Frances Gumm was born in Minnesota in 1922. She had two sisters and was nicknamed ‘Baby’ from her childhood. The family moved to Hollywood in 1926 where she was signed to a 7 year contract by MGM at $100 a week in 1935. She was a prodigious talent, but she was naive and impressionable; ripe to be taken advantage of. Before she had even turned fifteen, 38 year-old Spencer Tracy was regularly seducing her. Everyone at MGM, with the exception of the boss, LB Mayer, knew about it. The seductions lasted three years. It is decidedly sad today to watch 16 year-old Judy in The Wizard of Oz, portraying an innocent 12 year-old, aware that this young girl was already a victim of one of Hollywood’s many predators. His peers knew precisely what Tracy was like. The public had no idea.
Spencer Tracy in Boys Town (1938)
In 1938 Judy was severely injured in a car crash, sustaining broken ribs, a punctured lung, and back injuries. Studio doctors had her back at work eight days later, full of drugs to ease the pain. Filming of The Wizard of Oz commenced in October that year. She was already hooked on pills. In order to keep her weight down she was only allowed to eat soup and cottage cheese. Her breasts were blooming quickly, so she was made to wear a painful truss to hide them. The powers at MGM kept her working 15 hours a day, pumping her full of Benzedrine, Phenobarbital, Seconal and amphetamines. She took sleeping pills in order to snatch 4-5 hours of sleep; then pep pills to wake her up for a 72 hour stint in front of the cameras.
Judy making Wizard of Oz in October 1938
By the age of 18 she was hopelessly addicted. Howard Strickling, MGM’s head of publicity, had her see psychiatrists five mornings a week for the next twenty years. She suffered from psychotic episodes, insomnia, hallucinations, headaches and fatigue. And she was suicidal. Judy found she desperately needed men in her life, especially older men like Tracy, but if none were available she readily slept with women. How many of her personal life choices can be attributed to her drug problem we will probably never know. But she was forever in a confused and tired state, overworked, and treated like the money-making commodity she had quickly become. And she was still just a kid.
At 17, she became obsessed with band leader Artie Shaw, a twice-divorced wife beater, who readily seduced the starstruck teenager while cheating on her with Lana Turner and others. Strickling ordered one of his publicity team, Betty Asher, to become Judy’s confidante, her bosom buddy, and to steer her away from Shaw. Betty did much more than that. She became Judy’s lover as well (and Shaw’s, too, for that matter). She also taught the girl how to drink booze. This was done on orders from MGM’s other ‘fixer’, Eddie Mannix, who thought a drunken Judy would divulge more. Asher reported back to him, her reports more often than not being delivered in his bed.
Asher had formerly worked with Lana Turner, so she had little difficulty in steering the predatory blonde towards the ever eager Mr. Shaw. To most people’s surprise, Turner and Shaw suddenly wed in 1940. Judy was shattered. She immediately bedded Shaw’s best friend in a pathetic attempt to make her former beau jealous. As it happened, the marriage only lasted three months. A pregnant Lana quickly arranged an abortion through Mannix (a ‘publicity tour’ to Hawaii accompanied by her mother and the ever available Asher), and just as quickly returned to bedding every attractive male she could lay her hands on.
Mr & Mrs David Rose
In 1941, Judy eloped to Vegas with band leader David Rose. The marriage was a disaster and over within four months, but not before Judy had become pregnant. MGM secretly arranged an abortion without bothering to inform Rose of her condition. She soon moved back in with the ever reliable Asher, still unaware of her spying for both Mannix and Strickling. Before long, the two women were being seen all over LA, shopping hand in hand, attending movies and shows together.
Garland was not a lesbian. She was bisexual and preferred oral sex with either gender over intercourse. She also preferred to date gay men, hence one of her regular escorts was Van Johnson. In her opinion, women were better at oral sex than men, so she preferred women to men in bed. But then she met Tyrone Power in October 1942. He was married to the androgynous, bisexual actress Annabella, and was either homosexual or bisexual himself. Ty and Judy fell for each other hook, line and sinker. Since both were married to someone else at the time, MGM got worried and settled on a plan to break them up.
Van & Judy, good friends
January 1943, saw Power enlist in the USMC and head off to basic training. Judy was pregnant with his child. Asher was instructed by Strickling to continually bad-mouth him to Judy, and to keep his letters from her. She also told Judy that Ty’s wife, Annabella, was pregnant to him, a blatant lie, and that he was known to read Judy’s love letters to his marine buddies for a laugh (also untrue). Judy aborted his child (paid for by MGM, of course), and never spoke to Power again. She and Asher then renewed their intimacy.
Tyrone Power USMC
Over the years Judy Garland had sexual liaisons with dozens of MGM employees of both sexes, mostly for sport. She even seduced her homosexual friends, including one man simply because he was known to be ultra-faithful to his wife. Her affair with Joseph Mankiewicz cost him his job when he refused to break off their attachment. She slept with Orson Welles while he was married to Rita Hayworth. Character actor Charles Bickford described Judy as ‘a sex-driven, drug-crazed wreck’, and her girlfriend, Asher, as ‘a drug addict sex pervert.’ Writer Adela Rogers St. Johns vowed that Garland and Asher gave lesbian exhibitions in private for an un-named MGM executive. This was almost certainly Asher’s boss and lover Eddie Mannix.
In 1944, Judy met Vincente Minnelli, a homosexual who worked for the equally gay Arthur Freed at MGM in 1940 as a member of ‘Freed’s Fairy Unit’. Minnelli was sleeping with his live-in Japanese valet when he and Judy decided to get married in 1945. Believe it or not, Betty Asher was Maid of Honor at the ceremony. In 1946 a daughter, Liza, was born.
After her pill-popping escalated to over 100 a day, Judy was finally replaced in the lead of Annie Get Your Gun (1950) by Betty Hutton. For decades Judy’s mother, Ethel, had been doling out pep pills every few hours on the sets of her movies to her meal-ticket daughter. MGM scriptwriter Frances Marion recalled chatting to a distressed Garland on the set one day. ‘I hate the wake-up pills the worst’, she confided, ‘because they make me hop around like a Mexican jumping bean’.
Ethel & Judy
Judy’s movies made (in today’s money), the equivalent of $500 million, all in the space of just 16 years. She began as a plump 12 year-old, but by the age of 28 she was a spent force. Not yet 30, the world’s greatest female entertainer was an exhausted, drug-addicted burn-out. She had psychological problems, huge ones, and she was suicidal. Three days after being fired by MGM in 1950 she slashed her throat with a piece of broken bathroom mirror. She did not die, but it was already her seventh attempt to end her life. The powerful men at MGM (and her mother) surely realized that a 28 year-old who has tried to kill herself no fewer than seven times needed help. Sadly, they were all too focused on how much money she could make for them. No wonder Judy became estranged from Ethel for the remainder of her life.
Even though she was no longer an MGM employee, the studio did not need the negative publicity of Judy’s latest brush with death, (especially so soon after canning her), so Strickling moved quickly to smooth things over. He ordered gossip columnist Hedda Hopper to downplay the ‘incident’. She quickly reported to her millions of readers that Judy’s injury was ‘a scratch that could have been made with a pin’. That ‘scratch’ was enough, however, to put Judy in a secret hideaway, complete with doctors, nurses and a psychiatrist, for a year.
Judy and Minnelli divorced in 1951. By February 1952 she was pregnant to Sid Luft who, in June that year, became her third husband. Over the next 12 months she was involved with both James Mason and Frank Sinatra. Somehow, her marriage to Luft lasted 13 years and produced two children, but it was seldom a happy union. She slept around while he gambled her millions away. By 1965 Judy was single again, but by November she was again a bride, this time to Mark Herron, but they separated five months later. Most people said it was because of his homosexuality, but Judy was bisexual anyway, so that does not really make a lot of sense.
Mr & Mrs Luft Mr & Mrs Herron
In January 1969 their divorce became final, and two months later Judy wed her fifth and last husband. Just three months after the wedding she was dead. In her London apartment, Judy Garland overdosed on barbiturates, possibly accidentally. She was 47, and yet another victim of the Hollywood system. Unlike most of the system’s casualties, however, her death was especially poignant. Why? Because the real damage was done while she was a vulnerable and impressionable little girl.