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10 Captivating Facts About Judy Garland

Rebecca Pahle
Judy Garland
Judy Garland / Herbert Dorfman/GettyImages
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June 10, 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Judy Garland, one of the most iconic and recognizable movie stars of all time. In honor of Dorothy Gale herself, here are 10 facts about about the late actress, singer, gay icon, and all-around legend.

1. Judy Garland landed her first gig at age 2 years old.

Though Garland would eventually develop a reputation for being unreliable, she worked her whole life—starting at the age of 2 years old, when Garland (then “Frances Gumm”) made her stage debut singing at the movie house owned by her father. From then until her death, aside from breaks she took to give birth to her three children, the longest period she ever went without working was six months, and that only because she was having trouble with the IRS.

2. Her most famous song almost never saw the light of day.

Garland was only 17 years old when she reached a whole new level of fame thanks to her starring role in The Wizard of Oz. But the most famous song from the film, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” was almost edited out. MGM executives, including studio head Louis B. Mayer, thought the song slowed the movie down and thus had it removed from the film for several test screenings. Associate producer Arthur Freed threatened to quit if it wasn’t put back in, and Mayer folded, saying: “Let the boys have the damn song. Put it back in the picture. It can’t hurt.” It went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song and would be sung by Garland for the rest of her career.

3. Lana Turner stole Garland's first boyfriend.

At 17 years old, and already one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, Garland had her first serious romantic relationship with 29-year-old musician/bandleader Artie Shaw. Garland’s heart was broken when she read in the morning paper that Shaw had eloped with her friend—and future movie star—Lana Turner. To make the situation even worse, Shaw defended himself to Garland by denying that their relationship had ever been a romantic one. “Lana is a woman I'll have sex with,” he told Garland. “I never thought of you in that way and I didn't think you thought of me in that way.”

Turner's romance with Shaw was also short-lived; they were married for just four months.

4. She was the first woman to win the Album of the Year Grammy.

In 1962, Garland made history by being the first woman—and only the fourth person ever—to win the Grammy for Album of the Year. She won for Judy at Carnegie Hall, a recording of a now-legendary 1961 concert that, according to Scott Schechter's Judy Garland: The Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Legend, is “widely acknowledged as one of the greatest evenings in show business history.” 

5. She (might have) helped kick off the gay rights movement.

Judy Garland
Judy Garland / Herbert Dorfman/GettyImages

An oft-repeated—but never confirmed—legend about Garland is that her death played a role in sparking the Stonewall riots, as her funeral had taken place just one day before. Hours before the riot broke out, several Stonewall patrons spent the day outside the Frank Campbell Funeral Home, where Garland's funeral was being held. Trans activist Sylvia Rivera, a key figure in the early gay rights movement, later said of the hours before the police raid that led to the Stonewall riots: “You could actually feel it in the air. You really could. I guess Judy Garland’s death just really helped us really hit the fan.”

Historian David Carter traces the Garland-Stonewall connection to a Village Voice article from years later that introduced the “Judy Garland’s funeral led to Stonewall” myth as a way to “attack and disparage” gay people.

6. She was one of the original members of the Rat Pack.

Garland’s public image doesn’t exactly mesh with the slick, cool vibe exuded by the Rat Pack—and yet, she was one of its original members. The group, largely a publicity gimmick, was borne of a 1955 party—attended by Garland, her then-husband Sid Luft, Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and more—during which Bacall uttered the phrase “I see the rat pack is all here.” The New York Herald Tribune reported at the time that the “Rat Pack” had even held mock elections, during which Garland was named the first vice president.

7. She used to serenade JFK.

Garland was friends with John F. Kennedy, whom she met when he was a junior senator. Per Garland’s third husband Sid Luft's memoir Judy & I, Kennedy would sometimes call Garland and ask her to sing for him; other times, she would call him to vent when she’d had a particularly grueling week. Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, would later recall that Kennedy would always ask Garland to sing a few bars of “Over the Rainbow” to end their calls. 

8. There’s an official Judy Garland perfume.

To coincide with the 100th anniversary of Garland’s birth, her daughter Lorna Luft teamed up with “certified nose” Vince Spinnato to craft a unisex fragrance officially licensed by Garland’s estate. JUDY, for those wondering, combines scents of the Judy Garland rose with dark orchid, coriander, and (per the official press release) “a medley of sultry Gourmand and spice notes.” 

9. Someone stole her ruby slippers.

One of the pairs of ruby slippers worn by Garland (who wore a size five shoe) during the filming of The Wizard of Oz was stolen from Grand Rapids, Minnesota’s Judy Garland Museum in 2005. The thief, who broke into the museum at night, left behind only a single red sequin. In 2017, the FBI became involved with the incident after a man went to the company that insured the shoes and, in an attempt to extort them, claimed he had information as to their whereabouts. The following year, the FBI conducted an undercover sting operation and got the shoes back

10. She (maybe) has a morbid connection to RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Actress Judy Garland Tipping Fedora
Judy Garland / John Springer Collection/GettyImages

In season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag makeover subject and Navy veteran Dave Lara dropped the shocking tidbit that, er, he “might have killed Judy Garland.” In 1968, when Lara was a hospital corpsman, the two met and hung out for a  few nights, and Garland asked her new friend to get her some sleeping pills. He got her “like seven or eight pills” of Seconal, taken from a naval hospital and thus with a military label on the bottle. After Garland’s 1969 death, Lara recalled, “I was stationed in Washington, D.C., and the newspaper I saw had a piece that said that by the bedside was found a military-grade prescription of Seconal.” Decades later, Lara would use his reality TV appearance to tell the story for the first time.

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