By Jennifer Jean Miller
Today marks an anniversary when the world lost the gift of music, and Judy Garland gained her angel wings.
On June 22, 1969, the gifted entertainer, only 47 years young, was found in her bathroom of her London home. Only three months prior, she had married husband number five, Mickey Deans, and had just celebrated her birthday less than two weeks earlier.
While her music and onscreen presence had brought loads of joy to audiences over the years, Judy was an entertainer who suffered in silence. She died from an accidental overdose of barbiturates, but one doctor who was present when the autopsy of the enduring star was done said that it would likely be a matter of time that she would no longer be on this earth, because of the toll that cirrhosis had taken on her liver.
The grief of the more than 21,000 fans was evident the day that her body lay in state at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in New York City. Many famous stars have been laid to rest there over the years, with Judy, and also actress Jeanne Eagels, who had died 50 years prior. Jeanne, like Judy, also developed a dependency on substances, including heroin, and died from the effects.
The reaction to her death and outpouring of affection from her fans throughout the entire night of June 26, 1969 who passed through the funeral home, and the depth of their grief was evident. Some reportedly cried when a youngster carrying a battery operated, portable record player, began playing some of Judy’s records at the viewing as they passed by her coffin, covered with glass. To this day at Ferncliff Mausoleum north of New York City, fans still leave flowers, photos and other tokens of affection for Judy. Some of these fans were not even born during her lifetime, yet her legacy has impacted them deeply.
The day of her funeral she was celebrated privately with family and friends, with the public and press barred from attendance. Instead of sadness, Judy’s daughter Liza Minnelli hoped the service would celebrate Judy’s life, and hoped instead to spark a “feeling of joy,” about her. For example, reading Judy’s favorite Bible passage, 1 Corinthians 13, was one way, as well as the song, “Here’s To Us,” a song dear to Judy’s heart as she sang it on her television show.
“Here’s to us, my darling, my dear, here’s to us tonight,” a willowy Judy sang in 1964, as she toasted her audience and poured them glasses of champagne. “Not for what might happen next year, for it might not be nearly as bright.”
In the eulogy, her co-star from A Star Is Born, James Mason described her ability to “wring tears out of hearts of rock,” and the generosity of her spirit. This is evident in the footage from The Judy Garland Show, as she hugged and kissed her fans after her performance, very uncommon with today’s “stars,” who often dash, duck and detach from their fans.
“She gave so richly and so generously, that there was no currency in which to repay her,” he said.
It was Judy’s family, including her children Lorna and Joey Luft, as well as friends and fans who understood this generosity of spirit, while studio brass quashed, critiqued and scrutinized their property. As a result, the talent they called Judy Garland was made to feel insecure about how she looked.
At less than five feet in height, she was often cast in child-like roles, instead of receiving glamour queen preening like some of her female counterparts including Elizabeth Taylor and Lana Turner. The executives considered Judy ugly, and MGM’s Louis B. Mayer called her his “little hunchback.” Instead, Judy’s chest was often suppressed with garments to flatten her breasts, her nose was chiseled with a rubber disks to change its appearance and she was relegated to wearing caps on her teeth, that she could remove when she was off-screen. She was also forced to diet, and if she ordered a healthy meal, the micromanaging student insisted the kitchen deliver lettuce and a bowl of soup instead, though her weight was normal.
Like many young stars of her day, Judy was prescribed a regular round of amphetamines by studio “doctors” to stay alert for the rigorous merry-go-round of films and public appearances. Barbiturates were also part of the equation to help the constantly cranked up stars to wind down and catch some winks. This led many stars, including Judy, down the dangerous path of addiction, an act that studios have wiped their hands clean of.
The girl who became Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota into a performing family. Her parents Ethel and Frank were vaudeville performers who ran and theater, and little Frances, aka “Baby,” began performing with her older sisters, Mary Jane and Dorothy Virginia. She was only two and a half when she first hit the stage, with she and her sisters singing and dancing while their mother played piano.
In 1926, the Gumms moved to Lancaster California, and Mrs. Gumm began grooming her children for the movie industry. Soon, the girls known as “The Gumm Sisters,” began appearing in vaudeville performances across the country, as well as some movies, including A Holiday in Storyland. The video below is the rare audio of little Frances singing the song “Blue Butterfly,” at age seven, one of the songs from it.
The prophetic words of this song reflected Judy’s effervescence and ability to always remain upbeat for her audiences, though her heart was breaking privately.
Fellow vaudevillians chuckled at the last name of the young performers, who were wrongly billed as “The Glum Sisters,” in one theater. They changed their last name to Garland, and little Frances became known as “Judy,” which she picked from the Hoagy Carmichael tune.
“If her voice can bring, every hope of the spring, that’s Judy, my Judy,” the lyrics begin.
The Garland Sisters parted ways when Mary Jane, also known as Suzanne, became a bride in August of 1935.
A month later, Louis B. Mayer sent songwriter Burton Lane to watch the Garlands perform, and Judy was taken for an audition at MGM. At age 13, the studio immediately took her in.
Judy and Deanna Durbin were paired together in Every Sunday, though Deanna’s voice was operatic, and the two made a unique combination of music.
In spite of the studio’s criticism of Judy, they recognized the goldmine in her talent. She was chosen to sing for Clark Gable at his birthday party, which later her famous, “You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It)” made the Broadway Melody of 1938, where she sang to a magazine spread of Clark Gable, in a charming rendition of the song, as she pretended to pen a letter to the screen heartthrob.
It was the same year, 1937, that Judy began her series of films with co-star Mickey Rooney. Here is the pair in 1938 in a scene with Lana Turner in Love Finds Andy Hardy.
It was the same year in which Judy was cast in the role for which she was most famous, as Dorothy Gale, a young lady who bumped her head and ended up in Oz, where she met The Wizard of Oz. Though she is the epitome of Dorothy, she was the third choice for the role, when Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin were unable to star in the picture. The film was a success and garnered Judy an Academy Juvenile Award, given to children between the years of 1929 and 1961, to recognize the achievements of child actors. Judy received the award at age 16, for Babes in Arms and also The Wizard of Oz.
Below is a rare outtake of the nixed number “The Jitterbug,” with the original Tin Man, Buddy Ebsen, who developed a reaction to aluminum dust in the makeup and had to leave the film, and left him with a lifetime of breathing issues (at age 95, he died of respiratory failure).
As an adult, Judy continued in films, including Meet Me in St. Louis, and For Me and My Gal, in which she starred with Gene Kelly, and had the opportunity to sing and dance together.
While Judy had been involved in several relationships at this point, including bandleader Artie Shaw (her first), and her first husband David Rose, who she married in 1941. The pair divorced in 1944.
Orson Welles was another man that Judy had a relationship with, though he was married to Rita Hayworth. The two remained cordial beyond their relationship ending in 1945.
While filming Meet Me in St. Louis that year, she met director Vincente Minnelli. Judy’s appearance was beginning to be glamorized and he was a part of that. He had makeup artists ditch the dental caps and nose covers, and change the look of her brows, hairline and lip line. Her hair was lightened and stylized, including in the film Presenting Lily Mars.
It was her connection to Vincente Minnelli that later led to love and marriage in 1945, and the birth of daughter Liza in 1946. The two divorced in 1951.
Judy starred in The Clock, for which she received acclaim as her first dramatic role without singing.
Judy suffered a setback after success with The Harvey Girls, and Till the Clouds Roll By, with The Pirate. Though gorgeous and enchanting in her footage, commercially the film was considered a failure. Prior to its completion, Judy battled a nervous collapse and suicide attempt.
She bounced back with other successes including Easter Parade, though again, she suffered a slip due to migraines and dependency on morphine and alcohol. MGM suspended her and she made a brief appearance in the film, Words and Music, in which she was set to star, and Ginger Rogers replaced her.
Judy was suspended again while filming Annie Get Your Gun, anxious about starring as Annie Oakley and upset at how Busby Berkeley the director treated her. She would show up late or not at all, and was being treated with electroshock to aid her bouts with depression. Following her suspension, she was hospitalized again and weaned off of her medications. When she returned to filming Summer Stock, because she was heavy, Judy was again on medications to lose weight. When she made it to the number “Get Happy,” she was slender after a loss of 15 pounds, and bared her legs in stockings with seams, reflecting a sexily elegant appearance.
It was her next vehicle that ended her relationship with MGM in 1950, for consistent failure to report on the set of Royal Wedding. To help her through the lull, friend Bing Crosby invited Judy to appear on his radio show, though she feared the crowd after her publicity with her suicide attempts.
“Everything is fine now, she needs our love,” Bing told the audience in advance of her appearance. “She needs our support. She’s here – let’s give it to her, OK? Here’s Judy.”
Judy was greeted warmly and she was able to tour in Europe on sold-out concert tours throughout the United Kingdom and New York. She received a Special Tony Award for what has become known as “one of the greatest personal triumphs in show business history,” after her appearances at New York’s Palace Theatre.
In 1952, she married Sid Luft, giving birth to daughter Lorna in 1952 and son Joey in 1955.
Her comeback appearance in Hollywood was the film A Star Is Born in 1954, with Warner Brothers for which she was nominated for an Academy Award and received a Golden Globe Award.
In the early 60s, Judy starred in Judgment at Nuremberg, Gay Purr-ee, A Child is Waiting and her final, I Could Go on Singing in 1963.
Along the way, Judy appeared in television specials and theater performances. The show known as “the greatest night in show business history,” was her appearance at Carnegie Hall on April 23, 1961. Stars including Marilyn Monroe had this glorious event marked on their calendars. In fact, the song Over the Rainbow was played at Marilyn’s funeral in August of the following year, as it was one of her favorites.
The Judy Garland Show became a weekly television series beginning in 1963, after a show in 1962 with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Judy had never wanted to have a weekly series, but fell behind in taxes to the tune of hundreds of thousands backdated from 1951 and 1952. The show was canceled in 1964.
After a tumultuous relationship with Sindey Luft, in which she claimed he had hit her, was heavily drinking and threatened to take the children from her, she filed in 1963. She had made attempts to file against him beginning in 1956, but they always patched things up.
Judy performed with daughter Liza in 1964 at the Palladium in London. She enjoyed appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show and The Hollywood Palace.
She toured in Australia, for which she received positive reviews in Sydney but was booed in Melbourne because the show started late and ended her show early. The press heckled Judy and her then husband, Mark Herron, questioning her about drinking, and her conduct. Judy told them to “buzz off,” and others defended her, referring to the press corps as “ghouls.”
Judy was cast in Valley of the Dolls, but was removed from the picture for not appearing at her rehearsals. Footage still exists of Judy’s 1967 screen test, where she looks alarmingly thin though glamorous, as well as her recording, “I’ll Plant My Own Tree.”
She enjoyed final concert appearances at the Palace with children Lorna and Joey.
Next, she appeared at Talk of the Town for a run, and the Palladium in 1969. She had divorced Mark Herron that February and married Mickey Deans, her fifth husband.
Her final performance was in Copenhagen on March 25, 1969.
Click here to view Judy’s 1967 delightful interview with Barbara Walters. Here, she is filled with joy, as she embraces her children, shares about how she looked forward to becoming a grandmother, how she wished she could have been happily married if she had not become an actress, how she enjoyed cooking, how she was intolerant of the lies in the press, and other topics with candor.
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