- "...if happy little blue birds fly, beyond the Rainbow...why oh why, cant I...? "
- ―Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale (1939)
Judy Garland (10 June 1922 — 22 June 1969), born Frances Ethel Gumm, (She changed her name to Judy after hearing it on the radio.) played Dorothy Gale in the 1939 MGM film version of The Wizard of Oz.
Judy As Dorothy
It's not an exaggerated statement to say Garland made The Wizard of Oz and The Wizard of Oz made her.
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. Many executives felt she wasn't attractive enough to play Dorothy. But Arthur and Mervyn reminded Judy's doubters that Dorothy wasn't supposed to be an attractive bombshell, she is suppossed to be just an ordinary little girl who was orphaned and lives on a Kansas farm.
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 Fox to play Dorothy. That plan never advanced because they refused to loan her 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 her and the midgets who played the Munchkins were paid even less than Terry.
Despite being technically too old to play Dorothy, as Baum intended his character in the book to be a little girl, even as a teenager Garland did portray a very good Dorothy that captivated the world for decades to come. With her wide eyed expression of an adolescent girl, she was perfect for the role. Thanks to her talented singing voice, she beat many other young actresses for the lead role such as Shirley Temple who was a loyal fan of Baum's Oz books, and was more close to the look and age of his description of Dorothy. Therefore, Garland was put on a strict diet to become a believable Dorothy and was even given barbiturate drugs which would lead on to a life long battle of personal demons.
During shooting, Judy was forced to wear a special type of corset under her costume. It flattened out her curves by painfully binding her breasts down flat against her chest to make her appear as a twelve-year-old girl who was more innocent, underdeveloped and younger than her real life age.
On set, the young Garland had a problem with uncontrollable giggling: she would burst out in laughter at the mere sight of Bert Lahr in his Cowardly Lion costume that would make her laugh, mostly in the scene where Dorothy slaps the Lion on the nose for attempting to harm Toto. During filming, director Victor Fleming once took her aside and slapped her face hard to stop her giggling, (an act that embarassed him deeply afterward). When they tried the scene again, she no longer giggled but was caught suppressing a slight smirk.
Interestingly, Garland also made another film the same year the film was made. She starred with Mickey Rooney in the movie Babes in Arms in 1939.
In 1940 Garland won a special miniature Academy Award for the best performance by a juvenile. It 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.
Over her career, Garland shared various film credits with her Oz castmates. She played:
- with Jack Haley in Pigskin Parade (1936)
- with Billie Burke in Everybody Sing (1938)
- 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 was a guest on her 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/