Frances Gumm started leaving her mark in American music history at the tender age of two when she joined her sisters on stage as a member of their father’s traveling theater group. She lived only until the age of 47, but this beautiful entertainer welcomed into homes as Dorothy Gale in the Wizard of Oz. You probably know her as Judy Garland.
Judy has been very important to me in terms of my own theater work and has served as an inspiration in times of struggle. One of the original songbirds, her strong contralto voice, and her powerful vibrato leaves your knees weak. She carries “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” off into eternity with a sense of longing and hopefulness, almost following me wherever I go. Judy was an incredible role model to me not “despite” of, but “because” of her personal struggle. She suffered at the hands of MGM to fit their Hollywood standards, struggling with an eating disorder, and prescription drug problem. While I only began to appreciate Judy’s personal struggles as an adult, having read her daughter’s book, and watching the documentaries about her life. I was exposed to her theatrical work at a very young age through my grandmother. We would often watch a lot of Turner Classic Movies together, and Judy’s work in musicals brought her into our living room over and over again. I remember watching Meet Me in St. Louis, Easter Parade, A Star is Born and the Andy Hardy movies with Mickey Rooney pretty regularly. The Wizard of Oz was also a personal favorite as a child.
As a young adult, I would begin to grow my collection of theater soundtracks, and Judy was a huge part of my favorite show-tunes. These tracks are the ones that I would use to practice and audition for roles. They would be playing on repeat until I thought I had them down. I love Judy because of her struggle, yes, but more for the place she holds in my heart. The way she reminds me of the innocence of youth. Her films were family movies that you got together to watch. These are the things you’ll remember all your life. Tunes like “Get Happy,” “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart,” or even her cover of “You Made Me Love You,” which she sang to Clark Gable on his birthday, are a cheerful reminder of how music can lift you up. Judy was and remains an icon despite her personal tragedy, and her influence has continued long after her death in 1969. Her daughters, Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft, carry on her legacy. She will forever be an inspirational figure for me and many others.