A Brief Biography
Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and immediately nicknamed “Baby.” Her father managed the town movie theatre; her mother accompanied silent films on the piano. Both parents performed, as did Baby’s two older sisters, and she joined the family act on December 26, 1924, in a song-and-dance routine with her sisters and her own solo, a scheduled one-chorus arrangement of “Jingle Bells.” To the delight of the audience, Baby refused to leave the stage and went into reprise after reprise of the latter number; her grandmother finally had to walk on from the wings and carry the child offstage as she protested, “I wanna sing some more!”
The family moved to California in 1926, and over the next nine years, “The Gumm Sisters” made hundreds of stage and radio appearances. In 1929, they were seen in The Big Revue (Mayfair Pictures) and then sang in three other “Vitaphone Varieties” shorts for First National: A Holiday in Storyland, The Wedding of Jack and Jill, and Bubbles. By 1932, Baby was the center of the act, drawing astounded, astounding response from the public and critics alike. In 1934, the Los Angeles Evening Express compared the scope and depth of her talent to that of legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt and offered, “Little Frances…sang in a way that produced in the audience sensations that haven’t been equaled in years. She must have the divine spark to be able to sing as she did….”.
By 1935, Baby had been rechristened Judy Garland — the last name chosen by vaudevillian George Jessel, the first her own selection from a contemporary Hoagy Carmichael/Sammy Lesser song. Her sisters bowed out of the act that same year, and Judy signed an M-G-M contract. The studio first tested her appeal in a 1936 one-reel exhibitor’s short in which she was paired with another teenage singer, Edna Mae Durbin. Response to both girls was strong enough to spur production (a month later) of a second one-reeler, Every Sunday. Inexplicably, Durbin’s Metro contract was allowed to lapse; she was immediately signed by Universal, which changed her first name to Deanna and made her a film star.
M-G-M, however, was far from nonplussed. They’d already arranged a showcase loanout for Judy at Twentieth Century-Fox (Pigskin Parade, 1936) and then cast her in Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937). Her rendition in that film of “Dear Mr. Gable: You Made Me Love You” created a sensation; she walked away with the reviews and won a Decca recording contract. The studio began immediate, intensive plans for her future. The Wizard Of Oz (1939) was paramount among the vehicles in development, but during its preparation, she made four other features. The earliest of these, Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937), cast her for the first time with Mickey Rooney; they’d actually met four years earlier as fellow students at Lawlor’s Professional School.
Judy next costarred with Allan Jones, Fanny Brice, and Billie Burke in Everybody Sing, and went on to work with Freddie Bartholomew, Mary Astor, and Walter Pidgeon in Listen, Darling (both 1938). But the on-and-off-screen chemistry between Garland and Rooney had already been noted, and the two were purposely and purposefully reunited when a role was created for her in the fourth of the “Judge Hardy’s Family” series, Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938).
Their coupling had the earmarks of such success that — even before the picture was released — Metro songwriter Arthur Freed began plans to launch his own career as a film producer by costarring the duo in a film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, Babes In Arms. By autumn 1938, its production was scheduled to follow Judy’s Listen, Darling and six months of adventures in Oz.
Oz and Babes In Arms led Judy to Top Ten box office prominence in 1940; she appeared on the list in 1941 and 1945 as well. There were two more “Hardy” films with Rooney (Andy Hardy Meets Debutante  and Life Begins for Andy Hardy ) and three additional musical pictures in which they costarred: Strike Up the Band (1940), Babes On Broadway (1941), and Girl Crazy (1943). Judy also played the title roles in Little Nellie Kelly (1940), Ziegfeld Girl (1941), and Presenting Lily Mars (1943). A year earlier, she’d received her first solo billing above the title in For Me And My Gal — proof positive that she had become such an artistic and box office sensation that no other name was required to bring in the cash customers. M-G-M began to commission top-flight vehicles for her and, in quick succession, she appeared in such subsequent screen classics as Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), The Clock (1945), The Harvey Girls (1946), Till The Clouds Roll By (1947), The Pirate and Easter Parade (both 1948), In The Good Old Summertime (1949), and Summer Stock (1950). She also did “guest” appearances in the all-star musicals Thousands Cheer (1943), Ziegfeld Follies (1946), and Words and Music (1948).
Additionally, between 1936 and 1950, Judy recorded over eighty sides for Decca, made over two hundred radio appearances, and — during World War II — served as a tireless force among the entertainers who performed for stateside servicemen and women. The cumulative effects of such a work schedule led to both emotional and physical exhaustion for the diminutive Garland, and (after she’d completed twenty-eight feature films in fourteen years), M-G-M dissolved her contract in 1950.
In April 1951, “Baby Gumm” returned to her roots with a sensational four-week stage engagement at the London Palladium. The subsequent tour led straight to Broadway; in March 1952, Judy was presented with a special Antoinette Perry “Tony” Award for breaking the all-time vaudeville box office and attendance records during a nineteen week engagement at the legendary Palace Theatre in New York.
The continuing phenomenon of “Judy Garland Live” would ultimately result in over 1100 stage, nightclub, and concert appearances between 1951 and 1969. There were acclaimed returns to the Palace in 1956 and 1967; a precedent-shattering engagement as the first popular singer to play the Metropolitan Opera House in 1959; eight record-breaking Las Vegas engagements (in 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1962, 1965, and 1967); United States appearances everywhere from the Hollywood Bowl to the Newport Jazz Festival; international successes in Amsterdam, Paris, Sydney, and Germany, Ireland, and Scotland; and the immediately historic “Judy At Carnegie Hall” in 1961. The two-record set of that performance won an unprecedented five Grammy Awards (including Album of the Year and Best Female Vocal Performance) and remained on the charts for 97 weeks — 13 of those in the number one position.
Judy returned to the screen as well, winning a best actress Oscar nomination for A Star Is Born (Warner Bros./1954). There would be a similar citation as best supporting actress for Judgment At Nuremberg (United Artists) in 1961; Judy had already been presented with a special miniature “juvenile” Oscar in 1940 for her work in Oz and Babes in Arms. She did another straight dramatic role for Stanley Kramer in A Child Is Waiting (United Artists/1963).
Garland’s television debut in 1955 attracted the largest audience to that time for a “spectacular” program. She went on to nearly 60 other TV appearances, including acclaimed “specials” in 1962 and 1963 and her own series in 1963-64. (Her individual telecasts and Garland herself garnered a total of 10 Emmy nominations.) In addition to film soundtracks for Columbia (Pepe/1960) and Warner Bros. (Gay Purr-ee/1962), Judy cut a dozen albums during a ten-year tenure with Capitol Records (1955-1965) — including the soundtrack for her final film, I Could Go On Singing (United Artists/1963).
Judy Garland’s final concert appearances in March 1969 won ten-minute standing ovations in Stockholm and Copenhagen. She died in her London home on June 22, 1969, of an accidental overdose of prescription medication.
Since her death, her professional reputation and legend have only grown — fired by the continued clamor from all ages for her films, television shows, and recordings.
Judy is the mother of entertainers Liza Minnelli (born 1946) and Lorna Luft (born 1952) and photographer Joe Luft (born 1955). She was married five times: to composer/conductor David Rose (1941-44), film director Vincente Minnelli (1945-51), producer Sid Luft (1952-1965), actor Mark Herron (1965-1966), and musician/entrepreneur Mickey Deans (1969).