Judy Garland: Highlights from Her Life and Career

This Sunday, the 66th Annual Tony Awards will honor the best in Broadway Theater. Actress Tracie Bennett is considered a front runner for playing Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow, a fictionalized account of the last days of Judy's life. The day of...
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This Sunday, the 66th Annual Tony Awards will honor the best in Broadway Theater. Actress Tracie Bennett is considered a front runner for playing Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow, a fictionalized account of the last days of Judy's life. The day of the Tonys, June 10th, also marks what would have been Judy Garland's 90th Birthday. Though End of the Rainbow focuses on Judy's darker days before her death on June 22, 1969, she had her share of triumphs that contributed to her legacy. Judy's life was a series of victories and losses, ups and downs. To celebrate Judy's birthday, here are 5 key triumphs from her life and career.

The Wizard of Oz After years on the vaudeville circuit as part of "The Gumm Sisters," Frances Ethel Gumm changed her name to "Judy Garland." Within the next year, Judy was signed to MGM, where Louis B. Mayer became both her greatest champion, as well as her fiercest critic. She performed all over Hollywood as part of the MGM stable, from radio shows to parties and benefits. Judy worked for MGM nonstop, and it eventually paid off when Louis B. Mayer bought the film rights to The Wizard of Oz. Production of the film was at times tumultuous, and many believe Judy lost and won back the role many times before she started shooting. Shirley Temple was considered for a time, with Judy considered too fat or not cute enough to play the role. However, once she was cast, directors George Cukor and Victor Fleming knew she was born to play the part. Her costars agreed, with Ray Bolger, who played Scarecrow, recalling that Judy held together the entire movie. Judy's performance as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz has become part of the memory of every child that sees the film. Her expressions of of wonder and amazement mixed with fear and hesitation strike a chord with audiences of all ages, especially during her performance of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow.". She's the center of one of the greatest fantasy films every made. Since the film's release in 1939, many new generations have fallen in love with the film all over again.

MGM Musical Career The Wizard of Oz made Judy a bonafide Hollywood star, winning her an Academy Award and making her one of the most in-demand child performers. She starred in a long string of musicals for MGM, including For Me and My Gal, Strike Up the Band, Ziegfeld Girl, and Presenting Lily Mars. No longer a child performer, she lost weight and presented a more adult image for her role as Esther Smith in the technicolor film, Meet Me in St. Louis. Through her performance in the film, she introduced "The Trolley Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," won rave reviews, and married her director, Vincente Minnelli. After her success with Meet Me in St. Louis, Judy encountered a string of setbacks that would eventually end her time at MGM.

A Star is Born After leaving MGM, Judy Garland returned to the stage to perform her act at the Palace Theater on Broadway. With the help of her then-husband, Sid Luft, Judy was soon cast in Warner Bros. remake of A Star is Born. Her reputation at Warner Bros. wasn't much different than it was at MGM; she was often late to set, fought with Jack Warner, and clashed with director George Cukor. The film was expected to continue Judy's long string of failures and setbacks. However, when the film was screen for studio executives, they knew the film was a success. Judy's performance won the best reviews of her career, and she was nominated for her first competitive Academy Award. In the film, she introduced yet another signature song, "The Man that Got Away."

Judy at Carnegie Hall The late 1950s were another tumultuous period for Judy. She gained and lost weight manically, was diagnosed with hepatitis, and struggled with bouts of laryngitis. She appeared often on stage and on television, with the results of her performance either winning praise or ridicule. Suffering drug and alcohol abuse, Judy had no idea what would happen when she took the stage at Carnegie Hall on April 23, 1961. Her performance is now considered by many to be the greatest night in showbiz history. After the concert, a live recording of the concert was released as the double album, Judy at Carnegie Hall, which won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Riding high on the success of the album, Judy was given a string of television specials and her own show, The Judy Garland Show.

Judy the Icon Though she had her fair share of troubles, Judy's raw talent and energy as a performer has made her one of the most enduring icons in the history of show business. Throughout her career, she had a rabid gay following that still exists decades later. Her songs, such as "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart," "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe," are now standards. Her life is often depicted in movies and plays, including Me and My Shadows starring Judy Davis, End of the Rainbow, and the upcoming Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland starring Anne Hathaway. Though Judy Garland had her share of troubles, there was no denying her natural gift, or her sheer desire to entertain.