Judy Garland was an undeniably sparkling presence on film, from her breakthrough role in The Wizard of Oz to later successes like A Star Is Born. Unfortunately, her life was marked by suffering; all of the horrible things that happened to Judy Garland would dominate any faithful biography of the talented but tragic actress.
Stories about Judy Garland detail the dysfunctional parents, studio abuses, early exposure to drugs and alcohol, and series of dreadful marriages that became the foundation of an existence that ended in 1969 at the age of 47. But terrible Judy Garland facts would also have to include her own choices and behavior. Garland was certainly the victim of the horrific world of old Hollywood, but she seemed unable to break the cycle of bad relationships and financial ruin that ultimately took over her life and career.
As Dorothy, Judy Garland was able to successfully make it back home, to a house filled with love and stability. Sadly, in the real world, she would never be able to truly make it over the rainbow, as covered in the 2019 Judy biopic. Here are some of the scandalous and heartbreaking aspects of the life of Judy Garland.
Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, MN, on June 10, 1922. She almost wasn't born at all; her mother initially consulted doctors about the possibility of aborting Frances, her third child, but doctors talked her out of it.
Mrs. Gumm, a frustrated vaudevillian, put young Frances onstage when she was only two-and-a-half years old, adding her to an act with her two sisters. The Gumms relocated to Lancaster, CA, when Frances was four years old; Ethel wanted to get her children as close as possible to the film and entertainment center of Los Angeles.
Later, the actress remembered her mom as "the real Wicked Witch of the West."
Frances's father, Frank Gumm, was also a vaudevillian. He seemed to have married his wife more to cement their song-and-dance duo than out of love; Gumm was reportedly bisexual, and began making sexual advances to the teenage male ushers and students who frequented the movie theater the family owned. According to some sources, the rumors of Gumm's affinities were what ultimately drove the family to move to California.
Her parents' troubled relationship hurt young Frances. She later said, "As I recall, my parents were separating and getting back together all the time. It was very hard for me to understand those things and, of course, I remember clearly the fear I had of those separations."
Garland's father died in 1935, shortly after she signed with MGM.
After their arrival in California, the Gumm Sisters decided to change their names. How this actually occurred is a subject of debate, but the trio became the "Garland Sisters" and Frances picked the name Judy.
In 1935, 13-year-old Judy Garland signed her first contract with MGM. Because Garland was more wholesome than the studio's "bombshells," she was given roles that perpetuated a childish, teenaged appearance. She was paired with Mickey Rooney in several popular and lucrative films, and the studio demanded that she maintain an immature appearance for as long as possible. She was forced to constantly diet and her chest was bound to keep her looking less developed.
Throughout this process, her mom, who served as both her guardian and manager, was quite comfortable with the studio's abusive control of Garland's physical appearance.
That autocratic MGM studio head Louis Mayer openly referred to Garland as "My Little Hunchback" is enough, but Mayer also routinely assaulted the star, touching her inappropriately under the guise of telling her that she "sang from the heart." When Garland finally confronted him about this behavior, Mayer feigned shock and said he felt he was like a father to her.
Mayer also contributed to the process of keeping Garland as juvenile as possible, even if that required taping down her chest, fitting her with a painful corset to squeeze into her Wizard of Oz dress, and continually assigning her parts that were well below her age. None of this helped Garland's mental state, and eventually her neuroses and defiance got her fired from MGM in 1950.