Tradition turns topsy-turvy as this thirteen-year-old jostles her elders for first place
by Victoria Johnson
(from Modern Movies, August 1937)
JUDY GARLAND, child wonder of the screen, bursts upon an astonished world. She’s the cutest little dancer and blues singer that’s ever been seen or heard. She is only thirteen, but already has years of professional life behind her.
Judy comes of a theatrical family and has been in almost every city in the United States with her parents “on the road.” There were brief stays in Grand Rapids, Mich., Chicago and other cities. But she considers Los Angeles her home. Judy’s stage work was as part of a trio, with her two sisters, Virginia and Suzanne.
She was born Frances Gumm in Murfreesboro, Tenn., but when George Jessel signed the trio for his act at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago, he changed the last name – and Frances went him one better by switching over to her present “Judy.”
“I had to fight for the name,” she says. “But mother finally agreed to let me change.”
Judy, for a child who has lived more or less in a world of make-believe, is striking in her lack of affectation. Her large, wide-set brown eyes are shy, yet they dance with interest, and smile. She is quite a movie fan, admiring particularly Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald. The world of pictures, which was opened to her two years ago, is exciting and full of promise. Yet she views it tentatively and gratefully – not as one who has come and conquered.
For nearly two years she was under contract before having a part. She had been seen while singing at Lake Tahoe, and an agent brought her to the attention of M-G-M.
“I didn’t think I had much of a chance,” she confesses, “I was just at the awkward age. It is funny, but even though there are lots of people my age in the world, few were interested in them. There’s a big difference between Shirley Temple and Maureen O’Sullivan. But up until just a little while ago, there wasn’t a place in between.
“That’s why I’m grateful to Deanna Durbin. Her work proved to the public that people were interested in actresses or talent of the ‘between age.’ That was a break for all of us in our early ‘teens.”
Judy is frankly thrilled with her role in “Broadway Melody of 1938.” In it she portrays Sophie Tucker’s daughter. Sophie, in the film, is an ex-famous actress, whose vogue is passe. She tries to further the interests of her daughter, so the child can carry on where she herself left off.
In “Broadway Melody” Judy is given an opportunity to show her stuff. She sings, she dances – and acts. One of the big numbers in the picture features her coming onto the stage in a white streamlined car, lined in padded pink satin with a chauffeur and footman. Buddy Ebsen greets her in the middle of the stage, and off they dance.
The studio wisely made no attempt to push or retard her age. She is just a kid of thirteen with short dresses and bobby socks. And she has filled a place long vacant on the screen.
“I get so many letters from people my own age, saying how they enjoy seeing a person just like them on the screen. They get tired of seeing only small children or or grown-ups, they write.”
Judy admits she is at a confusing age. “You are all twisted up. Sometimes you’d like to make mud-pies, or play with dolls, but think you’re too old. At others, it would be fun to put on high heels and go dancing. Then you’re ashamed, because you know you are not old enough. Oh, well, thirteen is a lot of fun, anyway. I’ve adopted it as my lucky number.”
You cannot help admiring someone her age suddenly thrust into the glamorous world of films, who has remained balanced. Judy doesn’t try to be “girly girly.” And she is too smart to try to appear old, as do so many other girls her age.
“There are about fifteen years that you can be young,” she philosophizes. “All the rest, you are grown-up. I think you appreciate being grown-up much better, if you don’t try to be that way too soon.
“So I don’t mind being teased now and then for my short skirts and flat heels. I tried some long hose and longer skirts once, but it wasn’t any fun. Now I’ll wait until I am ready for them instead of looking silly.”
As for her career, the height of her ambition is to go into real dramatic parts some day. She’d like a picture in which she didn’t sing even so much as one number – “just to show she didn’t get by on her voice.”