The Year of Tony Bennett would like to take a moment to remember the great Judy Garland, who born on June 10, 1922 to Ethel and Frank Gumm, who were vaudevillians. In fact, young Judy first performed at a mere 30 months old, singing “Jingle Bells” with her sisters. The Gumm family had settled in Grand Rapids, North Dakota but moved to Los Angeles in 1926.
Judy appeared with her sisters, Mary Jane and Dorothy, as The Gumm Sisters in vaudeville, but changed their name to the Garland Sisters in 1934. Busby Berkeley, the noted choreographer and director had seen the Garland Sisters and in 1935, Judy Garland signed a contract with MGM.
She became widely known for her work with the young Mickey Rooney in a long line of Andy Hardy movies, most of which featured the two young stars singing and dancing. This led to her big break: being cast as Dorothy in 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. She wasn’t the first or even the second choice (Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin were both unable to take the role), but she and the film were a great success.
She continued her studio work, while moving, at last, into adult roles. Some of her great films in the 1940s were Meet Me In St. Louis, The Harvey Girls and The Pirate.
Many, including this author, believe that her finest work was the 1954 film A Star Is Born. Even though she suffered from illness during the making of the movie, her performance was outstanding; Time Magazine called it “just about the greatest one-woman show in modern movie history.”
Alas, it pretty much marked the end of her film career, though she did appear in a few more films, including the 1961 Judgement At Nuremberg, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for best performance by a supporting actress.
Judy Garland turned to stage performances, including her legendary performance at Carnegie Hall in 1961. The recording from that concert, Judy at Carnegie Hall, went gold and charted for 95 weeks on Billboard; it has never been out of print. The album won four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and Best Female Vocal of the Year.
She also did a series of television programs in the 1960s, several of which featured her good friend Tony Bennett:
It’s never been any secret that Judy Garland suffered terribly from addiction to drugs and alcohol, starting from her teenage years in the studio when both she and Mickey Rooney were dosed with uppers and downers to keep them on schedule for the films they made.
Judy Garland died on June 22, 1969 in London. The coroner’s report suggests that it was an accidental overdose, though she was seriously ill at the same time. She was 47 years old.
Her body was returned to New York, where 20,000 mourners lined up to pay their respects. James Mason, her co-star in A Star Is Born, delivered the eulogy.
She was one of the greatest female singers in American musical history.