I remember the day Judy Garland died. I was fourteen at the time and had recently seen my first professional theater show. By the time she was my age however, Judy had been performing on the professional stage a dozen years and had already signed to MGM. Neither of my parents were surprised by her death. They felt [like many people] that she had been betrayed by the Hollywood studio system, that had robbed her of her childhood and turned her into a drug addict. She died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs at the age of forty-seven, at a time when her body had been weakened by a lifetime of overwork and alcohol abuse.
Three months earlier she had married Micky Deans, an American jazz pianist some twelve years her junior at a London registry office. He became her fifth and final husband. I remember watching the ceremony on the television news and though I was just a young lad, thinking how sad and wasted she looked. She was a woman who looked much older than her years, wearing a dress with a silly feathered collar and a strange little pill-box hat. Given her four divorces and obvious poor health, I don’t think anybody watching believed the relationship would last long…
By that time I had already seen several of her old films. Movies from the thirties starring her and Micky Rooney as the girl and boy next door and of course, The Wizard of Oz.
Her life and death should be a warning to parents who want to push their children into the limelight at an early age. Judy Garland had talent, bags of it. She could sing, should dance, she could act and we love her for it but might she have lived a much longer and happier life if she hadn’t been a star.
Having gone to the MGM school with Lana Turner, Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor, she was insecure about her looks. Her minders at MGM regularly gave her amphetamines to help her keep up with the grueling work schedule and depressants to make her sleep during her teen years. She was manipulated by her mother and bullied by studio executives. By the time she won the role of Dorothy Gale in the The Wizard of Oz, she was already seventeen and had to have her breasts bound to make her look younger. Is it any wonder then, that she was an emotional mess?
Even in these so-called enlightened times, child stars have huge pressures imposed on them and they often crash out when they get into their late teens and twenties. Remember what happened to child stars Macawlay Culkin [star of Home Alone who went to prison on drugs charges], Lindsay Lohan [star of Mean Girls who spent time in prison on drugs and grand theft charges] and River Phoenix [academy award winner for My Own Private Idaho who died of a drug overdose at the ago of twenty-three]?
So, if you are the parent of a gifted child, think long and hard before you send them along the Yellow Brick Road towards the Emerald City..