Oscar Actors: Garland, Judy

Born Frances Gumm on June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota; died 1969.

The child of vaudeville performers, she made her stage debut at three and was a seasoned trouper by the time she was five. Appearing with her two older sisters in the “Gumm Sisters Kiddie Act,” on the stage and in several short films, she was billed as “the little girl with the great big voice.” When she was nine the girls changed their stage name to Garland, at the suggestion of George Jessel. A year later Frances changed her name to Judy. The trio wasn't very successful under any name and it finally broke up when one of the sisters married.

On her own, and prompted by an ambitious mother she was to bitterly describe in later years as “the reallife Wicked Witch of the West,” Judy fared somewhat better. At 13 she was auditioned personally by MGM's production boss, Louis B. Mayer, who, impressed by her voice, signed her on a contract without a screen test. Judy's first screen appearance was in a tworeel short, “Every Sunday,” also featuring Deanna Durbin.

For her first feature, “Pigskin Parade,” Judy was loaned out to Fox, then, returning to MGM, she stole the show from a starstudded cast in Broadway Melody of 1938, when she sang 'Dear Mr. Gable' to a photograph of the star. In “Thoroughbreds Don't Cry” (1937) she was cast for the first time opposite Mickey ROONEY, who was to become her frequent screen partner (nine times in all) in the juvenile phase of her career.

Then came the film that made her a worldfamous star, “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), in which, as wide-eyed little Dorothy, she played and sang her way to the hearts of millions. When she sang 'Over the Rainbow' in her distinctive trembling, emotionchoked voice with a builtin throb, an instant legend was born. She won a special Oscar as “the best juvenile performer of the year” for the role that had originally been intended for Shirley Temple.

Judy was still in her teens when she began being plagued by a weight problem. In an effort to contain her tendency to gain pounds, the studio put her on a strict diet and a doctor recommended pills. At the same time, the strain of work began taking its toll on her nervous system, and before long she was living on pills: pills to put her to sleep, pills to keep her awake, and pills to suppress her appetite. By the time she was 21 she was seeing a psychiatrist regularly.

In 1941 she married the first of her five husbands, orchestra leader David Rose. In 1943, Judy and Rose separated and in 1945 she had her first divorce. Meanwhile, her career continued to prosper, not only in the movies but also on radio and in numerous personal appearances. One of her most successful films of the period was “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944).

A year after its release, she married the film's director, Vincente Minnelli. In 1946 their daughter, Liza Minnelli, was born. In 1951, Judy had her second divorce.

The dual pressure of stardom and personal unhappiness affected her career. She began showing up late for work or not at all, was suspended a couple of times, and finally, in 1950, was fired from the MGM lot. Depressed and bewildered, she made her first suicide attempt. Others were to follow. A temporary relief from her agony came in the person of Sid Luft, her third husband, who appointed himself her manager and arranged a triumphant engagement for Judy at the London Palladium. Her comeback road was subsequently paved with an even greater tour de force, a recordbreaking 19week engagement at New York's Palace Theater.

In 1954, Judy returned to the screen, giving perhaps her finest performance, in “A Star Is Born” (1954), for which she was nominated for a lead Oscar. But the comeback was shortlived. The news Judy made in the late 50s involved lawsuits, counter lawsuits, nervous breakdowns, suicide attempts, and recurrent breakups with Luft.

In spite of all her troubles, in 1961 she gave a memorable concert at Carnegie Hall, played a magnificent dramatic vignette in Stanley Kramer's “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961), gaining another Oscar nomination (this time as supporting actress), and followed with another good dramatic performance in “A Child Is Waiting” (1963).

But her longawaited show on CBS television in 1963 had poor ratings and was canceled before the end of its scheduled run. Disappointed by this failure and exhausted from a custody battle with Sid Luft over their two children, one of whom is singer Lorna Luft, she flew to London for a concert with daughter Liza at the Palladium.

Then, after divorcing Luft, in 1965, Judy married Mark Herron, a marginal actor seven years her junior. Six months later they separated and in 1967 Judy had her fourth divorce.

Next, Judy was announced for a role in the film “Valley of the Dolls,” but Susan Hayward got the part.

Early in 1968, Judy went to London and there married her fifth husband, a 35yearold discotheque manager named Mickey Deans. On June 22, 1969, she stumbled in the bathroom of her London apartment. She was found dead in the morning by Deans. The official coroner's verdict attributed her death to an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. Thousands of bereaved fans jammed the vicinity of the Manhattan funeral home where her body lay in state. The legend that had been Judy Garland was now a cult.

Oscar Alert

In 1954, Judy Garland competed for the Best Actress Oscar with Dorothy Dandridge in “Carmen Jones,” Audrey Hepburn in “Sabrina,” Grace Kelly (who won) in “The Country Girl,” and Jane Wyman in “Magnificent Obsession.”

In 1961, for her supporting turn in “Judgment at Nuremberg,” Garland competed with Fay Bainter in “The Children's Hour,” Lotte Lenya in “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone,” and Una Merkel in Summer and Smoke.”