Judy Garland, born Frances Ethel Gumm, emerged as an iconic film star with a career marked by early beginnings in vaudeville. Signed by MGM at a mere 13 years old, Garland swiftly rose to fame, starring in classics like The Wizard of Oz and Meet Me in St. Louis. Yet, behind the scenes, her life was marred by exploitation and abuse within the Hollywood system.
Garland’s tenure with MGM was marked by stringent control over her appearance. Louis B. Mayer, the head of the studio, subjected her to a strict diet, leading to severe physical strain. Moreover, Garland revealed instances of sexual harassment, including encounters with Mayer himself, as well as persistent advances from others within the industry.
To cope with the grueling demands of her schedule, Garland was introduced to drugs. This led to a dangerous dependency, with amphetamines keeping her awake during long shoots and barbiturates aiding her in getting much-needed rest. The star candidly acknowledged her reliance on these substances, recognizing the toll they took on her well-being.
Mental Health Struggles and Departure from MGM
In 1947, Garland faced a mental health crisis, which further strained her relationship with MGM. The studio cited her alleged tardiness, intoxication, and deteriorating physical health as grounds for her dismissal. After 15 years of collaboration, Garland was released from her contract in 1950, signaling the end of an era.
Despite her departure from MGM, Garland staged an impressive comeback. She embarked on successful concert tours in London and New York, rekindling her connection with audiences. Her role in “A Star is Born” (1954) earned her critical acclaim, though she was ultimately passed over for an Academy Award.
In 1961, Garland received her final Oscar nomination for “Judgment at Nuremberg.” Her variety series, “The Judy Garland Show,” and sold-out concert performances showcased her enduring talent. Tragically, on June 22, 1969, Garland passed away at the age of 47 from an accidental barbiturate overdose.
Judy Garland’s life was a testament to her extraordinary talent and indomitable spirit. Despite the challenges she faced behind the scenes, she left an indelible mark on cinematic history, solidifying her legacy as an icon of both film and pop culture.