by Judy Garland (as told to Gladys Hall)
Screenland December 1940 – January 1941
I THINK First Things are the best things. “Wasn’t it Robert Louis Stevenson who said that first sunsets, first loves, all the things we see for the first time, all the first experiences we have, are always best? Anyway, think so. I know I’ll always remember, most clearly and deeply and forever, the first things that have happened to me in my first eighteen years. The things that have happened to me in my first (and only) “Past,” you might say, since now that I am eighteen, I think I can be said to have a Past. So, I got to thinking that maybe I’d write my first Life Story my own self, in my own way. My “own way” probably won’t be the Proper Way, at all. The Proper Way to write an Autobiography, I mean. Because I’m just going to sort of talk out loud, or write out loud, to my mother, to my friends, to my fans. I’m just going to go on and on, sort of Revealing to them all the Important, First Things (important to me, that is) that have made up my Past.
Like, for instance, my first day on this earth, which is certainly the first, First Thing! Well, Mom, as you may remember, my first day on this earth was the day of June 10, 1922—(I seem to remember that movie girls don’t give the year of their birth—oh, well!)—and you may also recollect, Mom, that I first opened my eyes in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. You’ve got it down in my baby book that I weighed eight pounds when I was born and that my eyes were blue at birth and started to turn to brown when I was about five months old. You’ve also confessed to me that your first feeling about me was one of—terrible Disappointment! Because, having had two small daughters already, Suzanne and Virginia, naturally you and Daddy wanted some novelty in your children and just hoped and prayed that I would be a, boy! You terribly wanted me to be a boy, you’ve said, you planned for me to be a boy, you even named me Francis Gumm, Jr., after Daddy. And then, not only did I turn out to be, NOT the answer to your prayers, but just another little girl, for Pete’s sake. Also I was as red as an Indian, you said, and the reddest, homeliest baby anyone ever saw! You just made the best of it by changing the “i” to “e” and naming me Frances, anyway!
I was three months old (how often you’ve told me this, Mom!) when you first noticed what you called “the first signs of talent” in me—you always sang to me when you rocked me to sleep, you’ve told me, and you noticed that when you sang just sort of usual songs, like Baby’s Shoes or Rockabye, Baby, I’d go smack off to sleep. When you sang sort of rollicking, spirited, “Yo, Ho” songs, I’d gurgle and bat my eyes and flip my hands around as though I was telling the Sand Man to scat! And when you sang sad songs, especially In The Gloaming or The End of a Perfect Day, I’d cry. I’d cry real, wet sobby tears!
That’s how you first knew, you say, that I was “sensitive to music.” Well, be that as it may, certainly my first sort of large, blurry memory is of music, music all the time, music all over the house. “We shall have music wherever we go” should have been the Gumm motto! I can remember how you and Daddy and Suzanne and Jinnie sang—in the bathtub, at meals, at your housework, as well as in the theater, of course. Daddy had a beautiful voice. Anyway, you’ve always insisted that my response to music “showed” abnormally early and was abnormally acute. And as it makes me feel rather “special” I like to think you were right—you always are, Mom, and that’s not gross flattery!
The “First Tooth” is also one of your favorite “baby” stories about me. I was four months old to the day, it seems, and you had invited guests for dinner. And I made the dinner hour hideous by yowling my lungs out, not musically, and continued throughout the evening! When you couldn’t stand it any longer, you gave me a thorough “searching” and discovered that I had cut, not my first tooth, but my first teeth! The two uppers had come through. Mom always tells people, “She was doing things double, even then!”
My First Word, I believe, was uttered at the ripe, old age of nine months. And the family was unimpressed because it seemed to be the very banal, baby word “Goo.” Then, Daddy noticed that whenever I said “Goo” or whatever it was, I always proceeded to do something, like throwing my rattle at the cat or putting a glass ornament in my mouth, and then they all realized that I was not saying “Goo” but “Do.” (I still think that’s a debatable point, Mom, but have it your own way!)
I took my First Step at the age of eleven months, Baby-Book History records. Previous to that first step, I’ve been told, I managed to get around by hitching myself across the floor, delicately balanced on one hip bone! Even my doting parents couldn’t make anything precocious out of that!
My First Interest, it seems, was in picture books. Well, I can believe that. I’ve always been crazy about books. And I can remember for myself that my first real favorite was the story of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp. Right now, I’m reading “Mein Kampf” and finding it pretty tough going, too. But I honestly think that if we want to understand what’s going on in Europe and how it got like this, we should read the book!
I never played with dolls, never. I’m told that when I was a mere infant, I’d make horrible faces if anyone just handed me a doll. And I remember myself that my first really nice doll was given me by Mary Pickford when I won the Herald-Express’ “Better Babies” Contest. I think I was two and a half or something like that. I don’t remember the contest but I do remember that the great, big beautiful Doll sat in my playroom along with other, not-so-elegant, dolls and that I thought it was just a piece of bric-a-brac, not something to play with. I think I know why I hated dolls, they reminded me of little, dead people! All cold and still. I liked live, warm, cuddly things. I still do. The first toys I ever really played with, I remember, really used, were a toy piano and a toy xylophone. I never had a piano lesson in my life but I liked to bang on that toy piano.
I’m not sure whether I really remember my first Public Appearance or whether I’ve just heard Mom and Daddy talk about it so often that I think I remember. I do remember that I sang Jingle Bells and that I chose that song my own self. I do remember it was Christmas week and I was about three years old, and that I wore a white dress which Mom made for me and that Suzanne and Jinnie (I always called Virginia, Jinnie) pinned sprigs of holly all over it, even where I sat down! And of course I remember, Mom, how you taught us three kids lots of songs. And you’ve told me that I amazed you by my persistence in making trios out of duets (so that I could be included in with my sisters!) and by my quickness in catching onto tricks and phrases. Anyway, so the Family Saga goes, when the curtains parted on this First Appearance on Any Stage of Baby Frances Gumm. there I stood, and when the orchestra gave me my cue, I started to sing, without a moment’s hesitation or the slightest sign of shyness. You insist that I kept perfect pitch, perfect time, and didn’t miss a word!
Well, when the chorus ended, so far as the orchestra was concerned, and it was time for me to bow off gracefully, I did nothing of the kind. I started the song all over again! Again it ended. Again I had other ideas. And after five verses and four choruses. Daddy had to march out on the stage, pick up his infant daughter and carry her into the wings amid quote tumultuous applause end quote! “I wanna sing some more,” I kept protesting. 1 remember Daddy telling me this—”1 wanna sing some more,” and he said he was sure my voice could be heard out front long after I’d vanished, on his shoulder, into the fringe of canvas Christmas trees.
That was amateur night, too, by the way. And I won the first price. And Daddy wouldn’t let me accept the prize because it was his theater and he said it was like a hostess not accepting the prize at her own party! That always sort of stuck in my mind and I thought to myself, “Huh, I’ll win prizes some day, prizes I can accept!”
Anyway, that was my first beady draught of applause. I loved it then, apparently, and I’ve always loved it. Between you and me, folks, I think it’s the most beautiful music in the whole world! And it can come in different ways, too, not only the sound of hands clapping, but in fan letters, good reviews, the shine in your director’s eyes when you’ve done a good scene, lots of ways.
My first memory of my Mom and Dad is watching them doing their singing and dancing act as I sat in an orchestra seat between Suzanne and Jinnie. Especially, I remember hearing my mother sing, I’m Saving for a Rainy Day. That has always been my favorite song. I used to cry when she sang it. I still do.
I remember how Daddy always arranged the bill in his theater so that our acts followed one another. I mean, Mom and Dad would do their act first and we girls would sit in the audience and applaud. Then we would go on and do our trio singing and Mum and Daddy would sit out front and applaud its. That was my first practical lesson of the theater—that it takes only one good friend to start the ball rolling.
I have other First Memories of my Mom and Dad, too—especially how hard they worked for us—how my mother not only accompanied us on the piano but also made all our costumes, sometimes sewing all night long, and also arranged our music for us and also took care of our theatrical bookings. And Daddy did all the business end of things, took charge of the box office and our traveling arrangements and so on. And then, after all their back-of-the-scenes work was done, they’d get out there on the stage and do their act, fresh and peppy as kids! I don’t think there’s anything in the world so folksy as a Family Act. It really is “all for one and one for all.”
And most of all, I remember how Dad introduced Mother to the audiences. He was so proud of her tiny bands. Like little, quick birds, they were, I always thought. Anyway, Dad would always do his short dance routine first and then he’d step forward to the footlights and hold up his hand for silence and say, “I want to introduce a tiny, pretty lady with tiny, pretty hands!”
Maybe it sounds kind of corny now, but it always brought a lump into my throat and tears into my eyes when I was a kid. And it still does, when I think about it, now that I’m eighteen.
I guess you always remember your First Best Friend. Margaret Shook was my First Friend. I didn’t know until long after we’d left Grand Rapids that Mardie, I always called her Mardie. was the daughter of a maid who had worked for us before I was born. I remember how Daddy taught Mardie and me to sing My Country ‘Tis of Thee and how he’d play it and we’d stand on the front steps and sing it and we’d make our kitten and puppy and lop-eared rabbit and trained duck stand at attention, too! Once Mardie threw red pepper in my eyes—remember, Mardie?—it was by mistake, of course—and I thought I was blind. Long after the sting had gone out of my eyes I went around making believe I was blind. I guess I liked the attention it got me. I always liked the spotlight, I’m afraid. I’ve always felt at home in it, like sitting by the fireside, cosy. And I remember that my First Punishment was being stood in a corner. I may as well admit to you now, Mom, that it was no punishment! In fact, I got a Kick out of it. It got so that I’d do something naughty deliberately-on-purpose and then I’d go and stand in a corner under my own steam! Because I liked standing in a corner. Because it was, in a manner of speaking, also standing in the spotlight! Suzanne and Jamie would be so impressed when they saw me standing there, they’d sort of tip-toe around.
Well, I certainly remember my First Tour! We left Grand Rapids soon after I was three. I can remember hearing Mother and Dad talking about how California would be the best and healthiest place to bring up three small girls. I remember all the talk about Dad selling his theater in Grand Rapids and his plans for buying a new one in California. Being practical people, and vaudevillians, we decided to make one night stands along the road on the way out. That’s when I began to be The Pest of the Act. Being the smallest of the three, I always stood on the stage between the girls, with an arm around each sister. And I’d tickle first one and then the other! I broke up the act entirely. They’d just go to pieces but I’d go right on singing! Jinnie thought it was rather funny but Suzanne would chase me all over and around back-stage, trying to catch me and spank me.
Sometimes we played jokes on the orchestra, too—and then one night, the orchestra turned the tables on us. We had to stand very near to the footlights, you see, being so little—and this bunch of boys got a very bright idea and they all ate garlic and the fumes nearly asphyxiated us! But that was nothing to what our First Audience did to us when we first played in California—it was in a small theater in a small northern town, I remember, and before we’d half finished our first song, the entire house walked out on us! That was the night Dad decided that the theater was not for us. And that walk-out was my First Introduction to California audiences!
Well, then we settled in Lancaster, California, and Daddy got his theater nearby. I think the first special thing I remember about Lancaster is when I did my first school play there. I must have been about four and a half, I think. Anyway, I was a dwarf and I had pillows stuffed all over me. At the end of our act, I was surprised to see the curtain go down before we, The Players, had taken any bows. What kind of a thing was this. I thought?—so I just went right out in front of the curtain and started to bow like mad and I just stayed out there, bowing and bowing, and then I had to crawl in under the curtain to get back again! I should have been mortified but I’m told that I wasn’t.
My first “starring” role was also in a school play in Lancaster. I forget whether it was given by the dramatic school I attended for a while or the public school, but anyway, I was “Mrs. Goldilocks” and I wore a huge monument of a blonde wig. I had to swing back and forth in a rope swing under some canvas trees and in my zeal of enthusiasm, I swung so hard that I hit one of the back-drops and knocked my wig off! And there sat “Mrs. Goldilocks” with little, brown wisps for hair. They never gave me a starring role again! Oh, and as if I can ever forget the time I appeared in a school recital in the auditorium of the public school where Suzanne and Jinnie were going! The place was packed. Behind the scenes, my mother held my dress for me. I can see it to this day, a white dress, all ruffles, with panties attached so it would be easy for me to slip into with one motion—well, just as Mom was holding it ready for me to step into, I heard the opening bars of my number and I rushed out onto the stage, stark naked!
I must say that I began my professional career as an ill-starred star. Like when I was five I became one of The Meglin Kiddies. And the next Public Appearance I made was in one of their revues in a Los Angeles theater. To us, a Los Angeles theater meant what the Palace did to Broadway. It was the Big Time! And not only was I in several of the ensembles but also, dressed as a Cupid, with bow and arrow and quivers in a silver case, I was to deliver myself of a solo, I Can’t Give Yon Anything But Love. And then, again, Disaster! For I awoke on the eventful morning with a cold sore, a sty on my right eye and the horrible results of my First Permanent almost totally disabling me. I couldn’t see, my eye was practically shut, my mouth was swollen with the cold sore, and my hair looked like Topsy’s after a pillow fight. We spent the day frantically trying first aid remedies and I kept my fingers crossed wishing—but you can’t wish sties and cold sores away, nor permanents, either, they run their appointed courses. Anyway, Mom says that I showed then, for the first time, that old “the Show must go on” slogan was in my bones because—a very sorry looking cupid did the blind staggers onto the stage. I couldn’t even get the quivers out of my case on account of how I couldn’t see to get them out!
But I’ve always said that I was born under a Lucky Star, somewhere Over the Rainbow—because that night Gus Edwards was in the audience and he came back-stage and told my mother that my sisters and I should resume our trio singing—”With her ear,” he said, “nothing musical is beyond her.” I remember his exact words on account of how I thought he mentioned my ear because my ears were the only parts of me that were not disfigured!
It was soon after that that The Gumm Sisters got their first Professional Engagement at the Biltmore Theater in L. A. Boy, did we celebrate! W e always celebrated every Big, First Occasion at our house. That night we had ice-cream and store cake and lemon pop and candy. We were Big Time! Well, sir, we even had a private dressing room with maid service. I kept asking the maid to go and get me ice cream sodas and chewing gum, I didn’t know what else to ask her for. I still send people out to get me ice-cream sodas and chewing gum when I’m working. Well, we were all so happy and elated we didn’t even think to ask what our salaries would be. Mom had bought all three of us new dresses. I remember them so well because they were our first bought dresses. And all our friends came to the theater. Mom and Dad sat in the front row of the orchestra to get the applause going. And we got a lot of it, too. Lovely waves of it!
I guess that was the first time I ever had a conscious, sort of formed ambition to Be Someone. I never thought of going in movies, never once in my life. But I did think, I’m going to be a Singer! I did think, I’m going to have lots of pretty clothes some day and a lovely house and a red automobile! They always say “As a man thinks” . . . well, / say that “As a little girl thinks” because I have them, now, the pretty clothes, my own house, even the red
But Pride certainly goeth, at times, before an awful belly-whopper—for that night, when we opened our pay envelopes after the show, we found fifty cents apiece, in each! So that was my First Pay-Check— FIFTY CENTS! And Mom “had paid $10.00 each for our dresses. I said “Are we bankrupt”? And Daddy laughed and said, “No, but I guess Woman’s Place is In The Home—and in school, for you three!”
Buddy West—well, Mister West, I certainly remember youl! You certainly belong among my Important Firsts on account of how you were the first boy I ever noticed, and I hated you! Maybe Dr. Freud and the psychologists would say that I was having an “over-reaction” but I called it just plain hating you—in fact, I hated all boys after you, for ages, well, for months—I remember how, when Daddy would reminisce, saying “when I was a boy—” I’d say, passionately, “you weren’t a boy, you weren’t ever a nasty little boy!” You gave me my First Black Eye, Mister West, sir, if you care. You threw a stone at me and gave me the pip of a shiner! Mom laughed at me when I came home with the black beacon. She was very wise with me, my Mom, she always laughed off the little, hurtful things that happened to me. So that I wouldn’t take misfortune, or myself, too seriously.
But the girls certainly knew how to make my life miserable. Whenever they wanted to tease me, they’d go around yodeling a little ditty they reworded. I can still remember every horrid word of it. It went like this:
“Frances is mad and I am glad,
And I know how to tease her,
A bottle of wine to make her shine.
And Buddy West to squeeze her!”
Ugh, I can get a cactus spine even now, when I think of it! But I got back at you. Mister West, if you recall. One day we were having a fire drill in school. I had an all-day sucker in my hand. We got in line and you tried to kiss me and I hit you in the face with the all-day sucker and it stuck there! Gosh, did you look funny!
I really had my First Heartbreak in Lancaster, too. I had quite a Hard Time there, really, in many ways. The kind of ways that hurt kids something fierce. When the neighborhood mothers heard that I’d been on the stage, that I was a “Theatrical Child,” none of the children would play with me. Gee. they were mean to me, awful mean. Like I had a lot of costumes up in the attic, of course, real stage costumes and lots of times, especially Hallowe’en, they’d all come to my house, so sweet, sugar wouldn’t melt in their mouths, and they’d borrow costumes from me. And then, when they’d got what they wanted, they’d ditch me, leave me sitting alone in my costume. It almost broke my heart.
I never learned—hopefully I’d take the kids to Dad’s theater night after night, for free. I’d buy them all candy and gum. Vera Shrimp, her little sister, Ardis Shrimp, Muggsy Ming, Laurana Blankenship (did you ever hear such names!) and the others—and they’d grab the candy and the tickets and then they’d scuttle in and leave me standing there, alone! Those little SHRIMPS! I’d think, fiercely, and never know how funny it was.
And of course I remember my First Fashion Show. Daddy was putting on a Fashion Show at his theater and Mom made me a frilly costume and fixed up an enormous frilly hat box which was to be carried out on the stage with me in it. I was to come out, all bowing and smiling, but—my “friends” had turned up and they gave me the Bronx Cheer and what I mean is, they put their hearts in it! I started to cry, right then and there. You and the girls were out front, Mom, making signs to me not to mind. But I did mind. And Daddy was furious. No one could make me cry when he was around. I was such a “Daddy’s Girl”—so he just walked down the aisle of the theater and announced that “the rude, young people would please get out of the theater, get their money refunded at the box office from the cashier, and stay out!”
Then there was the time when I was going to the Professional School—Jinnie and I. Frankie Darro was in my class and hat mortal boy spent every mortal minute whispering to me. One day the teacher grabbed Frankie by the back of his neck, while holding a croquet mallet in her hand. I piped up, “Atta girl!” and she hit me over the head with the mallet! I don’t know what she was doing with a croquet mallet and I don’t know why she hit me when I was taking up for her! But she did. And Jinnie was furious. She took me home right then and there and I never did go back!
Of course, I had some fun in Lancaster —now and then the two Shrimps would come over, or some of the others, and we’d play my favorite game of Kick The Can, in our backyard. I was a tomboy sort of a little girl. I guess. I never much cared how I looked. I was too busy kicking the can and ringing doorbells to care about clothes —we rang doorbells every night, whether it was Hallowe’en or not. But just the same, I do remember my first Party Dress. Blue chiffon it was, accordion pleated, with little rosebuds just growing all over it!
I believe that when I changed my name, or rather when Mr. George Jessel changed it for me, that was the first real turn of the Wheel of Fortune for me! I believe in numerology. And I believe that the name Judy Garland is right for me—so I date my Beginning As An Actress from my Second Christening. Of course, there were to be a few Grim Detours, but nevertheless, I was On My Way.
Well, it was not so very long after our “financial crisis” at the Biltmore Theater that a theater manager in Chicago offered “The Gumm Sisters” an engagement at the Oriental Theater in Chicago, with, he said, our names in electric lights! That’s what got us, especially me! Applause and electric lights—yummy! Daddy didn’t want us to go but after lots of coaxing and teasing be finally consented; the family exchequer yielded new dresses again, and The Gumm Sisters accompanied by their mother set forth to conquer the world!
I remember how I could hardly wait to get to Chicago to see our names in electric lights. That’s all we talked about, all the way across the country. On opening night we got to the theater an hour and a half before opening time just so we could stand there and GLOAT! What’s more, we took a taxicab, feeling that no extravagance was too great for this Great Moment. But when we got there, it wasn’t “The Gumm Sisters” we saw, winking at us over the marquee, but—”The GLUM SISTERS!” The adjective “glum” was certainly appropriate to our mood for the rest of that evening.
But, once again, my Lucky Star did its stuff—this time it brought me a new, good friend and a new name. George Jessel was playing on the bill with us. George Knew How It Was. He tried to comfort the forlorn, sort of damp little trio that we were. He took me on his knee and told me I was “as pretty as a garland of flowers”—and then I remember how he stopped dead in his verbal tracks, so to speak, and exclaimed “Garland! Garland is a lovely name for you, little one, and they can’t kick it around—how about changing your name to Garland?”
I said, “Yes. And Judy, I want Judy for a first name—let’s name me Judy Garland!” So that very night, then and there, backstage, “Baby Frances Gumm” became Judy Garland.
We wired Daddy that night. I signed the wire “Judy Garland” and he wired back, “Have you lost your mind?” and I said to Mom. “Wire him back and say ‘No, but I’ve found a name’!”
But the Fates are pretty funny old girls, I guess, and not very quick at doing a right-about-face. It took them quite some time to realize that they shouldn’t treat Judy Garland quite so disrespectfully as they had been treating Baby Frances Gumm. The new name on the marquee didn’t save us. For when our engagement at the Oriental was over, Chicago just didn’t seem to know that we were there. W e didn’t want to write Daddy for money, having come against his wishes. Just in time we got an offer to appear at the Chicago World’s Fair. But when our concession closed, our salary checks were held and, for the first time in our lives, we were penniless! And that was, also, the first time I ever bearded a manager in his den. I guess I wasn’t a very good bearder, though, because although I demanded our money in loud, ferocious tones, he just turned on me and said. “Put up and git!”—and lie looked so much like a gangster that we “got”!
So then I had my first and, I am happy to say, my only experience of Facing Starvation With A Smile! Mother and the girls were out canvassing the agencies and it was up to me to perform a miracle with the two eggs and the one aged piece of bread, which was all that remained to us of this world’s goods. Well, sir, I just scrambled those eggs, to make them go farther, and I dried that bread in the oven, dryer than it was. I mean, and when Mom and the girls got back we had a celebration out of that little snack on account of how they’d landed us a job and it would mean enough money to get us home!
We got home. Dad didn’t say anything. But he had that “Woman’s Place Is In The Home” look in his eyes again, and back to school we went. W e did do our act occasional weekends. But when audiences in the Valley Theater in Lancaster and the Strand Theater in Long Beach tittered at our imitations of the Brox Sisters and when a smart-aleck boy in the balcony threw an orange at us one night—well, our week-ends were spent at home, too!
I had my First Crush on a boy at about this time. I was getting over being allergic to boys by now. His name was Galen Reid and I think he must have “conditioned” me for my crush on Mr. Gable because he looked sort of like him, in a small way. Anyway, he sent me a Valentine on Valentine’s Day. And that was not only my First Attention from A Boy but also it was the fanciest valentine of any girl in the school! He later confided to me that he had paid twenty-five cents for it and I was simply Overcome. I think it was then that I first began to exercise my Feminine Wiles, like washing my hands now and then, you know, and combing my hair, and even putting some very white powder on my nose when Mom wasn’t looking. Also, I would let Galen ride me home from school every afternoon on the handle-bars of his bike. And as our house was directly across the street from the school, it took a little maneuvering. I always pretended I had turned my ankle or that the street was muddy or something so it wouldn’t seem too silly.
Well, the next Momentous Occasion in my life was my First Meeting with Mickey! It took place in the corridor of Lawlor’s Professional School where, after Suzanne was married and Jinnie was Keeping Company, I was enrolled. Mickey had been sent out into the hall for punishment. So had I. I sort of stuck around, eyeing him—and I saw that he was combing his hair and that he had got the comb stuck in his mop. Always the helpful type, I offered to help him get the comb out, and I nearly scalped him!
Oh, and my First Love Note was from Mickey! He sent it to me in the classroom. It said, “I love you. Do you love me?” I was almost fainting with excitement, with the drama of It all! And I wanted to make the most dramatic answer possible. Just the night before, it so happened, I had seen the picture, “Silver Dollar,” and I remembered, word for word, the lines the heroine spoke when the hero told her he loved her. So I wrote them down on a piece of paper, made a spit-ball of it and threw it to Mickey. Then I waited, my pulse in an uproar. Then I saw him look at me, but— with icy contempt in his eyes! A t the noon hour, he just brushed past me in the hall. “Oh,”he sneered, simply sneered, “so you saw ‘Silver Dollar,’ too, did you!” Well, you may imagine what came next!
I wanted to die. And, of course, being young, I thought I would, most any moment. But Mickey is a very understanding boy, as boys go. After about two days, he didn’t hold it against me any more.
As a matter of fact, Mickey was the first boy I ever let kiss me without slapping him down. It was a birthday party kiss, only a kind of kid kiss, but still—gosh, though, when I remember how we used to talk at Lawlor’s Professional School, about how we’d be big stars on the stage someday and about how rich and famous and glamorous we would be—well, that’s what’s so amazing we wound up together like this! Anyway, Mickey is my best pal. He always was, even when he teased me, he will always be, even if I do have to listen to him rave about other girls.
Right about now, along comes my first big break! Both my sisters got married, as girls will, and although I worked hard at school, was on the baseball, volley ball and basketball teams, had a lot of friends now, who didn’t snoot me, still and all, I was lonely. I missed the girls. I missed the days when we were all in the theater together, so warm and cosy [sic]. Daddy sensed the way I felt. So he sent Mother and me to Lake Tahoe for a little vacation. I really do owe my break to Daddy. Because if he hadn’t been thoughtful, if he hadn’t sent us on that vacation—when I think—!
Well, so one night we were sitting around the campfire and I sang for the bunch. As Fate would have it, a talent scout was among the guests. He told Mother he wanted to take me to M-G-M studios. He said I should be in the movies. Well, it was just like his words were dynamite. They blasted Mother and me right out of that hotel and onto the train and home. I kept saying, “Oh, he’ll forget it—oh, he didn’t mean it—oh, they won’t want to see me!” but between us, in my bones I felt IT! It was what you call a premonition. I believe in premonitions.
And why not? For the call came. My first studio call! It just so happened that Mother wasn’t home, so Daddy took me to the studio. It was the first time he’d ever done anything in a business way with us girls. He’d always left the bookings and interviews and such to Mother. I’m glad now, that he did go with me. I like to feel he brought me luck.
Well, we got to the studio and went into the casting office and there they stopped me, dead in my tracks! They said “No Babies Today!” I told them I was Judy Garland (they looked blank). I told them I had been sent for (they let me in).
I sang for half a dozen people. And finally I was sent to Mr. Mayer’s office. I sang everything I knew for him, every song I’d ever heard in my life. Like always, you couldn’t stop me! When I had exhausted my repertoire, and myself, and Mr. Mayer, he asked me if I could sing Eli, Eli. I said yes, and proceeded to wail my head off. When I got all through, Mr. Mayer didn’t say one word, good or bad. He didn’t smile or saying anything. He just said, “Thank you very much,” and I walked out. And I thought, another false alarm!
When I got home and told Mom where I had been, she gave one loud, piercing scream, and said, “You didn’t go to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer looking like THAT?” I said I did and I think she would have fainted, had she been the fainting kind. But three days later, the phone rang. I was told to come to Metro and sign my contract. I was just thirteen then. And it was the biggest day in our lives. I remember how, that evening, Mom an Daddy and I just stayed at home. We didn’t even have one of our usual celebrations. We didn’t need ice-cream and store cake to make that evening a party! We were only too happy to celebrate. I’m glad we were like that, that night, just the three of us, alone. For it wasn’t to be the three of us, much longer.
Of course I went around in a daze, thinking, What would my first day be like? Will I play love scenes with Clark Gable? Who will I meet? Will everyone realize I’m a movie star? Where will I go first?
Guess where I did go first, for Pete’s sake? Right to school! Much to my rage and disgust and amazement (I’ve always detested school) that’s where I went! It helped a lot to have Mickey there. “Hi, you again!” that’s the way we greeted each other. And Deanna Durbin was there, Gene Reynolds, Terry Kilburn, quite a few of the kids. But especially, of course, it was fun to be with Mickey again. I remember how, that first day, he took me on a tour of the studio lot.
On our tour we saw Myrna Loy, Joan Crawford, Bob Young—and Clark Gable! Mickey practically had to support my tottering footsteps after I saw Mr. Gable. I remember him saying, “Gosh, dames are awful silly!” just because I acted up over Mr. Gable, as who wouldn’t?
But to jump ahead a little (I told you I wouldn’t be able to write a proper autobiography) my first real beau was Jackie Cooper. My first real crush. The first time I ever counted daisy petals and read poetry and sang sad songs with a “meaningful” look in my eyes was over Jackie Cooper. I had to maneuver ways to get to see him. And I did. Just the way I maneuvered with Galen Rice, when I was very young. Like I found out that Jackie was going to a party at Edith Fellowes’ house. now, I hadn’t seen or talked to Edith for ages. But I soon fixed that! I called her on the phone and was just too chummy for words. And I talked and I talked. Every time it looked as though we’d just have to hang up, I’d think of something else I just had to tell her. I talked until I am sure she invited me to her party just to shut me up.
Well, Jackie took me home from the party! It took me all evening to work that, lots of songs and sad eyes and such acting as I have never done on the screen! And boy, when he took me out to his car and I saw it was a chauffeur-driven car, did I ever feel like Lady Vere de Vere!Whoops, I thought, this is the life, a boy with a car and a chauffeur. We got home and, Jackie being a perfect gentleman, he escorted me in. What was my horror to walk into the living room and find my Mother and Dad down on the floor, counting the nickels and dimes which were Dad’s box-office “take” for the evening! Jackie said, in a whisper, “What do your folks do, run a slot-machine?” I was SO mortified.
My first grief came soon after I’d signed my movie contract. it was my Dad’s leaving us. Something I never thought could happen, something I know would never have happened, for any lesser reason than Death. He had meningitis. we went away in three days. One of the things that hurts now is knowing that if it had happened to him a little later, he might have been saved. Because now sulfanilamide is a cure for meningitis. But then, there was nothing they could do for him, they didn’t know what to do. I had thought I was heartbroken many times before that. Now I knew what heartbreak really feels like. It makes you grow up, a thing like that, a loss that’s deep and forever.
I did my first broadcast the night Daddy went to the hospital. We didn’t know, of course, that he was anything like as ill as he was. It was on KHJ, Big Brother Ken’s Program, and I sang Zing go the Strings of my Heart[Editor’s note: Of course that’s Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart]. I didn’t have any mike fright at all. I never have any fright, mike or camera or stage. Anything that’s entertaining, anything that’s theater makes me feel right at home.
Well, my first screen appearance, as I am afraid some people will recall, was a short called “Every Sunday Afternoon,” which Deanna and I made together. Deanna sang opera. I sang swing. We both would like to forget that sorry little shortie—but I am putting down all of the first things in my life, I can’t skip that, much as I should like to. Then I made my first, full-length picture, “Pigskin Parade.” I should also like to have amnesia when I recall that! I was loaned to 20th Century-Fox for that picture and it was in that I saw myself, for the first time, on the screen. I can’t TELL you! I was so disappointed I nearly blubbered out loud. I’d imagined the screen would sort of “magic” me. Well, I never got it, I hated it so badly! I’d expected to see a Glamour Girl, as I say, and there I was, freckled, fat, with a snub nose, just little old kick-the-can Baby Gumm! And I tried so hard, I acted so forced—ohhh, it was revolting. It didn’t help a bit that Mom and the director and lots of people said I was good.
But I get over things pretty quickly. Someone once told me I have a “volatile element” in me, whatever that means. Anyway, I started to work very hard. The studio began “Grooming” me, I learned how to walk, how to carry myself better, I got to know the other players on the lot. And I began to work with Mrs. Rose Carter, who was engaged by the studio as my private tutor.
For the first time in my life, schoolwork became a pleasure. For instance, I had never been able to do geometry, it was plain nightmare to me. Well, Mrs. Carter found out how I love art, drawing and all, and she explained that geometry is nothing but a series of drawings work out in figures instead of colors. I soon discovered I could solve angles, no matter how intricate. Then, thanks to Mrs. Carter, I learned to appreciate Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Verdi. Now I have a collection of 2500 records, including the classics and swing. It was Mrs. Carter who put me wise to the fact that modern fiction is pale compared with history. She encouraged me not only to love art but to do something about it, to sketch and a print and draw. That first year, on Mother’s Day, my gift to Mom was a portrait of Dad that I made from an old tintype.
It’s skipping way ahead to tell you about my graduation—anyway, last June, right after I was eighteen, I went into my dressing room (which was also my schoolroom) one day and there was Mrs. Carter, packing away books and portfolios and things, like mad.
“What are you doing, Rose?” I asked.
“Doing!” said Rose, “why, I’m getting rid of these pesky school-books! Isn’t this a sight your eyes have been sore to see? Don’t you realize you are through with them forever?”
And then, of all things, I began to cry! If anyone had ever told me I’d cry at the sight of some vanishing school books I’d have committed them to the loony-bin [sic]. But I just blubbered, “I’m sorry I’m through and—but—well, if I have to be through, I want to graduate with a—with a class. I want to be like other girls my age, at my graduation, anyway!”
So, I did graduate with other girls, like other girls. On June 26th, 1940, I was a member of the graduating class of University High School. And I wasn’t one speck different from any of the other 249 girls! I wore a plain blue organdy dress, like they all did, and carried a bouquet of sweetheart roses, just like the others. The flowers were provided by the school and I’ve got one of them pressed in my scrapbook. I almost missed my place in line, too, because Mother sent me a lovely corsage of mystery gardenias and Mickey sent me a cluster of orchids and I had to dash into the audience and explain to Mom that I loved the corsages but I just couldn’t wear them. “I can’t be different from the other girls, Mom” I said, “Please don’t be hurt, but that’s the way it is” Mom understood, like always. I would even let Mickey come to my graduation. I certainly would be “different,” for Pete’s sake, if I’d had Mickey Rooney at my graduation! And I wouldn’t have any cameramen there, or anything—and it was all wonderful.
But now I have to go back three years, just a little hop, to lots of first things that began to happen then. The first time I met Mr. Gable, in particular! Well, the way it happened, I was in Roger Eden’s office on day (roger is a musical coach at the studio, and my instructor) and I begged him to let me sing Drums In My Heart which he had arranged for Ethel Merman. He told me I was too young and unsophisticated to sing a song like that. Now, I have a quick, flary temper and you know how a girl hates to be told she is “unsophisticated,” not to mention “young,” migosh! So I just stormed out of his office and then cooled off, right off, like always and came meekly back again. And Roger suggested that we compose a song just for me. He said, “Now, what or whom, would you like to sing about?” And I said quick like, “Mr. Gable!” And Roger looked as if he was trying not to laugh and so then we made up the song, Dear Mr. Gable.
Well, it was Mr. Gable’s birthday, the first day I met him. Roger took me onto the set of “Parnell,” which Mr. Gable would like to forget but I have to just mention it, and I sang Dear Mr. Gable to him—and he cried! Imagine making Clark Gable cry! Imagine being able to! And then he came up to me and put his arms around me and he said, “You are the sweetest little girl I ever saw in my life!” And then I cried and it was simply heavenly!
Just a few days after this, came my first pieces of real jewelry—my charm bracelet from Mr. Gable. It’s all tiny, gold musical instruments, a tiny piano, tiny harp, drums, violin and so on—and the only other charm is a teensy [sic] golden book which opens and there is Mr. Gable’s picture in it and an inscription which says “To Judy, from her fan, Clark Gable.” As long as I live and no matter how many jewels life may bring me I will always keep that bracelet, along with the little diamond cross my Dad gave me on my last birthday before he died, and my first wrist-watch which was from Mother.
My first premiere came along about this time, too. It was “Captain’s Courageous” and it was at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and I went with Mickey! I wore my first long dress and my first fur coat, a gray squirrel, which I wore for daytimes and evenings, too. When I was seventeen, Mom gave me a ruby fox which I was only allowed to wear on special occasions and when I was eighteen she gave me my wonderful, white fox cape, full length! I got my first car on my seventeenth birthday, too, a red job, like I’d dreamed.
But I was talking about my first premiere—Mickey sent me a pikaki lei instead of just a commonplace corsage. Pikakis are like small, white orchids, only with a heavenly fragrance, and they grow only in the tropics and Mickey’d had them flown by Clipper from Hawaii!
I suppose I’d call that first premiere my first date, too. And if there is anything more important than a first date in a girl’s life, I don’t know what it is.
Here’s what I think about a first date: first of all, a girl should act her age. I mean, if you are fifteen or sixteen, you shouldn’t go out looking as though you had just graduated from kindergarten, of course, but neither should you try to look like a senior at a Glamour Girl School. If you are wearing your first long dress, or even any new dress, I think it’s a swell idea to try it on several evenings before your date, just to sort of get acquainted with it. So that you can practiced being nonchalant. So you won’t fall on your face when you go into a theater or restaurant. And I don’t think First-Daters should overdo the make-up stuff, either. I know I just used a little, thin powder, just a touch of rouge because the excitement made me look like the ghost of my grandmother. And a very light dash of lipstick. and NO
! ‘Cause if you forget an drub your eyes or laugh until the tears come, your face gets all smudged up. Most of all, on a date, I think a girl should be herself. It’s a temptation not to be, I know. I’ve had my moments when I thought I’d try to act like Marlene Dietrich or even Garbo. And then I’d figure that it was my natural self, such as I am, that attracted my date in the beginning, so why take a chance on changing into something he might not like as well?
Well, anyway, lots of first things were happening, three years ago, like I said—I played in “Broadway Melody of 1938” and that was the first realstep forward in my Career. Not to mention that it was then that I first met Robert Taylor!
Then I made “Love Finds Andy Hardy” and I really believe that’s my favorite of my pictures. Mickey and I had lots of fun together while we were making that, same as we had fun making “Strike Up the Band”—we’d tear down to the beach on week-ends and “do” the amusement piers, and we’d come home loaded to the gills with Kewpie dolls and Popeyes. Mickey is an expert aim with baseballs, so we’d be pretty even-Stephen on prizes.
We had our “crowd” by this time, too. Mickey of course, Jackie Cooper, Bonita Granville, Bob Stack, Rita Quigley, Helen Parrish, Ann Rutherford, Leonard Suess, most of them were in our gang then and now—and in the evenings we’d get together at my house or one of the other kid’s houses and we’d play records, dance, “feed” on hot chocolate, chili, and beans, wienies, brownies, pop-corn, cokes, our favorite items of “light” refreshment!
We had jolly times, we still do—it was mostly all fun and nothing very serious. We’d all sort of date each other, I’d go out with MIckey, with Jackie, later with Bob Stack; the other girls would go out with them, too; there were very few jealousies—we were pretty deadly in earnest about our work—of course, I often thought I was in love—but I used to worship people from afar more than those who were dunking their doughnuts in my hot chocolate. I’d have crushes on people who thought I was a little girl—my doctor, for instance, I was insane about him—he’s fifty, I think! And every time I’d have a crush, I’d think, this is real love! But in saner moments I know I have never really been in love, I always recover too quickly. Columnists and gossip are always trying to make out that I’m serious, about Bob Stack, for instance, or Dan Dailey, or this one or that. But I’m not, I never have been and I don’t intend to be, for quite some time to come!
Now, let’s see—dear me, I hope I’m getting what serious biographers call “Chronology” into this manuscript! Well, after I was fifteen, first things happened to me so fast and furious, I get addled. ANyway, two very important first things comes in here, I know—I played Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” and since that was a dream I’d dreamed ever since Daddy read the “Oz” stories to me, back-stage, when I was just a kid. And just before I stopped being Judy and became Dorothy, I built my own home! It’s sprawling and it’s white and it’s surrounded by trees and flowers and a tennis court and, this year, we put in a swimming pool which is the rendezvous, every Sunday afternoon, for the crowd. My bedroom is all done in chartreuse and brown and the walls are lined with my favorite books. I have my own dressing room and bath, too.
Well, when I made “The Wizard of Oz” not only did I actually live in the Emerald City, not only did I pinch myself black and blue every day to make sure I was awake, not dreaming, but also Dorothy won me my first Academy Award for a performance by a Juvenile Actress! And Mickey presented me with the golden statue. Mickey and the statue looked like they were swimming, because of the tears in my eyes.
Next I think of “Babes In Arms” and, especially, of the preview which was at Grauman’s Chinese and which was the first premiere of one of my pictures that I ever attended. Again with Mickey, naturally. And that was the night I was invited to put my foot-prints and hand-prints in the forecourt of the theater. Mickey’s were already there and, of course, Clark Gable’s, Harold Lloyd’s, Shirley Temple’s, oh, all the big stars’!
I wanted to look glamorous that night, as I had never wanted to before, or since. Well, I bite my fingernails and I felt sick because I couldn’t have long, glittering ones like Joan Crawford’s. So the manicurist fixed me up with artificial ones. After I placed my hands in the wet cement I went into the theater and after a while I thought a creeping paralysis had set in, beginning with my fingers! They felt all numb and heavy. I was in cold sweat until we left the theater and then I realized some of the cement had got under my nails and hardened on the false ones! I went to a party afterwards feeling like Dracula’s daughter, with talons! The next day I had to have them chopped off! That was my first and last attempt at being glamorous.
After “Babes in Arms” the studio sent Mickey and me to New York on a personal appearance tour. We did six shows a day so, of course, we didn’t have much time to sight-see. Mom said 10:30 as the curfew and Mickey kept to that schedule, too. But we did manage to spend one evening at the Rainbow Room. We wanted to know how it felt to dance “on top of the world.” That trip was the first time I really shopped in New York, too. Boy, did I sweep in and out of Fifth Avenue’s finest! It was the first time I bought semi-grown-up clothes.
And that was the time Fred Waring asked me to appear as a guest on his radio program. Of course I accepted, thinking he just wanted me to say “hello.” Do you know what he did? He had his entire program dedicated tome! And his theme song for the evening was Over The Rainbow, which happens to be my favorite song. So I sang all the songs from “The Wizard of Oz” for him and a good time was had by all, most especially by me!
Oh, and I must tell about my sixteenth birthday. We had a party at my house and my brother-in-law, Robert Sherwood, brought along his La Maze orchestra. Mickey was the master of ceremonies and we staged an entertainment program of our own. I sang two numbers, and Jackie, Bonita, Ann, Helen, Buddy Pepper, all of them did turns. We had a ping-pong tournament, too, and Mickey walked off with the honors! At midnight we served a buffet supper. I wore a new white, shark-skin sports dress with flowers appliqued on the pockets. And in my hair I wore the gardenias, which Mickey sent me—oh, and in the midst of the festivities, two blue love-birds in a blue and white cage were delivered to me. And the card attached read “Happy Birthday to My Best Girl, Judy—Clark Gable.”
But I guess the most important first thing that happened in 1938 was that, for the first time, I became an aunt! Jinnie says it’s really a little more important that she became a Mother than that I became an aunt. I wouldn’t know about that. I only know that I always wanted to be an aunt. And that the circumstances of my aunt hood befell me under circumstances which were pretty extraordinary! ‘Cause I was in the hospital, too! It was right after my automobile accident. One bright morning, a few days later, my nurse told me she was going to take me “visiting.” She bundled me into a wheel-chair and we headed for the “baby floor.” There, for the first time, seen under glass, so to speak, I first beheld my first niece, Judy Gayle Sherwood, my name-sake as well as my niece! Born in the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital while I’d been recovering from my accident—both of us under the same roof!
So now, I guess, I’m pretty much up to the Present. I made “Andy Hardy Meets Debutante” and then “Strike Up the Band.” And did we have ourselves a time, Mickey and I, while we were making that. After doing our “Conga” number, talk about being in a later! Between scenes, Mickey’d mostly play the songs he was writing to me, and I’d make recordings for him and all. I was just like the character in the picture, where Mickey was concerned.
And now I’m playing my first grown-up, dramatic character part in “Little Nellie Kelly.” I even die in “Nellie.” And—and this is a VERY important first in my life, I play my first grown-up love scene in this picture, too! I’m really blushing even as I write about it. I, who have said I was never embarrassed on the stage, in front of a mike or a camera, take it all back now. George Murphy plays my sweetheart (and my husband, I play a dual role, too!) in the picture. And he was certainly the most perfect choice, for he is so kind and tender and understanding—and humorous, too. But just the same, after we made that love scene, I didn’t know what to do or where to look. I’d just kind of go away between scenes because I couldn’t look at him. He kept kidding me, too, saying he felt like he was “in Tennessee with my child-bride!”
And well, my goodness, I guess that’s about all! I guess a girl hasn’t muchof a Life Story when she’s just eighteen because, of course, she hasn’t had much life! Although I do think I’ve had quite a Past and I know I’m old enough so that it’s been fun to Remember. And I also know that, at the end of my first eighteen years, as I write “Finis, The End” to my first Life Story, I’d like to say some Thank You’s, quite a lot of Thank You’s—first of all to Mom and Daddy, of course, for all the things they did for me, for everything they were and are to me; and to my sisters for their patience with me, and the fun we had; and to Mr. Mayer for believing in me; and to Mrs. Carter and Roger Edens and all the directors who have worked with me—and to Mickey, naturally—I don’t know what for, just for being Mickey, I guess—and to all the magazine and newspaper people who have been so kind to me—and to my fans, who are my friends, and who have made me what I am today—to—well, to just about everyone and everything—-yes, to everything and everyone who have made my first eighteen years of being alive so swell, and such fun!