Judy Garland – a victim of MGM’s greed?



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.

Best Actor: Best Actor 1938: Spencer Tracy in Boys Town

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.

CBS Developing Medical Soap Inspired by Wizard of Oz - Today's ...

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.

Artie Shaw Images - Frompo

LANA TURNER ♥ on Pinterest | Colorized Photos, Actresses and ...

Lana Turner

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.

Judy xo on Pinterest | Garlands, Daughters and Hedy Lamarr 

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.

JGDB Magazine Article:

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.

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Joseph Mankiewicz

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.

 Vincente Minnelli - Biography - Director - Biography.com

Vincente Minnelli

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 Marian Milne Gilmore (1893 - 1953) - Find A Grave Memorial

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.

Sid Luft (1915 - 2005) - Find A Grave Memorial    Truman Mark Herron (1929 - 1996) - Find A Grave Memorial

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.




  1. Judy “snatched” David Rose from Martha Raye? Really? Everything I’ve read points to Rose and Miss Raye having been on the outs long before he began going with Judy.

  2. The claims of Judy doing this and that, are allover the place as in so many different version. A few say sex with many people and others say a just a few and others say not so much as she was just seking love but never got it, the thing is we will never know 100% what hppened in her life apaprt from the illnesses and addictions, so everyone will have their own theory of how she really was.

    • That is a fair enough comment, although these days there are so many more sources to draw on regarding movie stars, especially those of the so-called ‘Golden Age’. The more we can cross-reference, the closer we should be able to ascertain the truth. Whereas there used to be only the studios’ version of the truth to draw on, today we have people from all facets of the industry of those bygone days penning their memoirs. We still must sift the fact from the fiction, but at least these days we have a choice. I appreciate your comments. Thank you.

      • The only way to get facts is if they are given by the people that actually knew her and any statement they make, they would be willing to say yes to what they said but even then, all those years ago as memory does not last that long and that accurate. Many people talk a lot of crap about other people because that is just the nature of people. Males talk about females as in what they want to happen rather then what actually happened. There is a rubbish book called “get happy – the life of Judy Garland” and I only got it to see how weird this book is as it claimed to be facts “mostly sexual” but immediately saying, it could have happened, speculated and from unnamed sources, sources wish to remain anonymous and unnamed people involved in sexual acts with Judy and then those involved who were still alive when this book come out denied what was written in that book “and yet this book was published and some will think it’s the truth with no evidence”. Perverted people will love “get happy” because that is how they see everyone in life and it’s people like them that make statements about others and then authors put it in print and readers think it’s true with no evidence. We will never know what really happened because people see things as they want to see them. Even recent events get distorted so much that by the time it reaches the third person, it’s 80% inaccurate and then 30 to 50 years later there will be a documentary on it and 1% might be the truth.

        • Unfortunately, that is pretty much the nature of history. We get handed down a few scraps of information from one or two sources, probably unreliable, and from that we attempt as historians to put together an overall picture of what MAY have happened. Sooner or later that ‘educated guess’ finds its way into a history book and, before too long, it becomes ‘fact’. In essence, we possess microscopic evidence of most events in history, yet we generally accept historians’ assessments as accurate. Today, at least, with everybody and his dog publishing their memoirs we have much more to draw on than ever before. Whether or not that is a good thing, however, is debatable.

          • I understand what you have said and thanks for your replies, the point I am trying to make is that when an author writes something about a person from the past and states and makes claims but then would state “it might have happened and use words of that nature” and backing up statements/claims from anonymous sources/unnamed and so on but still making those claims. it just sounds so made up/fiction that it seems writers/authors/publishers are so desperate to put something out and hope it sells that they will allow anything. When you pay for something such as a book or docofilm, you want at least some creditability that it could have happened and most don’t give you that. With sources/evidence ,if you are going to make claims and then refer to it that you have evidence and put it in written text, you would need it backed up and so you would ask the people you get the information from “are you willing or prepared to state that they said this and that and it is true to your recollection” but many just say anonymous or wish to remain anonymous and so those statements/claims should not be put in and not be published/released as biographies and things of that nature. In the case of Judy Garland, there is just so much hear say type information and the classic “this is what really happened” and instead of the 2 sides to a story, hers becomes 10+ sides to a story and growing. I think in the future it will become a type of religion about her that people will be arguing about what happened, if not already happening.

          • Anyone with a history degree had to write scores of fully referenced essays to get it, In my case I also marked thousands of essays when I was a tutor with both Murdoch University and with the Open University of Australia. Full referencing is a requirement of writing in academia, of course, but not elsewhere. My website and my books are not referenced. My site is a ‘fun’ thing that I write for anyone who is interested in the subject of Hollywood history. I make nothing out of it, yet occasionally I get really nasty responses because I have not cluttered up my comments with references. My books are not referenced either, but each one contains an extensive bibliography of hundreds of sources. I suppose the bottom line is that I check and cross-check everything I write, so it is as accurate as I can make it, but it is STILL just my assessment of the research I have done. Mistakes can be made of course, but that can happen by referencing a dodgy source too. I recently had an Errol Flynn fan attack what I wrote as ‘unsubstantiated muck-raking’. I could have argued that there are about TEN THOUSAND sources (including Flynn’s closest friends and the man himself) that attest to his monstrous sex, drugs and alcohol obsessions, but I chose not to. I just suggested the critic should find a site that sanitized the man – his fan club sites, perhaps. There are bound to be some. It is refreshing to receive comments (such as yours) that are level-headed and objective, Ann. I appreciate it. As for Judy Garland, I have been a fan all my life, but her friends too have painted a picture of her that is nothing like the squeaky clean studio biographies that were churned out for decades. We tend to forget that extremely famous, talented icons are human beings just like the rest of us. Nobody is perfect, least of all someone subjected to the horrendous treatment she endured for most of her life.

  3. I don’t want to hog the board, so I will just say one more thing. Many so-called fans know little about Judy, and get defensive when confronted with truths. She was the world’s greatest female performer (Sinatra her male counterpart) and, at the same time, an
    uncontrollable, self-centered, self-destructive mess as a person. Some of it can be attributed to her drug addiction and, to a lesser degree, alcoholism. But the greater part of it, I believe, can be found in something on youtube. It was what Joe Pasternak said about the public’s crazed reaction to her and Mickey Rooney’s personal appearances in New York publicizing The Wizard of Oz, crushing to get in line to see her, get near her, to love her. Joe was there. “It was like Lindbergh had landed. It went to her head.” And therein was the problem. It went to her head. She thought, maybe rightfully, that she could do anything, get away with anything, that no rule applied to her. Eventually, she came to believe that she was indestructible. And so she was doomed. And with that, I will say goodbye, thanks for a very good website.

    • Thank you for your most informative comments. I certainly do not consider you are hogging the board. On the contrary. Please, feel free to look in and comment whenever you wish. You obviously know your stuff.

  4. Not to shortchange Loretta, but she didn’t invent the adopt-your-own-baby scam. Silent superstar Barbara LaMarr (yes, Hedy’s named for her) did it, a story you might already know about.

    • Yes, I wrote a small piece under ‘Tragic Hollywood’ here about Barbara. I mentioned the ‘adopted’ baby, but not that Hedy was named for her. I think I discovered that after I had written the piece.

  5. Judy snatched David Rose from Martha Raye. But a little thing like that didn’t prevent Judy and Martha from being friends. Stars just think differently. The thing that got Ingrid Bergman into trouble was getting knocked up by a man who wasn’t her husband… certainly crossing the line of mere husband-stealing. Even today that might raise an eyebrow or two, and I don’t mean surgically.

    • Ha! Ingrid should have given Loretta Young a call. She knew how to cover up a pregnancy AND a child. Just disappear for a few months, wait for a few more, and then adopt your own baby!

  6. MGM could have paid off Annabella, who had no box office value, and enabled a Power-Garland marriage, which would have provided many benefits, especially to Judy, who could then say (in her mind), “Take THAT, Lana.” More than money, more than anything, Judy wanted to be viewed as desirable. She would tell anyone who listened how Mayer called her a hunchback, which is absurd. Many of Judy’s CBS shows had her dressed to show her beautiful back. (I’m assuming she didn’t have hunchback surgery.) Power and Judy could have teamed up for films, and each studio could have borrowed a star without the usual legal departments, agents, and endless negotiations. You’re right, studios frowned upon open adultery, and when Frank Sinatra couldn’t dump his wife fast enough to marry Ava Gardner, he found himself in a horrible slump. He survived it and came back bigger, but at the time, he had no way of knowing that.

    • You are probably right, but given the paranoia exhibited by the studios, I can imagine some exec convincing his colleagues that any hint of Judy snatching a married man might see her fans ostracize her and cost the studio money at the box-office. Ingrid Bergman springs to mind.

  7. I’ve heard a few variations of the Garland love letters story. Judy was a loose cannon with letters. Even recently, one was found from her to Frank Sinatra. Sometimes it is very difficult to know what’s true or what’s Judy’s imagination, medicated or non-medicated. The image of Power reading Judy’s love letters aloud to fellow servicemen, to me, seems pure Judy… self-indulgent, self-flattering. I see nothing that Mannix or Mayer would object to in a Power-Garland marriage, uniting two studios, each could borrow the other star, and it would have been terrific free publicity.

    • Good point. The only thing I can think of that might have worried the studios about a Ty – Judy union would be the fact that he was married to Annabella at the time. Fans back then took a dim view of cheating spouses, hence the studio’s often extraordinary efforts to cover them up

  8. I think this article may have been written by a teenager… not a bad thing, but there are a lot of errors, the worst being the photo of a nice lady whose name happens to be Betty Asher, but not Judy’s Betty Asher! (I hope she doesn’t see her photo here.) There’s a lot of material about Judy out there, and even now, more coming out (Stevie Dumler Phillips’ book) so there’s a lot of research to do to get a clear picture.

    • A whole article could be written about Betty Asher. Officially she was an MGM publicist, but actually was a studio spy. She had previously been assigned to Lana Turner, observing ever detail of her life, then reporting to her boss-lover Eddie Mannix. She was later switched to Judy, who really thought she had found true love in Betty, and was later shocked to learn what Betty’s real job was- keeping tabs on Judy, particularly her sex life and eating habits. More than anyone, it was Betty, certainly not Old Mrs. Gumm, who supplied Judy with medications to control her weight, wake her up and put her to sleep. It was shattering and left Judy cynical, to find out the real nature of her relationship with Betty. Having lived a complicated and hectic life, Betty Asher later committed suicide.

      • Very interesting indeed, I believe it was Asher who convinced Judy that Ty Power was reading her love letters to his barracks mates, which was apparently quite untrue. She also kept his letters from Judy until she finally became totally disillusioned with him and ended their relationship. I think this was all done on Eddie Mannix’s orders, but I am not sure why. Do you know?

  9. Poor Judy, along w/ others, dealing w/ awful men. When I read how
    terrible home lives and studio lives were for so many, I think how
    lucky Ms. Bacall was. Her family, w/exception of absent father, was
    supportive. I’ve read that Hawks,who didn’t go after starlets, was
    interested in her, until Bogie declared himself “director” in that

    • I think it was Hawks’s wife who picked Betty Bacall’s picture out of a magazine for ‘To Have and Have Not’. If she did so, then the lady had a good eye. Two of my all-time favorite performances by actresses are from that same era: Betty in ‘To Have and Have Not’ and Stanwyck in ‘Double Indemnity’. I have watched both films 30 or so times, simply to enjoy these great actresses.

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