On This Day In Judy Garland’s Life And Career – September 13

Posted by

“They gave her the kind of flamboyant ovation that most stars never even dream of.  And Judy didn’t disappoint them.  The audience was squeezed into every available inch of space, hundreds of them behind posts or in side pockets where even the slimmest view of Judy was impossible.  There were reports that tickets were being pirated for as much as $50 apiece.” – Stanley Eichelbaum on Judy’s opening at San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium, 1961

September 13, 1930:  “The Gumm Sisters” performed as part of the “Big Brother Ken Show” at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, California.  No other information about this engagement is known.


September 13, 1935:  A milestone in Judy’s career and life.  She successfully auditioned for MGM.  She was 13 years old.  The sequence of events that led to this audition has been clouded by legends and assumptions, making it more complicated than it really was.

When the call came on this day from MGM to the Gumm home for Judy to head to the studio for the audition, Judy’s mom Ethel was out so her father, Frank, took her to the studio without having her change out of her play clothes or put on any makeup.  Frank played the piano before Roger Edens stepped in at the urging of the studio’s resident songwriter (and soon-to-be producer) Arthur Freed who allegedly said, “That guy is the worst piano player I ever heard … Roger, go over and do a song with the little girl.”   Judy sang “Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart.”  Eventually, legendary MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer was coaxed into walking over to the soundstage, supposedly on MGM’s Stage #1 which was, fittingly, the studio’s scoring stage.  Judy sang “Eili, Eili” for Mayer.  In 1961 Edens said about the audition, “I knew instantly, in eight bars of music.  The talent was that inbred.  I fell flat on my face.  She was just so high and chubby, wearing a navy blue middy blouse and baby-doll sandals, with lots of hair and no lipstick.  It was like discovering gold at Sutter Creek.”

Judy’s contract with MGM was the result of the work of her new agent Al Rosen.  In the summer of 1935, Rosen had seen Judy perform with her sisters at the Cal-Neva Lodge up at Lake Tahoe on the border of California and Nevada.  The lodge straddled the state line hence the “Cal-Neva” name.  After the trio’s final performance, Rosen, accompanied by songwriter Harry Akst, asked to be introduced to Judy.  Rosen asked Judy to sing “Dinah” (written by Akst).  Akst later remembered, “I was … three feet away.  The volume nearly knocked me flat.  Her pitch was perfect, her breathing and timing naturally flawless.  And she had those saucer-shaped brown eyes swimming with anxiety and love.”  Akst and Rosen were in Tahoe supporting their friend, songwriter Lew Brown who was going through a divorce.  Brown missed the trio’s performance but the next day after their departure Ethel and the sisters returned to the lodge to retrieve a hat box and orchestrations they had mistakenly left behind.  The lodge manager “Bones” Remer quickly took Judy to the lounge to have Brown hear her sing.  She sang a chorus of “Dinah” and then quickly left.

Rosen was determined to get Judy into the movies.  He procured auditions for her at all of the major studios including Columbia, Fox, RKO, Warner Bros., and Paramount (where she allegedly sang for Cecil B. DeMille).  The general consensus was that she was too young.   Fox thought the opposite, saying she was too mature in looks and voice for a proposed cameo appearance in Paddy O’Day starring Jane Withers.  That particular audition angered Rosen who is alleged to have exclaimed, “She’s good enough for the lead; why give her a stooge part?”

Over the years, the details of this 1935 MGM audition have been muddled by untrue claims and falsehoods about who was there, and what Judy sang.  The legend grew to the point that it seemed as though almost everyone who worked at the studio at that time would later claim to have been there and witnessed it.  If all those stories were true they would have filled the soundstage and the studio’s activities would have ground to a halt.

As early as January 1936, the story that Judy had been signed to a contract without a screen test was being told in newspapers as an example of how great her talent was.  The implication was that she was so talented she didn’t need a screen test.  That story is true.  After hearing Judy sing, Mayer went back to his office without saying a word.  Judy and her father Frank assumed it was another bust.  However, Mayer decided to put out the edict to sign Judy to a standard studio contract.  That memo read in part, “Please prepare contract for the services of Judy Garland as an actress.”  It’s dated September 16, 1935, just three days after the audition.

Almost six decades later MGM director George Sidney claimed to have “discovered” Judy in 1934 and to have filmed a screen test of her performing “Casey at the Bat” with her mom Ethel at the piano.  In 1934, Sidney was the studio’s main director of screen tests.  In December 1934, MGM writer/producer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz took Sidney and MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer’s secretary, Ida Koverman, to the Wilshire Ebell Theatre to see Judy perform.  Decades later Sidney said, “There was a theater here in Los Angeles called the Wilshire Ebell… They used to put on vaudeville acts on certain nights of the week.  This little girl came out with her two sisters and her mother playing the piano.  She did a little number with a baseball hat.  We took her out to the studio and made a test on a soundstage…”  Some people assume this resulted in an MGM screen test for Judy and her two sisters, but there are no known records to support that theory nor the theory that Judy was tested again at MGM, this time solo, in early 1935.  It’s also been claimed that at this alleged second audition Mayer himself took Judy around the entire studio and made her sing for everyone.  It’s preposterous to think that Mayer would have had the time to take Judy all over MGM and then not sign her.

MGM kept fastidiously detailed records to the extent that it’s inconceivable that all of the records (and film footage) of two separate Judy Garland auditions and/or screen tests would have become lost.  Due to Sidney’s claims, the Wilshire Ebell now incorrectly claims that Judy was “discovered” there and that the engagement (on December 8, 1934) led to her MGM contract.  If that claim were true, it would have resulted in a completely different sequence of events in Judy’s life and career than what actually happened between December 1934 and September 1935.  

It should also be noted that Judy was already well known up and down the West Coast in late 1934, with critics exclaiming that she was on track to becoming a big star due to her incredible talents.  One reviewer stated that she was a “sure bet” for films.  She was regularly stopping the show at most of the many, many theater engagements for her and her two sisters first as “The Gumm Sister” and then as “The Garland Sisters.”  Sidney no doubt was impressed with Judy’s talents as was everyone else, but there are no records or even newspaper articles from the time, or after, to back up his claims made in that one interview nearly six decades later.  But it makes for good copy and promotion for the Wilshire Ebell in spite of it being untrue.

Some of the confusion could be due to the involvement of Judy and her sisters in the Universal project, The Great Ziegfeld.  In late 1934 the trade papers and magazines mentioned the trio would appear in the film.  But in nearly 1935 the project was sold to MGM without Judy and her sisters.  There are no surviving records of any contract with Universal.  It’s most likely that the trio was signed for just that one film rather than a standard studio contract, which wasn’t unusual for stage acts of the day.  Whatever scenario there was for the film that included a sister trio act, it was dropped when MGM purchased the rights.  Their version ended up winning the 1936 Best Picture Oscar.

This first MGM contract, dated October 1, 1935, was the standard MGM studio contract giving them the option to cancel after the first six months, then again in another six months on the one-year anniversary of the initial contract, then annually for the following six years (seven years total).  Judy’s initial salary was $100 per week (about $2,162.00 in 2022 dollars), with a 20-week guarantee and the following options:

6 months  $200.00 per week, 20-week guarantee
1 year, $300.00 per week, 40-week guarantee
1 year, $400.00 per week, 40-week guarantee
1 year, $500.00 per week, 40-week guarantee
1 year, $600.00 per week, 40-week guarantee
1 year, $750.00 per week, 40-week guarantee
1 year, $1,000.00 per week, 40-week guarantee

Photo:  A photo from Judy’s first portrait sitting for MGM on November 6, 1935.


September 13, 1939:  Columnist Hayden R. Palmer reported that Judy owned 3, 000 records in her private library of records.  Judy was an avid record collector although it’s unknown just how many records she owned.

More details and images of all of Judy’s activities during that golden year of 1939 can be found on The Judy Room’s Garland Biography 1939 Page.

September 13, 1939:  Here is another article promoting the upcoming appearance of the two ponies, “Wizard” and “Oz,” and that carriage used in The Wizard of Oz, in Rushville, Indiana (see yesterday’s entry for more info).

More details and images of all of Judy’s activities during that golden year of 1939 can be found on The Judy Room’s Garland Biography 1939 Page.

Check out The Judy Room’s Spotlight on The Wizard of Oz here.

September 13, 1939:  From the trade magazine “Motion Picture Daily” are this ad (for Babes in Arms) and more details about the box office numbers for the week, showing that The Wizard of Oz came out on top in Milwaukee, Minnesota.

More details and images of all of Judy’s activities during that golden year of 1939 can be found on The Judy Room’s Garland Biography 1939 Page.

Check out The Judy Room’s Spotlight on The Wizard of Oz here.

September 13, 1941:  Another day of Babes on Broadway filming on MGM’s Backlot #2, the “New York Streets” section, specifically the “Block Party” and “Chin Up, Cheerio, Carry On” sequences.  Time called: 9 a.m.; lunch: 12:30-1:30 p.m.; dismissed: 6:50 p.m.

Check out The Judy Room’s Spotlight Section, “Judy Garland on the MGM Backlot” here.

Check out The Judy Room’s Filmography Page on Babes on Broadway here.

September 13, 1943:  Thousands Cheer premiered at New York’s Astor Theater.  Judy was one of the many guest stars who appeared as themselves in the big “Army Camp Show” that was the climax of the film.  Judy sang “The Joint Is Jumpin’ Down At Carnegie Hall” with Jose Iturbi at the piano.

Judy was in Detroit on this day which was one of the stops on the Hollywood Cavalcade Bond Tour that she and many film stars took part in.  Jose Iturbi joined the tour for a few of the scheduled stops and, naturally, accompanied Judy on “The Joint Is Jumpin'” and several other numbers in their real-life big show raising money for the war effort by selling bonds.

Thousands Cheer was a huge hit, grossing $3,751,000 which was a profit of $2,228,000 for MGM.

Some scans were provided by Kim Lundgreen.  Thanks, Kim!

Check out The Judy Room’s Filmography Page on Thousands Cheer here.

September 13, 1943:  Here are some more articles and photos documenting the recent appearance of “The Hollywood Cavalcade” Bond Drive Tour in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania the day before (September 12).  On this day (Sep 13) the cavalcade was at their next stop, Cleveland, Ohio.

September 13, 1947:  Another two-page ad was placed by MGM in the trade magazine, “Motion Picture Herald.”  Included in the lineup is The Pirate (released in 1948).

September 13, 1950:  Judy was on vacation in New York, enjoying the raves for the audience responses to her new film, Summer Stock (see article), when she attended Edith Piaf’s opening at the Versailles Club.  Judy’s seen with Faye Emerson, Sonja Henie, Piaf, and Ginger Rogers.

Check out The Judy Room’s Filmography Pages on Summer Stock here.

September 13, 1954:  Judy’s second, and last, cover for “Life” magazine with a feature about A Star Is Born on the inside.

Check out The Judy Room’s Spotlight on A Star Is Born here.

Scans provided by Kim Lundgreen.  Thanks, Kim!

September 13, 1955:  Here’s an ad for MGM’s television anthology series, “M-G-M Parade” hosted by Judy’s previous co-star (in 1940’s Little Nellie Kelly and 1942’s For Me And My Gal).  The short-lived series was MGM’s early foray into the TV landscape.  It featured clips (all in black and white) from classic films as well as clips promoting upcoming releases.

September 13, 1956:  Two articles.  The first one claims that Judy discovered designer Elgee Bove when she played the Palace in 1951 (he was an usher).  The second is a notice that Judy would return to the Palace on September 20th.  Judy opened on the 26th.

Check out The Judy Room’s “Judy Garland – The Concert Years” here.

September 13, 1961:  Judy gave her “Carnegie Hall” show at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.  8,700 people attended.  The show grossed $45,000 at a $7.75 top price.  Judy was a smash hit, as the reviews below state.

Check out The Judy Room’s “Judy Garland – The Concert Years” here.

September 13, 1963:  “The Judy Garland Show” resumed taping.  The production had been on a break since the end of July.  The network (CBS) was unhappy with the first five shows that had been taped.  They fired the producer, writers, and choreographer.  Director Bill Hobin stayed as did the musical and scenic staffs.  At that same time, the current episode was canceled.  Nat King Cole was the guest for that episode and its cancellation meant that he and Judy would never again get the chance to work together.

On this day, the dress rehearsal was from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., then one hour for dinner and another hour for notes and technical preparations, then the final taping.  This was “Episode Six” of the show, taped as the previous ones had been on Stage 43 at CBS.

Judy’s guests were June Allyson and Steve Lawrence plus series regular Jerry Van Dyke. Judy sang: “Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries”; “Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe” “Be My Guest” (with Lawrence); “Just Imagine” (with Allyson); “MGM Medley” (with Allyson and Lawrence); and “San Francisco” for the “Trunk” spot.

Judy also taped a second “Tea For Two” segment with George Jessel which would be inserted into “Episode Twelve.”

The episode aired on Sunday, October 27, 1963.  After the taping, Judy took her new executive producer Norman Jewison, Liza, her new writers, David Begelman, and others, to see Barbra Streisand’s closing night (the final show which was the late show) at the Coconut Grove.

Check out The Judy Room’s “Judy Garland – The Concert Years” here.

September 13, 1965:  The first night of a proposed week-long engagement at The Greek Theater in Los Angeles.  Judy received raves for this opening night. Mort Lindsey conducted the 33-piece orchestra, 13 of which were strings.  She was guaranteed $35,000 for the week, plus 65% of the gross above $70,000; there was an advance sale of $40,000.

Luckily a recording of this opening night exists, taken from the soundboard.  Listen to that recording here (zip file).

You can also download a zip file of a separate recording made that same night here (zip file).

Photos:  Johnny Mathis, Mickey Rooney, and Martha Raye give Judy help on the second night (September 14, 1965).

Check out The Judy Room’s “Judy Garland – The Concert Years” here.

September 13, 1967:  Judy held a press conference at 11:30 a.m. at her hotel, the Ambassador West.  She was an hour late, having arrived in Chicago around midnight. The press conference was in conjunction with her upcoming appearance at The Civic Opera House the following three nights and was facilitated by Bill Doll and Sid Luft.  These photos were taken of Judy with her son Joe.  During the press conference, Judy stated: “I think there’s really a certain time in your life when it’s too much of a hassle to have fears. You mature.  You say, ‘What good is fear going to do me?’  Now life seems to be sort of a steady upgrade.  I’m enjoying it. I think my children have helped a great deal.”

Check out The Judy Room’s “Judy Garland – The Concert Years” here.


September 13, 1967:  A reader asked the Indianapolis News if Judy had been blacklisted after her appearance on the Jack Paar show.  The paper’s Richard Shull answered no, but thought that “Judy was either carried away by the occasion or perhaps a little high on something…”

Check out The Judy Room’s “Judy Garland – The Concert Years” here.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.