With all the recent cases of abuse and misconduct in Hollywood coming to light in droves, it can be difficult to not yearn for a time when things seemed so much cleaner and more professional. I hear it all the time from people who grew up influenced by old Hollywood: "things were so much NICER back then," "those were the days when Hollywood had CLASS," and even "this would have NEVER happened back in those days."
While it's easy to look back on the formative years of Hollywood with rose-tinted glasses and get swept up in all the glitz and glamour, it's important to remember that there have been hundreds of cases of misconduct in the industry since the time of its formation. While some of these get brushed aside as being "part of the times," others are just as insidious and career-ruining as cases like the ones we're seeing today.
With all of this said, there are few people who would be better primed to talk to us about abuse in Hollywood than The Wizard of Oz star Judy Garland, who not only had a difficult upbringing due to her constant proximity to Hollywood, but was the subject of some pretty nasty treatment, even behind the scenes of this beloved family classic...
Garland's career had already been off to something of a horrific start. Performing with her family as part of a vaudeville act, she and her sister were given a steady diet of drugs by their mother in order to keep up with the show's rigorous schedule. Her father, Frank Gumm, committed suicide when she was 13, leaving her constantly seeking attention from older men.
The actress was 16 when she won the part of Dorothy back in 1939, and was already suffering from issues that would follow her for the rest of her career. She was addicted to barbiturates and amphetamines and was on the road to alcoholism, but even worse was the fact that she was constantly molested by older men from the studio, who outright claimed that she was their "property."
This was only the beginning of Garland's problems. Upon being scouted for the role, she became extremely self-conscious about her appearance while surrounded by already legendary actresses like Ava Gardner and Greta Garbo. Studio head Louis B. Mayer, whose tyrannical running of MGM Studios carries more disgusting behavior than we have room for here, exacerbated this by constantly referring to her as "my little hunchback."
“I was always lonesome,” Garland later recalled. “The only time I felt accepted or wanted was when I was on stage performing. I guess the stage was my only friend; the only place where I could feel comfortable. It was the only place where I felt equal and safe.”
The torment would continue for Garland at the hands of Mayer during her 17 years at MGM, as he would send spies to her house to ensure she was keeping to her studio-mandated diet of coffee, cigarettes and chicken soup in order to lose weight. All of these factors and more contributed to the fact that Garland ultimately died at the relatively young age of 47, in 1969.
What do you think about the story of Garland's life? Was Hollywood really any better back then?