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Judy Garland - A Long Career in a Short Life

Most remembered for The Wizard of Oz and Meet Me in St. Louis, the raw star
Garland, Judy - Large Signed Photo in "Till the Clouds Roll By"

quality that Judy Garland had made her one of the most iconic and loved singing actresses in movie history. The market in memorabilia is still so popular that a Judy Garland autograph or signed photo from a reputable seller can reach a good price.

Born Frances Ethel Gumm in 1922, Judy Garland started her stage career at the age of only two. Known as 'Baby' to her family and 'Baby Gumm' when performing, Judy performed as one of the Gumm sisters with her elder sisters Mary Jane and Dorothy (also known as 'Susie' and 'Jimmie').

The daughters of vaudeville artists, it was perhaps no surprise that the girls would have significant talent in their own right and form their own act.

Early career

From the moment she sang 'Jingle Bells' in a Christmas concert whilst still a toddler, Judy Garland was destined to become a celebrity. The Gumm Sisters, with their mother as their manager, were appearing in films before the end of the 1920s. They had a movie career in their own right, appearing in The Big Revue (1929), A Holiday in Storyland (featuring Judy's first onscreen solo), and The Wedding of Jack and Jill, both in 1930.

Changing their name to the Garland Sisters at the Chicago World Fair in 1934, Frances adopted the more grown-up and glamorous 'Judy', rapidly showing the kind of star quality that would lead her to become a solo act the following year, and sign a contract with MGM at the tender age of 13. Her beloved father died the same year.

Her career didn't go smoothly at MGM at first; they had no idea what to do with a 13-year-old singer. She wasn't a child, and she wasn't quite a woman. She was also very short and didn't fit the mould of the glamorous leading lady. The studio took the decision to put her in plain or juvenile clothing for most of her films and to promote a 'girl next door' persona. Unfortunately, this gave Garland a lifelong complex about her looks.

MGM persevered with her and paired her with Mickey Rooney in movies that were known as 'backyard musicals', and she had a hit paired with him in 1938 in Love Finds Andy Hardy with Rooney in the title role. The pairing was extremely popular, and they performed together in more Andy Hardy films.

Garland was still only a teenager and was being worked very hard. The studio also put her under pressure to lose weight even though she was still a child and still growing. She was given amphetamines to keep her awake and help her diet, and barbiturates to calm her down enough to sleep. Drug issues were to haunt Judy for the rest of her life.

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz 1939

Garland's real break-out movie hit was The Wizard of Oz in 1939. She was 16 years old and even less childlike than she had been three years earlier when MGM hadn't known what to do with her. She was the third choice to play Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz - Shirley Temple, established child star and under contract to 20th Century Fox was first choice but couldn't be released. Deanna Durbin was also unavailable. The prize fell into Judy Garland's lap.

However, Dorothy Gale was only supposed to be 10 years old, so dressed in figure-blurring gingham, Judy Garland had to age down rather than play her own age. Dorothy's look has become as iconic as everything else about the film.

A huge critical success, the film didn't start to make money until the 1940s after a number of re-releases. However, with The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland had arrived as a big MGM celebrity.

It would also - finally - mark her transition into adult roles, even though she was still only in her mid-teens. Now a truly bankable MGM asset, and with a special Academy Award for The Wizard of Oz under her belt, hits such as Strike Up The Band (1940) and Babes of Broadway (1942) quickly followed.

Till the Clouds Roll By

At the age of only 19, Garland married for the first time in 1941, to bandleader

Till the Clouds Roll by

and composer David Rose (probably most famous for 'The Stripper'). The marriage was over quickly, and they divorced in 1941, with Garland being forced into at least one abortion by both her husband and mother and also by MGM.

She married again in June 1945, to the director Vincente Minelli, shortly before filming began for the Jerome Kern biopic Till the Clouds Roll By. The film began with Kern's input, but he sadly died partway through filming. Since Kern had led a rather scandal-free life, this led to some artistic license.

The cast of the film is large and full of the kind of big star names that MGM musicals of the 1940s and 1950s were famous for. The cast includes music stars such as Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, and Angela Lansbury, with dancer Cyd Charisse, and underlines the depth of talent on the MGM roster at that time.

Till the Clouds Roll By is also notable for having several directors. Judy Garland's contribution includes the exquisite and poignant Look for the Silver Lining, a still of which is shown in this historical Judy Garland signed photo. Playing the part of Broadway legend Marilyn Miller, Judy Garland is absolutely radiant, being approximately five months pregnant with her daughter Liza Minelli at the time of filming.

Her art shines through in this number in particular, and the limpid quality of her singing and acting makes the camera fall in love with her. In addition, these scenes were directed by her new husband, and they have a very different feel to the rest of the movie.

 

WATCH JUDY GARLAND singing "Look for the Silver Lining" in "Till The Clouds Roll By":

 

Sadly, this marriage too was short-lived, and by the end of the decade, Garland was starting to become emotionally unstable and professionally unreliable. A little over a decade since the teenage Judy Garland had become one of the most famous movie stars of all time in The Wizard of Oz, MGM dropped her from their roster. The years of pills to get going and wind down had finally caught up with her.

Later Career

The Judy Garland Show

Judy Garland's third husband, producer Sid Luft, managed to help her pick her career up again, enabling her to star in her own show on Broadway and win a Tony Award in 1952. She even resumed her film career with A Star is Born (1954). Judy Garland spent most of the 1960s singing rather than acting, and even with her own television program, The Judy Garland Show. In 1961, she managed another Academy Award nomination for Judgement at Nuremberg, and also a Grammy for Judy at Carnegie Hall.

However, her personal life was in as much trouble as ever. She divorced Luft in 1965 and married actor Mark Herron, a union that lasted only a few months. Appearances at The Talk of the Town in London in 1968 showed her to be in poor shape. The following year, she married club manager Mickey Deans, dying just three months later from an accidental overdose.

 

Memorabilia

The type of superstardom associated with Judy Garland means that even more than fifty years after her death, the market in memorabilia, particularly in autographed material, is still lively. A rare photo or poster, particularly associated with a hit film, can reach a very high price, and Judy Garland autographs are highly sought-after.

Her luminous talent and immediate connection with words and music mean that the memorabilia market for Judy Garland will remain popular for years to come as she gains new fans, even half a century after her death.

(By Zoe South for Tamino Autographs)

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