Frances Ethel Gumm wanted the world to know her name — just not her real name. So, just before her impromptu audition for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in September 1935, the Grand Rapids, Minnesota, native settled on the stage name Judy Garland. And the rest, as they say, was history.
Garland became a global superstar at the age of 16 when she starred as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 movie adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s children’s book The Wizard of Oz. The role earned her an Academy Juvenile Award, making her only one of 12 young actors in history to receive the honorary Oscar.
In the years that followed, Garland frequently starred opposite Mickey Rooney and Gene Kelly on the big screen. Her other notable films included Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and Easter Parade (1948).
By the late 1940s, the actress began making headlines more for her personal struggles than for her onscreen accomplishments. She had been hospitalized and attempted suicide multiple times, battled a decades-long dependence on pills and repeatedly failed to report to work. MGM dropped her in 1950, but her career resurged within a matter of a few years.
Garland’s starring role in the 1954 version of A Star Is Born was considered to be one of the greatest comebacks in Hollywood. She was nominated for a best actress Oscar, but lost to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl in a stunning upset. Nearly a decade later, in April 1961, Garland performed an iconic concert at New York City’s Carnegie Hall that many dubbed the “greatest night in show business history.”
Throughout her life, the entertainer was married five times: to David Rose from 1941 to 1944, Vincente Minnelli from 1945 to 1951, Sidney Luft from 1952 to 1965, Mark Herron from 1965 to 1969 and Mickey Deans for just three months before her death in June 1969. She had three children: Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft.
On the 51st anniversary of her untimely death, take a look back at Garland’s most iconic moments.