I believe there is nothing quite like the feeling you get when Judy Garland starts singing, “Over The Rainbow.” Judy Garland’s signature song always tugs at my heart, and I am sure many other fans have similar experiences.
The actress sang the original in her starring role as Dorothy in The “Wizard of Oz.” It is no surprise that Dorothy was Judy Garland’s most memorable role as an actress. But more importantly, “Over the Rainbow” became her signature song after the movie, and remains her identity even today.
The iconic Academy Award-winning ballad with lyrics by E. Y. Harburg and music by Harold Arlen has received multiple historical honors and accolades over the past 75 years. Not to mention, it is still regarded as one of the most significant songs in the annals of popular music.
The Story Behind Garland’s Over the Rainbow
The youngest of three girls, Judy was born Frances Gumm to vaudevillian parents. She joined her sisters on stage at age two to sing “Jingle Bells.” Before changing their name to the Garland Sisters in 1934 and disbanding in 1935 when the oldest sister got married, the Gumm Sisters performed in vaudeville and made a few cameo appearances in short films.
Burton Lane, a songwriter, discovered Judy when he saw the sister act. The discovery resulted in a meeting with Louis B. Mayer, which further led to a contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Judy was too old to play a child, but still young enough to play an older teen or young adult. The studio was not quite sure what to do with her.
In 1938, MGM had to find a Dorothy replacement for its L. Frank Baum’s adaptation, The Wizard of Oz. It was challenging to borrow their first option, Shirley Temple, from 20th Century Fox. Since studios essentially owned actors during those times, Temple had no choice.
At the same time, Deanna Durbin at MGM was unavailable. Fortunately, this situation gave Judy Garland a chance to play Dorothy. In my opinion, nobody else could be in the film — she is just the PERFECT match!
To make Judy appear as young, innocent, and beautiful as possible during filming, she was kept on a strict diet. Her long ponytails and dress were designed to cover up her figure, and she had caps on her uneven teeth. Despite all of this, her exceptional talent was evident. Garland’s entire persona projected a tremulous uncertainty and wistfulness.
The American Film Institute named “Over the Rainbow” the most fantastic film song, ever. Many years later, Judy Garland reportedly told the song’s composer, Harold Arlen, “As for my feelings toward ‘Over the Rainbow,’ it has become part of my life.” I am sure that people occasionally cry when they hear it because it is so symbolic of all hopes and dreams.
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