How old was Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz?

Judy Garland was only 17 years old in her breakout role in The Wizard of Oz, a role that set the tragic trajectory of her life in motion.

Overview

Judy Garland is a legendary and iconic actress, whose rise to fame took place in the 1930s. This is despite her early introduction to the world of entertainment as part of the sister vaudeville act, Gumm Sisters, when she was just two-and-half years old.

Her breakout role was as the title character, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. A film that is still as popular and relevant as it was when it was first released back in 1939. When she landed the role she was 16 years old, and at the time of the film’s release she was 17 years old.

Judy Garland’s early life

Born Frances Ethel Gumm on 10 June 1922, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Judy Garland was the youngest of three girls. She and her sisters followed in the footsteps of their vaudeville professional parents as the Gumm Sisters, under the direction of their mother and manager, Ethel.

The Gumm Sisters had some early success from appearing in several short films after moving to California in 1926. In 1934, the Gumm Sisters transformed to the Garland Sisters, seeking a more Hollywood name. Judy, who at the time was referred to as Baby Gumm, ditched the “Baby” for a more mature “Judy.”

How old was Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz?

Even as part of the Garland Sisters, Judy was already tapped as the star between her and her sisters. Therefore, when she eventually did sign with MGM in 1935, a year after the Gumm Sisters changed their name to the Garland Sisters, her star quality was undeniable.

However, after signing with MGM, the studio tried to position her as “the girl next door.” This resulted in her needing to have her teeth capped in order to fit the image better.

In the years that would follow, she debuted her first song, Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart. Additionally, she featured in films such as Pigskin Parade in 1936, and Love Finds Andy Hardy in 1938, which are both roles Judy landed after her father died from spinal meningitis. It was when she was 16 in 1939 that she would land the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, which she shot when she was 17.

Judy Garland’s life as part of MGM

While she enjoyed global stardom following the release of The Wizard of Oz, which propelled to legendary status at an early age, the realities of being a signed talent at MGM would affect the young star’s life. A reality which would impact her until her untimely death.

Whenever Judy would be filming, the studio would give her barbiturates for energy, and amphetamines to combat the hyper-active effects. Judy was also on a strict diet and given tobacco to suppress her weight in order to maintain her girl-next-door young look. During this period, these drugs were not illegal, hence the popularity and common use by film studios.

Judy Garland suspended by MGM

In the years that followed, while she was still under contract, Judy Garland worked on other musicals including Strike Up the Band in 1940, 1942’s Babes of Broadway, that marked her reuniting with fellow childhood co-star Mickey Rooney, and For Me and My Gal in 1943, which she did with film icon Gene Kelly.

In 1950, following the birth of her first child, Judy suffered a nervous breakdown and was subsequently suspended from her contract with MGM. However, by then her dependency on the addictive prescription drugs had already caused irrevocable damage to Judy.

Judy Garland’s untimely death

In 1951, Judy Garland began to work on reviving her career. She starred in her own Broadway show that won her a Tony award, and she also had played the lead role in an iconic film that has inspired multiple remakes, A Star Is Born in 1954.

In the 1960s, a career pivot took place, as she was more popular as a singer than as an actress following the release of her Grammy winning album, Judy at Carnegie Hall.

Thereafter, she had a successful run as a talk host for the Judy Show from 1963 until 1964. However, at the time of her death in June 1969 due to an overdose of pills, she was in financial troubles and already looked unhealthy in appearance.

Conclusion

Judy Garland’s rise to fame, like many that came before and after her, read as a cautionary tale of the less glamorous realities of being a star of the early 1900s in Hollywood. This is as after finding global stardom, she died due to addiction brought on by the studio she signed to.

After finding success at the age of 17 years old as Dorothy on The Wizard of Oz, the years of MCM prescribing highly addictive toxins and a rigorous death of tobacco to suppress her appetite resulted in her addiction. Judy would die in 1969 due to an overdose of pills in London.