It didn’t take long for Judy Garland to get started. Born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, on June 10, 1922, Garland strode onto the vaudeville stage with her sisters in 1924, solidifying her future as an entertainer. In ’34, the trio adopted the stage name “The Garland Sisters,” and in ’37, young Judy sang a song to a portrait of Clark Gable in MGM’s Broadway Melody of 1938 and became an overnight success. The Tiffany studio had signed Garland to a contract only two years prior—her screen debut was Pigskin Parade—and two years after Broadway Melody, Garland would step into those iconic ruby slippers for a movie with no equal: The Wizard of Oz.
Garland was a teenager when she filmed Oz, playing Dorothy Gale as a young girl caught between childlike innocence and adolescent yearning. Just listen to her contralto voice quiver as she delivers “Over the Rainbow.” Hardly anyone watching Oz in ’39 knew the life Garland was leading—and would continue to lead—backstage, but they could feel it. When Garland sings, you feel everything.
But as legendary as the backstage tales and gossip are, what continues to entrance audiences is the magic Garland captured on screen, which is why both TCM and The Criterion Channel are celebrating Garland’s centenary all June long.
For those with TCM in their cable package, Garland is June’s “Star of the Month,” with 31 of her films showing Friday nights in June. For you streamers out there, The Criterion Channel’s Garland celebration features 13 of her signature performances, including a personal favorite: 1948’s The Pirate, starring Garland alongside Gene Kelly—the second of their three pairings. The whole picture is a hoot, but the scene where Garland’s Manuela learns that Kelly’s Macoco is a phony is one of the best destroy-every-last-thing-in-the-room fits of rage captured on celluloid this side of Citizen Kane.
She could sing, she could act, she could dance and she could scat. She could break your heart with a chord and lift your soul with a smile. Some stars fade, but Garland’s never will.
The above article first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 29, No. 38, “Rainbow.”
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