The legendary Judy Garland, one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century, would have celebrated her 100th birthday on June 10. Help us celebrate this landmark occasion with our photo gallery looking back at her greatest film performances.
Known as the little girl (she was only 4’11) with the big voice, Garland was a rare true triple threat, holding her own with such great dancers as Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, twice receiving Oscar nominations in acting categories, as well as leaving behind a legacy of record-breaking concerts, a Grammy-winning gold album and recordings of iconic songs that no one else has ever been able to capture in quite the same way.
Born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922, in Grand Rapids Minnesota, Garland was the youngest of three girls. They would eventually form the vaudeville act “The Gumm Sisters” when baby Frances was only two years old. After almost a decade of touring with her sisters, the 13-year-old with the new, more star-worthy name “Judy Garland” was signed by MGM in 1935. However, she was too old to be a child star and too young to be a glamorous leading lady, and the studio wasn’t quite sure how to use this awkward girl with the fantastic voice.
Then, in 1937, Garland performed “You Made Me Love You” at Clark Gable’s birthday party and a young star was born. She was paired with Mickey Rooney, a top box office star at the time and soon a lifelong friend, in a series of musicals, notably “Girl Crazy” and “Babes in Arms,” as well as several Andy Hardy films. In 1939, Garland reached a new level of fame and sealed her legendary status as Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz,” receiving a special juvenile Oscar the following year.
Insecurity about her looks and weight plagued Garland into her adult years, and she longed to be glamorous like fellow stars Lana Turner and Elizabeth Taylor. Her first adult role was in “Little Nellie Kelly” in 1940, but it wasn’t until 1944 that she finally got a somewhat glamorous role. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, who would become her second husband, “Meet Me in St Louis” was her first color feature since “Oz” and she delivered another iconic performance. In her 15 years at MGM, Garland battled with negative body image and demanding shooting schedules, leading to a lifelong addiction problem. She appeared in 28 films at that studio before her erratic behavior led to her termination in 1950.
Four years after her dismissal, Garland made a spectacular comeback in “A Star Is Born” with James Mason. Although the film was notoriously butchered to cut down on run time, Garland was considered a shoo-in for the Best Actress Oscar after a Golden Globe win. Garland gave birth to her third child the day before the ceremony, and cameramen were brought into her hospital room so they could televise her reaction to her win live. In what is considered one of the biggest snubs in that award’s history, she famously lost to Grace Kelly for “The Country Girl.”
Garland appeared in only three more feature films, most notably “A Judgment in Nuremberg,” for which she received another Academy nomination, this time for Best Supporting Actress. Although her film career declined, she found success in television and in concert appearances. In 1951, she staged a 19-week comeback at the newly renovated Palace Theatre, and the following year was honored with a Special Tony Award for her “important contribution to the revival of vaudeville through her recent stint at the Palace Theatre.” In 1962, she became the first woman to win a Grammy for Album of the Year for her live recording “Judy at Carnegie Hall” – which is also only one of two live recordings to win this award. That same year, she became the youngest and first female recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille award. She hosted the Emmy-nominated “The Judy Garland Show” (1963-1964) and played to sold-out audiences at such prestigious venues as the London Palladium, Carnegie Hall, the Olympia Paris and the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, where she was the highest paid performer up to that time (1956). In 1997, almost 30 years after her death, she received a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Unfortunately, she failed to win a competitive Oscar or Emmy, but three actresses have won for portraying her. In 2001, Judy Davis (lead) and Tammy Blanchard (supporting) won for playing the older and younger versions of Garland in “Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows.” In 2020, Renee Zellweger won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance of Garland in “Judy.”
Garland died from an accidental barbiturate overdose on June 22, 1969. Her short life was plagued by negative body image, addiction, five troubled marriages, as well as other sad love affairs, and financial concerns. However, those who knew Garland remembered her sense of humor and the fact that she loved to entertain and bring joy to others. She packed many lifetimes into her 47 years.
Celebrate Garland’s life by taking a look back at 20 of her greatest films, ranked from worst to best (although our opinion is that there is no such word as “worst” with her spectacular career).
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