Judy Garland

Frances Ethel Gumm was named after her father (Francis "Frank" Gumm) and mother (Ethel Milne), former vaudeville performers who bought a theatre and settled in Grand Rapids. She was the third of three girls: Mary Jane and Dorothy Virginia. Frances was nicknamed "Baby", and was known as Baby Gumm until 1934 when she changed her name to Judy.

Frances Ethel 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.

In 1926 the Gumm family moved to Lancaster, California where Frank bought the local theatre. 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 theatres, nightclubs 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.

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.

The Gumm Sisters traveled with their mother to Chicago in 1934 to perform at the World’s Fair. While in Chicago, they appeared at the Oriental Theatre where George Jessel (a well-known comedian of the era) was headlining the bill. When Jessel introduced the Gumm Sisters to the audience, he noticed some quiet laughter, and later suggested to the girls that they change their name to Garland. Frances took the name “Judy” some time later because she liked the peppy sound of it, and she liked the Hoagy Carmichael song of the same name.

Judy was in a total of 43 films by my count. 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.

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, 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.

Less than a year after signing with MGM, Judy signed a recording contract with Decca Records. On June 12, 1936, just two days after her 14th birthday, she recorded “Stompin’ at the Savoy” / “Swing Mr. Charlie” with Bob Crosby and His Orchestra for Decca in New York. This was the first Judy Garland record to be released. She would go on to record over 90 sides for Decca, and about a dozen albums for Capitol Records.

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.

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.

Judy had three children: Liza Minnelli (by Vincente Minnelli, her second husband) and Lorna and Joey Luft (by her third husband, Sid Luft). Liza was born in 1946, Lorna in 1952 and Joey in 1955. Liza is, of course, a legendary actress and concert singer. Lorna is an actress and concert singer, though she is not as well known to the general public as Liza. Joe is currently working as a freelance photographer.