Judy Garland Revealed: Her Early Life and the Journey That Would Lead to ‘The Wizard of Oz’

The story of Judy Garland, whether it’s the glory days of her starring in films like The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis or A Star is Born, her triumphs on the stage as a singer or her nearly life-long battle with prescription medication are so well known, that at this point nothing should be surprising. And yet, if you read Wikipedia’s entry on her, there is one passage that is so disturbing, but also may explain why she had so difficult a time throughout much of her life.

It’s the section that talks about her marriage in 1941 to musician David Rose, and the fact that soon after she found herself pregnant. Notes the site, “Garland had an abortion while pregnant with Rose’s child at the insistence of her mother and the studio …” — and this is the kicker — “…since the pregnancy wasn’t approved.”

Wasn’t approved?

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There is something fairly insidious about that word that drives home how much of Judy’s life was out of her hands growing up. How everything about her was being controlled by others.  “And her husband didn’t stand up for her,” says John Fricke, author of numerous books about the actress and The Wizard of Oz. “She said the marriage was never the same after that. The same thing happened twice more over the next 10 years where she was pregnant and couldn’t have the babies — which devastated her.

“One of the Garland fan magazines back in 1962,” he continues, “had an article about fans talking to her after the taping of a TV special she did with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and there are only a handful of them around. So she stood in the parking lot at CBS and talked for a while. Finally, one of the woman fans said, ‘I have to get home and relieve the babysitter.’ Judy asked, ‘How many children do you have?’ and the woman said, ‘Six,’ and the fan wrote in the article, ‘I will never forget how sincerely she said to me, ‘You are very fortunate to have six children.’  When I read that story when I was a teenager, I thought, ‘Well, that’s a lovely thing to say.’ But in later years, and I’m not trying to lay pounds of meaning on it, you realize that that would be the number of children Judy would have had if she had not had to terminate three pregnancies.”

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Gerald Clarke, author of Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland, points out, “Judy was portrayed as the girl next door; she starred in Andy Hardy movies and they didn’t want her to be known as a woman, which she was. It was really that the studio was against it and her mother was against it, and her husband, David Rose, didn’t seem to care either way. So she had all three of them against her and she was in the control of the studio and her mother. If David Rose had had thoughts of the child, it might’ve been different, but he didn’t seem to care.”

Pop culture historian Geoffrey Mark, author of Ella: A Biography of the Legendary Ella Fitzgerald, notes that in the case of many female celebrities of the 1930s and 1940s who found themselves pregnant, the question was not whether or not you wanted the baby or were in love with the father of the baby. “Would you like to know what the bottom line for business is?” he asks rhetorically. “If the person was married and they could take the time off to have the kid, then, great, we’ll do publicity about the baby. If the person was married, but their schedule was too full, it was abortion time. If they were unhappily married, maybe they had the baby and gave it up for adoption privately or they had abortions at a time when it was illegal and you were taking your heath into your hands.

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“The psychological effect of having an abortion when you want the baby is awful,” he elaborates, “because the impact of an abortion on a woman’s hormones and the trauma to her reproduction organs is immense. That’s when she wants it. When she doesn’t and it’s forced on her, it can leave scars that last a lifetime. On top of that, Judy’s mother was on the payroll. She was being paid by MGM a salary to keep her daughter in line. So when Judy came home, she was still at work. Where do you recharge? When do you get to be a human being if your boss is literally now at home with you, because your mother is being paid to be your boss? When you’re a star, who the hell do you trust when your own mother proves untrustworthy?”

 Yet despite all of this, Judy Garland was undeniably a star, whose glow continues to this day with an increased brilliance. In 2019 alone, the play Chasing Rainbows was launched, Renee Zellwegger starred in Judy and Showtime aired the documentary Sid & Judy — the latter two of which have been accused of major and minor factual inaccuracies that work against Judy — and fascination with the actress’ films and music continue unabated.

To learn about Judy Garland’s early days, please scroll down.

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