Judy Garland got her start in films not at MGM as most people assume, but years before when she was 7 years old. When sound films became the rage in the late 1920s, the studios cranked out shorts that featured known and unknown stage acts. Kiddie acts were always popular, and some of the most prolific came out of Ethel Meglin’s Los Angeles school for show business children. Judy and her sisters were a part of Meglin’s school for a few years, appearing mostly in stage acts that opened the program at movie theaters. Lucky for us, the popularity of early sound films prompted the studios to seek out new talent, giving us a record of not only Judy’s early years (and film debut) but also the only surviving film footage of many famous stage acts. The Warner Archive DVD series includes several multi-disc releases featuring many of the surviving shorts. They’re fascinating to watch and well worth purchasing.
As noted below, most of these early sound films had their audio recorded on discs that were synced up with the films. In several cases, the film footage has not survived but the sound discs have. Go to The Judy Room’s MP3 page to hear the audio of all of the films listed below.
For details about Judy Garland’s short films made after she signed with MGM, go to The Judy Garland Shorts Page.
THE BIG REVUE (aka The Starlet Review) (1929 – Mayfair Pictures filmed at Tec-Art Studio)
The title card on the film reads Associated Films/The Starlet Review however it was promoted as The Big Revue with Ethel Meglin’s Hollywood Wonder Kiddies. The film has also been listed as a “Meglin” production, using the name of the children’s performing school/company (The Ethel Meglin Dance School) that the Gumm Sisters were then a part of, professionally known as “The Meglin Kiddies.”
Note: The film was made on June 11, 12, & 13, 1929 just after Judy’s seventh birthday on June 10th. It premiered on August 14, 1929, at the Fox Belmont Theater in Hollywood, California.
Song: “That’s The Good Old Sunny South” (The Gumm Sisters)
A HOLIDAY IN STORYLAND (1929 – Vitaphone, filmed late 1929 at the First National Studio, Burbank, CA)
Vitaphone Varieties – Presented by Vitaphone – a Subsidiary of Warner Brothers Pictures – Produced with Western Electric Apparatus – “The Vitaphone Kiddies”
Directed by Roy Mack
This short features Judy Garland’s very first film solo “Blue Butterfly.” The film footage no longer exists, but the Vitaphone sound discs have survived.
Photo: Is that Judy Garland’s first leading man? “Baby Gumm” on the Warner Bros./First National Studios backlot, circa 1929, with John Perri.
THE WEDDING OF JACK AND JILL (1930 – Vitaphone, filmed late 1929 at the First National Studio, Burbank, CA)
Vitaphone Varieties – Presented by Vitaphone – a Subsidiary of Warner Brothers Pictures – Produced with Western Electric Apparatus – “The Vitaphone Kiddies” – #1393 Rel. No. 3826
Directed by Roy Mack
This film no longer exists, but the Vitaphone sound discs have survived.
Song (MP3 file): “Hang Onto The Rainbow” (Baby Gumm).
Photos: Judy (Frances Gumm) is highlighted behind John Perri and Peggy Ryan.
BUBBLES (1930 – Vitaphone, filmed in December 1929 at the First National Studio, Burbank, CA)
Vitaphone Varieties – Presented by Vitaphone – a Subsidiary of Warner Brothers Pictures – Produced with Western Electric Apparatus – The Vitaphone Kiddies in” Bubbles” – Rel. No. 3898
Directed by Roy Mack
Music & Lyrics by M.K. Jerome & Harold Berg
Photographed by Willard Van Enger & Howard Green
This film was originally made in the early two-strip Technicolor format. The Technicolor footage no longer survives, but a black and white print was found in the early 1990s in the Library of Congress. This is the earliest surviving film footage of Judy Garland singing in close-up and solo (a short 2 lines). It’s amazing to see her, even at this young age, reaching out to the audience and already quite photogenic. Her voice is a cut above any other 8-year-old singer of the time, with a hint of that famous vibrato already there!
Song: “The Land Of Let’s Pretend” (The Gumm Sisters – Baby Gumm gets a 2-line solo in the middle of the song).
The video of this short is on the Meet Me In St. Louis DVD.
Photos: Screenshot from the film plus a promotional photo provided by Aureo Brandão. Thanks Aureo!
LA FIESTA DE SANTA BARBARA (1935 – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Produced by: Lewis Lewyn
Release Date: December 7, 1935
Judy and her sisters filmed this short in the summer of 1935, just prior to Judy’s audition for, and subsequent signing with, M-G-M. This is also the last performance of The Garland Sisters as a trio.
This is the first time Judy was filmed in (the then new) 3-strip Technicolor. The short was basically an excuse to show off this new process. Several major stars, including Clark Gable and Randolph Scott, made brief appearances in the film solely to see how they would look in this new color process. Judy would not appear in another color film until The Wizard Of Oz in 1939.
Song: “La Cucaracha” (The Garland Sisters – Each sister gets a short solo in the song). It’s amusing to see (hear) Judy and her sisters sing about marijuana!
The video of this short is on the For Me And My Gal and Classic Musical Shorts from the Dream Factory DVDs.