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CALIFORNIA LIVES Notable Obituaries From the Archives

From the Archives: Judy Garland Dies in London at 47; Tragedy Haunted Star

Times Staff Writer

Judy Garland, who paid a tragic price for the life of the show-business superstar, died in London Sunday. She was 47.

It was the quiet end to a stormy career. Although she had tried suicide countless times, Scotland Yard said there was no indication she had taken her own life.

Her fifth husband, Mickey Deans, 35, found her dead. Illness had plagued her constantly, but it was not immediately determined what caused her death. An autopsy was scheduled today.

She had suffered from hepatitis, exhaustion, kidney ailments, nervous breakdowns, near-fatal drug reactions, overweight, underweight and injuries suffered in falls.

Unhappy Love Affairs

Her previous four marriages had ended in divorce and her life was a chaos of unhappy love affairs.

Her career was a series of soaring highs and plummeting lows. She was a top box office film star of the 1940s, established all-time personal appearance records in the '50s and was twice nominated for Academy Awards.

Between the high points she suffered abysmal slumps. She was sued repeatedly for backing out of performances, was fired for contractual failures, and was booed offstage when she forgot the lines in her songs. In London in January an audience hurled bread, rolls and glasses at her after she kept them waiting for an hour.

"Some times I feel like I'm living in a blizzard," she once said. "An absolute blizzard."

But, throughout her crisis-ridden career, she refused to quit fighting. She was Hollywood's queen of the comebacks. When her career — and, usually, her personal life — hit rock bottom, she would stage a spectacular comeback and again hit the bigtime.

"Judy has been coming back since she was invented," a London critic once wrote. "She doesn't give a concert, she conducts a seance.

"She evokes pity and sorrow like no other superstar."

Her best known role was that of Dorothy, at 17, in the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz" — in which she sang the song which became her trademark: "Over the Rainbow."

A wistful teen-ager with a turned-up nose, brown eyes, brown hair and a rich, full voice, she became a top star in the big-star days of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's golden age.

Loses Her Youth

And, in the process, she lost her own youth.

"Judy was a child who never had any childhood," said Ray Bolger, a costar in "Oz," Sunday, "She was a child who never grew up."

She made 12 films as a teen-ager and was under psychiatric treatment by the time she was 18. By the time she was 23 she had had three nervous breakdowns.

When she was 28 she slashed her throat in a suicide try. Her third husband, Sid Luft, said she attempt to kill herself 20 times in the 13 years they were married.

But she refused to stay down, despite recurring personal and professional disaster.

Bored With Herself

"I'm always being painted a more tragic figure than I am," she said in 1962. "Actually, I get awfully bored with myself as a tragic figure."

It was estimated that her films made more than $100 million. Most were big-budget musicals of the '40s, although she won critical esteem for her acting ability in later films.

Among her starring roles were "Broadway Melody of 1938," "Babes in Arms," "Strike Up the Band," "Ziegfeld Girl," "Girl Crazy," "Meet Me in St. Louis," the Andy Hardy films in which she starred with Mickey Rooney, "The Harvey Girls," "Easter Parade," and, since 1954, "A Star is Born" and "Judgment at Nuremberg," for which she received Oscar nominations.

Her film career and her life almost ended in 1950. MGM, where she had made 30 films, fired her when she failed to report for work, and cast Betty Hutton in role in "Annie Get Your Gun." She slashed her throat with a broken water glass, was saved, then stuffed herself to obesity.

"I went to pieces," she recalled later. "All I wanted to do was eat and hide. I lost all my self-confidence for 10 years. I suffered agonies of stage fright. People had to literally push me onto the stage."

But she made a smashing comeback in personal appearances. She broke all-time vaudeville records at the Palace in New York in 1951, '56 and '57. She sang a sadder-but-wiser "Rainbow" at Carnegie Hall which became part of what some called one of the best live recordings ever made.

Wistful Voice

In 1963 she made 26 half-hour television shows for CBS. She was last seen on national television Saturday, when a Johnny Carson interview taped in 1968 was rerun. On it she told of her youth in vaudeville, before she soared to the top — and began the long fall back down.

In later years, what had been a rich, creamy, wistful voice began to show cracks and tremors. But the feeling she put into songs like her perennial "Over the Rainbow" made up for what one critic referred to as "a tremolo which at times can suggest a fly-wheel about to tear loose."

Nervous, fidgety, seemingly fighting for control, she would come on stage almost tentatively — and then, after a few songs, burst forth into the old Garland style that had made her a star.

Sometimes, though, she was booed off the stage when she couldn't put a show — or herself — together. Her intermissions sometimes lasted 90 minutes. A role promised her in "Valley of the Dolls" went to Susan Hayward because she couldn't show up in time for the shooting schedule.

"I've heard how 'difficult' it is to be with Judy Garland," she said a few years ago, more sadly than defensively, "but do you know how difficult it is to BE Judy Garland? And for ME to live with me? I've had to do it — and what more unkind life can you think of than the one I've lived?"

Mickey Rooney, her costar of the '40s, learned about her death at Downingtown, Pa., where he is appearing in summer stock. Said Rooney:

"She was a great talent and a great human being.

"She was — I'm sure — at peace, and has found that rainbow. At least I hope she has."

She was married five times.

In 1941 she married composer-conductor David Rose. They were divorced in 1944.

In 1945 she married director Vincente Minnelli. They were divorced in 1951 after the birth of a daughter, Liza, now 23 and herself a singing star.

In 1952 she married former test pilot Sid Luft, eight years her elder, who became her business manager and father of two children, Joseph, now 13, and Lorna, now 16. She and Luft were divorced in 1964. The children are with Luft in Los Angeles.

In 1965 she married actor Mark Herron, 18 years her junior. They were divorced in 1968 after she testified that he had beaten her. "Yes, I hit her," he said, afterward, "but only in self-defense."

In 1968, publicist Thomas E. Green, 30, who had announced marriage plans that Miss Garland later denied, was accused by the singer of stealing two rings worth $110,000. She later refused to press charges, and the rings, recovered, were seized in a government tax action.

Earlier this year — in January and again in March, after the validity of the first ceremony was questioned — Miss Garland married Deans, 12 years her junior. She told newsmen:

"Finally, finally, I am loved."

She had decided to live permanently in England.

A former owner of a discotheque, Deans found Miss Garland dead in their town house in the Belgravia section of London at 11 a.m. Sunday. He called Scotland Yard. Stricken with grief, he was taken away and into seclusion later by friends.

She had been in good spirits the night before, friends said. There was no indication that she was in failing health, they added.

Miss Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minn., on June 10, 1922. She liked to say she was born in a trunk — backstage. Her parents, Frank and Ethel Gumm, were vaudeville players.

At 30 months she went onstage to sing "Jingle Bells" as part of a Christmas program — and, the story goes, had to be forcibly removed by her father after repeating her song seven times.

Her family moved to California, settling in Lancaster. She and her sisters, billed as the singing Gumm Sisters, did shows in Hollywood. A fellow trouper, George Jessel, suggested she change her name — and she became Judy Garland, "The Little Girl with the Big Voice." Recalls Jessel:

"She was only 11—but sang like a woman three times her age, with a broken heart."

An MGM scout spotted her, she was signed up, and, in 1935, made her first film, a two-reel short.

She was on her way to a Hollywood career — and to a unique life style. She became one of the juvenile players at MGM who studied lessons from a tutor, along with lines for her current role, in a dressing room. For Frances Ethel Gumm, stardom was near. And her childhood was suddenly over.

"She never had a chance to become a normal child — or a normal adult," dancer Bolger, 65, recalled in New York Sunday. "She always had someone hovering over her.

"There should be a time in your life when you can go home at night and forget about show business, but Judy Garland never got to that point."

news.obits@latimes.com

 

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

FOR THE RECORD

June 22, 2015: The original version of this obituary, published June 23, 1969, erred in stating that Judy Garland was twice nominated for Academy Awards in the 1960s. In fact, one of the nominations, for "A Star Is Born," came in 1955. In addition, the title of "Over the Rainbow" was given as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

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