We’ll always remember Judy Garland as the beautiful, round-faced Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film, the Wizard of Oz. Her astounding performance has been preserved in the minds and hearts of millions of people throughout generations, making the Wizard of Oz a household classic. But behind the cheerful facade lies an odd juxtaposition — a heartbreaking story of abuse that would change the course of Garland’s life.
At the ripe age of 13, Garland tried her luck when she auditioned in front of Louis B. Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM.
The film producer was astounded by her soothing, silky, powerful voice and decided to cast her without trying to put her in for a screen test first. Although that didn’t mean he didn’t care about her looks, which he would make apparent over years of abuse and horrific trauma that he would impose on the young hopeful.
Garland was cast in her first film in 1936 when she was only 14 years old. During the production of Pigskin Parade, Mayer and his fellow producers didn’t shy away from telling Garland how she looked like “a pig in pigtails” when they viewed her through cameras. It was then that they put her on a strict diet, restricting her calorie intake to near starvation.
The young girl who had only just entered her teens would then soon start her habits of starving herself and then bingeing as she tried to satisfy the hungry producers who had unrealistic standards for her.
The harsh treatment would soon spread throughout production. In 1938, even managers would pass notes among themselves about Garland’s eating habits and figure. According to The Independent, a director who worked closely with Garland called her the “ugly duckling” of the industry simply because she looked a little different compared to other actresses her age.
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They would use this to treat her harshly. She would be presented food which would be taken away before she could have a bite, they would put her on a variety of drugs to speed her up or slow her down, and they even put her through obscene sexual abuse at the young age of just 16 years.
According to Gerald Clarke — author of Garland’s biography — the young star was subjected to sexual harassment during her time with MGM. In her unfinished memoir, she wrote: “Don’t think they all didn’t try.”
This went on for years until finally, the young actress put her foot down and quit — a decision that sent Louis Mayer to tears, claiming that he had fallen in love with the star.
Even in her personal life, the effects of abuse would leave their mark. Judy Garland married five times — four of which ended in divorce. During her first marriage, she became pregnant. However because of how it might affect her image, MGM and her mother decided to have the baby aborted, according to Vanity Fair.
The procedure was kept hush because it was widely illegal during the time. Garland was said to have suffered severe mental and emotional trauma because of it.
Unfortunately, the years of abuse had left a lasting mark on Garland. Even in her adulthood, drug abuse had become a major aspect of her life which ultimately caused her demise. According to The New Yorker, Judy Garland would find herself in and out of mental institutions after having mental breakdown after mental breakdown on top of her several suicide attempts.
By the time she reached the twilight years of her life, her daughter described her to be “homeless broke” according to a report issued by The List. Liza Minnelli, her oldest daughter, would help her through the financial turmoil. Rightly so, as Garland had only been making $100 dollars a night, singing in dingy bars a few nights a week.
Her untimely death rolled around when she had accidentally overdosed on barbituates — an addiction she developed thanks to her years in the industry.
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Despite her tragic end, the Los Angeles Times had recorded her claiming how happy she was just three months prior when she married her fifth husband. “Finally, finally — I am loved,” the star beamed. So perhaps her marriage was short-lived, but we find comfort knowing she found her Yellow Brick Road before the curtains closed.