Dorothy Gale's ruby slippers will always be a part of Judy Garland's history, but the actor was so much more than munchkins, wicked witches, and that little dog, too. After hitting mega-stardom with her role in The Wizard of Oz in 1939, Garland led a life full of ups, downs, and controversy, including fighting the Hollywood studio system and finding her own identity in the mix of roles in which she was cast.
Thanks to Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga's remake of A Star is Born (Garland starred in the original) and a new flick, Judy, starring Renée Zelwegger, Garland's name is back in Hollywood's bright light. But few know that she had a life apart from the MGM studio system, the big-money productions, and her iconic singing voice.
In 1941, Garland married musician David Rose, and that same year she had an abortion because MGM and her mother reportedly didn't approve of her having a child. She had a second in 1943 after having an affair with actor Tyrone Power. (Garland and Rose divorced in 1944.)
Thanks to her girl-next-door image, Garland almost never got to play roles that involved sex appeal or any sort of grown-up glamour. It would be something that she fought against for much of her career, even though her biggest roles, like her leading turn in Meet Me in St. Louis, perpetuated her good-girl image.
When she took a role that was more serious or sophisticated, audiences didn't bite, and studios were reluctant to cast her in anything but what she was known for, like family-friendly fare. During all that, she had a daughter, Liza Minelli, with St. Louis director and second husband Vincente Minnelli, and two more children, Lorna and Joey, with her third husband Sidney Luft, her tour manager and producer. As one of the biggest celebrities of her time, Garland had relationships with her children that were anything but normal.
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"I do think my mother was a victim of the studio system," Lorna told Good Housekeeping in 2017. "It also gave her the ability to channel her talent to all of us. It was a real double-edged sword."
It wasn't just Garland that had a strained relationship with her kids. They were often pitted against each other in the papers, though Lorna says it was never like that in real life. Like any siblings, there was some competition, but she says there was love underneath it all.
"My sister and I will always find our way back to one another, no matter what comes into being," she said. "Our family's just a little strange because it's under a microscope."
Zelwegger's new movie won't be focusing on that part of Garland's life, however. Based on the play "End of the Rainbow," the movie chronicles Garland at the near-end of her career, when she was staging London concerts in 1969. After all the controversy with her affairs, marriages, subsequent divorces, and her movie career, she sought to return to what she loved to do: sing. Throughout her career, Garland's musical films outperformed any that didn't involve her singing songs and fans all over the world were hungry to hear her live. Though she endured a disastrous tour of Australia and was dealing with health problems, the London performances were supposed to redeem her reputation for being a diva. Liza actually took the stage with her mom back in 1964 and the final shows in '69 hoped to recapture some of that magic.
"I'd performed with Mama on her TV series, and as big as that was for me, it wasn’t anything liked standing and singing with her on a stage like the London Palladium," Liza said in 2015. "Listen, Mama owned whatever stage she was on. So we did it, and it was great and exhilarating and terrifying."
In 1965, Garland wed for a fourth time, tying the knot with her tour promoter Mark Herron, reportedly in a freighter on the coast of Hong Kong. The marriage lasted but six months, however, and Garland claimed he had beat her. After that relationship, Garland met Mickey Deans, her fifth and final husband, in a hotel in New York City. After three years of on-and-off dating, during which Deans struggled to assist the actress's career as her battle with drugs raged on, the couple married in 1969.
Garland's drug and alcohol addictions ultimately caused her death. The actress suffered an accidental overdose of barbiturates in 1969 and died at the age of 47.