Judy Garland: An Icon, A Performer and A Troubled Soul
19 October 2019 | By Hannah Mussey
“The road gets rougher, It’s lonelier and tougher” are two lines from Judy Garland’s rendition of the song A Man That Got Away and this could easily be a statement of her own life-long trials and tribulations. She won our hearts as Dorothy in the classic film The Wizard of Oz but beneath that innocent exterior was a troubled young girl whose road to fame was a difficult one.
With the upcoming release of Judy, the new Hollywood blockbuster, starring Renée Zellweger, it is high time that we take a look back on where Judy came from and her many achievements.
Born in the town of Grand Rapids in Minnesota Judy was performing from two years of age. When we think of entertainers that left their mark on the world today Judy Garland may be up there with Frank Sinatra. At the age of four, Judy moved to California where her stage hungry mother would encourage her to pursue a fame driven career.
“Basically, I am still Judy Garland, a plain American girl from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, who’s had a lot of good breaks, a few tough breaks, and who loves you with all her heart for your kindness in understanding that I am nothing more, nothing less.”
She performed with her sisters Mary Jane and Virginia until she was signed by MGM records in 1935. Her turbulent childhood would be further enhanced with criticism about her appearance and a focus on her weight that led to a long lasting relationship with pills.
By the age of 10, Judy was already on a downward spiral as her mother, famed for putting too much pressure on her daughters, had started to allow them to take sleeping pills to help them sleep while on the road. From a young age she showed promise as a singer. She had a natural, powerful voice, full of emotion that is difficult to replicate. However she found a true calling on the stage and once she teamed up with Mickey Rooney there was no stopping her. She would go on to be Rooney's girl-next-door sidekick for several other movies, including Babes on Broadway (1941), Crazy Girl (1943) and Words and Music (1948).
She shot to fame with her rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow but the pressures of fame overwhelmed the star as an actress in Hollywood and who could blame her. During her peak years as a performer and actress, she was subjected to criticism for her weight and numerous accounts of sexual harassment. The world had not yet discovered the vital role that female leads play in the entertainment industry.
Did you know that Judy Garland won an Academy Award for her role in the original movie A Star is Born? It is certainly worth a watch is you haven't seen it. ‘The Man That Got Away’ and ‘Someone At Last’ could have been biographical show tunes made for Judy. In lots of ways she epitomises the character of Esther, a star in the making. She would go on to wow the public with an innocent charm and a girl-next-door look that every girl could relate too.
Desperate for love Judy married five times in her lifetime. Passion and entertainment were an everyday part of Judy’s life. She met Director Vincent Minelli on the set of Meet Me in St.Louis whom she married she 1945 and conceived her daughter Liza. Her initial dependance on drugs to mask her conscious, unhealthy self image became a constant battle and they divorced in 1949. After meeting producer Sid Luft she began to get her career back on track. She later married Luft and went on to leave a lasting impression in A Star is Born. Her version of the song ‘A Man that Got Away’ led to her nomination for an Academy Award in 1954.
Although her life was plagued by financial and personal troubles she managed to accrue a loyal fan base to this day. Judy's death from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills at the young age of 47 was a sad note to end a magnificent career. She had starred in more than 35 films and taken part in what was termed the Golden Age of Hollywood alongside Gene Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor.
Her captivating role as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and classic rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow will continue to inspire artists for years to come.