Many of us, even if we refuse to admit it, have a niche for Judy Garland -- some space in our cultural memory where that warm, throbbing contralto connects with us in a way no other voice does. For me, it's the scene near the end of "Meet Me in St. Louis" where she consoles a desolate Margaret O'Brien with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." It's a song that, despite all subsequent efforts to squeeze joy from it, clings defiantly to its own vein of melancholy, and no one mined that vein quite like Judy Garland.
Watching this radiant, emotive young woman, we may find it hard to disentwine the sorrow in her voice from the sorrow that dogged her life -- dogged it, in fact, from its earliest days. Born to a mismatched couple of aspiring vaudevillians, Baby Frances Gumm came with a desire to please and talent to burn, assets that were quickly recognized and exploited by her fiercely ambitious mother. Ethel Gumm wouldn't stop until her youngest daughter was a star -- even if it meant giving the child amphetamines and sleeping pills to keep her going. So it was that well before she was Judy Garland, well before she was cake-walking down the Yellow Brick Road, Baby Gumm was an addict, and no amount of fame or love could change that.
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.