A Star Is Burned: When Judy Garland Lost an Oscar to Grace Kelly From Her Hospital Bed

James Mason and Judy Garland in 'A Star Is Born' (1954).
James Mason and Judy Garland in 'A Star Is Born' (1954). / John Springer Collection/GettyImages

When Judy Garland received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance in 1954's A Star Is Born, she was widely expected to go home with the gold. Instead, she went home with a baby. 

Though the musical star was heavily pregnant with her third child in the days leading up to the 1955 Academy Awards ceremony, she had planned to attend the show and check herself in for a Caesarean section the following day. Unfortunately for Garland, the baby had other ideas. Just a day before the Oscars, Garland was rushed to Los Angeles's Cedars-Sinai (then known as Cedars of Lebanon Hospital), where she gave birth to her first and only son, Joe Luft. Mother and child were doing well and resting comfortably, with plans to quietly watch the ceremony from Garland's hospital bed. This time, however, NBC had other ideas.

Reluctant to miss the chance to capture Garland’s postnatal victory, the TV station promptly invaded her maternity ward. “They built a tower for the TV cameras outside my hospital window,” Garland told the United Press two weeks later. “There were cameras, people, microphones all over the place.”

More details spilled out as the legendary entertainer retold the story over the years: the furry bed jacket she used to cover up her mic wires, the makeshift Venetian blind entrusted to the terrified nurse, the friend who happened to be visiting and was promptly ordered to get on the floor. But much to Hollywood’s surprise, when William Holden announced the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role, it went to Grace Kelly for Country Girl. In a haze of manically applied powder and hairspray, Garland watched as the NBC crew packed their equipment and left the building.

Garland's peers were just as stunned by her Oscar loss as she was—and no camera crew had just ripped through their hospital room. Everyone from Best Actor winner Marlon Brando to Kelly herself experienced some disbelief that Garland had lost. Groucho Marx dashed off the now infamous telegram: “Dear Judy, this is the biggest robbery since Brinks."

Ever the professional, however, Garland took it in stride, turning the whole incident into a funny anecdote to open her songs. When she recapped the story on her variety show eight years later, she pulled the same furry bed jacket out of a trunk, draped it over her shoulders and sighed, “This reminds me of the Academy Award that I lost.”