The sixteen-year-old Garland was near the start of her varied show-business career when she was cast as Dorothy by MGM. She was under contract to the studio, and had already appeared in half-a-dozen movies; the studio was grooming her for future stardom, and by 1938 was looking for vehicles specifically for her talents. A new movie version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was judged to be a suitable project by producers Mervyn LeRoy and Arthur Freed, both of whom were strong Garland backers against an undercurrent of doubt and dissent.
(Nicholas Schenck, the president of MGM's parent company Loew's Inc., doubted the wisdom of the expensive Oz project, and questioned whether a relative newcomer like Garland should star in it. Schenck has been associated with longstanding reports that executives considered borrowing Shirley Temple from the Fox studio to play Dorothy. That plan never advanced, since Fox refused to loan Temple to MGM.)
Garland was the star of the picture — but also a relative beginner; she was paid $500 per week for her work on the film, significantly less than the veterans around her. (Bert Lahr earned five times as much.) Among the other principal cast members, only Terry the dog was paid less than Garland.
The young Garland had a problem with uncontrollable giggling: she would break up easily, and the mere sight of Bert Lahr in his Cowardly Lion costume could start her laughing mostly in the creepy forest where she was supposed to slap the Lion on the nose for picking on Toto. During filming, director Victor Fleming once took Garland aside and slapped her face hard to stop her (an act that embarassed him deeply afterward). When the actors tried the scene again, Garland no longer giggled but was caught suppressing a smirk.
In 1940 Garland won a special miniature Academy Award for the best performance by a juvenile. The award had been given sporadically, only a few times before 1940, and was later discontinued. She would never win another Oscar, though she was nominated as Best Actress for A Star is Born (1954) and as Best Supporting Actress for Judgement at Nuremberg (1961).
A museum was built in her her honor in Grand Rapids, Minnesota; her childhood home. In 2006 the state named a special Judy Garland Day for her work in the Wizard of Oz. The Museum will celebrate the Wizard of Oz 75th Anniversary June, 2014
Over her career, Garland shared various film credits with her Oz castmates. She played:
- with Charley Grapewin in Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937) and Listen, Darling (1938)
- with Margaret Hamilton in Babes in Arms (1939)
- with Ray Bolger in The Harvey Girls (1946) and he waa guest on her Judy Garland tv show.
- with Frank Morgan in Thousands Cheer (1943) and Some of the Best (1949).
- John Fricke, Jay Scarfone, William Stillman. The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History. Warner Books, 1989.
- Tom Hendricks, Author of the State Minnesota: Judy Garland Day 2006, and volunteer for the Judy Garland Museum, http://judygarlandmuseum.com