When you hear the name Judy Garland, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it her trademark song, “Over the Rainbow”? A movie such as The Wizard of Oz or A Star is Born? Her phenomenal success as an actress, singer and entertainer? Her tumultuous love life? Her public battle with addictions and fragile mental health? Her untimely death at the age of 47?
Devoted fans and anyone who remembers Garland in her heyday will recall these things with a snap of the finger, but there’s so much more to know about the woman considered one of the greatest performers of all time.
1. Garland first performed on stage aged two (as ‘Baby’), with her sisters in a vaudeville trio called The Gumm Sisters (once mistakenly billed by a theatre as The Glum Sisters). The trio, later called The Garland Sisters, toured together from 1924 to about 1934-5.
2. She was signed by MGM at the age of 13 and by 20 had several films and a special Academy Award for “The Wizard of Oz” to her credit. While she was still of school age, her contract stipulated that she attend school for three hours a day and have at least one hour of recreation.
3. Garland described her mother as a “mean” stage mother in an interview with Barbara Walters in 1967.
“She was very jealous because she had absolutely no talent,” she said. “She would stand in the wings… and if I didn’t feel good… she’d say, ‘You get out and sing or I’ll wrap you around the bedpost and break you off short!’ So I’d go out and sing.” – Judy Garland
4. In order to appear younger than her age (16) in The Wizard of Oz, Garland had to wear a brace to reduce her bust.
5. While she was on contract with MGM, her diet was heavily monitored and she was encouraged to drink black coffee and smoke as many as 80 cigarettes a day. She was given amphetamines and barbiturates to take before going to bed as a way to ensure she kept up with her demanding schedule.
“From the time I was thirteen, there was a constant struggle between MGM and me – whether or not to eat, how much to eat, what to eat. I remember this more vividly than anything else about my childhood.” – Judy Garland
6. She was 4’ 11½” tall (just over 151cm) and she was left-handed.
7. Yellow roses were her favourite and there is hard-to-find heirloom rose named after her. It has yellow petals and red tips and for rose lovers, it’s a showpiece.
8. Garland was a founding member and vice president of the ‘Rat Pack’ (members included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall).
9. In 1962, she made history by being the first woman to win a Grammy for Album of the Year – the album was Judy (1961), recorded live at Carnegie Hall. This recording spent 95 weeks on the US album charts and the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. Garland was also the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award, which honoured her lifetime achievements in the film industry.
10. Her performance of the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” topped the AFI 100 Greatest American Movie Music list.
In addition, Premiere Magazine ranked Judy as:
- #22 in Greatest Movie Star of All Time
- #17 in 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time for Dorothy (The Wizard of Oz, 1939) – the defining moment was Dorothy singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
- #72 in 100 Greatest Movie Performances of All Time for her role as club singer Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester in A Star is Born
- #62 in 100 Greatest Movie Lines for “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” (Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz)
“There have been times when I have deliberately tried to take my life… I think I must have been crying for some attention.” – Judy Garland
Random House offered Judy $35,000 contract for her autobiography in 1959. At the time, Garland was recovering in hospital from hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver.
The memoir was to be a “frank and open tell-all” but only 65 pages of tape recordings were completed and the project never came to fruition.
At 47, Garland was found dead on her bathroom floor by her husband, Mickey Dean. Her death was later ruled accidental from an overdose of barbiturates.
“When you have lived the life I’ve lived, when you’ve loved and suffered, and been madly happy and desperately sad — well, that’s when you realize you’ll never be able to set it all down. Maybe you’d rather die first.” – Judy Garland
Peter Allen, who was married to Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli from 1967-1974, credits Garland with launching his career. He later wrote the song “Quiet Please, There’s a Lady on Stage” in tribute to her.
Knowing of Garland’s struggles with addiction, body image, relationships, and emotional health, it’s easy to think focus on her as a tragic figure. But she’s so much more than that. Garland was known by her peers as a woman who was truly funny, witty, a lover of practical jokes, and the life and soul of a party.
As Lucille Ball said:
“People always thought I was funny. I was never funny. You know who was truly funny? Judy Garland. Judy Garland was funny. She made me look like a mortician.” – Lucille Ball
To be able to produce the body of work she did – encompassing film, TV, stage, radio, concerts, cabarets and more – Garland undoubtedly had an inner strength that lifted her up time and time again.
In 1997, Garland was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award, which honours creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording.
“I’ve heard how ‘difficult’ it is to be with Judy Garland. Do you know how difficult it is to be Judy Garland? And for me to live with me? I’ve had to do it—and what more unkind life can you think of than the one I’ve lived? I’m told I’m a legend. Fine. But I don’t know what that means. I certainly didn’t ask to be a legend. I was totally unprepared for it.” – Judy Garland
Book tickets now for our production of End of the Rainbow in November.