Mostly Credited As: Judy Garland
Sometimes Credited As: Frances Gumm
Birth Name: Frances Ethel Gumm
Date Of Birth: June 10, 1922 (Age 47)
Country Of Birth: USA
Birth Place: Grand Rapids, Minnesota
Date Of Death: June 22, 1969
Cause Of Death: Accidental barbiturate overdose (Chelsea, England)
Height: 4' 11" (1.49 m)
Frances Ethel Gumm was born on June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Early MGM publicity material indicated she was born in Murfeesboro, Tennessee and that she was a year younger than she actually was. Why this misinformation was distributed by MGM is not clear.
Frances Ethel was named after her father (Francis "Frank" Gumm) and mother (Ethel Milne), former vaudeville performers who bought a theater and settled in Grand Rapids. She was the third of three girls: Mary Jane (nicknamed Susie, variously spelled "Suzy") was born in 1915, and Dorothy Virginia (nicknamed Jimmie) was born in 1917. Frances was nicknamed "Baby", and was known as Baby Gumm until 1934 when she changed her name to Judy.
Judy made her show business "debut" during a Christmas show at her parents' theater in Grand Rapids on December 26, 1924 (she was 2½ years old). She sang numerous verses of "Jingle Bells" and thoroughly enchanted the audience. Susie and Jimmie were already performing as a song and dance duo at the time. The sisters became a trio shortly after Baby's debut. They were billed as The Gumm Sisters, and appeared at theaters and social functions in and around Grand Rapids.
In 1926 the Gumm family moved to Lancaster, California where Frank bought the local theater. The girls were soon taking dancing and acting lessons at various schools in the Los Angeles area. Ethel was the girls' agent and manager, and began finding bookings for the girls in theaters, night clubs and on radio. Within a few short years, the girls had a following of fans in the Southern California area, and were appearing regularly on local radio shows.
Judy made her film debut when The Gumm Sisters appeared in a Meglin/Associated Films short subject entitled Starlet Revue (aka The Big Revue) in 1929. Judy was seven years old. The girls also appeared in three Warner Brothers Vitaphone short subjects in 1929 (A Holiday in Storyland, The Wedding of Jack and Jill, and Bubbles). In 1935, they appeared in an MGM short subject, La Fiesta de Santa Barbara, billed as The Garland Sisters. Judy's first feature film appearance was in the 20th Century-Fox hit Pigskin Parade in 1936 - the only time MGM ever loaned her out to another studio.
In 1935 Susie married, breaking up the act. Ethel began pushing Judy toward a movie career, arranging for auditions at nearly every studio in Hollywood. In September 1935, thirteen-year-old Judy auditioned for MGM and was signed immediately. She sang "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart," accompanied by Roger Edens of the MGM music department at the piano. He would become the most influential person of her career (artistically), and would be closely associated with Judy throughout her tenure at MGM and beyond. Judy was said to be the only person ever contracted at MGM without a screen test, though the same claim has been made with reference to several other stars. Judy's contract officially started on October 1, 1935. Her starting salary was $100.00 per week with options for seven years.
Judy was in approximately 43 movies. Five of these were short subjects she appeared in prior to signing with MGM. At MGM she was in a total of 31 movies, 27 of which were full-length feature films. Between 1939 and 1950 she made 22 feature films; an average of two a year. She was the reigning "queen of the musicals" during that period, appearing in more musicals than any other actress, though Alice Faye starred in more musicals. After leaving MGM, she made two films for Warner Brothers and several for United Artists. Her complete filmography can be found here on the Judy Garland Database, as well as extensive reviews of all of her films.
It is certainly true that many Hollywood stars made more movies than Judy did, but it must be remembered that nearly all of Judy's movies were musicals, which are the most demanding of movies - requiring not only acting but also singing and dancing. And most of her movies were made in the relatively short 13 year period from 1937 to 1950. In fact, movies were only a small part of Judy's career. In addition to making movies Judy also cut records, made many public appearances, toured scores of army camps during WWII, appeared on hundreds of radio shows, appeared on dozens of television shows, and performed at over 1000 concert and nightclub engagements! But her films were an important part of her career. Nearly all of Judy's movies at MGM were major hits, and nearly all of them broke all box office attendance records (including her own).
Judy was officially elevated to star status by MGM in December 1938 while she was filming Oz. She had just completed her sixth feature film, Listen, Darling. Judy emerged from Oz as a superstar. After Oz was released, Judy was just about the most popular young actress on earth, receiving more fan mail than any star at MGM, and she was on the box office top ten actors/actresses list that year and had two films in the top ten: The Wizard of Oz and Babes in Arms. Oz is certainly Judy's best remembered film today (it has been seen by more people than any other film ever made), but many of her films have become classics and now rank among the best movie musicals ever made, including Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, The Harvey Girls, A Star Is Born, In the Good Old Summertime and The Pirate.
Judy left MGM in 1950, after filming Summer Stock. She was working on a new film, MGM's screen version of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun. Her illness had become steadily worse since about 1947, and she was no longer able to function at the pace that MGM demanded of her. She was nearly constantly under medical supervision, but MGM executives were not overly sympathetic with her plight. She was suspended several times in 1950, and finally both MGM and Judy had all they could handle. L.B. Mayer and Judy both agreed it would be best to terminate her contract at that time. Judy's problems with MGM were front-page news. Judy wrote an open letter to her fans, which was published by Modern Screen Magazine. The text of the letter can be found right here on the Judy Garland Database.
After leaving MGM, Judy began her concert career under the management of Sid Luft, soon to become her third husband. In October 1951 she reopened the Palace Theater on Broadway and broke all attendance records with a one-woman show, which was held over for 21 weeks. In 1954 she returned to movies by way of a co-production contract with Warner Brothers to film a musical remake of A Star Is Born, her personal masterpiece of film work and certainly one of her best films.
During the remainder of the 1950s, she recorded albums for Capitol Records and continued her concert touring with many very successful tours in the US, England and Europe. She also appeared in several television specials.
In 1960, she renewed her film career, appearing in another series of films including Judgement at Nuremberg for which she received another Academy Award nomination. In 1963/64 she co-produced her own television series on CBS: The Judy Garland Show. The show was a critical success but did not score well in the ratings, primarily because CBS refused to move her spot which was across from "Bonanza" on NBC - one of the most popular series of all time.
After her TV series was cancelled by CBS, Judy found herself financially in ruins with her health failing rapidly. She continued to perform in concerts, at nightclubs, and on an occasional TV program. But her life seemed to spiral out of control as she married and remarried within a period of three years, broke many concert and night club engagements, and was often in court battling over lawsuits with night club owners and producers. Most of the money she did make was seized by the IRS for back taxes. Finally, her home was seized by the IRS, and she found herself homeless. She had to work just to survive, but she was really too ill to perform.
Judy finally found the ultimate peace on June 22, 1969, less than two weeks after her 47th birthday. She was found dead in her bathroom by her latest husband, Mickey Deans. Judy made one last "comeback" as more than 22,000 people paid their respects at her final appearance at Campbell's Funeral Chapel in New York on June 27, 1969. She was laid to rest at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.
One of the world's most beloved personalities had come and gone in less than a lifetime of most of her fans, but she had left an indelible mark on show business history. There would never be another Judy Garland.