Judy Garland was a gifted actress in Hollywood and is known for her breakthrough role in the movie, The Wizard of Oz and other, subsequent successful films like ‘A Star is Born’. But her life was filled with a lot of suffering which ultimately led to her premature death. The stories about Garland talk about how her parents had a deeply flawed relationship with each other, the abuse she was made to undergo by the movie studios who employed her initially, her exposure at an early age to alcohol and drugs, and a series of very bad marriages all of which contributed to her early death at the age of just 47 in 1969. Judy Garland was definitely a victim of the world of classic Hollywood, but she seemed to be unable to break out of the cycle of adverse relationships and economic instability which ultimately controlled her life and career as an actress.
Though Garland as the character Dorothy in her starring role in The Wizard of Oz was able to make her way back to her home and live in a home filled with love and happiness, in real life, she sadly was never able to truly ‘live happily ever after’. This was also covered in her recent biopic ‘Judy’. The following are some of the sordid but sad aspects of Judy Garland’s life:
- Garland’s childhood was dominated by her ambitious mother
Judy Garland’s real name was Frances Ethel Gumm. She was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota on June 10, 1922. She was nearly not born as her mother had consulted the possibility of having an abortion for her third child. However, her doctors convinced her not to do so. Mrs. Gumm was a vaudevillian who hadn’t done well. She put Frances on the stage at a very young age along with her two sisters. The family shifted to Lancaster in California, when Frances was just four years old. She wanted her children to get as much exposure to the movie and entertainment center of Los Angeles as possible. Garland later referred to her mother as ‘the real wicked witch of the west’, who was a character in her breakout movie, The Wizard of Oz.
- Garland’s parents had an unhappy marriage
Garland’s father, Frank Gumm, was like her mother, a vaudevillian. He had seemingly married his wife to secure their relationship as a couple rather than for love. Frank Gumm was reportedly bisexual and had made sexual advances to the teenaged male ushers and students who came often to the cinema theater which owned by the family. As per some accounts, it was the rumors of Frank Gumm’s behavior that caused the family to subsequently shift to California. Young Frances had a difficult relationship with her parents because of their relationship with each other. She later recalled her parents frequently breaking up and getting back together constantly. Though she didn’t understand things clearly, she always remembered the fear she had of her parents separating. Frank Gumm died in 1935, sometime after she was hired by the MGM studio.
- Garland had to go on a diet forcibly and modify her body so that she could appear like a child
After shifting to California, the three Gumm sisters decided to change their names though how this happened is debatable, but they became the ‘Garland Sisters’, and Frances chose the name ‘Judy’ for herself. Thus, she became ‘Judy Garland’. In 1935, when Garland was13 years old, she signed her first contract with the MGM studio. As Garland was healthier than the studio’s other high-performing actresses, she was given roles that created a childish, teenaged look for her. She was coupled with Micky Rooney in various popular films. The studio insisted that she would maintain a juvenile look for as long as possible. Consequently, Garland was forced to regularly go on diets, and her chest was bound to prevent her from looking mature. Her mother, who served as both her guardian and manager, was okay with the studio’s abusive power over the physical appearance of Garand.
- Studio Head Louis Mayer Referred To Her As His “Little Hunchback”
MGM studio head Louis Mayer referred to Garland as ‘My Little Hunchback in public. He also regularly assaulted Garland and touched her inappropriately on the pretext of telling her that she sang from her heart. When Garland finally confronted Mayer about his behavior, he falsely claimed to be shocked and told her that he felt like a father to her. Mayer also had a role in keeping Garland looking like a young person by taping her chest, making her wear a tight corset, and continuously giving her role beneath her age. This didn’t help Garland’s mental state and she was fired from the MGM studio by 1950.
- Garland Had To Smoke And Take Drugs While Filming ‘The Wizard Of Oz’
Garland was only seventeen years of age when she starred in MGM’s fantasy movie ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939) in technicolor. Though this movie helped to lift her to the status of a star, she had to pay a very high personal price for it. MGM executives continued in their efforts to nearly starve the actress. Garland had minders who snatched away plates of food from her at the studio kitchen. Garland was also encouraged to have only a diet of black coffee and almost 80 cigarettes a day. She was also given a cocktail of various drugs to help her finish the film and also complete a promotional roadshow with her frequent co-actor, Mickey Rooney. This practice most probably set off her history of substance abuse which affected Garland for most of her life and finally led to her death. Even her co-actors ignored and isolated her as they were adults who didn’t want to be eclipsed by a child actress who was also getting the star treatment.
- Garland’s First Marriage Was A Desperate Attempt to Escape From Her Mother Which Went Wrong
Garland, who was dealing with abuse from studio executives and was hostile towards her dominating mother, had a belief that having a husband was the only way she could be shielded from all those bullying her. When she was nineteen, Garland finally decided to get married to bandleader David Rose to solve her problems. Despite being threatened by both her mother and Louis Mayer who didn’t like the idea of the audience not being able to think of Garland as a young and innocent child, Garland got married on July 28, 1941. Though she quickly became pregnant, she was convinced by her husband and others to have an abortion. She separated from her husband after only eight months of marriage and officially divorced in 1944.
- Garland Found Her Second Husband In Bed With Another Man
Though Garland’s second husband, Vicente Minnelli was rumored to be openly gay in New York, such behavior was unacceptable in the mainstream film industry in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Garland had met Minnelli when he had directed her in the movie ‘Meet Me In St. Louis’ which finally allowed her to appear as an attractive adult woman rather than as an awkward child. They were married on June 15, 1945. They had a daughter named Liza but their age difference of twenty years and Garland’s erratic persona and substance abuse led to a strain on their relationship. In 1948, Garland returned home unexpectedly one day to find her husband lovingly embracing one of their male employees. She ran to the bathroom and tried to slash her wrists but was prevented by Minnelli from causing any serious harm to herself. Garland and Minnelli separated in 1949 and officially divorced in 1951.
- Garland’s Third Husband Drank And Gambled Away Most Of Her Money
Judy Garland’s career was in a state of decline when she met Sidney Luft, a New Yorker who was involved in the periphery of the movie industry. They got married in 1952, and Luft became Garland’s manager. Together, they made the movie, A Star is Born, which gave a spark to Garland’s career and gain an Academy Award nomination. However, Garland lost out to Grace Kelly probably because her movie didn’t do well at the box office and the Warner Brothers studio canceled Luft’s production contract that required Garland to appear in two more films. Their personal life was also difficult as Luft was a compulsive gambler and alcoholic who spent most of Garland’s earnings which were quite sizable. Garland finally divorced Luft in 1960 after she realized that she was completely bankrupt. In 1993, Luft attempted to sell Garland’s honorary Oscar which she had won in 1939, and the auxiliary model which she had received when she had claimed to have lost the first one. However, the Academy sued Luft and he was forced to pay the legal damages amounting to $60,000.
- Garland’s Fourth Husband Slept With Her Daughter’s Husband
Garland had already a history of getting involved with gay men when she started dating Mark Herron. They married in Las Vegas in November 1965 despite Herron’s openly gay relationship with another actor. Liza Minnelli, Garland’s daughter, subsequently discovered Herron in bed with her husband, Peter Allen, who was a musician. Garland and Herron separated five months after their marriage and divorced in 1967. Herron returned to the partner he had been intimate with before the marriage and lived with him for the next 25 years.
- Garland Was Shunned By Her Daughter
As Garland’s issues regarding her substance abuse worsened in the 1950s and 1960s, her teenage daughter Liza Minnelli had to manage the household and her younger siblings on her own. She saved her mother’s life on many occasions by preventing her from taking drug overdoses and once even physically stopping Garland from jumping out of a hotel window. However, as an adult who led a successful life, Minnelli soon tired of supporting her mother emotionally and financially. She refused to answer Garland’s phone calls and even disallowed her entry to her apartment in Manhattan. She also didn’t receive any calls from her mother at the front desk of her building.