Judy Garland, over the rainbow

Judy Garland by Zoa Studio
Judy Garland by Zoa Studio

After about ten days spent in space, we return to the United States telling you about the life and history of Judy Garland. The last biography we wrote about is that of Joan of Arc, this time instead we make a time jump of more than half a millennium, to tell you once again about an extraordinary woman.

Today 10th June we celebrate Judy Garland’s birthday (she would have turned 98): American singer and actress whose talent and vulnerability have combined to make her one of the most iconic Hollywood personalities of the twentieth century.

From Frances Gumm to Judy Garland

Judy Garland is the stage name of Frances Ethel Gumm, born on June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. She is the last of three daughters of former vaudeville actors, Frank and Ethel Gumm.

Judy began her career in show business even before turning three years old at her father’s theater, the New Grand Theater. The family moved to Los Angeles, California shortly thereafter.

At the age of six Frances is already a consummate artist, and appears with her two older sisters in works of vaudeville theater. After the deterioration of the father’s health, the acting of Frances and the sisters soon becomes the main source of livelihood for the family.

Incorrectly labeled as “The Glum Sisters” in 1931, the three sisters, at the suggestion of a fellow interpreter, change their stage name to Garland (the name of a popular theater critic of the time). Shortly thereafter, Frances changed her name to Judy, inspired by a popular song at the time.

The carrier

The beginning

In 1935 the head of MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), a major Hollywood film studio, heard Judy Garland sing and hired her promptly. It is not the first time that we make the necessary comparisons: in 1935 Judy Garland is 13 years old. I think that at that age maybe I tried the first cigarette (maybe) or I chose a dress on my own, Garland signed with MGM.

At first, there was some uncertainty on MGM’s part about how to use Judy Garland’s talent, so much so that more than a year passed before she appeared in a movie. Her first appearance in a movie came in 1937, when Judy was “lent” to another large film studio, Twentieth Century-Fox. That same year at an MGM party for Clark Gable, Judy performs a song that becomes a hit. Later both Judy and the song were used for the 1938 Broadway movie.

Judy Garland’s most famous movies

MGM therefore inserts Judy Garland into multiple films, each of which highlights its beautiful song. For the film Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937), another baby star is chosen, Mickey Rooney, who would have collaborated with Garland on eight other films. The duo performs in films such as Babes in arms (1939), Strike up the band (1940), Babes on Broadway (1941) and Girl Crazy (1943).

However, her most memorable cinematic role, and the one that gave her stardom, came in 1939 with The Wizard of Oz. For that movie Judy Garland won a special Oscar for “best youth performer of the year” for the role of Dorothy. The film also provided her with the song she was identified with for the rest of her life: “Over the Rainbow“. There are over 650 covers of this song, including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Ray Charles.

During the 1940s, Garland performed numerous exceptional musicals, including Meet me in St. Louis (1944), The Harvey Girls (1946) and Easter Parade (1948). We also remembers her talent in a non-singing role in The Clock, a drama about a girl and a soldier on leave.

Private life

Judy Garland’s personal life was less punctuated with success than her professional life.

In 1941 Judy married the musical arranger David Rose in 1941, but that marriage ended long before the divorce of 1945. In the same year she married the director Vincente Minnelli, who directed his wife in some of his most important films, including The Pirate ( 1948).

From this union, in addition to some films, in 1946 their daughter Liza Minnelli was born (maybe we will dedicate an article to her soon). This second marriage also failed and ended long before the 1951 divorce.

During the 1940s, Garland was afflicted by a lack of self-confidence, a constant tension at work and weight problems. She became heavily addicted to pills and eventually tried to kill himself in 1950. In the same year, after numerous problems at work, Judy Garland was replaced in some films and eventually fired from MGM.

 Judy Garland’s last years

In 1952 Sidney Luft, a successful promoter who later became Judy Garland’s third husband, began her career in concerts. The idea was a success.

This favorable period culminates in the film A Star Is Born (1954), a remake of the eponymous 1937 film  for which Garland receives an Oscar nomination. An Oscar will instead be won by Lady Gaga in 2019 for the further re-release of the film.

Unfortunately happiness does not last long. Staggering health, increased drug addiction and alcohol abuse lead Garland to nervous breakdowns, suicide attempts and recurring breakups with Luft, from whom she had two children, Lorna and Joseph. The Luft family divorced in 1965 after years of legal disputes.

Despite her problems, Garland embarked on a hugely successful concert tour in 1961. In the same year she received a new Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her dramatic performance in the film Judgement at Nuremberg. Two more films followed in 1963.

Judy’s personal and professional life continue to face a series of ups and downs, marked by failed performances, lawsuits, hospitalizations and suicide attempts. After divorcing Luft, Judy Garland marries Mark Herron, a young actor with whom she had traveled for some time. The marriage lasts only a few months.

The death

In early 1969 Judy married Mickey Deans. Her fifth husband is a disco manager twelve years younger than her. A few months later, on June 22, Deans finds his wife lifeless in the bathroom of their London apartment.

The cause of death, according to the autopsy, is accidental and due to an overdose of barbiturates, which Judy had been taking for a long period of time. It should not be forgotten that the artist also suffered from liver cirrhosis, in a severe form.

The body is buried in the Columbarium in Hartsdale, New York state. After almost 50 years, in 2017, the three children of the star had the body transported to the Judy Garland Pavillion, a huge new pavilion built inside the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, made to host the remains of the Garlands’ family members.

judy-garland-pavillion in Hollywood
Judy Garland Pavillion in Hollywood

Cultural influences

Already during her life, Judy Garland became an icon, especially for the LGBTQ audience: could it not have been those who invited beyond the rainbow? The gay magazine The Advocate, called her the Elvis of homosexuals. But not only did the gay audience recognize themselves in her for a certain type of aesthetic shown in various films, Judy became an emblem for all those who suffer and fight. For a detailed analysis of why Judy Garland is the ultimate gay icon, we invite you to read this interesting BBC insight: www.bbc.com/culture/article/20190923-why-is-judy-garland-the-ultimate-gay-icon

And to see Judy’s best drag interpretation, we suggest the AJ and the Queen series on Netflix: Rupaul is the best!

In addition, Judy Garland’s face becomes so famous that Disney animators are inspired by her to draw the features of Belle in the classic The Beauty and the Beast.

In 2019 the film Judy is released, in which Garland is interpreted by Renée Zellweger. The film is the  adaptation of the theatrical drama End of the Rainbow, which narrates the last months of the singer and actress’s life. For this film Zellweger receieved an Oscar for best lead actress. And also an unparalleled standing ovation, as stated by those present in the room, stopped by the actress herself who was in tears.

It could not be otherwise, to celebrate both the talent of Zellweger, but also that of Judy Garland, a woman who taught with her life, that there is hope “somewhere over the rainbow”.



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