There’s a lot we don’t know about Judy Garland since she never wrote an autobiography, but Judy Garland on Judy Garland; Interviews and Encounters, edited by Randy L. Schmidt (Chicago Review Press, 2014) is the closest we’ll ever get to a Garland memoir. It’s a collection of terrific articles about Garland through the years—including gems she penned herself.
In the book, a picture emerges that’s wholly different from the tragic myth that frustrated Judy herself. “People think I’m either a breakable Dresden doll or a wide-eyed Kansas teenager,” she said in 1963. “I haven’t been a teenager for a long time and if I were breakable, I wouldn’t be here now.” Indeed, we get to know a woman who was sensible, mature, grateful for her luck and her phenomenal talent, devoted to her children, and above all, hard-working. It’s all the opposite of how she died, in 1969, of an accidental sleeping pill overdose. Her demons may have ended her life, but they didn’t dominate it.
Here are 12 fascinating facts I learned about Judy by reading the books
- From age 12 (in 1934) through 26, she worked six days a week at MGM, with shooting sessions that lasted up to 72 hours long. Her movies grossed $250 million for the studio.
- She credited Mickey Rooney with teaching her how to act.
- She stood 4’11” and was left-handed.
- She had a serious teen crush on Clark Gable. The song “Dear Mr. Gable” (which she sang in Broadway Melody of 1938) wasn’t just an act. “I meant every word,” Judy said. Later, she was invited to sing the song at Gable’s birthday party. “Carole Lombard was there—and I soon realized that I didn’t have much of a chance when he already had such a glamorous woman in love with him . . . All I could do was look at Clark and think how much I liked him and wish that there were two of him, one for Carole and one for me.”
- She jumped on the WWII morale bandwagon early, and in 1941 became one of the first entertainers to sing for troops. It was a grueling job, involving as many as five concerts a day.
- She loved to write and did it well. Some of the best articles in the book are hers.
- She had a photographic memory for lines. “While I’m getting my makeup on, I read a scene over—and that’s it. I can remember as much as nine pages that way, sometimes for years.
- In 1962 she won an astounding five Grammy awards, including Best Solo Performance by a Female and prestigious Album of the Year for Judy at Carnegie Hall.
- Her 1964 television variety series fell to the ratings giant Bonanza.
- She died at 47. More than 22,000 mourners showed up to her funeral.
- She believed in an afterlife. “I don’t believe that there are golden streets in Heaven and the gingerbread grows on all the trees,” she said. “But I do believe that there is something afterwards. I find it hard to believe that there is such a place as hell.”
- She worked nonstop for 45 of her 47 years, making 32 feature films, 4 TV specials, a 26-episode television series, countless TV guest appearances, 100 singles, more than a dozen albums, and hundreds of radio shows. The book’s author estimates that Garland has entertained over a billion people, and that number continues to grow.
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Featured Image: The Gumm Sisters Left to Right: Frances Ethel (called “Baby”) later to become Judy Garland. Dorothy Virginia, and Mary Jane.