In the words of The National Observer, Judy Garland won her “eternal fame” as Dorothy, singing “Over the Rainbow” in the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture classic, The Wizard of Oz. Her accomplishments, however, extend far beyond Oz.
Across a career spanning five decades, Judy Garland came to be known and acclaimed as “the world’s greatest entertainer.” She was born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota on June 10, 1922 – the youngest of three daughters of Frank and Ethel Gumm. Her father managed the local theater, and the entire family frequently performed between film showings; Judy made her formal debut at age two.
The Gumms relocated to California in 1926, where the three siblings were booked for stage, radio, and movie work by their mother, and “Baby” Frances quickly became the trio’s focal (and vocal) point. By 1935, her two sisters had dropped out of the act, and “Baby” had become professionally known as Judy Garland. MGM signed her to a long-term contract that autumn; between 1936-1962, she made thirty-four feature films — twenty-seven of them for MGM.
In addition to Oz, Judy’s output included many musicals now regarded as classics, including Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), The Harvey Girls (1945), and Easter Parade (with Fred Astaire; 1948). At her request, Gene Kelly made his motion picture debut opposite her in For Me and My Gal (1942); they teamed again in The Pirate (1948) and Summer Stock (1950). Judy also appeared in ten films with favorite partner Mickey Rooney, including three of the famous “Andy Hardy” series and such let’s-put-on-a-show extravaganzas as Babes in Arms (1939), Strike Up the Band (1940), Babes on Broadway (1941), and Girl Crazy (1943). After receiving a special juvenile “Oscar” for Oz, Judy was nominated for additional Academy Awards for A Star is Born (Warner Bros., 1954) and Judgment at Nuremberg (United Artists, 1961).
If possible, the Garland stage career garnered even great accolades than her screen work. There were legendary performances at the London Palladium; three engagements at The Palace Theatre in New York (the first of which won Judy a special Tony Award); and concert triumphs in Paris, Amsterdam, Sydney, Mexico City, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and throughout North America – everywhere from the Hollywood Bowl to the Newport Jazz Festival and the Boston Common.
Judy, her top-rated television specials, and a 1963-64 series won ten Emmy Award nominations. Her recording career spanned 1936-1969, including tenures with Decca, MGM, Columbia, and Capitol. For the latter label, her two-disc “live” recording, Judy at Carnegie Hall, topped the charts for more than ninety weeks (thirteen of them at number one), and won five Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and Best Female Vocal Performance. Garland also performed on nearly three hundred network radio programs between 1935 and the early 1950s.
All of these accomplishments came despite a complicated personal life. Burdened by many periods of overwork and prescription medication dependency, Judy married five times, yet none of her husbands could provide the sustained love or security she warranted. Two of them, however, gave her the three children she prized above all else: Liza Minnelli (born 1946), Lorna Luft (1952), and Joseph Luft (1955).
When she died in London on June 22, 1969, Judy Garland was internationally mourned. Her reputation as a timeless, incomparable, and never-surpassed entertainer has only increased in the intervening decades.
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