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The Dark Side of Hollywood: The tragic story of Judy Garland


The Wizard of Oz is recognised as one of cinema’s very greatest films, one which demonstrated the transition from old monochrome Hollywood to the promise of a new medium that embraced the vibrant world of colour. Its legacy on the history of cinema is certainly undisputed, with Judy Garland’s central performance as Dorothy sitting front and centre as perhaps the film’s most memorable aspects. Her character’s wishes of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ are iconic in representing the wish of every child for a fantastical life and a promising, fruitful future. Whilst this dream may have been conjured by Judy Garland for millions of children around the world, her own life proved to be one riddled with tragedy.

Born into a successful family, Judy Garland was brought into the world on June 10th, 1922, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, originally with the name Frances Ethel Gumm. From an early age, it was clear she was going to have a flourishing future, performing with her two sisters to create the dance troupe ‘The Gumm Sisters’ as they travelled around America to perform. At just the age of 13, Garland signed her first professional contract with MGM studios, with the promise of The Wizard of Oz on the horizon.

Though, before the impending production on the mammoth fantasy project, in 1938 she would star in Love Finds Andy Hardy with Mickey Rooney, sparking a relationship between the two actors that would last a lifetime. Though her time behind the scenes wasn’t as enjoyable due to the long hours on set she was given amphetamines to boost her energy, keep her awake and control her weight. This was shockingly deemed acceptable in a pre-war American film industry, where Garland quickly became hooked on the drugs and became dependent on yet more substances to help her sleep.

The same issues continued when it was time to shoot The Wizard of Oz, with the actress noting that “this was the beginning of her lifelong battle with drugs”, despite the actress being only aged 16 during the time of filming. In addition to Judy Garland’s studio-inflicted battle with amphetamines, she was also forced to go on diets where she ate nothing but cottage cheese and chicken soup due to industry fears over her weight, despite it being totally healthy. Outrageously, it was also reported that on the set of the film, director Victor Fleming slapped the actress for having trouble with a scene.

Allowing Garland to show off her acting and singing talents, The Wizard of Oz would catapult the actress even further into the public eye, even winning an Academy Award for her performance in the film. Shortly after her awards success, she was drawn towards more musicals, including 1940s Strike up the Band, 1942s Babes of Broadway, and For Me and My Gal in 1943 alongside Gene Kelly. Though outside of her career, her personal life was spiralling out of control.

At the age of 19, Judy Garland married for the first time to David Rose, though the relationship was short-lived, and was spiked by the shocking fact that her pregnancy was pressured into being aborted by her mother, husband, and even MGM studios. This quickly led the relationship to break down and Garland to spring a romance with director Vincente Minnelli instead, which too ended in tragedy when the actress discovered him cheating and she attempted suicide. 

Following a constant issue with drugs and alcohol throughout her life that stemmed from her time as a child actress, on the 22nd June 1969 Judy Garland tragically lost her life after an accidental overdose. Marked by pure industry greed, Garland’s story is an absolute tragedy that demonstrates the horrors of forced fame, particularly in early 20th century America. 

Fast-tracked through childhood, Judy Garland was unable to enjoy the frivolities of youth and was forced into crash diets and drugs from the pressure of her mother. During an interview, Judy Garland expressed her true feelings about her mother, describing her as “the real Wicked Witch of the West”. Whilst Judy Garland may have made it to the heights of the industry, but at what cost? Her story is a Hollywood tragedy that well reveals the venomous toxicity of the industry’s underbelly.