Almost matching Mickey Rooney’s status as THE teenage star of the 1930s and 40s is his frequent co-star Judy Garland, seen above with Sophie Tucker in Broadway Melody of 1938. (Garland was 16 at the time.)
No other Hollywood actress — perhaps excepting Marilyn Monroe — has withstood the test of time and maintained such prominence in America’s show biz iconology than Judy Garland. Just this year, Renee Zellweger walked off with a best actress Oscar for her portrayal of Judy in her later years (Garland born in 1922, died in 1969).
Today, however, we are concentrating on earliest Garland as the ridiculously talented teenager at MGM where she landed at age 13. Judy, of course, had already logged a famously cataloged career in vaudeville and radio. Her first stage appearance came when she was a 2-1/2-year-old infant. Her radio gems were as the lead vocalist with her two siblings in the Gumm Sisters act. At MGM, she started her spectacular emergence on her own.
By 1936 — when she was 14 — she found herself costarring in Pigskin Parade. By 1938, she began appearances in the Andy Hardy series, uniting her with perhaps her most famous costar, Mickey Rooney — an even bigger teenage star at MGM.
Then came Garland’s crowning teenage assignment — The Wizard of Oz.
She was 15 when she was cast as Dorothy, with six movies behind her in her two-and-a-half years at the studio (beginning Sept. 27, 1935, three months after her 13th birthday). She was 16 when The Wizard of Oz started production Oct. 12, 1938, and was 17 when the movie classic opened in Los Angeles (Aug. 15, 1939 at Grauman’s Chinese Theater) and two days later at New York’s Capitol Theater.
There still remains the question of whether MGM brass realized Garland’s full potential from the beginning. Perhaps her age was held against her.
Here’s Joe’s take on the situation.
I agree it took a few years for the studio to begin crafting musicals just for Garland’s talents, but you must remember that the studio really was “a factory.” It produced a product and since the product was successful, why tamper with success? It took 1942’s For Me and My Gal to convince the powers that were that Judy–alone–could carry a movie.
And by 1943’s Girl Crazy, it was obvious that Judy had grown into a mature leading lady and Mickey Rooney was stuck in the role of a “kid.” Judy was then ready for the big time and lucky that Arthur Freed chose Vincente Minnelli to direct her in Meet Me in St. Louis.
By then, Judy was no longer a teenager.