Women’s History Month might be coming to an end, but we wouldn’t dream of finishing out the month without mentioning one of Minnesota’s brightest and most tragic stars, Judy Garland. Born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Judy started entertaining at the age of 2, traveling across America with her mother, performing in nightclubs, cabarets, hotels and theaters. She went on to attain international stardom during Hollywood’s Golden Era. Over her 45-year career she received many awards including a juvenile Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and she was the first woman to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for her live recording of Judy at Carnegie Hall.
Despite her far-reaching success, Garland led a troubled life. At 13 years old, she was signed to MGM where she soon began working on her role as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Film executives constantly criticized her physical appearance which led Garland to struggle with her self-image and mental health. They fed her numerous pills, such as amphetamines, to achieve the desired streamlined figure and combat her exhaustion on set. The constant flow of narcotics soon led to a downward spiral that resulted in Garland’s life-long addiction to drugs and alcohol – a habit which ultimately led to her death at age 47 from a barbiturate overdose.
Although Garland battled with severe addiction and mental health issues, she nevertheless continued on to receive a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in A Star Is Born (1954); at age 39, Garland became the youngest and first female recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in the film industry; And the American Film Institute placed her among the 10 greatest female stars of classic American cinema.
In addition to her professional accomplishments, Garland led a lavish love life. She was married five times and had several celebrity lovers including Mario Lanza, Yul Brynner, Frank Sinatra, Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles. In pop culture, Garland became a gay icon due to her role in The Wizard of Oz and her numerous personal struggles that seemed to mirror those of gay Americans at the time. Her search for strength, authenticity, and acceptance in her self-identity continues to resonate with and inspire people everywhere.