Judy Garland (Born Frances Ethel Gumm)
Born 10 June, 1922
Grand Rapids, MN
Died 22 June, 1969
(excerpted from the book Minnesotans in the Movies, generously provided by author Rolf Canton and Nodin Press.)
Without a doubt Judy Garland is the greatest contribution to Hollywood history of all artists of Minnesota birth. “Baby” Frances Gumm was in show business as a toddler as part of the Gumm Sisters, an act which played the vaudeville circuit in the later 1920’s to the mid 30’s. She spent her first four years of life in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, before moving to California in 1927. Upon arriving in California her mother became one of the the biggest stage mothers of all times, a fact which Judy hated. We audience members, however, still reap the benefits of Mrs. Gumm’s brass and gumption.
Judy’s parents were Frank Avent Gumm and Ethel Marion (Milne) Gumm. Her oldest sister was Mary Jane, who went by the name of Suzy and the middle sister was Virginia, who was called Jimmy. Until she took the name of Judy, she was called Baby Gumm instead of Frances. She was born with scoliosis, a lateral curvature of the spine.
Wayne Martin interviewed Judy in 1960. The following are excerpts from his article, “Judy Garland on Life in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.”
About Minnesota: “It’s a swell state, Minnesota. I’m proud it’s my home, and I know a few hundred thousand of us who feel the same way. We’ve got to pull together, we Minnesotans, for just one more duration, that’s all. Here’s love and good luck.
“I do remember it was terribly happy, terribly happy, and possibly the only kind of normal, carefree time in my life, and that was for only three years. At the very beginning, I can go back to that time, you know, and I remember my mother and father. My father owned the (New Grand), a little theatre in Grand Rapids. We had a lovely house and he was very successful. That had happened since he had married my mother, and when they found they were going to have a family, they settled down in Grand Rapids, and we bought a theatre. My mother used to play the piano at the theatre, and sometimes my dad would hire someone else to play the piano for silent movies. We lived in a white house with a garden, and I remember I went back there when I was about sixteen for the first time, and as I recalled it was so big, and you know how it happens when you go back years later, and you find out it wasn’t big at all. Otherwise, it was very attractive. It’s a beautiful town, beautiful town. Grand Rapids is right in the middle of the iron ranges of Minnesota, surrounded by lakes
“I remember the snow. I remember also my grandfather and my grandmother lived in Duluth. We used to take train rides, the three kids and my mother, and go visit my grandmother and grandfather. Grandmother would meet us at the train with taffy to be pulled - we’d have a taffy pull. My grandmother used to let me drink tea at her house - it was always green tea. Her name was Fitzpatrick, my mother’s mother. Her maiden name was Milne, but her name was Fitzpatrick, Eva.
“There was a lake, a Lake Pokegama … We use to go there in the summertime. I can remember vaguely my father and mother taking me and the two girls to swim in Lake Pokegama. I remember one time I couldn’t swim, and my oldest sister, I think it was, Mary Jane (Suzy) or Jimmy, carried me out into the water, stumbled, and dropped me, and there was a great fuss because I was scared, and I got wet, and the whole family gathered around.
“My two oldest sister used to steal cherries. There was one man who grew cherries someplace in the summertime. They’d take their wagon, you know, they had a wagon, and they’d go and steal cherries. Anyway, they’d steal the cherries, and one night they got stuck with me. They had to take care of me, so they took me with them, and I guess I was awfully little, because I couldn’t walk too well, you know. I was just barely sort of walking, and they got all the cherries in the wagon, and the fellow came out and yelled at them, so they just slammed in the wagon on top of the cherries and ran off. I looked like cherry pie when I got home.
“But then sometimes in winter, when my dad would be at the theatre, and my mother would be playing the piano, we would go out into the snow. I remember there was always a great big can of Thompson’s Malted Milk, I think was the name of it, and it was just stuff you mixed in a malt, chocolate malt. My older sister took care of those two younger sisters, and we’d go out in the snow, and we’d make angels. We’d lie down and we’d do like this, with your arms, like a bird, and you’d get up and it looked like an angel. Then we’d all go in the house and and have hot milk and that Thompson’s cocoa, and I just adored that.
“Everything I can remember about Grand Rapids has charm and gaiety, you know, and I remember when I - the first time I can remember singing when anyone took any notice was, my father was playing the piano, and I had a little girlfriend I don’t remember her name but she was so small, she couldn’t have been more than two, and he taught us to sing, ‘My Country, T’is of Thee’, and he had an upright piano at home, and he played it, and he conned my mother and sisters into listening to this little girl; and I was terribly proud because they said she was good, you know. Baby. Baby Gumm.
“I really remember a white dress that my mother made for me too, uh- and that was the first dress I appeared on stage in, in my father’s theater. There’s a picture of it. You’ve seen that picture of a little white sort of net dress. I can remember her making that dress. Really.
“But evidently they told me later the trouble started when I was going to be born, and they didn’t want to have another baby. My mother didn’t want to have another baby because I was five years after the other two, and there was a great deal of dissension about that, because my father wanted her to have a baby; but she didn’t want to have a baby, so there was a lot of tension. But after I was born - (I think they were planning on a boy, at least they had a letter written, only it was another girl) 0 and then it got, things got all right again. Because what I recall was lovely.
“The only thing I recall that was very painful when I was little in Grand Rapids was terrible ear trouble. I lived my life with earache, and I’d have to go to the doctor. In those days they lanced your ear, and they [didn’t] give you anything for it, and they just carried you down [to] sit in the house and lanced your ears, and you screamed bloody murder, you know. Then, I used to sit at home with great socks full of salt. You know, they’d take socks and fill socks with salt and heat them, an old remedy. They’d tie two socks over your ears. You’d look like a cocker spaniel. And I did have a little trouble with hearing when I was a kid, because of so much ear trouble.
“That’s about the only unpleasantness I can remember. Everything else was lovely.
“Then I remember snow fights, snowball fights in the back of my grandmother’s house, and I know my older sister was just wonderful to me, because they let me come out into the fight. They’d build forts, and they’d have one gang on one side and on behind the other fort. And they’d throw snowballs. You’d look up, and if anybody got popped with a snowball it counted against you, I guess. And they never let me in them.
“But finally my older sister said one day, ‘Well you can come.’ So I got into the snow with them, and I was so thrilled! You know, to be with the older kids, and all. I looked up once, and a kid named Bernard something-or-other threw a snowball with a rock in it, and it conked me. Well, my sister took out after him and just beat the dickens out of him, you know? And threw tin cans at him, and took me in her arms, and babied me - it was one of those - Now those are the kinds of things I remember.
“Anyway, for such a mixed-up life later, it started out beautifully.
“Then at one point, I don’t remember how, exactly - my sisters would remember this, I imagine - there was a show at my dad’s theater, and I was two. And it was Christmas time. And I had this white dress my mother made for me for something, and I was sitting on my grandmother’s lap in the audience, and my two sisters were on the stage. They were ‘old pros’ by then. They’d been appearing in the theater, for years. And my grandmother pushed me off her lap and said, ‘Go on, get up on the stage.’
“So I went to my mother, who was in the pit, and asked her if I could sing, and she said, ‘Not tonight, but next week.’ Evidently they had these once a week.
“Anyway...part of it, we went home, and she made this white dress. And they taught me ‘Jingle Bells’ to sing on the stage.
“So I remember going on the stage with the show. And then I sang “Jingle Bells,” you know. And our group was run in a circle. And everybody started to say it was good, I liked it, and I just stayed there, and stayed, and I sang one chorus after another, and my mother was howling with laughter, but she kept playing, and my father was in the wings saying, ‘Come on! (you know, get off), and I couldn’t hear my father. I guess I fell in love with the lights and the music, and the whole thing. Anyway they couldn’t get me off. I must have sung about nine choruses of “Jingle Bells.” My father finally came out and got me over his shoulder as I wanted to go on still singing “Jingle Bells” into the wings, trying to get the last... and I was a big hit. So then it became ‘The Gumm Sisters.’
The following paragraphs are from a Joey Adams interview. His article, “The Real Me” appeared in McCall’s Magazine in April, 1957.
“I loved my father. He was a wonderful man with a fierce temper, a great sense of humor and an untrained but beautiful tenor voice. He ran away from home when he was ten and joined a minstrel show. He met my mother, Ethel Milne, when he was singing in a Wisconsin theatre where she was the pianist. They toured vaudeville together as ‘Jack and Virginia Lee, Sweet Southern Singers.’
“My father had a special kind of love for me, the youngest of his three daughters. At night before he went to the theatre, I used to crawl up onto his lap in a white flannelette night suit while he sang ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Nobody Know de Trouble I’ve Seen’ for me. It was a bedtime ritual in our house for Daddy to get me ready to sleep, and it was one I loved.
“My first two Christmases I slept in a dressing room while the rest of the family was on stage performing, but by my third year I was old enough to be jealous of my sisters, and I wanted to get into the act, too. My mother told me to sit quietly in a box during the performance, but she should have known better. The minute my sisters went on, I marched right out onto the stage. Whatever they were singing, I’ve forgotten, but I paid no attention anyhow and launched into ‘Jingle Bells’, the only song in my repertoire. I sang five straight choruses before Daddy carried me off the stage. From then on I was part of the act.
“Later we split up, Dad and Mother in their act and we three girls in ours. We always followed each other, so that when Dad and Mother were on stage we would sit in the audience and applaud and when we went on they would do the same for us. This is how I learned that it takes only one friend to start the applause rolling.
“One thing that always brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes was Dad’s introduction of Mother as ‘a tiny, pretty lady with pretty, tiny hands.’ I don’t know what it was about that introduction, but even as i write these words I have tears in my eyes.
“In 1927 Dad bought a theatre in Lancaster, California, on the edge of the Mojave Desert. The entire family made one-night stands along the road west. Those days I’ll never forget. Because I was the smallest. I stood between Sue and Jimmy, and when I thought things were too dull I would tickle or pinch them. Sometimes we’d laugh so hard that we had to run off stage before we were finished. Though we worked a lot we were poor in those days, and I can remember when it was my turn to cook trying to make dinner for the family out of two eggs and a moldy loaf of bread. I would just scramble the eggs to make them go further and we’d do without the bread.”
Lancaster was seventy miles north of Los Angeles. Ethel took her girls to Audition all the time but nothing came of it so they signed with the Meglin School for Kiddies, a talent agency specializing in child acts. Between 1929 and 1931 Meglin put the girls in four short subjects:
The Big Revue (1929), The Wedding of Jack and Jill (1930), A Holiday in Storyland (1930) and Bubbles (1930).
They were booked to play the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934, and that they had been billed on the marquee as the ‘Glum Sisters’ rather than the ‘Gumm sisters.’ The master of ceremonies, George Jessel, remarked that it made no difference. “They both rhyme with crumb and bum,” he said. “Why don’t you change it?”
Jessel suggested they call themselves the Garland Sisters, after a friend of his, Robert Garland, who was drama critic of the New York World-Telegram. “We had never heard of Mr. Garland and we didn’t know what the World-Telegram was.” Judy later recalled. “But drama critics were important people, so we adopted the name.”
Judy herself took the name ‘Judy’ from the Hoagy Carmichael song that was popular at the time.
The years in Lancaster weren’t happy ones for Judy. The countryside was barren and harsh and so were the people. After almost a decade in Lancaster the family moved to Los Angeles.
Judy’s signing her firm contact with MGM on October 15, 1935, with a weekly salary of $150 - the basis of the family’s income. As a young employee of MGM, thirteen-year old Judy attended the Little Red School House for special tutoring in acting, singing, ect. Her classmates in 1935 were Mickey Rooney, Deanna Durbin, Frankie Darro and Baby Peggy (Montgomery). Later in 1936, Suzanne Larson (Susanna Foster) joined them.
Garland’s dad died of spinal meningitis now long afterward. At that point MGM took over her life. “When Mothe wanted to discipline me,” she later recalled, “all she had to say was, ‘I’ll tell Mr. Mayer.’”
“Life at MGM wasn’t exactly secure,” Garland observed. “Deana and I both were slated to be fired, and we knew it. Her option was up first, and as soon as it expired, Universal Pictures hired her. Then MGM discovered what a mistake they’d made letting Deanna go. So they decided to keep me on an exclusive contract, even though I wanted to go, too.”
Under the MGM regime Garland was forced to diet to retain her appeal. Unsure of how to showcase the plump starlet, the studio put her first in a short subject with Deanna Durbin, Every Sunday (1936). Next they loaned her to Twentieth Century- Fox to co-star in Pigskin Parade (1936), her first feature, thinking that if Judy and/or the movie failed, the blame could be placed on the rival studio. She wore pigtails and cover-alls and sang “Balboa,” a snappy swing song that went over really well. Judy’s star was rising.
Her next significant film was the Broadway Melody of 1938. Judy sings “Dear Mr. Gable” to a photo of Clark Gable on her dressing room table. The highly emotional delivery coming from the very adult voice of a very young woman captured widespread attention, and the scene ends on a warm and fuzzy note as Gable himself walks into the room and smiles.
Following this performance Judy launched into nine films with Mickey Rooney, some of them musicals in the Andy Hardy series.
And then came The Wizard of Oz.
Shirley temple was originally chosen for the role of Dorothy, but her studio wouldn’t release her. When judy was chosen she was thrilled. “I had dreamed of Dorothy since the days when my father read me the “Oz” series.”
It’s interesting to note that all the original selections for major part in The Wizard of Oz were replaced for one reason or another, including the witches, the wizard, the hired hands, and Dorothy. Yet we think today: how could it have been any other way? Seven directors worked on the movie, though Victor Fleming received the final credit. Following her success Judy was invited to dip her feet into wet cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and she also won a special Academy Award for Best Juvenile Actor in 1940.
Judy’s great signature song was “Over the Rainbow,” written by Harold Arlen. She once said, “The very first song to the score of “Oz” that they played for me was “Over the Rainbow.” “I was terribly impressed with Mr. Arlen’s genius and very much in awe of him. The song has become a part of my life... I have sung it time and again and it’s still the song that’s closest to my heart.”
Arlen always said the song came to him “out of the blue.” He and his wife were driving from their Beverly Hills home to a movie at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. They arrived at the spot where the original Schwab’s Drug Store was when this amazing, broad-lined melody came to him. He jotted it down and next day he wrote the middle and the bridge and presented it to lyricist, E. Y. (Yip) Harburg. Harburg didn’t like it at first, saying it was for Nelson Eddy maybe but not for a little girl from Kansas. Ira Gershwin though it needed a quicker tempo, which Arlen gave it. Then Harburg liked it and right away jotted down some lyrics. Yet, this song was extremely close to being cut out of the movie as the studio executives thought it dragged. In the it was producer Arthur Freed who saved it.
Margaret Hamilton made several observations in an interview with Gregory Catsos. When asked about injuries on the set, she said Toto was stepped on by a soldier and missed a few weeks of shooting, that both Toto and the trainer were near nervous breakdowns. She felt Bert Lahr was the most uncomfortable because his costume weighed seventy pounds. He seemed shy, quiet and terribly nervous. Billie Burke used her limousine to even avoid walking fifty feet. Jack Haley didn’t like small talk and kept to himself on the set whereas Ray Bolger never missed an opportunity to gain attention. After four months of filming and wearing the witch makeup, Margaret’s skin pores were clogged and she took on a green tinge from the copper in the makeup after shooting ended. Margaret did burn herself seriously with the fire set by by Judy’s landing in Munchkin land. She burned her right hand, chin and eyebrows. After that, she had a stand-in do her stunts, and Frank Morgan liked to take a nip from the flask he’d hidden on set.
Mervyn LeRoy said about Judy Garland, “She was a great talent and I felt that she was right for The Wizard of Oz part.” He added with a grin, “You know, the rule I always used is don’t take anybody you don’t think is right. Only take them if they know what they are doing. Garland certainly knew what she was doing and so did Victor Fleming along with rest of the cast and the crew.” When she asked what motivated him to produce “Wizard” LeRoy said, “It was a good story with good values.”
Deanna Durbin had a faster and brighter start in movieland than Judy and their early friendship fizzled after Deanna became the darling of Universal and Judy was known as “the kid we got stuck with when they let Deanna Durbin go.” Now Judy was on top. Knowledgeable observers noted early on that even though Deanna was cuter Judy could sing and act much more easily and better. Judy had stewed in 1938 when Deanna and Mickey shared the Academy Award for Best Juvenile Actor. Deanna had an early blooming. She married bandleader Artie Shaw, but weight problems and changes in music fashions brought about her retirement at age twenty-seven while Judy was still hot.
Yet Judy’s early years in Hollywood were far from easy ones.
“I think if it hadn’t been for Mickey I never could have lived through those days. It was he who gave me my first understanding what acting was all about. Although I’d been in vaudeville ten years, I’d never read a line. I thought my first pictures were terrible, until Mickey took me in hand. Just before we started my first “Andy Hardy” picture, he put his arm around me and said, ‘Honey, you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing. Make like you’re singing as though you meant it. Live the part.’ I followed his advice and began to sing the words as though they were my own. And when I did this, I began to understand timing, gestures and coordination. Most important of all, I learned to relax.”
In 1939 Mickey and Judy co-starred in the smash hit Babes in Arms, directed and choreographed by busby Berkeley. They followed it up with Strike Up the Band (1940), babes on Broadway (1940) and Girl Crazy, all of which reflect a world far removed from the cynicism of Berkeley’s great Depression musicals, For Me and My Gal (1942) with Gene Kelly, and Ziegfeld Girl (1941) but she didn’t like working for him - he worked her too hard.
In 1941, rebelling against both maternal and studio rule, Judy unexpectedly married bandleader David Rose, who was twelve years her senior. the relationship soon foundered and they divorced in 1945. Her next paramour/husband was Vincent Minnelli, who first directed her in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). Judy was twenty-two at the time and in top singing form. Among the film’s hit tunes are the title song, “The Trolley Song,” “The Boy Next Door,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Minnelli went on to direct Judy in The Clock (1945) (which proved she could act without the crutch of song and dance), The Ziegfeld Follies (1946) and in The Pirate (1948) pairing Judy again with Kelly. The couple also had a daughter, Liza, in 1946.
Besides knowing oodles of popular songs that were not movie related, Judy made certain songs her own be delivering it in a movie. In The Harvey Girls (1946) she sang “The Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Fe”, which won the Academy Award for Best Song. Easter magical film, full of Irving Berlin songs. (Astaire had been brought in when Kelly hurt his ankle.) She did a dynamite rendition of “Get Happy” in Summerstock (1950). No one else could have delivered a more emotionally forceful, happy song than Judy in her tuxedo-like suit with cutaway pants and fedora hat tipped jauntily over the eyes. Nervous exhaustion forced her out of filming Annie Get Your Gun (1950). She was scheduled to co-star with Howard Keel, who did very well in his part as Frank Butler. Betty Hutton replaced Judy.
When MGM allowed her to terminate her contract in 1950 after being unable and unwilling to do Royal Wedding (1952), her goal was reestablishing her credibility with A Star is Born (1954), produced by her new husband, Sid Luft, with Warner Bros. The film was hugely successful and it largely restored Garland’s respectability and star power. She was nominated for Best Actress and many people felt it was her very best performance. Her lead song was “The Man That Got Away” by Harold Arlen. James Mason was co-star.
With the film Judy felt she had demonstrated that her reputationas an unreliable peformer was no longer warranted. Yet during an interview at that time she observed “...my lack of stage education seems to have given me a great big inferiority complex, which I’ve never lost. I was never sure. I never knew when I was doing it right - and I still don’t. In the movies I never could be sure of how things were going until I saw the picture. And when I opened at the Palace Theatre in New York five years ago, I might have appeared confident and in charge of the situation. But the real me was suffering and writhing the whole time, certain I would be unable to sing a note, certain no would like me, positive that I was, as so many people had said, finished.”
In any case, new film offers were few and far between, and Judy set out on a successful concert career, both in England and the United States. Her 1961 recording “Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall” earned five Grammy awards and stayed on top of Billboards charts for two months.
Her television series (1963-1964) was a critical success, but had the misfortune to be scheduled against the popular Bonanza series, and it lasted only a year.
Garland divorced Luft in 1965. Two subsequent marriages were short-lived. She died on June 22, 1969, from an overdose of sleeping pills. It was thought to be an accidental suicide.
Little Frances Gumm, singing “Jingle Bells” on the stage in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, grew up to become one of the most widely-loved performers of her time. Producer Joe Pasternak once called her an “angel with spurs.” Director Melvyn LeRoy said, “That little girl’s vocal chords are her heartstrings.” And Bing Crosby summejd up the highs and lows of her life and career with the observation, “There wasn’t a thing that gal couldn’t do - except look after herself.
Judy Garland’s body lies in a large crypt in the main mausoleum at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. Some of the celebrities attending the funeral were Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Lana Turner, Laren Bacall, Sammy Davis, Jr., Patricia Kennedy Lawford, and New York City Mayor and Mrs. John Lindsay. James Mason delivered a touching eulogy saying, “The thing about Judy was that she was so alive. You could close your eyes and you see see a small vivid woman sometimes fat, sometimes thin, but vivid. Vivacity, vitality... that what our Judy had, and still has as far as I’m concerned.” Ray Bolger said, “Judy didn’t die. She just wore out.”