It’s difficult to reconcile the wide-eyed, innocent and pig-tailed image of Judy Garland with the person she became at the end of her life. The image many of us conjure up isn’t really Judy at all, but Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Judy is entirely different.
In her L.A. Times obituary, writers listed her illnesses as such: “hepatitis, exhaustion, kidney ailments, nervous breakdowns, near-fatal drug reactions, overweight, underweight, and injuries suffered in falls.” This is no surprise when you pull back the shiny curtain of show business and examine the life of this tragic legend.
Born in June of 1922, Frances Ethel Gumm was the child of two vaudeville actors. By the age of two, she found herself thrust on stage by her domineering mother. She was destined for fame, but it would be the furthest thing from easy.
Ohujapaksu / Youtube
Her life at home was a disaster from the start, with both of her parents engaging in rampant drug use and infidelity. All three daughters were pushed into performing at a young age. Practically chased out of their small town, the Gumm family made their way to California.
Bill Green / Youtube
Her mother’s obsession with getting Frances in the spotlight led her to keep the 10-year-old on a regiment of diet pills and sleeping pills. Amazingly, she was signed to MGM at her young age, where she continued to subsist on this pharmaceutical diet.
dpoppyman / Flickr
Early on, she was in an act with her sisters where she sold her family name to Hollywood. The Gumm Sisters became the Garland Sisters. It didn’t take long for everyone to notice Frances for her incredible singing talent.
When she changed her name from Frances to Judy, Judy Garland was born. Of her new identity, Garland saw it simply: “I don’t associate with Frances Gumm. I, Judy Garland, was born when I was 12 years old.” Incredible success was just around the corner.
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Her father passed away soon after she signed the contract with MGM, which left her under the sole supervision of her mother. Later, Garland would refer to her as “the real Wicked Witch of the West.” Before she was a teenager, she was working 15-hour days.
The MGM schedule was brutal, allowing her to fit in a few hours of school where she could. Garland had no control over her own life, including the food she ate or when she went to sleep. When she landed the role of Dorothy, things only got worse.
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Producers wanted Garland to look younger in the role, forcing her to lose weight. In addition to her constant dose of diet pills, she lived on chicken soup, black coffee, cigarettes, and amphetamines. As if that wasn’t enough, executives still wanted more.
Movie Clips / Youtube
The 16-year-old had her waist corseted and a prosthetic piece attached to her nose in order to change its shape. Sexual abuse was rampant on set, making Garland a constant target for propositions of sex, even though she was underage.
Movie Clip / Youtube
Powerful studio executives were among the men harassing and groping Garland. Her ex-husband, Sidney Luft, even claims the men dressed as munchkins would put their hands under her dress. Left powerless and completely to the devices of those around her, she had nowhere to turn.
WBMoviesOnline / Youtube
Her first marriage came when she was 19 and is often seen as a desperate attempt to escape her mother and the studio. David Rose was a 30-year-old composer, and their marriage didn’t last long after he forced her into an abortion. She married again in 1945.
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Her 6-year marriage to Vincente Minnelli ended when he had an affair with another man, but Judy had her first child with Vincente. Liza Minelli was born in March of 1946. Her next husband, Sidney Luft, resulted in two more children.
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Judy’s fourth husband, Mark Herron, was abusive toward her, so they ended their short marriage. Later, he would come out as gay. Even with four failed marriages, her final romantic venture would be the worst of all.
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By the time she was 10, much of her life revolved around medicating with pills. This trend only worsened with age. At times in her life, her drug habit would prevent her from working. Showing up late, if at all, with slurred speech and diminished capacity made her hard to book.
Joseph Sherry / Youtube
It wasn’t just drug and alcohol abuse. Garland suffered deeply from depression, anxiety, and a whole variety of other mental illnesses. This is no surprise based on the life she had lived. As the years went on, her thoughts got darker and darker as she made many suicide attempts.
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“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 more unkind life can you think of than the one I’ve lived?” she said in 1967. In the late ’60s, she made a big move.
She arrived in London with her young children to perform a series of shows. Even after all she had been through, she need only get on stage and open her mouth to captivate audiences with her perfect vibrato. Unfortunately, London didn’t solve her problems.
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Completely inconsistent in her performances, she would be booed and hit with objects by the audience on nights when she showed up late and intoxicated. Other nights, she might as well have been 16 again, with the audience eating out of the palm of her hand.
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Then something happened that many believed was the final nail in her coffin that had been left ajar, so close to closing for good so many times in her life. In 1966, Mickey Deans delivered drugs to Garland’s hotel room, and they hit it off.
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They entered a miserable marriage in which he medicated her and chased the fame she had. It was Deans who found her in 1969. She was slumped over the toilet, still holding her head in her hands. She had no pulse.
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The coroner’s report pointed to a accidental overdose of barbiturates. Frances, Dorothy, and Judy had sung their last song, and a generation mourned for the loss of one of the brightest stars of their time. Very bright, but at severe personal cost.
Judy Garland’s story takes the wind out of the common narrative surrounding old Hollywood. It seems the overly idealized time was actually bogged down in abhorrent practices that ruined the lives of so many young stars. Including the film star, Joan Crawford.
Gabriel Dorneles / Flickr
Nothing screams old-school Hollywood elite more than the name “Joan Crawford,” but it turns out that this was just her stage name. Her birth name, Lucille Fay LeSueur, just wouldn’t look the same in lights!
2. From the moment she was born, Joan only knew hardships. Her father abandoned both her and her mother who then married a man named Henry J. Cassin. Joan believed him to be her biological father for most of her childhood.
3. As a young girl, Joan loved to dance and twirl around her front porch…until the day she severely cut her foot on a broken milk bottle. She underwent foot surgery three times, but her dancing was never the same again.
4. Henry, Joan’s stepfather, abused Joan until she was sent to St. Agnes Academy in Kansas City. She stayed at the school as often as she could to avoid going home, and cooked and cleaned to cover the tuition.
5. Her first foray into the entertainment business was when she was cast in the chorus line of the Broadway show Innocent Eyes. By the end of 1924, she had officially signed a contract with MGM for $75 a week.
6. After a smattering of roles, Joan secured her big break in the 1928 film Our Dancing Daughters. The movie was a huge success, and even F. Scott Fitzgerald commented that Joan was the “best example of a flapper” in Hollywood.
7. The arrival of “talkies” threw much of Hollywood for a loop, but not Joan. Years before, in an effort to shed her Southwestern accent, she had taken elocution classes, which made her a go-to leading lady once sound was introduced to film.
8. It’s no secret that 1931 was the year of Joan. She starred in three of her most successful films with Clark Gable, who was dubbed the “king of Hollywood” at the time. Their on-screen chemistry was so palpable, many believe they were having a secret affair.
9. Though she was one of Hollywood’s favorite actresses in the 1920s and ’30s, the ’40s were another thing altogether. After a string of critical and commercial flops, Joan’s career started to go downhill, and it wouldn’t level out again until 1945.
10. Desperate for a comeback, Joan starred in the 1945 film Mildred Pierce — and the gamble paid off. The film is considered one of her best, and her role as the titular character helped her win her one and only Oscar.
11. With her sultry eyes and incredible talent, it’s no wonder Joan married (and divorced) many of Hollywood’s most eligible leading men: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in 1929, Franchot Tone in 1935, and Phillip Terry in 1942.
12. Surprisingly, Joan’s most newsworthy marriage came in 1955, when she married Alfred Steele. What made Alfred famous wasn’t his good looks or acting ability, but his business. He was the president of the Pepsi corporation, a title Joan briefly took after his death.
13. Joan is iconic for many reasons, but her style really stood out. Her signature shoulder pads, as designed by fashion designer Adrian, became so popular that Joan ended up starting a trend. The pronounced-shoulder look is now synonymous with the 1940s.
14. Along with a legendary acting career, Joan is notorious for her parenting skills. When her adopted daughter, Christina, suffered a ruptured ovarian tumor on the set of The Secret Storm, Joan “lovingly” offered to take over the role.
15. Mommie Dearest was a memoir-turned-film written by Joan’s daughter Christina. In the book, Christina described the emotional and physical abuse Joan inflicted upon her children, a claim that some of Joan’s friends disputed…but others corroborated.
16. Remember the iconic line from the movie version of Mommie Dearest? Joan’s insistence that there be “no wire hangers!” in her closet may have been true. She was not only a germophobe, but she meticulously organized everything and wrapped furniture in plastic.
17. Instead of starting a charity for a rare disease or social issue, Joan had more…constructive plans for her money. She reportedly covered the costs of over 390 plastic surgeries for people in Hollywood, though she denied doing so years later.
18. Joan wasn’t always the feuding, egotistical actress Hollywood makes her out to be. Apparently, she used to respond to every single fan letter she received with a personal, typewritten response and her own signature.
19. What else is Joan notorious for? Her decades-long feud with Bette Davis, of course! The American Film Institute named Joan the 10th Greatest Female Star of Classic Hollywood…but Bette was ranked #2. We wonder how Joan would’ve reacted!
20. Whose side are you on? Speaking of the duo’s legendary feud, Joan and Bette’s rivalry apparently started over the affections of Franchot Tone, Joan’s second husband. Bette once quipped that Joan “slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie.”
21. Besides her acting and unconventional parenting skills, Joan was also known for her excessive drinking later in life. She became a recluse as she aged, and she died of a heart attack in her New York City apartment in 1977.
22. Bette and Joan’s feud came to a head when they filmed Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. The making of the movie was tumultuous, as each actress sabotaged the other’s performance. Still, it lives on as proof of how dazzling Joan could be. Joan’s not the only actress whose life behind the scenes rivaled her movies either…
The Wicked Witch of the West is one of cinema’s most infamous and influential villains. Her frightening legacy has spanned decades and will no doubt span many more. But said legacy wouldn’t have been birthed without the acting skills of Margaret Hamilton.
The Wizard of Oz
Believe it or not, the animated actor almost didn’t get cast to play the Wicked Witch of the West. Boy, how the beloved film would’ve been different if Oscar winner Gale Sondergaard hadn’t declined the role out of fear of appearing “too ugly.”
It’s no spoiler that Hamilton secured her role as the iconic green witch, but it wasn’t a sure shot at the time. In fact, Hamilton was originally a single mom and kindergarten teacher with a dream of taking her acting skills past small stage productions.
Hamilton had the exact experience necessary to nail the role in the now emblematic Hollywood film, as she had already exquisitely transformed into the witch in a Cleveland stage adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s renowned children’s book. But did she have “the look?”
Unfortunately, Hollywood is a brutal land ruled by superficial precedence. Hamilton, with her protruding nose and pointy chin, was told several times she’d need plastic surgery if she ever wanted her acting career to be taken seriously. Thankfully, she never listened.
After playing many small villainous roles in community theater, as well as in the 1935 films Way Down East and The Farmer Takes a Wife, Hamilton auditioned for The Wizard of Oz. When Sondergaard shockingly turned down the role, producer Mervyn LeRoy took a chance on Hamilton.
Considering Hamilton’s experience teaching five-year-olds, she knew a thing or two about how a child’s brain works; and she used that knowledge to perfect the frightfulness of her character. Her bewitching cackle didn’t hurt, either.
The Wizard of Oz
Most would agree that LeRoy made the right decision. Margaret Hamilton proved to be a standout luminary in the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film. Lamentably, everything comes with a price.
The Wizard of Oz
While Judy Garland, who famously played Dorothy, harmed herself on set via excessive intake of barbiturates and amphetamines (which she was encouraged to take), Hamilton faced the dangers of her character’s dangerous stunts. Yes, she was her own stunt double.
The Wizard of Oz
One particular scene displayed the Wicked Witch escaping from Munchkinland in a scorching ball of fire. It was planned for Hamilton to drop down into a trap door before the fire spread onstage; however, a mishap caused to her to flail around, desperate to stay alive.
The Wizard of Oz
With her broom ablaze, set assistants rushed to rescue her, but they arrived a bit too late. Hamilton endured the pain of second-degree burns on her face and third-degree burns on her hand. Clearly, the entertainment industry’s safety procedures weren’t up to par back then.
Though the fire was halted, sadly, the crisis didn’t end there. See, Hamilton’s memorable green face makeup was copper-based, which could be fatal upon entering the bloodstream (nobody knew anything about safety in 1939). Since Hamilton had freshly exposed burns, it was a matter of beating the clock.
The Wizard of Oz
As crew members rapidly removed her makeup with rubbing alcohol, which no doubt seeped into her burns, the pain must’ve been insufferable. Hamilton required six long weeks to recover from the calamity, and when filming resumed, she wore green gloves to cover up scarring on her hands.
The Wizard of Oz
Hamilton was a good sport, as she refused to demand compensation for her injuries (though that was mostly out of fear of being deemed a Hollywood leper). After the nightmare debacle, producers did tame down the stunts on Hamilton’s behalf.
The Wizard of Oz
Though it took several years for The Wizard of Oz to reach its undeniable cult status, Hamilton’s mere 12 minutes of screen time made her a bonafide star. One little boy in particular couldn’t wait to meet his hero, the Wicked Witch of the West.
In 1969, Wizard of Oz oracle Paul Miles Schneider met Margaret Hamilton when he was just six years old, years after she melted into a pool at Dorothy’s feet. As an adult, he has fond memories of Hamilton’s warm personality.
Since Schneider’s grandfather was an executive at Warner Brothers, he had connections to set up a meeting with Hamilton. The two met backstage of the Lincoln Center revival of Oklahoma!, as Hamilton had revisited stage acting.
The New York Times
Schneider recalled having asked Hamilton a slew of questions, to which she answered patiently. “She did not treat me like a little kid, even at the age of 6,” he sweetly said. “She treated kids like people.”
Paul Miles Schneider
Though an adult Schneider wondered if Hamilton simply attempted to ease her sour reputation after scaring millions of children, their meeting led to a surprisingly personal intertwining. She kindly mailed the little one a signed postcard and agreed to be his pen pal for a school assignment. Aw.
Paul Miles Schneider
Film critic Ryan Jay also vouched for Hamilton’s endearing charisma, having reported “Everyone described her as so sweet and so approachable and so kind in her demeanor and personality. People of all ages wouldn’t believe it was really her until they asked her to do the cackle.”
Hamilton proved to be many things besides simply kind, as she was also understanding and empathetic. The not-so-wicked witch visited the cherished Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1975, sharing her personal analysis of the Wicked Witch of the West.
“[The Wicked Witch of the West] is also is what we sometimes refer to as ‘frustrated’ — she’s very unhappy because she never gets what she wants, Mr. Rogers. Most of us get something…that witch has never got what she wanted,” Hamilton said.
Mr. Roger’s Neigborhood
Despite all of her efforts to humanize the infamous witch, Hamilton eventually turned down offers to reprise her role, as she didn’t wish to perturb even more generations of children. The curse of having portrayed the Wicked Witch of the West followed Hamilton up until her death in 1985.
Hamilton had a fruitful acting career, having performed in 75 films and plays, yet she somehow made time to show her love for children. Whether it was her efforts as a Sunday school teacher, or her position on the Beverly Hills Board of Education, she adored working with children.
Though Margaret Hamilton may have struck fear in the world’s most vulnerable kids time and time again, she unquestionably touched their hearts, too. If she ever were to “get you, my pretty,” it most likely would have been to give you a warm hug.
Yes, Margaret Hamilton’s iconic portrayal of the Wicked Witch came at a price, but Judy Garland paid a heftier price subsequent to donning that pair of sparkly, red slippers. The pressure of Garland’s stardom weighed on her heavily, perhaps too heavily.
The Wizard of Oz
Frances Ethel Gumm was born on June 22, 10, 1922 in Minnesota. The youngest daughter of two vaudevillians, she was meant to entertain and loved singing and dancing from a very young age. No one who knew her doubted she would be a star someday…
Her showbiz debut came when she and her older sisters formed a singing group called The Gumm Sisters. While they performed mostly at their father’s own theater, they gained a fair amount of attention, and one important businessman took a particular interest in Frances…
Film producer, and co-founder of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios, Louis B. Mayer asked to hear Frances sing. He instantly fell in love with her voice and asked if he could work with her, to which Mr. and Mrs. Gumm agreed without hesitation.
Thus, Judy Garland was born. But just because Louis Mayer liked her didn’t mean she had an easy time working at MGM studios. Casting directors and film producers all across Hollywood deemed her too ugly for film and turned her away.
Nevertheless, in 1936, Judy booked her first feature film, Pigskin Parade. While her performance left the cinematic bigshots wanting for nothing, they called her a “pig in pigtails,” insinuating she needed to lose weight and change her appearance to meet Hollywood standards.
Things were looking up for Judy when she booked her most iconic role: Dorothy in the 1939 film The Wizard Of Oz. Her performance of “Over The Rainbow” touched hearts in all corners of the world, and it quickly became her signature song. But that wasn’t the only impact the movie had on her life.
Her career skyrocketed, and while this kept producers off her back for a while, it also paced her in a spotlight that no young teen could handle.
Behind the scenes, she was given drugs for weight loss, drugs for depression, and drugs to help her sleep. She quickly developed an addiction and became severely depressed, feeling isolated and unworthy.
Gerald Clarke, the author of her biography, stated that on top of all the criticism about her appearance, she was suffering from sexual harassment during her time at MGM. In her unfinished memoir, she wrote: “Don’t think they all didn’t try.”
At the age of 19, after having had several public relationships, Judy married songwriter David Rose, who was 12 years her senior. While Judy thought she finally found happiness, David seemed to regret his commitment from the get-go. He was the first of five husbands.
Still, not long after they wed, Judy became pregnant with David’s child. He didn’t want to have any children yet and urged her to have an abortion because becoming a young mother would “ruin the image of her innocence.” Heartbroken, she agreed, even though the procedure was illegal at the time.
If her mental health wasn’t in pieces by then, being pressured into having an abortion did the trick. Traumatized by the procedure, the harassment, and her time as a child star, Judy had breakdown after breakdown and was constantly in and out of mental hospitals.
So she finally walked away from MGM studios, much to the despair of Louis B. Mayer, who claimed he’d “fallen in love with her.” She wanted a break from her work, from the public, and from the criticism. She wanted to maybe even find love again.
And she did, in the form of director Vincente Minnelli. The two married, and she gave birth to her first child, Liza. It seemed as if becoming a mother gave Judy some relief from the chaos of her life, but of course, it brought on its own difficulties.
After she and Minelli divorced, Judy faced serious financial problems. She wasn’t working anymore, and now she had a family to support. It didn’t help that her agent stole from her and that her third husband gambled her savings away. Thankfully, she had a little help.
Her daughter Liza Minnelli had gained her own piece of fame and was now supporting her mother financially, but still, it was never enough. When Judy was feeling well enough, she sang in dingy bars for only $100 per night. But her stars were about to change once more.
Things seemed to finally look up when she returned to star in the movie A Star Is Born in 1954. She gave the role her all, and it restocked her bank account… but she lost the Oscar for Best Actress to Grace Kelly that year.
Giving up on the big screen for good, Judy returned to singing in clubs, where she met her last husband Mickey Deans. For a second, she seemed happy, but three months later, he would find her body in the bathroom of their London home.
The infamous Judy Garland overdosed on barbiturates — sedatives prescribed for anxiety and sleep disorders. It was 1969, and she had just turned 47. She was, however, not forgotten: 20,000 people lined up in the streets of New York for her memorial service.
While many superstars (like Frank Sinatra, Katherine Hepburn, and Bette Davis) grieved and spoke of her talent, it was Judy’s Oz costar Ray Bolger, a.k.a. the Scarecrow, who summed her troubles up perfectly: “She just plain wore out.”
While Judy felt alone in life, she wasn’t alone in her stresses: fame has worn down more than a handful of Hollywood’s greatest talents over the years. Even the strong-willed don’t always thrive under the spotlight.
Not unlike Judy, Barbra Streisand was also known for her acting, singing, and songwriting. And just like the Oz actress, she didn’t have an easy career, nor a simple life. She fought every day.
Born into a Jewish family from Brooklyn, New York, in the early ’40s, young Barbra grew up smack dab in the middle of the entertainment and business world. Still, she felt lightyears away from it all as her family was not well off.
Her parents both worked at a school, but her father died when Babs was only a baby. Without him, the family suffered huge financial stresses — something that would come back into play once Barbra’s career took off.
As a young girl, she attended public school in Brooklyn, where developed an interest in acting. While she may have dreamed of being recognized for her acting chops, her neighbors praised her stunning singing voice.
Despite a flubbed audition with MGM records (at age 9!) she recovered gracefully. At age 13, she recorded a demo tape, starting her career much sooner than most people would’ve imagined.
When she graduated from high school, it was time for Barbra to make a difficult choice: stay with her family and get a job to support them, or leave them behind and follow her dreams of being in the spotlight?
No more than a week later, she moved into an apartment in Manhattan, ready to pursue an entertainment career. She started as an usher for The Sound of Music, but the director of the show encouraged her to keep auditioning.
In September of 1960, she opened for comedian Phyllis Diller at the Bon Soir nightclub. This was important on two fronts: it was her first paid gig and she got to practice humorous banter in between songs.
Since she was still auditioning for Broadway roles, she finally got cast for the musical I Can Get It For You Wholesale in 1962. Although her part was small, she earned a Tony Award as Best Supporting Actress and instantly broke through in the industry.
Fast forward to the late ’60s and early ’70s, when Barbra Streisand was becoming a household name. Opportunities in the film, theater, and music industries appeared left and right. She even tied with Katharine Hepburn for Best Actress!
From 1969 through 1980, Streisand appeared on the list of Top Ten Money-Making Stars ten different times, and she was frequently the only woman on the list. Her highest-earning project? The 1976 remake of A Star Is Born of course.
Meanwhile, Barbra was also working on her career as a pop singer and stealing hearts across the globe. Her debut album, The Barbra Streisand Album, peaked in the top 10 and won her 3 Grammy Awards. It didn’t stop there.
As Barbra continued to shoot movies, record award-winning albums, appear on countless TV shows, and made millions on millions, her family grew bitter. After all, her mother had worked hard to keep a roof over her head, and Barbra left her in the dust.
“I think sometimes there are parents who don’t really like themselves,” Streisand said. “They don’t like their offspring either. My mother meant well. She loved me as best she could. She had dreams of her own, and she wanted to be a singer.”
Still, that may be exactly what drove Barbra to succeed the way she did. “I just couldn’t please her. But I owe her my career. It was painful on the way up. I was always trying to prove to her that I was worthy of being somebody.”
In an attempt to be the mom that her own mother wasn’t, Barbra fully supports her only child’s career in any way that she can. Her son, Jason – whose father is Elliott Gould – took after both parents and became an artist, writer, and film director.
“We sang together every night when I put him to sleep, so he knew lots of songs as a baby,” Barbra said. “I never heard him sing again until he was 15. I heard him hum through a closed door, and I said, ‘Jason, that is the most beautiful hum.”’
After getting remarried in 1998 to her current husband, James Brolin, Barbra finally felt as loved as she deserved. “People who have two parents who love them are very lucky. They are not left with a hole to fill. And it’s very hard to fill. You have to fill it with yourself eventually.”