When Judy Garland sang one of the best-known songs in movie history in “The Wizard of Oz” in 1939, “Over the Rainbow,” one line summed up her brilliant career as an actress and singer: “Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.” Garland’s dream of fame did come true, but she never found peace of mind.
Even after she ascended to worldwide stardom, she constantly sought the love, adulation and acceptance that she felt had eluded her since childhood.
The seeds of her discontent were sown when she was very young.
She was the daughter of vaudeville professionals, who encouraged their three daughters to go into show business, and she grew up with the pressure of her parents’ expectations.
She had a strained relationship with her mother, a fierce stage parent, and was devastated when her beloved father died of meningitis in 1935.
The pressure continued in Hollywood: Studio heads told her she wasn’t pretty enough, deepening insecurities that dogged her throughout her career.
Her most celebrated role came in 1939, when at 16 she portrayed an orphaned farm girl from Kansas named Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz.” Young Dorothy longed to leave her tedious life on the farm and travel somewhere over the rainbow, where skies were always blue, as she sang in the video clip below.
“I’ve always taken ‘The Wizard of Oz’ very seriously, you know,” she once said. And I’ve spent my entire life trying to get over it.” After “The Wizard of Oz” Garland appeared in films like “Meet Me in St.
Louis” (1944), “Easter Parade” (1948), and “A Star is Born” (1954), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.
She had already received one Oscar, a special juvenile award for her turn in “The Wizard of Oz.” Garland said she was on a lifelong quest for love. Garland turned to drugs and alcohol to fill the void.
She was married five times and was quoted as saying she longed for the sincere love of one man, rather than the applause of thousands of fans. She died from an apparently accidental barbiturate overdose. Mickey Rooney, her childhood co-star in films like “Babes in Arms” and “Babes on Broadway,” echoed what many close to her had hoped.
“She was — I’m sure — at peace, and has found that rainbow.
At least I hope she has.” Terry Fincher/Getty Images;, via Reuters; Jacques Langevin, via Associated Press; Press Association, via Associated Press; Erich Auerbach, via Getty Images; Damon Winter, via The New York Times; John Lent, via Associated Press;, via Associated Press Thanks for joining us this summer as we revisited some of the 200,000 memorable lives featured in The New York Times’s archive.
We wandered back into a fatal Alaskan odyssey and over the rainbow.