July Garland was a decorated American actress who passed away in the late sixties, but just how young was she when she appeared in The Wizard of Oz?
When Judy Garland took the lead role in the iconic and timeless Wizard of Oz, she was just 17 years old. It wasn’t her first role, but it was the one that propelled the teenager into overwhelming stardom.
Read on to learn more about the legendary actress that was Judy Garland.
There’s No Place Like Home
Garland was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Her birth name was actually Frances Ethel Gumm, which she and her sisters decided to change as early as 1934. They decided to adopt a name that sounded more ‘theatrical’.
She was introduced to acting at a very young age. Arguably, everyone at the time was being ‘introduced’ to acting, given that it was the middle of the 1920s. She performed with her sisters, working at their craft and forming a vaudeville trio.
Her cutesy appearance and outward charisma earned her a fledgling contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. They were one of the biggest production companies at the time, and the deal spelled great things for Garland.
She enjoyed some success on stage with her sisters, particularly at the Oriental Theater in Chicago. However, it would be her earliest years with MGM that secured her fame and fortune. It was the trio’s vaudeville act that actually gained Judy her discovery. She was instructed to audition for MGM, performing sound, and screen tests.
Unfortunately, the studio originally had some issues with Garland’s appearance. They claimed she was diminutive and not at all glamorous. In an attempt to combat this, they ordered her to cap her teeth, and wear prosthetics to alter the shape of her face. Reportedly, the studio tried to adopt a ‘girl-next-door’ image for the young Garland.
The earlier years in the spotlight led to difficulties for Garland. Her childhood and teenage years certainly weren’t without struggle. When she was just thirteen years of age, her father passed away from meningitis. Reportedly, there were also drug issues as a youth – brought on by the studio themselves.
Allegedly, MGM ordered their stars to consume prescribed amphetamines, to propel their performances. Conversely, they were issued barbiturates to combat the hyper-active effects of the amphetamines. It’s important to remember that almost one hundred years ago, these drugs were not illegal, and were commonly prescribed.
On To The Yellow Brick Road
Arguably the biggest film of Judy Garland’s career, The Wizard of Oz propelled her to worldwide acclaim. The movie was still setting records as late as 2019, with reruns occurring in cinema to a great reception. In fact, Fathom Events re-ran the movie on a five-day sprint in 2019 and grossed over two million dollars.
The film itself grossed $26 million at the box office. In 2020, this would have been worth almost half a billion dollars, owing to inflation. Judy Garland was just seventeen years old when the movie was made, but she was already well on the way to near eternal fame. When she was cast, she was only sixteen years old.
Although she wasn’t the first pick for the lead role of Dorothy, she played the part to perfection. Shortly after the film was released, Garland embarked on a nation-wide promotional tour with MGM. They wanted to push this film for all it was worth, something which had a tiring impact on Garland.
Reportedly while filming, MGM pushed the young actress even harder. They ordered her to keep an unbearably strict diet to retain her slim figure. Allegedly, they provided her with tobacco in order to keep her appetite suppressed. She ultimately received a ‘youth’ Academy Award for her portrayal of Dorothy, and by 2020 would be just one of twelve stars to receive one.
You can see an early clip from the movie below, on YouTube.
Gone Too Soon
It’s a deeply tragic truth, but the treatment Garland had received from MGM set her on an irrevocable path. She had spent many years being supplied with drugs and toxins, both to bring her up, and calm her down. The impact of these drugs lingered for the remainder of her life, and she never escaped the substances.
Ultimately, the cause of her death was an accidental overdose of barbiturates. In 1969, while in London, she died after consuming high doses of drugs consistently over a long period of time. She was just forty-seven years of age.