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The Tragic Life of Judy Garland

Ravi loves writing within the realm of relationships, history, and the bizarre—where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922.

Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm on June 10, 1922.

The Horrible Abuse of a Hollywood Superstar

One of Hollywood's best-loved films, The Wizard of Oz, has a dark history.

And the darkness and the tragedy have everything to do with the leading lady of the movie Judy Garland who played the character of the memorable Dorothy Gale. Although the movie made her a Hollywood superstar, it also made her a helpless drug addict, battling an addiction to sleeping pills and amphetamines her whole life. She finally ended her life at 47 years with an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.

As she admitted in an interview, she was the typical example of a wasted life as the Hollywood showbiz machine's by-product.

"Do you know how difficult it is to be Judy Garland? And for me to live with me? I've had to do it — and what unkinder life can you think of than the one I've lived?"

Her complex character with the difficult, tragic nuances in her life was beautifully played by the famous actress and singer Renee Zellweger in the 2019 biographical drama film Judy based on the life of the American actress. The movie earned Renee the nomination for the best actress award and forced the world to notice the horrible abuse of child superstars in Hollywood.

Early publicity photo for Judy Garland

Early publicity photo for Judy Garland

The Wizard of Oz: Judy's Big Break

Born Frances Ethel Gumm, Judy Garland came from a showbiz family. She was already performing at the age of four and was quite well known by the age of 7, thanks to an overambitious, dominating mother who wanted stardom for her at any cost.

The family moved to California in 1926 in search of greater fame for the Gumm sisters, who had been renamed the Garlands for better "Hollywood orientation," as the mother called it.

At 13, Judy got her first big break with MGM, one of the world’s biggest film studios. And at 16 years, she was selected for the role of Dorothy Gale in the iconic movie The Wizard of Oz. It was the kind of stardom everybody dreams of, but very few achieve. For Judy, though, it was the start of a life of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, the scars of which remained until her death.

Dorothy and Toto, an iconic American duo

Dorothy and Toto, an iconic American duo

Judy Garland, Hollywood & Drug Addiction

The MGM bosses were reportedly "very worried" about her weight and used to call her a “fat little pig with pigtails.” She was put on a strict prisoner-style diet, and her food intake was severely restricted and monitored closely. The studio people insisted she only gets chicken soup, black coffee, cigarettes, and lettuce to maintain her weight, no matter what she ordered.

And along with the limited food, a cocktail of drugs was given to her to reduce her appetite and also help her cope "energetically" with a brutal 18-hour-long, six-day working week. Known as "pep pills" in the industry, these drugs stretched her to the limit for the studio, destroying her heath in the process.

And it wasn't long before she was caught in a never-ending cycle of taking drugs to get through the days and sleeping pills to switch off at night.

Haunting portrait of Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale

Haunting portrait of Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale

Judy Garland, Hollywood & Sexual Abuse

Along with the drug abuse came the blatant sexual abuse.

According to her husband, Sidney Luft, Judy was often groped by male actors playing munchkins during the making of the movie. As he writes.

"They would make Judy’s life miserable on set by putting their hands under her dress. The men were 40 or more years old."

Even the studio bosses did not spare her as executives of the studio blatantly demanded that she have sex with them. She was just 16 at that time, and the men were debauched, powerful people with deep pockets and deeper influence. She eventually told them to stop these advances as she became famous, but she started getting threatening messages by doing so.

"I'll ruin you, and I can do it.”

"I'll break you if it's the last thing I do."

It was the price a child paid for getting famous, the psychological scars of which tormented her throughout her brief life as she battled unsuccessfully with drug addiction, depression, and diseases ravaging her body.

Judy Garland: Death by Overdose

Toward the end of her life, Judy had lost a great deal of weight. She attempted a late-career comeback in London, but she was already suffering from numerous health issues that bogged her down. Her obituary in the LA Times lists her illnesses as

“Hepatitis, exhaustion, kidney ailments, nervous breakdowns, near-fatal drug reactions, underweight, and injuries suffered in falls.”

On the morning of June 22, 1969, Judy collapsed in the bathroom of her London house. The death was ruled as an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. As her daughter, Liza Minnelli, said later about her mother in an interview with Time magazine.

“She let her guard down. She didn’t die from an overdose. I think she just got tired. 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.”

Judy Garland, the iconic actress, finally gets relieved of her wretched earthly life as she leaves behind a mountain of debt, empty pill bottles, and a tragic legacy that could have been truly magical.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Ravi Rajan