FRANCES GUMM was born to a family of vaudeville performers in Grand Rapids, Minnesota on June 10, 1922. She made her stage debut at age three, and appeared with her two older sisters in "The Gumm Sisters Kiddie Act" until the girls changed their name to Garland and one of them married, breaking up the act. Judy, as she was now called, encouraged by an ambitious mother, went solo with her big voice, and was signed by Louis B. Mayer to an MGM contract at age 13. Her first film (a short) was EVERY SUNDAY (1936) in which she played opposite the other rising child vocal star of the time, Deanna Durbin, but it was her portrayal of a young Clark Gable admirer in BROADWAY MELODY OF 1938 (1937) that brought her prominently into the public eye.
In her early career Judy made several films with Mickey Rooney, including LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938) and BABES IN ARMS (1939), but it was her role as Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) that made her famous. She even won an honorary Oscar for her outstanding performance as a screen juvenile. Stardom had a price for Garland however, as she began to be plagued by a weight problem and stress. These led to drug problems as well, due to the pills the doctors were giving her to suppress her appetite, as well as those to help her sleep when the strain of work became too much.
Her film successes continued however, despite her personal struggles. After MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) in which Judy immortalized the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," she married the film's director Vincente Minnelli, and in 1946 had their daughter Liza Minnelli. This was the second of Garland's five marriages, and it ended in divorce in 1951. Despite other great performances in THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946), EASTER PARADE with Fred Astaire in 1948, and SUMMER STOCK in 1950 with Gene Kelly, Garland was fired by MGM in 1950 for chronically showing up late or not at all for work.
She began her comeback with the help of third husband, Sid Luft, through a number of live concert performances including an incredible 19-week engagement at the Palace Theater in New York. Finally in 1954, she returned to the screen in A STAR IS BORN with James Mason-- a performance which earned her a Best Actress nomination. Her personal troubles continued however, and though she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1961 for JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG and gave a memorable concert at Carnegie Hall the same year, her film career, TV show, concert tours, and marriages all faltered. On June 22, 1969 Garland died of what was determined to be an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.
Biographical information from Cinemania '95.