Sad Sensational Songbird: The Death of Judy Garland

Judy Garland from Summer Stock screenshot

Judy Garland had a voice of an angel. From her first grace across the silver screen at the young age of 14, she was set to be a star. That star burnt out at the age of 47 in London, after a run of shows at Talk of the Town nightclub. A movie on her life staring Renée Zellweger will be released later on this year.

If you are not familiar with Judy Garland you either are not a fan of The Wizard of Oz, not into old time movie musicals, or under the age of 22. Judy Garland in her heyday was MGM’s sweetheart.  Her first film, Pigskin Parade with Betty Grable, was not the step forward she had hoped to take. It wasn’t until she sang “You Made Me Love You”, at a birthday party that MGM hosted for Clark Gable in 1937, that MGM and Louis B. Mayer himself gave Garland the attention to propel her into super stardom.

What followed was nothing short of a phenomenal career. She reunited with Mickey Rooney for a collection of Andy Hardy films. Then, what most will say was the performance they most remember from Garland the most; The Wizard of Oz is an utterly heartbreaking and mesmerizing performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. I cannot write another word until you hear exactly what I’m talking about.

More musicals followed. For Me and My Gal, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Harvey Girls, The Pirate, and Easter Parade. She was MGM’s golden girl. One of my favorites, Meet Me in St. Louis, showcased what Garland presented best. A no-nonsense girl with gumption and moxie but still a hopeless romantic, not unlike, I believe, the real Judy. She was strong, but wanted to be loved. I mean, is that not what all of us want?  Although, I think Garland wanted the admiration of everyone around her, not just those close to her, and I believe that is what started her downfall into depression and pills. Her voice was heavenly but also could present sadness at the same time. One of the most beautiful versions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is featured in Meet Me in St. Louis. The song affects me every time I hear it. Tears come without any warning. I cannot tell if its Garland’s voice or knowing what she felt when singing it. Maybe it’s both.

All of sudden musicals stopped being popular, people wanted dramas and comedies and television was making big strides. After a success full run and concert album, “Judy at Carnegie Hall” the album made her the first woman to win Album of the Year at the Grammys. That’s when Garland hit the variety show circuit. Variety shows were very in. The Judy Garland Show was born in 1963 and ran for 26 episodes, from 1963-1964. She had fought with execs to keep the show going, but people just didn’t feel the same about America’s Sweetheart, Judy Garland.

I do not know about you, but if I got the chance to hear Judy sing on television that would have been the ultimate treat! This performance especially, it is almost as she knows her time and her place in the history of television is coming to a close.

It wasn’t until the year of her death that she decided a comeback might be in order, one last time. She had a very successful concert, one of her last recorded concerts, in Copenhagen, Denmark on March 25, 1969. The following recording was from that concert. It was now known that Judy had a problem with pills, health issues, failed relationships, and not only did this affect her personally, but it also affected her vocally. Tired, in pain, and full of anxiety and depression, Garland still goes on to give the performance of a lifetime.

Judy Garland almost had to say farewell to her farewell tour, when traveling from the U.S. to London. When she had touched down in London for the Talk of the Town shows, she was told of a ruling that was made that she was still under contract in America, and to cease performing her run of shows. Needless to say, Garland forged ahead as she had always been to do and did perform. Critically the performance showed Garland “splitting at the seams” so to speak. Critics’ were not kind, the audience heckled and broke Garland, as she smoked, drank, and would constantly look for her fifth husband, Mickey Deans, for support from just off stage. Often showing up late, forgetting the words to her own songs, and slurring her speech, Garland was crumbling right in front of the audiences, and everyone else around her eyes. She was slowly dying, killing herself after years of pill abuse that Deans is quoted as saying, “she said it went back to when she was a child at MGM, she took them to get some sleep.” And sleep Garland did: she finally succumbed to barbiturate use and died of an accidental overdose on June 22, 1969. I read somewhere that on the day she died, a tornado touched down in Kansas. Whether true or not, anyone who was always rooting for Dorothy Gale or the incomparable Judy Garland was mourning that day and truly felt the sadness of her passing. Here is hoping that Garland found where the happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow and got happy.

Judy Garland from Summer Stock, singing Get Happy

Written by J.C. Hotchkiss

J.C. Hotchkiss is a Office Manager by day and Managing Twin Peaks Editor for 25YL Site the other 16 hours of the day. When she isn’t writing of her love of FBI Agents with a penchant for doughnuts, coffee and pie, she enjoys getting lost in a good book, sipping a damn fine glass of wine among friends, chatting with her "TB's" about Cevans and Fleabag's Hot Priest, and trying to keep up with the latest cartoon craze via her 6 year old. She lives smack in the middle of the Big Apple and Beantown, so for a girl with many different interests and tastes it's the perfect place to be.

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  1. Thank you for your very concise article about Judy Garland. I would like to point out that she was MGM’s top grossing star of all time during the last five years of her association with that studio. She also had been the star of CBS’s all time top rated television special, “The Judy Garland Show”, directed by Norman Jewison in 1962 before signing on to do another top rated special and then the 26 episode series. If you haven’t read Coyne Steven Sander’s excellent book about the series, “Rainbow’s End”, you would probably find it both fascinating and shocking in the way that CBS and Judy’s managers mishandled the series from the start and that more than lagging audiences, as you suggest, is the real reason her show ultimately was cancelled.

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