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Judy Garland set house on fire after studio bosses 'fed her pills to keep her slim and working 72 hours straight'

Mirror logo Mirror 11/02/2017 Warren Manger

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Judy Garland’s role as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz made her a teen superstar and earned her a special juvenile award at the Oscars. But it also set her on the road to ruin. 

Determined to milk their 16-year-old cash cow, movie bosses at MGM put her on a diet of chicken soup and coffee to keep her slim for the screen.

They then plied her with pep pills so she could work 72 hours straight and sleeping tablets when they wanted her to rest. Judy formed an addiction she could never break. She died of an overdose in 1969 at 47.

A scene from the Wizard of Oz. © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc A scene from the Wizard of Oz. A new book by her third husband Sid Luft reveals her addiction nearly killed her whole family, including daughters Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft, who both became actresses and singers like their mother. 

Judy dozed off while smoking on a bedroom chaise lounge in the early hours of October 1953, having taken “bad pills” to help with her insomnia.

Writing in his unfinished autobiography Judy and I, which has just been published, Stan revealed: “Around 5am I was ­awakened by the smell of smoke. I ran into the master bedroom and the place was ablaze.

“Judy had made her way to the bed, where she’d passed out. I pulled her out of bed and called the fire department. Lorna, Liza and their nurse were quickly taken out. Our lives were in danger.”

Born Frances Gumm, in Minnesota on June 10 1922, Judy was the daughter of vaudeville veterans Ethel and Frank. And she first appeared on stage as young as two and a half with her two older siblings.

The Gumm Sisters, as they were known, made their film debut in 1928 when Frances was six.

By the time she was 15, the year before her 1939 hit The Wizard of Oz, she had changed her name to Judy Garland and was signed by MGM.

Young, talented and glamorous, with the world at her feet, she looked the picture of happiness. The reality was far darker.

Judy Garland as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. © Getty Images Judy Garland as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. On set, Judy was shunned by her jealous co-stars and, as the Mirror reported this week, molested by the hell-raising munch­­kins.

She also had to endure studio boss Louis B Mayer who groped her in his office.

He told her she “sang from the heart” as he put his hand on her left breast. She later said: “I often thought I was lucky I didn’t sing from another part of my anatomy.”

Judy wasn’t the only child star to be given drugs to control her. Mickey Rooney, who starred with her in nine films, and Elizabeth Taylor were two high-profile victims.

Judy recalled: “They had us working days and nights on end. They’d give us pills to keep us on our feet long after we were exhausted.

"Then they’d knock us out with sleeping pills. After four hours they’d wake us up and give us pep pills again so we could work 72 hours in a row.”

Sid was appalled when Judy told him about the way she had been treated.

And he had no doubt studio bosses were to blame for her decline. Sid said: “Feeding narcotics to children was a deep, dark secret known only to those at the studio and the government.

“When our relationship eventually developed into a commitment, I could detect Judy’s pill intake by her eyes, the pupils changing like a cat’s in the noonday sun.”

Sid’s futile attempts to keep Judy clean was a dominant feature of their 13-year marriage, the longest she managed with any of her five husbands.

But it was impossible for him to stop her as there were endless people happy to supply her with her fix on film sets, in concert halls and even in her own home by the household staff.

Sid said: “Despite my crackdown on the staff, someone was still supplying Judy with pills. She turned my concern into a game: I was the ‘cop’, the ‘narc’.

"I’d searched every nook and cranny and found nothing. Infuriated, I blocked off the house. Nobody came in or our without my approval, as if I were a security guard at the White House.”

When Sid found and sacked the staff who were supplying the pills, Judy resorted to more imaginative ways of smuggling them in.

Once, a friend sewed ­sedatives into a dressing gown she had bought from a department store, then got the shop to deliver it.

At night as Judy slept, Sid embarked on hunts for her stash, finding pills in cigarette packets, bottles of bath powder and a clothes hamper.

He loved to portray himself as Judy’s rock but he was no angel.

A scene from the Wizard of Oz. © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc A scene from the Wizard of Oz. Judy and little Liza, her daughter from her marriage to Vincente Minnelli, once found him asleep on the beach at Cannes with an ­inter­­­­national playgirl.

And when Judy announced over dinner she was expecting his baby, Sid furiously accused her of jeopardising their upcoming shows.

He said: “Because of my reaction Judy didn’t confide in me where and when she was going to have the abortion, so I didn’t go with her. I didn’t send flowers.”

It’s not surprising that Judy formed a close friendship with tragic superstar Marilyn Monroe. Not long before Marilyn died in 1962 she saw her pal at a party and asked for her help.

Judy later said: “She told me: ‘I’m scared. If we could just talk, I know you’d understand.’ But I never saw that dear, sweet girl again.”

There were several times Judy slashed herself with a razor blade in a desperate cry for help.

As her marriage to Vincente broke down she cut her throat and lay down on the bed, her strength slipping away. The cook found her in a pool of blood.

Under pressure during her marriage to Sid she slashed her wrists in a hotel bathroom, four days into a five-night concert run in Washington DC.

Sid had to cancel the final show but kept the incident a secret by hiding her stitched wrists beneath bracelets.

By the time of Judy’s death in 1969, he was no longer around to protect her and she suffocated after taking an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.

Sid, who died in 2005 aged 89, blamed the doctor who prescribed enough pills to kill her.

He said: “You don’t put 30 sleeping pills by her bedside. She would treat that stuff like it was popcorn. Her death was kind of assisted suicide.”

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