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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

June 10, 1922

I hope you're all ready for another edition of the Tuesday Timeline!  Today is the tenth of June, and it happens to be a day in which a lot went on.  Lots of celebrity birthdays and lots of events took place today, and I really had a hard time selecting a topic.

In the end, I decided to go with a classic.  A rare talent...whose light dimmed way too soon.  But we'll get to that a little bit later in this entry.

So, what sorts of interesting things happened on June 10?  Have a look!

1692 - Bridget Bishop is hanged at Gallows Hill outside of Salem, Massachusetts after being charged with performing witchcraft and sorcery during the Salem Witch Trials

1854 - The date of the first graduating class of the United States Naval Academy

1861 - The Battle of Big Bethel takes place during the American Civil War

1886 - The eruption of New Zealand's Mount Tarawera kills 153 and destroys the country's Pink and White Terraces

1928 - American author Maurice Sendak (d. 2012), is born in Brooklyn, New York

1935 - The organization "Alcoholics Anonymous" is founded by Dr. Robert Smith and Bill Weston in Akron, Ohio

1940 - Italy declares war on France and the United Kingdom on the same day that Norway surrenders to Germany during World War II

1944 - Joe Nuxhall, aged 15, becomes the youngest person ever to play in a Major League Baseball game, playing for the Cincinnati Reds

1947 - Saab produces its first automobile

1963 - John F. Kennedy signs the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which abolished the practice of wage disparity based on gender

1967 - Actor Spencer Tracy dies of a heart attack at age 67, just seventeen days after filming his last film, "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner"

1977 - The Apple II personal computer is sold in stores for the first time

1990 - British Airways Flight 5390 has a miraculous landing after a blowout in the cockpit of the plane nearly sucks the captain out of the aircraft - the flight touched down safely with zero casualties

1999 - NATO suspends air strikes after Slobodan Milosevic agrees to withdraw Serbian forces from Kosovo during the Kosovo War

2002 - American mobster John Gotti dies of throat cancer at age 61

2003 - The Spirit Rover is launched, which kicks off NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission

2004 - Singer-songwriter Ray Charles passes away at the age of 73

And, I want to wish the following famous faces a very happy birthday;  F. Lee Bailey, Alexandra Stewart, Mickey Jones, Shirley Owens, Ken Singleton, Kevin Corcoran, Rich Hall, Timothy Van Patten, Maxi Priest, Gina Gershon, Carolyn Hennesy, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Jimmy Chamberlin, Ben Daniels, Kate Flannery, Elizabeth Hurley, Bill Burr, Joel "JoJo" Hailey, Faith Evans, Pokey Reese, DJ Qualls, Tara Lipinski, Elyse Sewell, Leelee Sobieski, Kate Upton, and Sasha Obama.

So, what year will we be steering our time machine to this week?

How about June 10, 1922?  Yes, that sounds like a great date to look back on!

Today's date marks the beginning of the life of one of Hollywood's most successful actresses during what one might call the golden age of motion pictures.  Certainly during her career, she starred in several productions - many of which are beloved classics today.  But while her professional life was one in which most actresses and singers dream of having, her personal life was filled with pain, low self-esteem, and financial hardships.  

This is the story of Judy Garland, born ninety-two years ago today.  I know, it seems so hard to believe that had Judy Garland lived, she'd be 92 years old. 

Of course, she didn't start life off as Judy Garland, silver screen icon.  No, when she was born on June 10, 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, she was given the name Frances Ethel Gumm.  Certainly not a name that screams superstar, is it?  But there was a reason behind Judy's original name.  She was named after her parents - dad Francis and mom Ethel.  She was their youngest child.  Because her parents were vaudevillians, I suppose it was destined for the future Judy Garland to pursue a career in entertainment.  And sure enough, little Frances Gumm began performing for people at the tender age of two and a half along with her older sisters, Mary Jane and Dorothy.  They sang "Jingle Bells" on the stage of their father's movie house, and that performance would be the first of many by the Gumm Sisters.

But in 1934, the Gumm Sisters were advised to change their name by George Jessel, and it was rumoured that they opted to make the change after a marquee at a Chicago theatre erroneously referred to them as the "Glum Sisters"!  Whether that story is true or not, who can say?  Most people who were around at that time are now deceased and can't really confirm it.  But of any of you are old enough, please let me know if this was true!  It'd be an interesting story.

The name the trio settled on was the Garland Sisters, and while there are many different theories over how they ended up choosing that name, the reason why Frances changed her name to Judy was reportedly due to inspiration from a Hoagy Carmichael song.  So, I guess you could say that Judy Garland was really born in 1934 if you wanted to. 

At any rate, the Garland Sisters became a short-lived act.  After Mary Jane got married in Reno, the group parted in 1935, and Judy was left to follow her own path to stardom, eventually getting a movie contract with MGM in 1935.  However, Judy's contract was signed during a rather awkward time in her life.  She had just turned thirteen when she started working at MGM.  She was sort of like the title of a Britney Spears song.  She wasn't a girl, but not yet a woman.  And, to add to that, she was just under five feet tall.  She was too old to be cast as a child star like Shirley Temple, but too young to film more adult roles.  She was often compared to the more glamourous actresses who were signed onto MGM at the time - actresses such as Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor, and Lana Turner.  I guess looking back on it, the constant comparisons would be enough to make anyone doubt their self-worth, and for Judy Garland, this would become a struggle that would last well over thirty years.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

MGM purposely wanted to present Judy Garland as having a girl-next-door image, and that required Garland to wear plain, juvenile looking dresses, and even was forced to wear teeth caps and rubberized disks to reshape her nose!  Yeesh, to know that this stuff was going on all the way back in the 1930s is very depressing to me.  But regardless, Judy followed along, thinking that it would help get her career started.  And certainly during the latter half of the 1930s, Judy starred in a few films (three of which were with her most frequent co-star, Mickey Rooney who passed away in April 2014), and had a couple of musical moments, including this classic from 1935 - performed after the sudden death of her father that same year.

And then in 1938, Garland won the role that made her a household name.

That role, of course, was of the teenaged farm girl from Kansas, Dorothy Gale in the 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz".  I really don't need to go into the plot of the movie as I'm guessing that most of you born before 2012 have seen it at least once.  It was reported that Garland had beaten out Deanna Durbin and Shirley Temple for the role, and her role in this film and in the movie "Babes in Arms" earned her a Juvenile Academy Award the following year.  And, her work in "The Wizard of Oz" brought us this instant classic.

And, I could talk about how many people have covered "Over The Rainbow" since Judy Garland first sang it, but I would have to devote an entire blog entry to it.

Of course, that's not to say that "The Wizard of Oz" was Judy's only success in life.  She filmed "Little Nellie Kelly" in a dual role, and had her first on-screen kiss and only death scene in that movie.  She turned heads in 1943's "Presenting Lily Mars".  And, her part in 1944's "Meet Me In St. Louis" is probably best known for this song.

But while Judy Garland was enjoying a successful career in both music and film, her private life was falling apart.  It was reported that Garland, Mickey Rooney, and other young stars signed under MGM were given amphetamines and barbiturates every night so that the actors could keep up with demanding film schedules.  I don't know how that actually would work, but again it was the 1930s, and it was a different time.  Who am I to understand how Hollywood works.  The point is that if Judy Garland's substance abuse had to have a start date, I suppose that it was when she began working for MGM, where she had to face constant scrutiny from everyone around her.  Add drugs to the equation and you have a recipe for disaster.

It wasn't until 1947 that people would begin to understand just how serious things had gotten for Garland.  She suffered a nervous breakdown while filming a movie, and she attempted to kill herself by slitting her wrists with broken glass.  She was institutionalized and given treatment for two weeks.  At the same time, she was wrapping up her fifteen years at MGM by finishing her last three films for the company - "Easter Parade", "In The Summertime", and "Summer Stock".  Her drug use continued throughout 1948, and she was released from her contracts for several film projects because of the fact that her drug use caused her to miss several days of work and when she did work, she was clearly not giving her best performance.

By the 1950s, it seemed as though Judy had made a comeback on the stages of Broadway, earning a Special Tony Award for her efforts in bringing back vaudeville to Broadway.  And in 1954, she appeared in the musical remake of "A Star Is Born", which earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.  Which she lost to Grace Kelly.  Which caused outrage because many had expected Judy to win the award, with camera crews even perched inside her hospital room as she had just given birth to a child days earlier! 

And in the 1960s, Judy Garland was given her own variety show, "The Judy Garland Show", which earned four Emmy nominations.  However, the show only lasted one season due to it being broadcast at the same time as the wildly popular television series, "Bonanza", and the cancellation caused personal and financial hardships for Garland, who was spiraling out of control.

She had already been married and divorced four times by the time she was 46 years of age (her fifth and final husband she married in early 1969).  She had terrible experiences when she did concert tours around the world (citing Melbourne, Australia as being a particularly bad concert as she was booed off the stage after only 45 minutes of performing).  And because of Judy's drug use, she continued to get let go from any future film projects.

And on June 22, 1969 - just days after her 47th birthday, Judy Garland's life was cut short.  Her body was found by her fifth husband inside their rented home in Chelsea, London.  The cause of death was originally linked to an overdose of barbiturates, and many believed at the time that it was an intentional suicide attempt that went bad.  However, the autopsy ruled the death an accidental one.  Whatever the case, Judy's pain was finally over, and after a career filled with as much heartbreak as there was success, perhaps it was inevitable that Judy's life ended in that manner.

Though Judy Garland has been deceased for forty-five years, her legacy continues to live on.  She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  She was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 for her work on Broadway and the musicals she filmed with MGM.  And, of course, her three children (Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft, and Joseph Luft) have developed the performing gene from their mother.  Liza especially did very well for a time after being cast in 1972's "Cabaret".  Though, one could argue that Liza's path eerily followed the path of her late mother as Liza developed an addiction to drugs and alcohol and also had multiple marriages that ended in divorce.  The only difference is that Judy's life ended at 47, while Liza celebrated birthday number 68 in March 2014.

At any rate, Judy Garland was a talent taken from us way too soon.  And, to close off this look back on Garland's life, one of her most...melancholic performances.

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