contract with the largest film studio in the world, MGM, in September 1935.
As an MGM contract player, she made her debut in the short Every Sunday (1936). She also made the 1936 film Pigskin Parade while on loan to Twentieth Century-Fox, and the 1937 film Broadway Melody of 1938, in which she sang the first of many signature songs, “You Made Me Love You.” Her first film with Mickey Rooney was in 1937’s Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry, and they went on to star together in such classics as Love Finds Andy Hardy, Babes in Arms, Strike Up the Band, Babes on Broadway, and Girl Crazy (1943).
Two of Garland’s most famous films, The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Meet Me in St. Louis (1962), showcases her talent to great effect (1944). In the former, her vulnerability and youthful longing in what would become another signature song, “Over the Rainbow,” contributed to the film’s status as a classic. It also earned Garland the only Oscar she would ever win, a miniature statuette for “outstanding performance by a screen juvenile.” Meet Me in St. Louis was the last film in which she appeared as a child actor; Vincente Minnelli, her future husband, directed the film (with whom she had a daughter, Liza). Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “The Boy Next Door” was among the songs she performed.
The Harvey Girls (1946) and Easter Parade (1948) are probably the most well-known of the 21 additional films she made in the 1940s. After filming Summer Stock was completed in September 1950, Garland was granted an early release from her MGM contract despite having earned over $100 million for the studio and having placed in the top ten of the box office three times in the 1940s (1950). She made a triumphant return to the stage the following year, performing at the London Palladium and the Palace Theatre in New York. Garland’s comeback was capped by the three-hour Warner Bros. musical A Star Is Born (1954), which featured her in a variety of roles. Garland’s character reached full maturity in this film, the last of the three for which she is best known. Against Dorothy Dandridge (Carmen Jones), Audrey Hepburn (Sabrina), Jane Wyman (Magnificent Obsession), and Grace Kelly (The Country Girl), Garland was the clear favorite to win the best actress Oscar that year. However, Kelly ultimately took home the award (a reference to the 1950 robbery of the Brinks Building in Boston, which was then the largest U.S. armed robbery).
Garland continued her film career with five more features, including the Oscar-nominated Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and the semi-autobiographical I Could Go On Singing (1963), her lone film shot internationally.
Although she recorded more than 90 songs for Decca Records between 1936 and 1947, her film career has long overshadowed the success of the dozen albums she made for Capitol Records between 1955 and 1965. From 1939 to 1967, she collaborated with notable arrangers like Mort Lindsey, Nelson Riddle, Jack Marshall, and Gordon Jenkins, and achieved widespread commercial success. These tracks showcase her talent as an interpreter of contemporary music, highlighting her nuanced understanding of the material and her emotional connection to the songs she sings.
In 1959, Garland’s doctors told her that decades of stress from overwork would prevent her from further performance. Despite this, Garland staged her greatest comeback ever in 1960–61, performing a series of one-woman concerts around the world, culminating in New York’s Carnegie Hall. This performance was documented on two records and released as Judy at Carnegie Hall (1961), which became her best-selling album and showcased her deep connection to her audiences. It stayed at number one for 13 weeks, was certified platinum, and was nominated for five Grammys (including album of the year and best female vocal performance). Capitol Records reissued the album on CD in 2001 for its fortieth anniversary. Additionally, the album was added to the National Recording Registry in 2003 because of its “cultural, historical, or aesthetically significant” status.
Garland made numerous television appearances in the early 1960s, including 26 episodes of her weekly variety show The Judy Garland Show in 1963 and 1964. Despite the fact that she had been signed for an unprecedented sum of money and that the show had revealed a concert artist at the height of her powers, it was canceled after only six months.
Garland’s career peaked in the mid-to-late-1960s when she performed extensively at concerts and appeared on the most popular talk and variety shows of the time on television. At Home at the Palace was recorded during a third month-long engagement at the Palace Theatre (1967). Even after discovering she had overdosed on barbiturates at age 47, Garland did not stop performing. Over twenty thousand people attended her funeral in New York.
Garland has remained an iconic American entertainer for decades after her death, thanks in large part to her role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, the most-viewed film in history. Frank Sinatra, speaking for his legions of devoted listeners, famously predicted, “She will have a mystic survival.” That woman was the greatest. Other people like me and you will be forgotten, but Judy will always be remembered.
Frequently Asked Questions
What was Judy Garland’s childhood like?
Frances Gumm Garland, born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, was the daughter of vaudevillians who ran a theatre. She made her stage debut at age 212, was praised by Variety for her singing at age 10, and went on to become a child star at MGM as a contract player, often paired with Mickey Rooney.
How did Judy Garland get famous?
Garland’s role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939), in which she sang one of her signature songs, “Over the Rainbow,” and for which she won a special Academy Award for “outstanding performance by a screen juvenile,” propelled her to international fame.
What are some of Judy Garland’s most notable achievements?
Garland gave unforgettable performances in films like “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), “Easter Parade” (1948), and “A Star Is Born” (1954). (1954). Along with “You Made Me Love You” and “Over the Rainbow,” as well as her concert album Judy at Carnegie Hall, she is remembered as a singer of note (1961).
What did Judy Garland die from?
On June 22, 1969, less than two weeks after her 47th birthday, Garland died in London of an accidental barbiturate overdose. Her unique combination of strengths and weaknesses made her one of the most beloved Hollywood stars of the 20th century, and her funeral in New York City was attended by an estimated 22,000.