Most of us know her best as Dorothy Gale from the 1939 technicolor film The Wizard of Oz but Judy Garland's life and career went far beyond Kansas and the land of Oz.
Born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, on June 10, 1922 as Frances Ethel Gumm, she began training in vaudeville — variety entertainment featuring acts of song, dance, magic tricks, theater, and more — with her two older sisters. They were known as the Gumm Sisters but were encouraged to change their name to appeal to audiences. They decided on Garland by 1934.
By 13, Judy was signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) but the studio wasn't quite sure what to do with her. As a teen, she was too old to play a child but still too young and wholesome in appearance to play any sultry, glamorous roles. Throughout her career, she faced body image and self-esteem issues, struggling to fit into the girl-next-door image the studio created for her. She was reportedly given amphetamines and tobacco to suppress her appetite and pills to stay up and keep her in line with hectic scheduling.
The pressures of Hollywood reportedly led her to drug addiction, suicide attempts, and eventually to her tragic death from a barbiturate overdose on June 22, 1969 shortly after celebrating her 47th birthday.
Despite her tragic departure, Garland remains a legend for her mastery in drama, contralto vocals, and dynamic live performances.
A Very Vaudevillian Beginning
Before she was Judy Garland, she was called ‘Baby’ and performed alongside her two older sisters, Mary Jane and Virginia, in a vaudeville trio called The Gumm Sisters.
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Signing with Metro Goldwyn Mayer
Here’s a photo of Judy Garland at just 13 years old on the day that she signed with Metro Goldwyn Mayer, one of the most revered studios at the time.
Metro Goldwyn Mayer
Starring Alongside Mickey Rooney
After performing “You Made Me Love You” at Clark Gable’s surprise birthday party, she was immediately cast in projects with Mickey Rooney.
"I've always taken 'The Wizard of Oz' very seriously, you know. I believe in the idea of the rainbow. And I've spent my entire life trying to get over it."
Preparing for Her Role as Dorothy Gale
As aforementioned, Garland was at an awkward age from the studio’s perspective. When she was cast in The Wizard of Oz, there were a number of things done to make her appear younger than her age (16 at the time). For example, she wore a brace to make her bust appear like that of a younger girl.