Considered by many to be one of the greatest entertainer of the 20th century, Judy Garland was indeed a triple threat. Known as the little girl (she was only 4’11) with the big voice, Garland also held her own with such great dancers as Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire although she had no formal training in that area, and was Oscar-nominated twice in acting categories.
Garland would have celebrated her 97th birthday on June 10. She was born in 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, as Frances Ethel Gumm. The youngest of three daughters, baby Frances was singing and dancing almost from the time she could walk and talk, and was brought into their vaudeville act “The Gumm” sisters when she was only two-years-old. Her Hollywood career took a while to bloom, as MGM signed her in 1935 and she was too old to be a child star, but too young and awkward to be a glamourous leading lady, and they weren’t quite sure how to use her.
However, Garland performed “You Made Me Love You” at Clark Gable’s birthday party in 1937 and her career soon took off. 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.
The girl-next-door image followed Garland into her adult years, and she longed to be glamorous like fellow stars Lana Turner. 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 became 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 MGM before her erratic behavior led to her termination.
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. Considered one of the biggest snubs in that award’s history, Garland had given birth to her third child the day before the ceremony, and cameramen were with her at the hospital so they could televise her reaction live from her room. However, she famously lost to Grace Kelly for “The Country Girl”.
Garland appeared in only three more 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 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. She hosted the Emmy-nominated “The Judy Garland Show” (1963-1964) and made record-breaking concert appearances.
June also marks the 50th anniversary of her death from an accidental barbiturate overdose in 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, most who knew Garland speak of her sense of humor and the fact that she loved to entertain and bring joy to others. Tour our photo gallery above ranking her 20 greatest film performances, ranked worst to best.
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