It was the birthday recently of Judy Garland, who was one of the most remarkable of all the talented young American film stars from the 1930s and 40s. The story of her life has become a Hollywood myth -- the gifted child performer from the upper middle west (Grand Rapids, Minnesota), with the nondescript name (Frances Gumm), born into a vaudeville family and pushed into the spotlight when she was not quite three years old by her mother, Ethel, with her two older siblings in the Gumm Sisters Kiddie Act. Baby Frances would soon outshine her sisters and when the family eventually moved to California, in the late 1920s, where the movies were beckoning enterprising entertainment enterpreneurs, like her parents, her career really began to take off. She could sing, dance, and do amazing impersonations. The crowds loved her, and though she still performed with her sisters, she was becoming a solo act. By the time she was 12, she had a new name and, with it, a fresh, bubbly new personna -- Judy Garland. And by the time she was 13, the fabled, irrascible Louis B. Mayer had heard her sing, mumbled something, walked out of the room, and immediately signed her to a studio contract.
She caught the country's attention in Broadway Melody of 1938 with her versions of "Everybody Sing" and "Dear Mr. Gable," but she became America's darling in the movie she did later that year with Mickey Rooney, Love Finds Andy Hardy. She's just 16 when she makes the film, but she's playing someone much younger, Betsy Booth, the girl next door who has a crush on Andy Hardy but can't seem to get his attention because he thinks of her as a little kid.
And then, the next year, there was "the role." She was cast, over Shirley Temple, to play the lead in The Wizard of Oz. She's 17, already a little old to be Dorothy, already feeling the pressures from the grind of studio work, and she's trapped in a movie that is filled with catastrophes, large and small, beset by delays and a constantly changing cast of directors, and their different visions. It's the end of a long, long day, and she's done the song more than a dozen times by some reports. She's ready to cry out of frustration, to stomp off the set, to quit, and she's asked to sing it just one last time, and then it happens:
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Copyright 2005© John Cech
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Monday, 02-May-2005 10:55:15 EDT