Does the name Frances Ethel Gumm mean anything to you? Fred Astaire once called her 'the greatest entertainer who ever lived'. Then why, when mentioned, is the response from most people, 'who?'
Perhaps another name will sound more familiar. Judy Garland. That rings a bell, doesn't it? Frances changed her name early on in her career, but just how did it come about?
Well, Frances was born in 1922, the youngest of three sisters. At the age of just two and a half, she began performing with them at her father's vaudeville theatre. After years of touring, The Gum Sisters were encouraged to change their name to something more appealing. There are several theories as to how they settled on Garland, but my favourite is the story that states their mother chose it after they were described as looking 'prettier than a garland of flowers'. Shortly after this, Frances also changed her first name to Judy.
Although best know for her role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, she made many films before that. She was signed on with MGM at thirteen, but this could have been the most tragic mistake of her short life. MGM made Garland very body conscious, constantly changing her appearance with nose prosthetics, make up and outfit. They called her an 'ugly duckling' and 'little hunchback'.
It was probably these childhood pressures that led to drink and drug abuse in adulthood, and eventually caused her death at the age of just forty-seven.
Despite her personal troubles, Judy Garland was adored by many. Amongst her thousands of fans was a girl called Susie Boyt. The now author was born in 1969, the same year Garland died, but when she heard Dorothy sing 'Over the Rainbow' for the first time, she related to the song so much, that Garland became her hero.
Boyt wrote about this hero-worship in her autobiographical memoir, My Judy Garland Life, which explains in further detail how she became so obsessed. The Nottingham Playhouse is now putting on a stage performance of Boyt's biography. Starring Sally Ann Triplett as Judy Garland, and Faye Elvin as Susie Boyt, My Judy Garland Life is an uplifting story of the joy and heartache of hero worship. Showing between the 31st January - 15th February, tickets are £7.50 - £27.50, and features Garland's best-loved songs.