Judy Garland biography

Judy Garland Biography

At the youthful age of 13, Judy Garland inked a pivotal movie contract with the renowned MGM studio. In 1939, she achieved a career-defining triumph With her legendary performance in “The Wizard of Oz.” However, in 1950, MGM chose to terminate her contract. During the 1960s, Judy Garland transitioned her focus from the silver screen to her flourishing career as a singer, captivating audiences with her mesmerizing voice. Tragically, her life was cut short in 1969 due to a devastating accidental overdose.

Early Life

The renowned actress and singer, Judy Garland, originally born as Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, is celebrated for her iconic presence in a plethora of classic musical films. Her life was marked by both exceptional talent and personal challenges. Hailing from a lineage of vaudeville professionals, Judy Garland embarked on her journey into the world of entertainment from a remarkably young age.

As a toddler of a mere two and a half years, she went by the endearing moniker “Baby Gumm” and graced her first public performance with a heartwarming rendition of “Jingle Bells.” Together with her two elder sisters, Judy Garland soon found herself enthralling audiences as part of the enchanting ensemble known as the Gumm Sisters.In 1926, the Gumm family made a significant move to California, where Judy Garland and her sisters delved into the realms of acting and dancing. They embarked on a series of performances, meticulously arranged by their mother, Ethel, who played the dual roles of manager and agent for her talented daughters. During the late 1920s, the Gumm sisters even graced the screen in a number of short films.

The transformation from Gumm to Garland occurred at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1934. Accompanied by their mother, the sisters took the stage at a theater alongside the renowned comedian George Jessel. It was Jessel who proposed the change to “Garland sisters,” and for Judy, this marked the transition from her childhood nickname “Baby” to the more sophisticated and vivacious persona of Judy.In the subsequent year, she embarked on a solo career, an extraordinary journey that commenced with her signing a movie contract with MGM at the tender age of 13. However, it was in November of that very year during a radio broadcast that Judy Garland delivered a memorable performance, introducing to the world one of the songs most intricately linked with her legacy, “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart.” Tragically, in the wake of this program, Garland experienced a profound personal loss when her father, Frank, succumbed to spinal meningitis.

Family and Educational Life

Judy Garland, originally named Frances Ethel Gumm, came into the world on June 10, 1922, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in the United States. Born to Ethel Marion (Milne) and Francis Avent Gumm, she was the youngest of three daughters. Her introduction to the world of entertainment happened at a remarkably early age, thanks to her parents, who were accomplished vaudeville performers themselves. Even before she reached her third birthday, Frances was incorporated into the Gumm sisters’ dance act.

Both of Judy’s parents were artists, and they even owned their own theater in Grand Rapids, known as The New Grand Theater. Judy made her inaugural stage appearance on this very stage at the tender age of just two and a half years. However, her early years were not marked by a particularly happy childhood. Her mother, in particular, compelled her to take the stage from an extremely young age. Moreover, her father grappled with the challenge of being gay in a time when societal attitudes towards sexuality were far less accepting, leading to numerous affairs with other men. This, in turn, necessitated frequent relocations and, at times, even living out of their car as a family.In June 1926, the Gumm family made another significant move, this time to Lancaster, California, prompted by rumors surrounding Frank’s alleged advances toward male ushers. In Lancaster, Frank acquired and managed another theater, while Ethel took on the role of managing her daughters’ burgeoning careers, with the goal of securing roles in motion pictures.

By the age of six, Judy Garland had already accumulated considerable experience as a performer, sharing the stage with her two elder sisters in their vaudeville act. As her father’s health deteriorated, the sisters’ act gradually became the primary source of income for the family. In a twist of fate, in 1931, they were mistakenly billed as “The Glum Sisters.” However, following a suggestion from a fellow performer, they adopted the name “Garland” (inspired by a popular drama critic of the time). Shortly thereafter, at Judy’s own insistence, she transformed her first name from Frances to Judy, influenced by a popular song of that era.Judy Garland’s early career as a performer persisted, and her talents led to a significant milestone in 1935 when, at the remarkably young age of 13, she secured a coveted acting contract with the illustrious MGM Studios, a renowned studio that maintains its popularity even today. While pursuing her career in the entertainment industry, Garland also managed to continue her education, attending Hollywood High School and subsequently graduating from University High School.

Personal Life

Judy Garland’s personal life was marked by a series of marriages and affairs, with five marriages in total. Her first marriage, to Vincente Minnelli, resulted in the birth of her daughter, Liza. In her union with Sidney Luft, she had a son named Joey and a daughter named Lorna.

Garland’s life was exceptionally demanding and filled with a whirlwind of performances and acting roles from a very early age. This relentless schedule led to chronic stress and health challenges that persisted throughout her life. Additionally, as a teenager, she was introduced to pills to maintain her weight, setting the stage for her subsequent struggles with drug and alcohol dependence.Judy Garland was a dedicated and actively engaged Democrat throughout her lifetime. She was a notable member of the Hollywood Democratic committee and wholeheartedly supported various causes, including the Civil Rights Movement, both through financial contributions and moral support. Her commitment extended to contributing to the campaigns of several Democratic presidential candidates, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson II, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Progressive candidate Henry A. Wallace.

In addition to her political activism, Judy Garland cultivated a substantial and devoted following within the gay community, establishing herself as a beloved gay icon. Her appeal to gay men was rooted in their admiration of her remarkable talent as a performer, her ability to empathize with the struggles faced by gay men in the United States during the pinnacle of her fame, and her value as a camp figure. When asked about her sizable gay following in the 1960s, Garland responded with a nonchalant, “I couldn’t care less. I sing to people.”


In 1928, the Gumm Sisters embarked on a journey into the world of dance by enrolling in a dance school overseen by Ethel Meglin, the proprietor of the Meglin Kiddies dance troupe. Their inaugural performance with the troupe took place at the annual Christmas show. It was through their association with the Meglin Kiddies that they made their cinematic debut in a short film titled “The Big Revue” in 1929, showcasing a song-and-dance number titled “That’s the Good Old Sunny South.” This was succeeded by appearances in two Vitaphone shorts the following year: “A Holiday in Storyland,” which featured Judy Garland’s first on-screen solo, and “The Wedding of Jack and Jill.” Subsequently, they performed together in the short film “Bubbles.”

In 1932, when she was just 10 years old, the prodigious singing sensation Judy Garland received her first enthusiastic review from the esteemed entertainment news magazine, Variety. Two years later, upon the suggestion of the comedian George Jessel, she adopted the surname Garland. Shortly thereafter, she chose the first name “Judy,” inspired by the popular 1934 Hoagy Carmichael song of the same name. In September 1935, Judy Garland secured a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), the world’s largest motion-picture studio, without the need for a screen test. Although there was some initial uncertainty at the studio regarding how to best utilize her talents, it took a year before she made her debut as an MGM contract player in a two-reel film. Her first appearance in an MGM production was in the short film “Every Sunday” in 1936.By late 1934, the Gumm Sisters made the transition to becoming the Garland Sisters. Shortly thereafter, Frances decided to rebrand herself as “Judy,” inspired by the popular Hoagy Carmichael song of the same name. The group’s collective journey came to an end by August 1935 when Suzanne Garland journeyed to Reno, Nevada, where she married musician Lee Kahn, a member of the Jimmy Davis orchestra performing at Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe.

Judy Garland’s first appearance in a full-length feature film didn’t materialize until 1937 when she was temporarily lent to another major studio, Twentieth Century-Fox. During the same year, at an MGM celebration in honor of its star Clark Gable, Judy Garland captivated the audience by performing a special number, “Dear Mr. Gable,” an adaptation of the well-known standard “You Made Me Love You.” As a result of this memorable performance, she and the song were featured in the 1937 film “Broadway Melody of 1938,” earning her further acclaim within the entertainment industry.MGM wasted no time in capitalizing on Judy Garland’s talent, casting her in a series of films that showcased her remarkable singing abilities. In “Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry” (1937), her next film, she shared the screen with another beloved childhood star, Mickey Rooney, with whom she would later co-star in a total of eight films. MGM frequently paired them in the popular “Andy Hardy” series, centered around Rooney’s portrayal of an “average” American teenager. Their collaborations included films like “Babes in Arms” (1939), “Strike Up the Band” (1940), “Babes on Broadway” (1941), and “Girl Crazy” (1943).

However, it was in 1939 that Judy Garland secured her most iconic and memorable role in “The Wizard of Oz,” a film that catapulted her to household-name status. Her performance as Dorothy not only earned her a special Oscar for “best juvenile performer of the year” but also gifted her the timeless song “Over the Rainbow,” which would become forever associated with her.

Despite the ongoing war overseas, Judy remained a dedicated performer, churning out multiple films in the early 1940s. In 1940, she appeared in three movies: “Andy Hardy Meets Debutante,” “Strike Up the Band,” and “Little Nellie Kelly.” The following year, in 1941, she graced the silver screen in three more films: “Ziegfeld Girl,” “Life Begins for Andy Hardy,” and “Babes on Broadway.” As World War II escalated, film production faced challenges due to the scarcity of personnel. In 1942, Judy Garland starred in the only movie of the year, “Me and My Gal.” The following year, her cinematic presence continued with “Presenting Lily Mars” and “Girl Crazy,” providing ongoing entertainment for audiences.During the 1940s, Judy Garland graced numerous outstanding musical films, cementing her status as a formidable talent in the entertainment industry. Her notable roles included “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), “The Harvey Girls” (1946), and “Easter Parade” (1948). She also took on a non-singing role in “The Clock” (1945), a heartwarming drama portraying the story of a young girl and a serviceman on leave. Although the film received critical acclaim and was financially successful, audiences had grown accustomed to her singing, and she wouldn’t return to non-singing dramatic roles for many years.

Throughout the 1940s, Judy Garland continued to grace the screen in various films, including “The Harvey Girls” (1946), where she introduced the Academy Award-winning song “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe,” and “Till the Clouds Roll By” (1946). In 1948, she starred in “The Pirate” and “Easter Parade,” the latter marking her first collaboration with the legendary Fred Astaire. The filming of “In the Good Old Summertime” (1949) and “Summer Stock” (1950) was plagued by delays, setting a pattern that would increasingly disrupt her career. She was eventually replaced in several films and, in 1950, was terminated by MGM due to her struggles with behavioral issues stemming from drug addiction.

Despite her challenges, Judy Garland persisted in her acting career throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. One of her most celebrated moments was her role in the iconic musical “A Star is Born” in 1954. This three-hour musical masterpiece showcased her remarkable talents in acting, singing, and dancing. Additionally, she ventured into television with “The Judy Garland Show,” which aired in 1963 and 1964, further cementing her status as a beloved and enduring entertainer.Judy Garland’s remarkable comeback was epitomized by her starring role in the Warner Bros. musical “A Star Is Born” in 1954, a three-hour masterpiece that showcased her multifaceted talents. It was in this film, the last of the three for which she is most renowned, that Garland’s persona reached a level of maturity and depth. Although she was pitted against strong contenders for the Best Actress Oscar, including Dorothy Dandridge, Audrey Hepburn, Jane Wyman, and Grace Kelly, Judy Garland was widely expected to win. Nevertheless, she ultimately lost to Grace Kelly in a decision that comedian Groucho Marx humorously referred to as “the greatest robbery since Brinks,” alluding to the infamous 1950 Brinks Building robbery in Boston, which at the time was the largest armed robbery in the United States.

Despite her personal challenges, Judy Garland embarked on a highly successful concert tour in 1961, culminating in a rapturously received performance at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. The live recording of this event sold over two million copies, becoming a landmark in her career. In the same year, she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her compelling performance in the film “Judgment at Nuremberg.” She also took on non-singing roles in the British films “A Child Is Waiting” (1963) and “I Could Go On Singing” (1963). Garland made her television debut in 1955 on the Ford Star Jubilee and enjoyed success in other guest appearances. However, her much-anticipated weekly television series did not fare well, leading CBS to cancel the variety show after a single season (1963-1964).

While her film career often overshadows her accomplishments as a recording artist, Judy Garland made significant contributions to the music industry. Between 1936 and 1947, she recorded over 90 tracks for Decca Records. Additionally, she produced a dozen record albums for Capitol Records from 1955 to 1965. These recordings consistently earned her a place on the best-seller charts from 1939 to 1967, showcasing her exceptional sensitivity and intelligence as an interpreter of popular songs.Judy Garland ventured into television specials, beginning with her appearance in 1955 on the debut episode of Ford Star Jubilee. This particular show marked a historic moment as it was the very first full-scale color broadcast on CBS, and it achieved remarkable success with a Nielsen rating of 34.8. Subsequently, she signed a three-year contract worth $300,000 with the network. In 1956, only one additional special was broadcast, which was a live concert edition of General Electric Theater. However, the relationship between the Lufts (Judy Garland’s family) and CBS soured due to a dispute over the planned format of upcoming specials.

In 1956, Judy Garland performed for four weeks at the New Frontier Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, commanding an impressive weekly salary of $55,000. This made her the highest-paid entertainer to perform in Las Vegas at that time.

In early 1960, Judy Garland inked a contract with Random House to author her autobiography, titled “The Judy Garland Story.” She collaborated on this project with Fred F. Finklehoffe, receiving a $35,000 advance. Conversations between Garland and Finklehoffe were recorded to be used in producing the manuscript, but the autobiography remained unfinished. Portions of her incomplete autobiography were later included in the 2014 biography “Judy Garland on Judy Garland: Interviews and Encounters” by Randy L. Schmidt.

One of the most remarkable highlights of her career was her concert appearance at Carnegie Hall on April 23, 1961, which many have described as “the greatest night in show business history.” The two-record album “Judy at Carnegie Hall” became a legendary success, achieving gold certification and charting for an impressive 95 weeks on Billboard, including 13 weeks at the number one spot. The album also received four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and Best Female Vocal of the Year.During the mid- to late 1960s, Judy Garland shifted her focus to concert performances and made notable appearances on various top television variety and talk shows of that era. Her career continued to flourish, and she embarked on a month-long third engagement at the Palace Theatre, which resulted in yet another popular album titled “At Home at the Palace” in 1967.

However, as the late 1960s unfolded, Judy Garland’s health began to deteriorate. She performed in London at the Talk of the Town nightclub for a five-week run, earning £2,500 per week. Her final concert appearance took place in Copenhagen in March 1969. Tragically, Judy Garland’s life was cut short at the age of 47 due to an accidental overdose of barbiturates.


Judy Garland’s remarkable career was punctuated by numerous accolades and honors. In 1940, she was bestowed with a special Oscar for “Best Performance by a Juvenile Actor” for her iconic role in “The Wizard of Oz.”

In 1962, she received the prestigious “Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award” at the Golden Globe Awards, a recognition of her enduring contributions to the world of entertainment.

Judy Garland’s lasting impact on the music industry was further underscored when she was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. Several of her recordings have also been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, commemorating their enduring influence.

In 1999, the American Film Institute honored Judy Garland by placing her among the 10 greatest female stars of classic American cinema, a fitting tribute to her enduring legacy in the world of film and entertainment.

Net Worth and income

Judy Garland, the iconic American actress, singer, and vaudevillian, had a net worth of $40,000 at the time of her unfortunate passing. Adjusting for inflation, this amount is approximately equivalent to $300,000 in today’s dollars. It is noteworthy that Garland had already earned over $400,000 in movie salaries before reaching the age of 18, and her career ultimately amassed nearly $10 million in earnings, which, when adjusted for inflation, translates to approximately $100 million.

During her peak, Judy Garland stood among the most successful actresses in the world. She was renowned for her exceptional singing and acting abilities, a rare combination in her era when performers were expected to excel in both disciplines.

Judy Garland’s illustrious career earned her numerous awards and honors, including an Academic Juvenile Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Special Tony Award, and a Grammy Award, among others. However, Garland’s early entry into the entertainment world came at a personal cost. Throughout her life, she grappled with feelings of low self-worth and substance abuse issues that began at a young age. Financial challenges further compounded her struggles, contributing to her relatively low net worth at the time of her untimely passing.


On June 22, 1969, a tragic event marked the end of Judy Garland’s life. She was discovered deceased in a bathroom by her final husband, Mickey Deans. At the time, Judy Garland was just 47 years old. Leading up to her passing, her health had been rapidly deteriorating during her final concert performances in London and Copenhagen.

Her cause of death was later determined to be a barbiturate overdose. Although suicide was ruled out, it was evident that Garland had ingested an exceptionally large dosage of the drug over an extended period.

An autopsy also suggested that Judy Garland would have faced an impending threat from cirrhosis, a severe deterioration of liver function. However, subsequent examinations cast doubt on this claim. Another doctor posited that Garland might have had an eating disorder, which could have played a role in her tragic demise.

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