Garland was born Frances Gumm in 1922, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Her parents ran a movie theater, and at age three Frances joined her two older sisters in a vaudeville act called The Gumm Sisters that performed before the movie presentation. Her mother later took them on the vaudeville circuit, where they were eventually renamed The Garland Sisters. Although the girls weren’t especially well received as a vaudeville act, Frances--now known as Judy Garland--drew the attention of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)’s production head, Louis B. Mayer. He signed her to a contract when she was 13 years old. Two years later, she made the first of her nine films with Mickey Rooney. Garland became a star in 1939 with The Wizard of Oz, in which she played Dorothy, a role originally intended for Shirley Temple. In the film, she performed the plaintive ballad “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which would become one of her signature songs. Garland also delighted audiences in other movie musicals, including Strike Up the Band (1941), For Me and My Gal (1942) and Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).
In 1941, at the age of 19, Garland married the bandleader David Rose, but the marriage broke up in 1945. She met Minnelli, who was also married at the time, when he directed her in Meet Me in St. Louis. Minnelli was born in Chicago in 1903 and, like Garland, entered show business while a toddler, performing in a family act. He dropped out of school at 16 and became a costume designer and stage manager for the live acts that preceded films shown at a Chicago theater chain. He later moved to New York, eventually becoming an art director at Radio City Music Hall. He began directing Broadway musicals in 1935, and moved to Hollywood in 1940, when MGM hired him as a film director. While they were married, Garland and Minnelli worked together on The Clock (1945) and The Pirate (1948). Their daughter, Liza, was born in 1946, and the marriage lasted until 1951. Minnelli went on to direct Oscar-winning films that included An American in Paris (1951), Band Wagon (1953) and Gigi. He also directed Father of the Bride (1950). Garland had used amphetamines and sleeping pills since adolescence, and her dependence on drugs and alcohol eventually undermined her career and led to several nervous breakdowns and suicide attempts. Her third husband, Sid Luft, managed her comeback in the early 1950s, booking her in triumphant live engagements in London and New York. Garland won an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for A Star Is Born (1954), but her downward spiral resumed in the 1960s, and she died of an overdose of sleeping pills on June 22, 1969, at the age of 47.