She’s known by one name — either name — Garland, or just Judy.

Last Friday we told a cute tale about Frances Gumm, and ran a picture of her when she was about three.  Few people in show business started earlier than Judy Garland.  And few stars burned so brightly.

Judy literally grew up before an audience, first on stage, later on stage and screen.  We thought we’d show you some pictures of the little girl, first known as Frances (or Baby) Gumm, and later as Judy Garland, during the years she was making that transition.

Frances joined her sisters Mary Jane, known as Suzy, and Virginia (called Jimmie) and as Baby Gumm formed the act which played their parents hometown movie/vaudeville theatre in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.  The family moved to California in 1926 when Baby was four, and their mother Ethel was determined to get them into the movies.

It was little Frances who had all the talent and kept the act going.

The Gumm sisters filmed musical shorts in the late twenties and early 1930s.  And they were headliners in vaudeville. They changed their name to the Garland Sisters, and as with all Hollywood lore there are many versions of how this happened. But suffice to say by 1935 when Suzy broke up the act by eloping, they were the Garland Sisters and Baby now called herself Judy.

Judy had the most unusual (and wonderful) voice, was signed by MGM when she was just 13 years old and put into a short, Every Sunday, with another MGM contract player, Deanna Durbin.

The musical short contrasted Judy’s swing style with Durbin’s operatic soprano, and showcased Judy’s alto range. Supposedly studio executives were trying to decide which girl singer they should keep under contract and which they should drop. The short would serve as screen test for the girls.

The story is that by the time Mayer finally decided to keep both, Durbin’s option had lapsed and she had been snapped up by Universal. Whether that’s true or not, it is a fact that Mayer always resented that Universal had a big operatic star and Metro did not.

Mayer could take consolation in the fact that Garland was a hit, and she was unique. In Hollywood of that period that posed a problem.  Where did she fit?  She was too old for child parts, too young for adult roles, and not the right physical type for the sweet, girl next door.  For a few years she was “an in-between”– and sang a song to that effect.

Fortuitously, her voice made her a big hit on radio.  And the studio capitalized on that.

More on Judy — or the professional procession of little Frances — tomorrow.

 

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