Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 10, Judy Garland

10 Jun

Today would have been Judy Garland’s 90th birthday. We take the opportunity to celebrate one of the first and biggest icons of the gay community. Born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, MI, she only lived 47 years and spent 45 of them singing, dancing and acting. She received a Juvenile Academy Award and won a Golden Globe Award, Grammy Awards, and a Special Tony Award. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the remake of A Star is Born and for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the 1961 film, Judgment at Nuremberg. She was the youngest recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in motion pictures at the age of 39.

Judy performed vaudeville with her sisters in an act billed as the Gumm Sisters. They changed it to Garland (after a prominent critic) for more pizzazz. She was signed to MGM at the age of 13, getting her first big break working opposite Mickey Rooney in several Andy Hardy films. At 17, she starred in one of her most famous films, The Wizard of Oz. She continued in a number of musicals in the 40s, finding stardom but also facing weight problems and depression. She also married twice that decade, including  Vincente Minelli, father of her daughter Liza. She suffered her first major breakdown in 1947 and attempted suicide soon after.

She made her first comeback in 1954 with the help of third husband Sid Luft. She returned to the stage and starred in another iconic role in the remake of A Star Is Born. She acted in a number of other movies into the early 60s. Her biggest triumph in her (relatively) later life was her 1961 show at Carnegie Hall, considered one of the finest performances in the venue. She married twice more after Luft and continued to battle depression and addiction. On June 22, 1969 she was found dead in her London apartment, apparently of an accidental overdose of barbiturates and alcohol.

Judy Garland is iconic in gay culture. Her performance as Dorothy is so pitch perfect and so resonates with people who feel trapped (read Kansas as closet), that Friend of Dorothy has been code for gay for decades. Her status is so significant that Wikipedia has an entire entry on Judy Garland as Gay Icon. She was larger than life, glamorous and tragic, married gay men, and loved spending time in gay bars. While never actively courting the gay community (such as it was before her death), she was accepting of gay men simply for who they were, something very rare in her generation. Legend also associates Garland with the Stonewall Riots which kicked off the gay rights movement. According to some stories, the gathering at the Stonewall Inn on June 27, 1969 was to watch her funeral on television. While some dispute this claim, it is just one more thread weaving the bright and tragic life of the legendary Judy into the rainbow flag.

Today is also the birthday of Maurice Sendak, who died last month at the age of 83.

11 Responses to “Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 10, Judy Garland”

  1. prideinmadness June 10, 2012 at 7:42 am #

    I love Judy Garland! She had a rough life but such a talented woman!

  2. Christine Noble June 10, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    “At 17, she starred in one of her most famous films, The Wizard of Oz.” Oh I love you dear. Also, that nice pilot Neil Armstrong may have done something with the moon. (mwah)

    In all seriousness though, she was a beauty and an amazing performer and as you pointed out the first Ally (yes that needs to be capitalized.) Her life was so tragic and filled with pain. You can’t help but wonder if that Cecil B DeMille award was given to her b/c the people in film that knew and loved her knew she wasn’t going to make it to the venerable age most performers reach before being so honored. It’s too bad that mental health ableism was as much the word of the day as heterosexism, they might have been able to save her.

    Still, she was ours and we were hers and she was the first person in the modern world to embrace us. Bless you Ms. Judy, I hope you’ve found your peace “over the rainbow.”

  3. William June 10, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    Always such nice Bio’s

  4. bradfairchild June 10, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    thank you for this tribute to judy, michael– i love her so very much — here is an article from the atlantic monthly a few years ago that attempts to address the issue of judy as gay icon– while i don’t agree with all the assertions, i think it is a fascinating take: http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/2000/08/gross.htm

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 10, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

      Thank you for including the link to the Atlantic article–really helps to enhance my take on our Judy.

  5. nevercontrary June 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    Ah to have been alive to see the true greats of hollywood.

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