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Judy Garland at 100: It’s time we stopped treating the legendary star like a passive victim

On the centenary of Garland’s birth, Geoffrey Macnab reflects on the star’s best films, the immense urgency she brought to her roles, and how many biographies and biopics seem to take a sadistic pleasure in detailing the mistreatment she endured

Friday 28 January 2022 06:30
<p>The Hollywood legend in 1945, aged 23 </p>

The Hollywood legend in 1945, aged 23

The MGM top brass didn’t think the sturdy little 13-year-old who turned up at the studio in 1935 for an audition was anything special. Yes, she had an extraordinary voice but, as one of her biographers rather brutally noted, that voice was “unfortunately attached to a mediocre body and a badly flawed face”. 

Judy Garland, whose centenary is celebrated this year, once looked back on her film debut Pigskin Parade (1936), which she made on loan at Fox, and described herself as a “fat little frightening pig with pigtails”. Nonetheless, she went on to become one of Hollywood’s most legendary figures.  

There are more books about Garland (1922-1969) than almost anyone else. She has been the subject of documentaries and biopics, including 2019’s Judy for which Renée Zellweger won an Oscar. She was a “one in a million years” personality as Zellweger called her. She was the mother of the almost equally legendary Liza Minnelli. Her life and work remain an endless source of fascination – and yet the vast majority of films she made when under contract at MGM and afterwards have vanished from sight. Her reputation as one of the greatest stars in movie history rests on just a handful of titles: The Wizard of Oz, obviously; Meet Me in St Louis; A Star is Born, her final movie I Could Go On Singing and a couple of others.  

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