Judy Garland: Things You Didn't Know About Golden Age Hollywood's Sweetheart

A publicity photo of Judy Garland from 1943. (Clarence Sinclair Bull/Wikimedia Commons)

On June 10, 1922, in a white framed house on the outskirts of Grand Rapids, Michigan, a little girl named Frances Ethel Gumm was born to vaudeville actors Ethel and Frank Gumm. However, her parents weren't smiling when little Frances came into the world, as they were suffering great financial hardship and could hardly afford to feed the two kids they already had. Ironically, it was this child who would bring them the fame and fortune (or secondhand exposure to it, at least) that had always eluded them.

The Making Of Judy Garland

At only six years old, Frances was put to work performing in a musical troupe alongside her two sisters, aptly named the Gumm Sisters. Although she was only a very little girl, her mother forced her to perform to the point of exhaustion, and when her small body gave out, Ethel Gumm reportedly gave her amphetamine pills to get her through the day. This began an insidious cycle of amphetamine and sedative abuse that would unfortunately make for a very tragic life.

While performing onstage in Los Angeles, Frances was spotted by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios talent scouts and brought in to meet co-founder Louis B. Mayer the very next day. Back in the "studio system" era of Hollywood, actors didn't bounce around from movie to movie but instead signed highly demanding and highly competitive contracts to one of the major studios. After hearing her sing, Mayer was so impressed that he offered her a seven-year contract, and just like that, 13-year-old Frances Gumm became Judy Garland, soon-to-be international superstar.