Sunday, June 10, 2012


It is hard to believe that the talented but tragic Judy Garland was born on this day, June 10th, 90 years ago. It seems like only yesterday she was singing about going over a rainbow or dancing with Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. Judy started life as Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Garland was the youngest child of Ethel Marion (née Milne; November 17, 1893–January 5, 1953) and Francis Avent "Frank" Gumm (March 20, 1886–November 17, 1935). Her parents were vaudevillians who settled in Grand Rapids to run a movie theatre that featured vaudeville acts.

Garland's ancestry on both sides of her family can be traced back to the early colonial days of the United States. Her father was descended from the Marable family of Virginia, her grandfather from a Milne ancestry from Aberdeen, and her maternal grandmother from a Patrick Fitzpatrick, who emigrated to America in the 1770s from Smithtown, County Meath, Ireland.

Named after both her parents and baptized at a local Episcopal church, "Baby" (as she was called by her parents and sisters) shared her family's flair for song and dance. Her first appearance came at the age of two-and-a-half when she joined her two older sisters, Mary Jane "Suzy/Suzanne" Gumm (1915–1964) and Dorothy Virginia "Jimmie" Gumm (1917–1977), on the stage of her father's movie theater during a Christmas show and sang a chorus of "Jingle Bells"". Accompanied by their mother on piano, The Gumm Sisters performed there for the next few years.

Following rumors that Frank Gumm had made sexual advances toward male ushers, the family relocated to Lancaster, California in June 1926. Frank purchased and operated another theater in Lancaster, and Ethel, acting as their manager, began working to get her daughters into motion pictures.

In 1928, The Gumm Sisters enrolled in a dance school run by Ethel Meglin, proprietress of the Meglin Kiddies dance troupe. They appeared with the troupe at its annual Christmas show. It was through the Meglin Kiddies that they made their film debut, in a 1929 short subject called The Big Revue. This was followed by appearances in two Vitaphone shorts the following year, A Holiday in Storyland (featuring Garland's first on-screen solo) and The Wedding of Jack and Jill. They next appeared together in Bubbles. Their final on-screen appearance came in 1935, in another short entitled La Fiesta de Santa Barbara.

In 1934, the trio, who by then had been touring the vaudeville circuit as "The Gumm Sisters" for many years, performed in Chicago at the Oriental Theater with George Jessel. He encouraged the group to choose a more appealing name after "Gumm" was met with laughter from the audience. According to theatrical legend, their act was once erroneously billed at a Chicago theater as "The Glum Sisters"".

Several stories persist regarding the origin of the name "Garland". One is that it was originated by Jessel after Carole Lombard's character Lily Garland in the film Twentieth Century which was then playing at the Oriental; another is that the girls chose the surname after drama critic Robert Garland. Garland's daughter, Lorna Luft, stated that her mother selected the name when Jessel announced that the trio "looked prettier than a garland of flowers". Another variation surfaced when he was a guest on Garland's television show in 1963. He claimed that he had sent actress Judith Anderson a telegram containing the word "garland," and it stuck in his mind.

By late 1934 the Gumm Sisters had changed their name to the Garland Sisters. Frances changed her name to "Judy" soon after, inspired by a popular Hoagy Carmichael song. By August 1935 they were broken up when Suzanne Garland flew to Reno, Nevada and married musician Lee Kahn, a member of the Jimmy Davis orchestra playing at Cal-Neva Lodge, Lake Tahoe. In 1935, Garland was signed to a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the rest is history. Happy 90th birthday Judy...

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