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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Judy Garland Birthday Tribute

One of the brightest, most tragic movie stars of Hollywood's Golden Era, Judy Garland was born this day in 1922. Had she flourished, she would have been 85. Sadly, the much-loved actress whose warmth and spirit was only surpassed by her rich and exuberant voice succumbed to her demons in 1969 at the age of only forty-seven. She is still remembered by fans to this day.

Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm in Minnesota, the youngest daughter of vaudevillian performers. Her mother saw the potential in her daughter at the incredibly young age of 2 years old and was drafted her into the family dance act, entitled "The Gumm Sisters", along with her older sisters Mary Jane and Virginia. However, knowing that her youngest daughter would eventually become the biggest star, Ethel soon took Frances out of the act and together they traveled across America where she would perform in nightclubs, cabarets, hotels and theaters solo. It was in September 1935 that Ethel Gumms' prayers were answered when the little chanteuse was signed by Louis B. Mayer, the mogul of the leading film studio MGM. It was then that her name was changed from Frances Gumm to Judy Garland, after a popular '30s song "Judy" and film critic Robert Garland.

However, stardom was not yet secured. Judy faced the threat of losing her job following the arrival of Deanna Durbin. Knowing that they couldn't keep both of the teenage singers, MGM devised a short entitled Every Sunday (1936) which would be the girls' screen test. However, despite being the outright winner and being kept on by MGM, Judy's career did not officially kick off until she sang one of her most famous songs, "You Made Me Love You", at Clark Gable's birthday party in February 1937, during which Louis B. Mayer finally paid attention to the talented songstress. The studio set to work preparing various musicals with which to keep Judy busy. Which had its toll on the young teenager, who was given pills by the studio doctors in order to combat tiredness and amphetamines to keep control on her figure. This was the beginning of her lifelong drug addiction.

Then in 1939, Judy shot immediately to stardom with The Wizard of Oz. Her poignant performance and sweet delivery of her signature song, 'Over The Rainbow', earned the young actress a special juvenile Oscar statuette for Best Performance by a Juvenile Actor (a category that no longer exists). Judy would not be eligible for such an award much longer. After starring in her final juvenile performance in Ziegfeld Girl in 1941 alongside glamor girls Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr, Judy became engaged to bandleader David Rose. Unfortunately, the union didn't last long after MGM persuaded her to abort a pregnancy in order to continue a youthful image with audiences.

Judy starred in her first adult role as a vaudevillian during WWI in For Me and My Gal (1942) with Gene Kelly. Now, she soon began to make decisions about her career on her own instead of being influenced by her domineering mother or MGM. Although, she was still obligated to film Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), which proved to be a big success as well as a personal triump. The director Vincente Minnelli decided to highlight Judy's beauty for the first time on screen. He showed off her large brandy-brown eyes and her full, thick lips and after filming ended in April 1944, a love affair resulted between director and actress that resulted in a marriage and a child named Liza.

Vincente also directed Judy in The Clock (1945), a sweet, romantic tale of wartime love between two strangers who meet, fall in love, and marry within forty-eight hours - a personal favorite of mine which I highly recommend to all. Then later, he and Judy filmed The Pirate (also with Gene Kelly) in 1947. She then teamed up with dancing legend Fred Astaire for the delightful musical Easter Parade (1948), which resulted in a success despite having Vincente fired from directing the musical. Afterwards, Judy's health deteriorated, and sadly she made her first of several suicide attempts.

Judy made In the Good Old Summertime in 1949, which was also daughter Liza's film debut, albeit via an uncredited cameo. She had already been suspended by MGM for her lack of cooperation on the set of The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), which also resulted in her getting replaced by Ginger Rogers. After being replaced by Betty Hutton on Annie Get Your Gun (1950), Judy was suspended yet again before making her final film for MGM, entitled Summer Stock (1950). At 28, Judy received her third suspension and was fired by MGM, and her second marriage was soon dissolved. Judy then signed a film contract with Warner Bros. to star in the musical remake of A Star Is Born (1937). She won a Golden Globe for her brilliant and truly outstanding performance as Esther Blodgett, nightclub singer turned movie star, but when it came to the Academy Awards, Judy lost out on the Best Actress Oscar to Grace Kelly for her portrayal of the wife of an alcoholic star in The Country Girl (1954). Many still argue that Judy should have won the Oscar over Grace Kelly.

In 1961, at the age of 39, Judy returned to film, this time to co-star in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), for which she received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, but this time she lost out to Rita Moreno for her performance in West Side Story (1961), but she soldiered on. At 41, Judy made her final performance on film alongside Dirk Bogarde in I Could Go on Singing (1963). She continued working on stage, appearing several times with her daughter Liza. It was during a concert in Chelsea, London, that Judy stumbled into her bathroom late one night and died of an overdose of barbiturates, the drug that had dominated much of her life, on the 22nd of June 1969 at the age of 47. Her daughter Liza Minnelli paid for her funeral, and James Mason delivered her touching eulogy.

Judy Garland is still an icon to this day. And with her famous performances in The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, and A Star Is Born, she undoubtedly will remain an icon for a very, very long time. Here's a happy birthday to one of the greatest talents who ever lived.

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