Judy Garland Was Given Amphetamine-Based Diet Pills From Her Studio

Between the adoring fans, money, and lavish parties, becoming one of Hollywood’s elite actors can seem like the ultimate dream. It comes with a high price, however, as many child actors learn the hard way. For Judy Garland, it was a nightmare.

The young actress, who won the hearts of millions for her portrayal of Dorothy on The Wizard of Oz, seemed like she had it all. Little did the children who watched her on screen know the horrors she faced when the cameras weren’t rolling. From being force-fed barbiturates to going on an extreme diet, Garland’s life was anything but a dream.

Judy Garland’s mother got her started on drugs

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As a young child, Garland had one dream. She wanted to be an actress. In time, she would even achieve this dream. Tragically, the road to becoming famous, and all that occurred afterwards left her broken.

According to Biography, Garland’s mother Ethel Milne Gumm hadn’t wanted a child, but a child she got. Gumm was far from the ideal mother, and things were so bad Garland once stated that her mother was “the real Wicked Witch of the West.”

In spite of this, Gumm was actually supportive of Garland being on stage. In fact, she couldn’t wait to get Garland in front of crowds, and helped Garland gain her first role in Grand Rapids at the tender age of two and a half.

As Garland got older, her desire to be on stage didn’t wane. If anything, it only grew. Garland once stated, “The only time I felt wanted when I was a kid was when I was on stage, performing.” Her mother made it clear she had no use for Garland unless she was getting gigs, and didn’t seem to care where the gigs happened. 

In fact, Gumm forced Garland to perform in nightclubs that were far from being child-friendly. To make sure Garland could stay up late, Gumm gave her daughter drugs known in the industry as ‘pep-pills’ to give her some much-needed energy, and pills to make her sleep when she wasn’t on stage. Garland was not the only child actor this happened to, as it was a common practice in Hollywood at the time.

MGM wasn’t happy with Garland’s appearance

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While women are still subjected to body shaming, things have gotten a lot better compared to what they were in Garland’s time. Being signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer at 13 years old should have been the beginning of her dream. Instead, it was when things got worse.

According to Biography, “Studio head Louis B. Mayer allegedly called Garland “my little hunchback” (Garland was less than five feet tall and had curvature of the spine).” She was criticized for her weight, and per Mayer’s instructions, she was only allowed to eat chicken broth and cottage cheese. There were spies everywhere, eager to snitch on Garland if she didn’t stick to her diet.

On top of this, Garland was forced to drink nothing but black coffee, and had to smoke 80 cigarettes a day to help suppress her appetite. When she grew up, Garland was addicted to drugs.

Growing up didn’t change things

Judy Garland
Judy Garland | United Artists/Courtesy of Getty Images

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Many former child stars openly rebel. Garland didn’t exactly act out, but her transition into adulthood was no treat. 

Garland was married five times, and continued to struggle with drug addiction. While she had three children that she loved dearly, her first husband David Rose teamed up with her mother to force Garland to have an abortion. This did little to help her transition into adulthood in a healthy way.

The habits forced on her by an overbearing stage mother and MGM continued to haunt her, and according to Biography, on June 22, 1969, she was found dead. The coroner stated her death was due to an overdose of barbiturates. Even though she has been gone for 52 years now, fans continue to watch Garland’s films, and mourn for the child who just wanted to go somewhere over the rainbow.