By Martin Gleeson
Judy Garland’s rendition of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ was voted The Best Song of the twentieth century by the record industry.
Early start in Showbusiness
Garland was born as Frances Gumm in June 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Her maternal great-grandmother was Mary Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, who was born in Dublin in 1841. Judy also had Scottish and English ancestors. Her parents ran a movie theatre which featured stage shows.
From the age of 2½, Judy and her two older sisters, known as the Gumm Sisters, performed on the stage, while their mother played the piano.
The family moved to California in 1926 and the mother began working to get her 3 daughters into the movies. The three sisters made their film debut in 1929 and toured as vaudeville artistes. They changed their names to the Garland Sisters in 1934.
While she was only a teenager, Judy Garland was signed up with MGM. She appeared in over two dozen films, nine of them with Mickey Rooney.
‘The Wizard Of Oz’ was made in 1939 and in it Judy plays the lead as Dorothy Gale, a young girl from a farm a farm in Kansas. Judy sings three songs including ‘Over The Rainbow’. this film has been declared the most widely seen motion film in the USA. People still remember the characters from the film: Dorothy and her little dog Toto, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Wicked Witch of the East and her sister, Glinda the Good Witch and of course the wizard himself, Oz.
Little Nellie Kelly
On the following year (1940) Judy took the leading role in ‘Little Nellie Kelly. This film gave Judy her first adult role and she played both mother and daughter while she spoke with an Irish accent. The first of the three songs from the film was ‘It’s a Great Day For The Irish”. This song was written specially for Judy. Over the years, it has become an anthem for bands on St. Patrick’s Day parades around the world.
Another of Judy’s songs was ‘Singin’ In The Rain’. Surprisingly, this was some years before Gene Kelly starred in the film of the same name. Other great cinematic hits for Judy were: ‘Meet Me In St. Louis(1944), ‘Easter Parade’(1948) and ‘A Star Is Born’(1954).
Judy had a very successful career as a stage singer. In 1951, she began a four-month tour of Britain and Ireland. She performed in the Theatre Royal in Dublin for two weeks, staying in the Gresham Hotel. She sang to over 50,000 people and enjoyed Dublin throughly.
She regularly called into Mullingan’s Pub in Poolbeg Street and loved chatting to the locals.
Later in the year, she broke records for her concerts in the Palace Theatre in New York. In 1956, Judy earned a salary of $55,000 per week performing in the New Frontier Hotel, making her the highest-paid entertainer in Las Vegas.
Live performances and TV shows kept Judy busy in the 1950s. After appearing in a couple of Judy Garland special TV shows, in September 1963, her own ‘The Judy Garland Show’ ran for 26 weeks. It was nominated for four Emmy Awards.
Throughout her life, Judy suffered from low self-esteem and always looked on herself as an ugly duckling. Failed marriages, drink and drugs and financial problems with unpaid taxes were a feature of her life in Showbusiness.
She was very proud to perform in the London Palladium in November 1964 with her 18-year-old daughter, Liza Minnelli.
Judy made her last concert appearance in Copenhagen in March 1969 and on June 22nd, was found dead in her rented house in Chelsea, London. She had died from an accidental overdose of barbiturates. Judy was only aged 47. The world had lost a great star.
A film called ‘Judy’ is due to be released later this year. It is based on Judy Garland’s time in Britain, when she performed for 5 weeks in a run of sell-out concerts in London’s ‘Talk of the Town’ in early 1969.
The part of Judy is being played by Renée Zellweger. Playing opposite her is our own Jessie Buckley, the beautiful red-haired, talented singer and actress from Killarney. She plays the manageress of the ‘The Talk of the Town’ who became Judy’s assistant and carer in her final days.