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Judy Garland, The Superstar Who Just Wore Out

Updated on September 24, 2014

A Girl With Unlimited Talent

Judy Garland was born into a showbusiness family and showbusiness was the only life she ever knew. It made her wealthy and it made her into a legendary superstar but it did not make her happy. She was only 47 when she died in 1969, a victim of her own talent, her own vunerabilities, and of the lifetime of relentless pressures placed on shoulders too young to take them.

Starting as a child singer and dancer with her sisters in vaudeville her career extended into movies, records, radio, television, and personal appearances and she achieved unsurpassed artistic and popular successes in everything she did. After a fabulously successful movie career she became famous for her highly charged, emotional, live performances. Judy Garland is without doubt one of the most naturally gifted performers of Hollywood's Golden Age.

Young Frances Gumm

Judy was born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Her mother, a former vaudeville actress, had theatrical ambitions for her children and put Judy at the age of six with her two older sisters into a vaudeville act called the Gumm Sisters. She was billed as 'Baby' Gumm but with her lively, extrovert nature and surprisingly mature voice, she soon became the star of the show.

After being mistakenly billed as "The Glum Sisters" in 1931, the sisters changed their stage name to Garland and shortly thereafter, Judy changed her first name from Frances to Judy (after a popular Hoagy Carmichael song of the day).

In August 1935, the sisters' act broke up when Susie got married. Shortly thereafter at age 13 and after several auditions, Judy was signed up to a seven year contract as a solo performer by MGM's Louis B Mayer. In 1936, after an M-G-M short, Every Sunday (with another rising child star, Deanna Durbin), Judy made her feature film debut in Pigskin Parade.but it was her performance as a young Clark Gable admirer in Broadway Melody of 1938 (in which she played the daughter of Sophie Tucker) that brought her prominently into the public eye for the first time. Frances Gumm had well and truly departed. Judy Garland had arrived.

MGM swiftly made use of their talented young star and cast her in more films, each one using her adult-sounding singing voice. She was cast with Mickey Rooney in her next film - Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937) and MGM continued the pairing in some of the popular Andy Hardy films, and also Babes in Arms (1939), Strike Up The Band (1940), Babes on Broadway (1941), and Girl Crazy (1943).

She was type cast in this 'girl next door' character for years including her most memorable film role (and the one which catapulted her to stardom) which came in 1939 with The Wizard of Oz. She won a special Oscar as "best juvenile performer of the year." The film also provided her with the song ("Over the Rainbow") with which she was identified for the rest of her life.

The Unhappy Adult Star

The more successful Judy became, the harder she was worked by her taskmasters at MGM. She appeared in a series of classic musicals, including Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Easter Parade (1948) (right) with Fred Astaire, and several more movies with Mickey Rooney. When the strain of sustained hard work for long periods of time became too much she was prescribed amphetamines to keep her energy levels high. This caused insomnia and she was prescribed barbituates to help her sleep. She soon became involved in a vicious cycle of drug use which led to increasingly erratic behavior off the set and,

although hitherto the complete acting professional, she now started to show up late at the studio and began to get a reputation for being 'difficult'.

No longer a child and seemingly wanting to prove it, she had several affairs, often with older men, and by 1950 had been married twice, to bandleader David Rose and director Vincente Minnelli. In 1946 She had a daughter, Liza, with Vincente. During this time she started to experience problems with her weight and her drug intake was increasing markedly.

In April 1947, she suffered a nervous breakdown and had to be led away from the set. After a number of other breakdowns and the first of a number of suicide attempts her contract with MGM was finally terminated in 1950 and she divorced Minnelli the following year. The downward spiral had begun.

The Comeback Kid

So, by the age of 29 Judy had 2 failed marriages and a failed, once glittering, career already behind her. She started her comeback by concentrating more on her career as a singer, which was starting to win her many fans.

Her third husband was producer Sidney Luft, the father of her daughter Lorna and son Joseph, and he helped to orchestrate her comeback, with a series of very successful live concert performances. In 1951, Judy made a number of appearances at the London Palladium, later touring the UK provinces for two months. The following year she played New York's Palace Theatre for a record-breaking nineteen weeks, receiving a special Tony Award for her revival ofvaudeville-styled entertainment.

Judy and Luft formed a production company and signed with Warner Brothers to produce a remake of A Star Is Born with Judy co-starring with James Mason. It opened in October 1954, and earned a Best Actress nomination for Garland. The soundtrack album, released by Columbia Records, was a Top Ten hit.

She then resumed her live concert appearances, making her Las Vegas debut in July 1956 at the highest salary ever paid in Vegas up to that time and later the same year she returned to the Palace Theatre in New York for a 17 week sell out engagement. In an unprecedented one-week stand in 1959, Garland was the first American popular singer to appear at New York's Metropolitan Opera House.

During these successful concert years Judy was also furthering her career as a recording artist. She started a long association with Capitol Records and released a number of top quality albums including Miss Show Business (1956), Alone (1957), Judy In Love (1958), and Garland At The Grove (1959).

Also, in 1955, Judy began what was to be a successful television career when she starred in Four Star Jubilee, which won the highest ratings up to that date for a special on CBS.

With her comeback well and truly successfully acuieved, Judy was now a bigger star than ever. She began to actually increase her already heavy work schedule. It was to produce some sublime achievements but ultimately if would prove fatal. Judy was about to work hersef to death.

Judy's Husbands

"In the silence of night I have often wished for just a few words of love from one man, rather than the applause of thousands of people." Judy Garland

Of Judy's five marriages, the first four ended in divorce. Her children are Liza Minnelli (singer and actress) born March 1946, Lorna Luft (also a well known singer), born November 21, 1952, and Joey Luft (a scenic photographer), born March 29, 1955.

David Rose (1941-1944)
David Rose was born in London, and his family moved to the United States when he was four years old. In 1938 he arrived in Hollywood where he started the David Rose Orchestra for the Mutual Broadcast System. In 1941, MGM Studios hired Rose as a musical director and he wrote scores for many films. During the '50's,'60's, and early '70's he provided theme music to over 20 TV series including Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie. His biggest success was the pop single The Stripper which rose to number 1 in the charts. David Rose died in 1990.

Vincente Minnelli (1945-1951)

Born in 1903 and originally of Sicilian descent, Vincente Minnelli directed Judy in Meet Me In St Louis in 1944. They started a courtship and married in 1945 after her divorce to David Rose. He is best remembered as a Director of top quality musicals including including An American in Paris (1951), Brigadoon (1954), Kismet (1955), and Gigi (1958). He died at the age of 83 from Alzheimer's disease.

Sidney Luft (1952-1965)
Judy was married to Sidney Luft longer than any of her other husbands and he undoubtedly helped to return some stability to her life (she had made several suicide attempts) when her career as at its lowest ebb. He arranged for her triumphant appearances at the London Palladium and New York's Palace Theatre, and helped get her the Oscar-nominated role of Vicki Lester, probably her greatest achievement.

Before he met Judy Luft had been married for seven years (1943-50) to Lynn Bari, a movie contract actress with Fox.She sued him for divorce on cruelty grounds and he gained the reputation of being a heavy drinker, big-time gambler and bar-room brawler. His marriage to Judy was characterised by rows, legal battles and numerous separations. He died in 2005.

Mark Herron (1965-1967)
Just after her divorce from Luft became final, Judy married Mark Herron, a younger, relatively unknown actor with whom she had travelled for some time; the marriage was reportedly unconsummated as Herron was gay. When it was over Herron lived with an older male actor, Henry Brandon, until Brandon's death 23 years later.

Mickey Deans (1969)
Judy's fifth and last husband was a discotheque manager whom she met in New York and who also played jazz piano professionally. They married in london in March 1969 but 3 months later Judy was dead.

Final Decade, Accolades and Illnesses

Judy made a return to the Movies in 1961 playing a cameo role in Judgment At Nuremberg, for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. In 1963 she made A Child Is Waiting (co-starring Burt Lancaster), and her final film, I Could Go On Singing (co-starring Dirk Bogarde), (pictured together, right) which was not dissimilar to her own life in the story of a world famous singing star.

The next few years were to see Judy triumphing as one of the greatest live singing stars ever seen before or since. Her appearance at the Carnegie Hall in April, 1961, was an unforgettable triumph and has been described as "the greatest single night in show business history." The double-album live recording made of the concert was a best seller (certified gold), charting for over 90 weeks in Billboard -- 13 weeks at number one -- and it won five Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and Best Female Vocal Performance. The album has never been out of print. A memorable night indeed with Judy displaying her formidable talents at their very peak.

Judy, in fact, performed the Carnegie Hall concert "live" over 60 times between August 1960 and December 1961, from London, Paris, and other European capitals to the Newport Jazz Festival and The Hollywood Bowl.

She made a 1962 TV special with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin which garnered four Emmy nominations. There was another television special the following year that brought an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Music. Its success led CBS to offer her her own weekly variety series. The Judy Garland Show ran for 26 weeks, through to March 1964, and earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Performance

In 1964, Judy appeared twice at the London Palladium with her daughter Liza, and gave more than 80 solo shows as well between 1964 and 1966. Despite her ferocious workload, she continued to relentlessly abuse her body. Her weight was fluctuating wildly with the drugs she was taking and her alcohol consumption had reached dangerous levels.

'She just wore out'

Garland's marriage to Sid Luft ended in divorce in 1965 and, from there on, her health, happiness and career declined rapidly.

On November 14, 1965, she married actor Mark Herron (divorced 1967).

In the summer of 1967, Judy made a final, four-week appearance at the Palace Theatre, working 27 consecutive evenings. Additionally, there were over 50 other concerts during her 1967 tour. But with her health markedly deteriorating, she never reached the sublime heights of the previous years.

Later in 1969, she married again, this time to nightclub owner and jazz pianist, Mickey Deans. She was still struggling with addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol and during a three week live engagement at The Talk Of The Town club in London (left), frail and increasingly ill, her erratic performances received catcalls from the audience.

On June 22, 1969 she was found dead in her London apartment, apparently of an accidental overdose of barbiturates and alcohol. A London doctor who treated her in her frequent bouts with drugs and alcohol, Philip Lebon, had said she suffered from cirrhosis of the liver - an incurable disease that affects alcoholics. "She was living on borrowed time." he said.

Judy Garland was a legend who had lived a roller coaster life which had ended far too early at age 47. She just wore out.

Some Great Books About Judy

Reader Feedback

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    • CommanderNicole profile image


      5 years ago

      I may be young, but I've grown up with an old soul. I've love Judy since I was very young. This is a great lens.

    • GeorgeneMBramlage profile image

      Georgene Moizuk Bramlage 

      6 years ago from southwestern Virginia

      Great lens about a great lady! Just watched "Easter Parade" - a relatively new re-release!

    • MusicFan57 profile image


      6 years ago

      Awesome lens. Always have been a big fan of Judy's.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very emotive lens, well done. I followed Judy's career closely when I was growing up, and was deeply saddened to learn of her death. It still gets me to this day. Every time I go to the theatre and see a show like Dirty Dancing I always end up thinking "What would that have been like if Judy had been the star?"

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I really didn't know a lot about Judy Garland's life. Thank you for the empathic way you told her story.

    • Retro Loco profile image


      7 years ago from USA

      This is a great lens and a wonderful tribute to Judy Garland. I can't get over how beautiful her face was! I learned a lot of things about Judy Garland today. Thank you for sharing! ~Vicki~

    • Deborah Swain profile image

      Deborah Swain 

      7 years ago from Rome, Italy

      i adore judy garland...ah to be able to travel back in time and see her perform live on stage!


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