Show-Stopping Facts About Judy Garland, The Tragic Hollywood Icon

Eva Blanchefleur

With her blue and white gingham dress, ruby red slippers, and braided pigtails, The Wizard of Oz‘s Dorothy Gale is one of the most iconic characters in film. But for Judy Garland, Dorothy marked the beginning of a career that touched the hearts of millions. Throughout her success in Hollywood and her public battle with addiction, Garland’s enduring strength of spirit inspired fans, leaving them heartbroken with her tragic death in 1969.

As a tribute to Judy Garland, movie star, icon, and entertainer extraordinaire, here are 42 facts about the iconic Judy Garland.

Judy Garland Facts

1. Stage Name

The actress we now know as Hollywood star Judy Garland was born with a different moniker. Frances Ethel Gumm entered the world on June 10th, 1922, born to Francis and Ethel Gumm of Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

2. Child Star

Garland epitomizes the tragic child star. The actress’ parents settled in Grand Rapids to run a movie theater that often featured sensational vaudeville acts. They put their little daughter to work fast, with Garland getting her start in showbiz at only two and a half years of age. Alongside her sisters, the toddler performed “Jingle Bells” at a Christmas show at her parents’ theater.

3. Dangerous Habits

No one knows Hollywood’s seedy underbelly better than Judy Garland. The starlet alleged that she was often prescribed amphetamines by the studio to energize her enough to keep up with the frantic pace of filming one movie after another. To help her sleep, she was prescribed barbiturates. Later on, Garland said that this regular regime of dangerous and addictive drugs led to her lifelong battle with addiction.

4. Westward Bound

The Gumm family didn’t stay in the vaudeville business for long. Garland’s mother soon moved her troupe to the sunshine state, California, in 1926. Like a classic show mom, Mrs. Gumm set to work, hustling to get her talented daughters into the motion picture business. At the time, cinema was just getting started, but Mrs. Gumm was right to think that the medium would change her family’s life forever. If only she knew how Hollywood would darken her daughter’s days.

Judy Garland FactsGetty Images

5.”A True Rarity”

Garland’s marriage to her first husband, the songwriter David Rose, was deemed “a true rarity” by the media at the time of their wedding. Tragically, it turned turned out that their union would not have a fairy tale ending. Garland quickly became pregnant, but was pressured into an abortion by MGM Studios, her own mother, and worst of all, her husband Rose. The pair separated soon after and divorced by 1944.

6. The Gumm Sisters

When she was a child, Judy, along with her elder sisters, Mary Jane and Dorothy Virginia, formed a vaudeville trio known as “The Gumm Sisters.” But the press quickly made cruel jabs: The trio’s name was met with some mockery, and a playbill reportedly called them “The Glum Sisters.” They all changed their last name to Garland, with little Frances adopting the stage name of Judy Garland. The trio broke up shortly after Suzy married.

7. Body Shaming

Even as a teenage movie star, Garland’s weight was a constant concern to the movie studio. She was forced on diets of nothing but chicken soup and cottage cheese. But that’s not the worst part: once, the insecure Garland ordered a regular meal, only to be served soup and plain lettuce. Even then, her weight was well within a healthy range for her age and height.

8. Unhappy Home

When she was on stage, Judy Garland was the picture of happiness, but behind closed doors, the little girl endured a world of pain. When discussing her parents’ unstable marriage, Garland revealed that, “my parents were separating and getting back together all the time. It was very hard for me to understand those things and, of course, I remember clearly the fear I had of those separations.” Her parents’ rocky marriage may have been the foundation for her own marital relationships later in life.

9. Office Romance

While it technically wasn’t an “office” romance, Garland met her second husband while on the job. She was cast in Meet Me in St. Louis, the second of her iconic musical roles. Director Vincente Minnelli allowed Garland to appear attractive and sexy, rather than her previous roles where she was meant to look plain or childlike. Garland married Minnelli in 1945, despite dark rumors that he was homosexual. The couple, who had a 20 year age difference between them, had a daughter, Liza. She was born in 1946.

Judy Garland FactsGetty Images

10. Crushing Blow

By 1948, Garland’s marriage to Vincente Minnelli was already strained, due to their age difference and her erratic behavior (likely due to her drug addiction). She reportedly returned home early to find an utterly devastating sight: Minnelli in the “loving embrace” of a male employee. This shock drove Garland to attempt suicide by cutting her wrists. Minnelli stopped her in time to save her life.

11. The Original Momager

Garland’s mother hungered after fame, forcing her daughters to work when they were still children. Years later, Judy Garland revealed how she really felt about her mother’s ambition. The actress said that she resented the way her mother treated her and her sisters and even described her own mother as “the real Wicked Witch of the West.”

12. Pill Pusher

As though making a toddler work wasn’t bad enough, Garland also alleged that her mother did far, far worse damage. She claimed that Mama Gumm began providing young Judy with pills (some to pep her up, others to help her sleep) when she was just 10 years old.

13. Stolen Oscar

In 1993, Judy’s third husband, Sid Luft, dealt Garland a cold-hearted betrayal. He was caught trying to sell Garland’s honorary Oscar (won for Babes in Arms and The Wizard of Oz), as well as the replacement statuette she had requested when the first one reportedly vanished. Luft was made to pay $60,000 in damages.

14. High Expectations

As a teenage actress, Judy endured ruthless criticism of her appearance. She was often dressed plainly and sent to audition for homely “girl-next-door” roles, all while attending school with silver screen beauties like Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner. Charles Walters, who directed Garland in several films, said, “Judy was the big money-maker at the time, a big success, but she was the ugly duckling.” He revealed that, “it had a very damaging effect on her emotionally for a long time. I think it lasted forever, really.”

15. The Price of Beauty

Young Judy went to great lengths to improve her appearance at the studio’s insistence. Despite dressing her in frumpy or frilly dresses to fit the “girl next door” image they peddled, Garland also had to wear caps on her teeth to perfect her smile. The young actress also endured uncomfortable rubber prosthetics to change the shape of her nose.

16. Cruel Criticism

MGM Studios infamously mistreated Judy Garland, but few people know the extent of her suffering. Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, even called the teenage Garland “my little hunchback,” mocking the curvature of her spine and her short stature. Even as a full grown adult, the tiny Garland stood at only 4’11”. Next to stars like Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor, Garland was seen as plain and homely, and the studio made sure she felt it. Maybe Mayer should pick on someone his own size.

17. Dynamic Duo

At MGM, Garland was often paired with child actor Mickey Rooney in a series of “backyard musicals.” After several supporting roles, they first co-starred in Babes in Arms, and appeared in many other films together, where Garland played the literal girl-next-door. After Garland’s death, Rooney paid her a heartbreaking tribute. He described her as “the sister I never had, the love I’d searched for.”

18. Over the Rainbow

Garland played her most famous role in 1939, as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard Of Oz. Nominated for six Academy Awards, the film won just two: Best Original Score and Best Original Song (“Over The Rainbow,” sung by Garland). That year she also received an honorary Academy Juvenile Award for her performances in both Babes in Arms and The Wizard of Oz. It would be her only Oscar ever.

19. What Could Have Been

Few people know the strange and sad story behind Dorothy Garland’s iconic role in The Wizard of Oz. Everything–and we mean everything–could have been a little different. Garland was originally slated to wear a blonde wig. The reason? The role of Dorothy Gale was first offered to fellow child stars Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin. The only reason that Garland got the coveted part was because both were unavailable.

20. Grim Truths

Garland’s growing stardom didn’t mean a lessening of criticism over her weight from MGM. A dark secret hid behind Dorothy Gale’s iconic blue-and-white gingham dress. It was designed because the pattern had a “blurring effect” on Garland’s body, making her appear younger and slimmer. After the film’s release, she was sent on a cross-country five-show-a-day tour of appearances for Babes in Arms with Mickey Rooney, during which time she was forced on a strict diet.

21. All Grown up

1940 saw Garland star in her first adult roles. In her third film of that year, Little Nellie Kelly, a teenage Garland played both a mother and daughter. The role required her to speak with an accent, embark on her first real kiss scene, and perform her only death scene. The kiss was with costar George Murphy. Murphy, who was 20 years Garland’s senior, later described the kiss as embarrassing, and that it made him feel like”a hillbilly with a child bride.”

22. Ups & Downs

Garland’s star continued to rise at MGM after she was cast opposite Fred Astaire in Easter Parade, but personally, her life was beginning to unravel. After being cast opposite Astaire once again, in The Barkleys of Broadway, she was taking not only barbiturates to help her sleep, but also illegal pills with morphine. She was also developing a dependence on alcohol.

23. Replaced

After Garland missed several days of work due to her addiction, she was suspended by the studio. In a cruel move, the studio replaced Garland with one of the many Hollywood glamazons that destroyed her self-confidence. Ginger Rogers took the lead role in The Barkleys of Broadway and went on to become one of Astaire’s most iconic dance partners.

24. Like Mother, Like Daughter

Garland’s suspension from MGM did her some good—she returned to work healthier and happier in 1948 for a role in In the Good Old Summertime. The film, a box office hit, was also the debut of Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli. Little Liza was just two and a half years old—the same age Garland had been when her showbiz career began over two decades earlier.

25. Career in Decline

After being cast in a third film co-starring Fred Astaire, Garland’s erratic behavior and absences from the film set lead to another suspension. Garland was quickly replaced by Jane Powell, who took the lead role in Royal Wedding. Garland responded with an utterly chilling act. She may have again attempted suicide by scratching her neck with a bottle, though scholars note that newspapers sensationalized the event.

26. Final Farewell

In 1950, Garland finally left MGM for good. She had spent 15 incredibly miserable years making films with the studio.

27. Return to Vaudeville

Even though Garland left Hollywood, her career was far from over. She boldly embarked on a new adventure. While on a sold-out tour of Britain and Ireland, Garland performed Al Jolson songs in the vaudeville tradition. She also began a romantic relationship with her tour manager, Sid Luft, whom she married. The pair had two children: Joey Luft, and Lorna Luft, who became an actress and singer herself.

28. Hollywood Comeback

Garland and Luft formed a film production company, Transcona Enterprises, and financed a remake of A Star Is Born, with Garland playing the starring role. The film was meant to be Garland’s triumphant Hollywood comeback, but her personal demons ruined everything. Even though the movie was released to great acclaim and popularity, due to filming delays, the film still lost money.

29. A Star Is…Absent

In a cruel twist, the reason for the delays to A Star Is Born was no one but Garland herself. As she struggled with all her dependence issues, Garland often found it impossible to make it to set. Garland’s behavior harmed more than herself and the film. Because of A Star Is Born‘s financial failure, Transcona never made another movie with Warner Bros.

30. Still Got It

In 1955, Garland appeared in the first of many TV specials, including Ford Star Jubilee, which was the first full-color show on CBS. She also performed for four weeks in Las Vegas. Her talents were rewarded with a staggering salary. Earning $55,000 per week, Judy Garland became the highest-paid entertainer on the Strip.

31. Golden Legend

A 1961 appearance by Garland at Carnegie Hall was called “the greatest night in show business history.” A two-album recording of the performance was released, titled Judy at Carnegie Hall. It was certified gold and charted for 95 weeks on Billboard—with 13 weeks at the top spot. The album also won four Grammy awards. One of the great triumphs of Garland’s career, the album remains popular to this day.

32. Deadbeat Husband

Garland’s marriage to Sid Luft, her third husband, was doomed to a heartbreaking end. The couple’s relationship deteriorated after his drinking and gambling left Garland practically broke. After calling it quits, the pair officially divorced in 1963. Their divorce did more than break Garland’s heart: it also marked a period of financial instability that would last the rest of Garland’s life.

33.  Unwritten

In 1960, Garland received $35,000 for a “tell-all” autobiography about her turbulent career and emotional life. However, she ended up abandoning the project.

34. Never Say Never

Garland kept up a gruelling tour schedule in the years leading up to her death, all while in facing extreme adversity. Despite being hospitalized in 1959 for hepatitis and being told she would never sing again, Garland managed to recover from the illness. After her victory, Garland took to London’s Palladium. Her critically acclaimed performance instantly became part of showbiz history.

35. Hard-Working Woman

In 1965, The Motown band The Supremes opened for Garland when she performed a successful run of shows in London. Around this time, Garland could still command up to $50,000 per show. On stage, Garland wowed audiences, but behind the curtain, she had hit rock bottom. Managers swindled significant sums from her. Despite working for her entire life, Garland was in dire financial straits.

36. Lucky Number Four

In 1965, Garland married her tour promoter, Mark Herron, on a freighter near Hong Kong. However, as she was not yet divorced from her third husband, she had to marry Herron officially several months later. Unfortunately, like all of Garland’s other marriages, this one also wasn’t successful. The union with Herron only lasted six months.

37. Tragic Comparison

After her tragic death, Judy Garland was held up as a bellwether of behavior due to drug addiction and substance abuse among celebrities. Michael Jackson has been compared to her, and Marilyn Monroe exhibited many of the same behaviors later in her career. Sadly, the life of Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli was similar to that of her mother, as she struggled with substance abuse through multiple marriages.

38. Forever Fabulous

Since the 1960s, Garland has been beloved as a gay icon, in part because of her talent, her endurance despite personal struggles, and because of her sheer camp value. When asked by a reporter what she thought of her gay following, Garland replied, “I couldn’t care less. I sing to people.”

39. A Legacy Living on

In 1992, Architectural Digest called Garland “probably the greatest American entertainer of the twentieth century.” Turner Classic Movies dubbed Garland “history’s most poignant voice.” A critically acclaimed biopic titled Judy starring Renée Zellweger as Garland came out in 2019. The film centers on her performances in Britain in the late 1960s.

40. Discovered!

A 1935 performance by The Garland Sisters would change Judy’s life forever. That was the year that MGM Studios “discovered” young Judy. They promptly signed her to a contract, but her career got off to a rocky start. At 13 years old, she was considered too old to be a traditional “child star” but at the same time, she was too young to play adult roles.

41. Alumni Association

In California, Garland attended the famed Hollywood High School, along with her future co-star Mickey Rooney. Other famous alumni of Hollywood High include John Huston, Carole Lombard, and Lana Turner. The school has since seen students including John Ritter, Laurence Fishburne, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Leighton Meester pass through its halls.

42. Big Break

Despite being signed to MGM, a film studio, Garland mainly performed in live shows and on the radio at the beginning. At a birthday party for megastar Clark Gable, Garland performed the Al Jolson hit song, “You Made Me Love You.” Her performance was such a hit that she was asked to repeat it in the MGM musical film Broadway Melody of 1938.

43. First Love

Just off her success with The Wizard of Oz, a teenaged Judy Garland fell madly in love with handsome bandleader Artie Shaw. It was her first real adult romance—but it ended in tragedy. Shaw ended up running away with Garland’s fellow MGM leading lady Lana Turner, an actress who was thought to have more sex appeal than the girlish Garland. She was utterly devastated—but the worst was yet to come.

44. Then Comes Marriage…

After a disastrous first marriage, Judy Garland began seeing musician David Rose. He presented the young actress with a diamond engagement ring on her 18th birthday in 1938. There was just one problem: Rose was a married man. Appalled that Garland was involved with the husband of Martha Raye, a popular singer, the studio successfully drove Rose and Garland apart.

45. Endless Heartbreak

However, after a brief break, Garland and James Rose were finally wed in 1941. Garland was just 19 years old, and Rose was just the first of her five husbands. As we’ve seen, four of these marriages would end in divorce. Garland’s last marriage would end with her tragic, untimely death.

46. Curtains

Garland married her fifth husband, nightclub manager Mickey Deans, on March 15, 1969. Sadly, this marriage was also only to last a few months.  On a summer day in 1969, Garland’s new husband walked into his bathroom to find a ghastly sight: Judy unresponsive on the cold floor. He was scared that she’d harmed herself, but the truth was much darker.

47. Final Act

The autopsy report eventually revealed that Garland had succumbed to an accidental barbiturate overdose. The star had a long and tragic battle with drug dependence throughout her life. In the end, it was her ultimate undoing. Garland died on June 22, 1969. She was 47 years old.

48. Not So Family Friendly

Years after Garland’s death, her ex-husband Sid Luft revealed that The Wizard of Oz was far from family-friendly behind the scenes. He alleged that the munchkins would assault young Judy Garland by “putting their hands under her dress.” But that’s not even the worst part: Garland was still a teenager while the actors playing the munchkins were 40 and older.

49. Bad Direction

Filming The Wizard of Oz was a nightmare for a 16-year-old Judy Garland. The silly Bert Lahr, who played the Lion, was a bright spot in the production, but Garland paid a terrible price when Lahr made her laugh. Lahr would constantly joke around, and he once sent Garland into a giggle fit with his antics. Rather than join in on the fun, the director pulled her aside and slapped her across the face to stop her laughing. The cameras then started rolling, and Garland had to begin acting again just seconds after the assault.

50.  A Fitting Tribute

Judy Garland’s shadow hung so heavy over her daughter Liza that for years, Liza refused to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” In 2002, she finally sang it in public—and the response was utterly heartbreaking. When Minnelli finished her mother’s iconic song, the crowd immediately leapt up into a standing ovation, leaving Liza touched and overwhelmed.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 910111213, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22

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