OCTOBER 13: Judy Garland is Dorothy, starts acting in Oz

116633029_wizard_356247bON THIS DATE in 1938, sixteen-year-old Judy Garland performed her first scenes for The Wizard of Oz.

It has been estimated that more than one billion people have seen Garland sing “Over the Rainbow,” run afoul of the Wicked Witch of the West, and befriend the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion in the ever-popular 1939 musical based on L. Frank Baum’s children’s book.

Garland received received sparkling reviews for her performance, with Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times calling her “a pert and fresh-faced miss with the wonderlit eyes of a believer in fairy tales.” Writing several decades later, Roger Ebert said the actress “projected vulnerability and a certain sadness in every tone of her voice … When she hoped that troubles would melt like lemon drops, you believed she had troubles.” Garland received a special miniature Oscar in 1940 for “most outstanding performance by a juvenile.”

Garland with Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West.

Garland with Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West.

The former Frances Gumm appeared in her first extended film role, under the name Judy Garland, at fourteen. Before The Wizard of Oz, she was mostly known as Mickey Rooney’s leading lady, having co-starred with him in Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937), Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), and Babes In Arms (1939).

Metro-Goldwin-Mayer boss Louie Mayer reportedly tried and failed to borrow Shirley Temple for the Dorothy role. Darryl Zanuck of 20th-Century Fox boss refused to loan out his ten-year-old superstar, who had been Hollywood’s number-one box-office attraction from 1935 to 1937. The Wizard of Oz producer Mervyn Leroy, however, denied any preference for Temple over Garland. “I always wanted Judy Garland,” he said. “On account of her voice. On account of her personality. She looked more like Dorothy than Shirley Temple did.”

Garland’s later roles include 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis and 1954’s remake of A Star is Born. Her hard-driven Hollywood childhood resulted in a dependency on drugs to provide energy, control her weight, and help her sleep. Judy died in 1969 at age 47.

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