"The Queen of tragedy": How Judy Garland became Hollywood's most famous victims.

The following contains mention of suicide and self-harm. For 24-hour crisis support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

A whole new generation of moviegoers are currently being introduced to Judy Garland, 50 years after her death. The film, Judy, starring Renée Zellwegger, immortalises what would become some of the silver screen legend’s last performances; a five-week concert run at London’s Talk of the Town nightclub.

It captures the twisted legacy of her decades in the entertainment industry; the rapturous applause, the internal struggle, the addiction and fraught relationships she had with herself and others.

Watch the trailer for Judy starring Renée Zellwegger as Judy Garland. Post continues after. 

Video by Roadside Attractions/LD Entertainment

As one critic wrote of those concerts at the time, “she evokes pity and sorrow like no other superstar…in her we see the broken remnant of a gaudy age of showbiz.”

This is how little girl from Minnesota became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. And one of its most famous victims.

How Frances Gumm became Judy Garland.

Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm to a theatrical family in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in 1922. Her parents put her on stage from the age of two-and-a-half, where she performed alongside her sisters, Mary Jane and Dorothy.

Touring a vaudevillian act under the name The Gumm Sisters, the trio caught the eye of singer and producer, George Jessel, who convinced them to change their surname to something a little more glamorous: Garland.

Frances adopted a new first name shortly after. And Judy Garland was born.

But behind costumes and curtains, things were far from glitzy in the Gumm household. The family had been forced to move to California in 1926, fleeing rumours that Judy’s father had attempted to seduce male ushers at his movie theatres.

Condemned to a closeted life, he purchased a new theatre and started over while his wife, Ethel, took control of managing The Garland Sisters with a view to getting them on the silver screen.


Judy said it was her mother, with her ruthless ambition, that engineered her ultimately destructive career; for this, she once described Ethel as “the real Wicked Witch of the West”.

Judy as a child. Image: Getty.

"The only time I felt wanted as a kid was when I was on stage, performing," she told TV Radio Mirror in 1963. "The stage was my only friend, the only place where I felt alive and comfortable and safe."

Fake teeth and force-fed drugs.

Movie studio MGM spotted and signed Judy when she was just 13 years old. Her singing talent was undeniable, but she didn't fit the mould of the classic Hollywood starlet; too young to be a lead, too old to be the adorable child star. She was 'the girl next door' in an era of bombshells.

For her early roles, Judy was made to wear caps on her teeth and prosthetic pads to reshape her nose. The boss of MGM even reportedly referred to her as "my little hunchback".

The studio eventually found its winning formula when they paired Judy with Mickey Rooney for the Andy Hardy films in the late '30s and early '40s.

"Judy was the big money-maker at the time, a big success, but she was the ugly duckling," director Charles Walters later said in the documentary, Judy: Impressions of Garland. "I think it had a very damaging effect on her emotionally for a long time. I think it lasted forever, really."

It was then, aged just in her mid teens, that Judy said her addictions began.

Judy and Mickey Rooney in Andy Hardy. Image: Getty.

These days, there are laws and regulations in place to protect children working in the film industry, to ensure they receive adequate time off for their education and for rest. In Judy's day, there was not.

She claimed that she, Mickey Rooney and other child actors were fed amphetamines to keep them alert for long days on set, and then dosed with barbiturates to put them to sleep.

Shuffled between set and the studio classroom, she had little time for friends. "My life was a combination of absolute chaos and absolute solitude," she said, according to The New York Times.

Judy's food was also restricted, reportedly at the order of the studio boss who wanted her to "reduce". According to TIME, she once attempted to order a regular lunch at the studio canteen, only to be brought a bowl of soup by staff.

During filming on her biggest success, The Wizard of Oz, at age 17, she was forced into corsets, had her breasts taped down and survived largely on a diet of chicken soup and cigarettes.

Five marriages, and a downward spiral.

Judy was just 19 when she married her first husband, composer and conductor David Rose, 12 years her senior. She fell pregnant shortly after, but was forced by her mother to have an abortion for the sake of her career. The marriage lasted just three years.

Her second marriage was to Vincente Minnelli in 1945, who directed her in the musical classic, Meet Me in St. Louis. The couple had one child together, Liza, who would go on to forge a legendary stage career in her own right.

But over the next few years, Judy's personal life crumbled. After separating from Vincente (whom she later claimed was gay), she threw herself into her career, leading to exhaustion and ultimately a nervous breakdown that saw her institutionalised and even attempt suicide.


Stevie Phillips, Judy's former agent, witnessed the actress self-harm several times: "Sadly," Stevie wrote in her book Judy & Liza & Robert & Freddie & David & Sue & Me, "she was the queen of tragedy."

Judy and Vincente with Liza. Image: Getty.

When Judy returned to work, she was unreliable, flaky, a shell of her former self. Her doctor demanded she be given days off, she failed to show up for filming and delayed production on multiple movies. After being forced to replace her on three films by 1950, MGM terminated her contract.

In depths of it all, Judy met and married her third husband, Sidney Luft. As well as being her partner and giving her two children, Sidney became her manager and engineered her comeback with an Oscar-nominated performance in the 1954 film, A Star is Born.

At their divorce proceedings in 1965, after 11 years of marriage, Judy accused Sidney of domestic abuse and alcohol dependence, and ultimately won custody of their children, Lorna and Joey.

A short-lived marriage to nightclub owner Mark Herron followed that year, before she met Mickey Deans, when he delivered drugs to her hotel room in New York in 1966. They married in London three years later, in March 1969. He was 12 years younger than her.

Death of a legend.

Decades of drug and alcohol addiction plagued her mind and her body. In the late 50s the press noticed her drastic drop in weight, and in 1959, she was diagnosed with acute hepatitis and liver problems.


Through her depressive episodes, her children were her only solace.

As TIME wrote in an article about Liza's storied life, “Saving Judy became one of her chores, like washing the dishes or sweeping the kitchen floor. Once a week, she and Lorna would sit down and empty out three quarters of Judy’s sleeping capsules and refill them with sugar.”

Fans packed out Carnegie Hall to see Judy perform. Image: Getty.

Still, Judy somehow continued performing; from a legendary 1961 comeback show at New York's Carnegie Hall, to a critically panned tour of Australia in 1964 and her infamous London nightclub concerts. The shows too, were like medicine to her; a way to heal her wounded spirit.

She told TV Radio Mirror in that '63 interview, "Every time I get before an audience, I'm suffering inside, certain I'll goof. And when I hear the audience applaud and feel that they mean it, I want to cry, the happiness hurts so."

Months after Judy's final performance, Mickey Deans found his wife of three months dead in the bathroom of their rented London home, a fatal dose of sleeping pills in her system. She was 47 years old.

“She let her guard down. She didn’t die from an overdose. I think she just got tired,” her daughter Liza Minnelli told TIME in 1972. “She lived like a taut wire.

"I don’t think she ever looked for real happiness, because she always thought happiness would mean the end.”

Lifeline: 13 11 14.