Judy Garland's Most Memorable Performances

by Christopher Ehlers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday June 27, 2022

Judy Garland's Most Memorable Performances
  (Source:Everett Collection)

June is the month that marks not only the anniversary of Judy Garland's birth — she would have been 100 this year — but also the anniversary of her death. Of course, the untimely loss of "The World's Greatest Entertainer" still hurts all these 53 years later when you think about what else she might have accomplished. But at only 47 years old, after a life marked by equal parts strife and stratospheric fame, Frances Ethel Gumm finally succumbed to her demons on June 22, 1969. "She just plain wore out," said Ray Bolger at her funeral.

But when Garland was on, boy was she on, and she left behind an astounding body of work that remains as indelible, thrilling, and impressive as it ever has been. In honor of her remarkable career, here's a look back at Judy's finest performances.

"A Star is Born," 1954

The fact that Garland didn't win the Academy Award for this performance remains one of the greatest travesties in the history of show business awards. In this one song alone, Garland out-acted all of her competition, especially Grace Kelly in "The Country Girl," who ultimately won. Time Magazine even went so far as to call Garland "the greatest one-woman show in modern movie history." We agree.

"I Could Go On Singing," 1963

Although her performance is extraordinary, this one hurts because it was her final appearance on screen. Bookended with 1939's "The Wizard of Oz," it's crazy to think of what she accomplished in only 24 years of making movies. Her performance here was called "vibrant and vital," and it remains so today.

"Judgement at Nuremberg," 1961

This riveting courtroom drama had a remarkable all-star cast, including Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, William Shatner, Montgomery Clift, and Garland. It was nominated for an impressive 11 Academy Awards, including Garland for Best Supporting Actress. And no, this isn't a musical, which demonstrates just how much range Garland really had.

"Judy at Carnegie Hall," 1961

Eight months before the release of "Judgement at Nuremberg," a film that re-legitimized Garland as a serious actress instead of a liability, Judy made history in her comeback concert event, "Judy at Carnegie Hall." Despite her poor health and reputation from a few years prior, Garland had always been a hit on the concert circuit, and she record producers wanted to capture the thrill of seeing Judy live in an album. The concert was a smash and was called "the greatest night in show business history." The resulting recording, which was released three months later, spent 13 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard chart and has never been out of print over seven decades and counting. It also won four Grammy Awards that year, including Album of the Year, which made Judy Garland the first female artist in history to win the award.

"The Wizard of Oz," 1939

"The Wizard of Oz" was actually Garland's seventh appearance on film. Though she was only 17 at the time of its release, this is the performance that made Garland a star. Of course, everybody knows that, and there's not much to say about this one, other than it changed both Garland's life and the film industry forever.

"Meet Me in St. Louis," 1944

There would be no Liza Minnelli without "Meet Me in St. Louis," and for that, at the very least, it deserves a place on this list. (The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli, who later married Judy Garland). It was MGM's most successful musical of the 1940s and the second highest-grossing film of 1944. Garland's time on set was marred by addiction, lateness, illness, and other erratic behavior, but she managed to turn in a performance for the ages. And she was the first person to ever sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

"Summer Stock," 1950

As iconic a performance as any, Garland's "Get Happy" remains a touchstone of American pop culture. After being fired from the film adaptation of "Annie Get Your Gun" in 1949, Garland spent three months in a Boston hospital for addiction treatment, and "Summer Stock" marked her first time back on set. Despite her time away, it was still a struggle for her, and she had anything but kicked her drug habit. Still, Garland's performance is gold, and it's still every bit as charming today.

"Valley of the Dolls," 1967

Okay, this one didn't actually happen. But we all know how remarkable she would have been if it had. Two years before her death — and four years after what would become her final film, "I Could Go On Singing" — Judy was cast as Helen Lawson, a tough-as-nails Broadway diva. The irony is that the character of Neely O'Hara, a young actress fighting addiction (played by Patty Duke), was largely based on Garland. But only a week into filming, Garland was let go. She was heavily dependent on both drugs and alcohol, and her footage was deemed unusable. But Duke has been vocal about how she felt Garland was exploited — and sabotaged — by both the studio and the director. Duke recalls them asking Garland to arrive on set at 6:30 am — which she did — yet she was left to sit in her dressing room all day until she was finally called to film late in the afternoon. Given her substance abuse issues, director Mark Robson knew full well that she wouldn't be functional by then. Still, Garland did get to take home one of the costumes — a glittering suit — and wore it that year in her final concert appearance at the Palace.

Christopher Ehlers can be reached at [email protected], or on Instagram at @_ChrisEhlers.