Judy Garland was considered, even in passing, for every musical made in Hollywood during the Golden Age. That’s an exaggeration, but her talent was so revered that she was always in demand and usually at the top of most wish lists. At MGM she was regularly the first choice for their latest musical, especially in the fabled Freed Unit (which she helped create). June Allyson later explained: “If they could have put her in every single film, they would have.” Everyone wanted to work with her. Composers Oscar Hammerstein and Jerry Herman both exclaimed that when they wrote a song they would imagine how “Judy Garland would sing it.” As a result, Judy’s name was attached to many projects that either did not get past the planning stages or were eventually made with other stars. Columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons regularly mentioned her name in new blurbs about a variety of film projects.
There are four films that Judy actually began but did not complete:
Image above: Screenshot of Judy in deleted footage from Annie Get Your Gun.
Much of the information here has been compiled from researching the many film reference books and biographies published over the last fifty-plus years, home media liner notes & booklets, and websites. Notable resources include: “Judy Garland – The Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Legend” by Scott Schechter published in 2002; “Judy” by Gerold Frank published in 1975; “Get Happy – The Life of Judy Garland” by Gerald Clarke published in 2000; “Young Judy” by David Dahl and Barry Kehoe published in 1975; “MGM – When the Lion Roars” by Peter Hay published in 1991; “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” by John Fricke published in 1992; “Judy Garland – A Legendary Film Career” by John Fricke published in 2011.
THIS TIME IT'S LOVE/BORN TO DANCE (1935/1936)
This is the first known film project that Judy was considered for after signing with MGM in September 1935. The 1975 book “Young Judy” by David Dahl and Barry Kehoe features the contents of a letter from October 1935 in which Judy’s father, Frank Gumm, relayed to their family friend John Perkins in Lancaster, California that Judy was to start production on This Time It’s Love in January 1936 with an April 1936 release date. The film would star Robert Montgomery and Jessie Matthews, and “baby [as Judy was still called by her family] plays opposite Buddie [sic] Ebson [sic] a 6 foot 2 comedian that made a big hit with his sister in the new Broadway Melody of 1936.”
This Time It’s Love eventually became Born To Dance starring Eleanor Powell and was released in 1936. On March 10, 1936, Cole Porter noted in his diary that to his “great joy” Born To Dance would include “Buddy Ebsen and Judy Garland.” Judy’s part was written out before she began any work on the film.
Photo: Judy and Buddy Ebsen rehearse for the finale of Broadway Melody of 1938.
LA BELLE DOLLY (1935/1936)
In Variety’s December 18, 1935, issue there is a short blurb (dated December 17) that MGM was preparing an adaptation of Edgar Allen Woolf’s “La Belle Dolly” as Judy’s first film, co-starring with the 74-year-old opera diva Madame (Ernestine) Schulmann-Heink. Heink was a legendary opera star who was forced out of retirement when she lost everything in the Crash of 1929, working as a coach and, of course, singer.
The information was most likely sent to the papers by MGM with other notices. Harold W. Cohen picked it up for his column “The Drama Desk” on December 24, 1935, but only mentioned Mme. Schulmann-Heink and Woolf’s names.
It’s unknown if the intent was to have Judy sing in a more operatic style. This role sounds more like the kind that would be played by Deanna Durbin (who wasn’t at MGM just yet) rather than Judy.
The property had been at MGM for at least a few years. In 1933 Variety noted that the film would be made starring the young Jackie Cooper with the older actress Marie Dressler. Details about the plot are unknown although it appears that it was probably a typical story about an older mentor with a younger performer and/or relative.
THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (1935)
Universal originally owned the rights to this screen adaptation of Florenz Ziegfeld’s amazing life. In 1934, Judy and her sisters were noted as one of the acts that would appear in the film. There are no records of any studio contracts being signed with Universal for either Judy alone or with her sisters. If a contract was created, it would have been for a one-picture deal and not the standard long-term contract for new contract players.
An article in Variety on January 29, 1935, about Vaudeville acts in Hollywood noted: “… and Francis (sic) Garland landed a part in Universal’s “Great Ziegfeld.” For a time, Judy was being billed as Frances Garland.
In Variety’s November 20, 1935, issue (see image) Judy’s connection to the film was mentioned again. By this time Judy had been signed by MGM and had made waves on her two appearances on “The Shell Chateau Hour.” The notice reported that producer Sam Katz was looking for a story to star Judy. The notice went on to claim that Judy went to MGM with the Ziegfeld project when it was transferred from Universal and that Universal had changed her name to Garland and that “the studio paid little attention to her until some of the execs heard her sing at a night spot several months after she came on the lot.” She’s also noted to be 12 years old which was MGM’s attempt to make her seem even more precocious than she already was (she was 13). This Variety notice was obviously given to the paper by MGM, probably in an attempt to get some press out about their upcoming Ziegfeld film and Judy, who was already making waves with her radio and personal appearances.
MGM released their version of The Great Ziegfeld in 1936 to critical and financial acclaim, becoming the second musical to win the Oscar for Best Picture (the first was MGM’s The Broadway Melody in 1929). Still, Judy did “sort of” appear in the film: For 1941’s Ziegfeld Girl MGM cleverly recreated a part of the famous wedding cake set from the “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody” number, put Judy in a blonde wig, put her on top of the partially recreated set, then spliced that with footage from the rest of the original 1936 version, making it seem as though it was Judy and not Virginia Bruce at the top of the massive set during the camera’s pullback (see image).
YOURS AND MINE (1935)
In his introduction of Judy for the November 15, 1935, broadcast of the radio show “The Shell Chateau Hour,” Wallace Beery mentions that since her first appearance on the same show in October, she had been signed by MGM (in reality, she signed with MGM in September) and Sam Katz had “written her into his next picture Yours and Mine.” This was probably more studio PR than actual plans, created to build up Judy’s importance to an audience still fairly unaware of her existence.
OUR GANG FOLLIES (aka OUR GANG FOLLIES OF 1936) (1935)
In December 1935 MGM planned to loan Judy to the Hal Roach Studios for an Our Gang Follies film. The studio changed their minds at the last minute, possibly because This Time It’s Love had become Born To Dance with Judy still attached to it in March 1936. She ended up working on a test short (with Deanna Durbin) for MGM’s exhibitors convention in the spring of 1936, which was immediately followed by work on the short Every Sunday, also with Durbin. In the summer of 1936, the deal to loan her to Fox for Pigskin Parade came along, which was a better showcase for her talents than an Our Gang film would have been. Or, maybe they just decided not to loan her to the Hal Roach Studios
GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)
Producer David O. Selznick originally wanted Judy to play the role of Scarlett O’Hara’s younger sister, Colleen. Judy, however, was busy making that other masterpiece of 1939: The Wizard of Oz. The part of Colleen went to Judy’s fellow MGM contract player, and “Andy Hardy” girlfriend, Ann Rutherford.
GOOD NEWS (1939)
Arthur Freed planned a remake of the 1930 MGM college musical Good News (based on the popular 1927 Broadway musical of the same name) as Judy and Mickey Rooney’s follow-up to Babes In Arms (1939). He was unsatisfied with the script, and studio chief Louis B. Mayer suggested he build a new musical around the Gershwin’s song “Strike Up The Band” because it “sounded patriotic.” Good News was again suggested for Judy and Mickey in 1943 but that didn’t pan out either. Eventually is was made by the Freed Unit in 1947 starring June Allyson and Peter Lawford.
VERY WARM FOR MAY (1942)
After Babes On Broadway and just prior to For Me And My Gal, producer Arthur Freed wanted to film the Oscar Hammerstein/Jerome Kern show “Very Warm For May” starring Judy with Ray McDonald and Marta Eggerth or Kathryn Grayson. But the plot was too similar to the three previous “Let’s Put On A Show!” films (about the singing and dancing daughter of show people who wants to quit school and go on the stage). Freed wanted to keep moving forward with the advancement of the film musical and this plot would be a step backward. He eventually turned it over to fellow MGM producer Jack Cummings and it became 1944’s Broadway Rhythm starring Ginny Sims and George Murphy.
THE BELLE OF NEW YORK (1943/1945)
Judy’s involvement in this project dates back to at least 1943. In an October 14, 1943, letter to Oscar Hammerstein, producer Arthur Freed mentions: “Regarding The Belle of New York. We have a fine outline for the story and I am still counting on you and Dick [Richard] Rodgers to do the score.” Hammerstein replied on June 7, 1943: “…regarding the Judy Garland picture you spoke to Dick and me about, we are looking forward to receiving a story layout whenever you have one.”
Freed put The Belle of New York on the production schedule in 1945. It was to star Judy and Fred Astaire. In his fantastic book about The Freed Unit “The World of Entertainment – Hollywood’s Greatest Musicals” author Hugh Fordin states: “At one time the project had to be aborted during rehearsals because Judy Garland, Astaire’s costar, dropped out.” No mention of any time period is made, although it was most likely in 1945 when Astaire was on the MGM lot filming Ziegfeld Follies. It’s feasible that perhaps some early rehearsals were done at that time, with Judy dropping out due to her busy schedule or her marriage to Vincente Minnelli. Freed finally made The Belle of New York in 1952 with Fred Astaire and Vera-Ellen.
THE RAZOR'S EDGE (1945)
Judy really wanted the role of “Sophie,” eventually played by Anne Baxter, in the 1946 version of the W. Somerset Maugham novel. Baxter won a Supporting Actress Oscar for the role.
20th Century-Fox wanted Judy as well, but in 1945 there’s no way MGM would loan their #1 star to a rival studio for a gritty drama, especially when that star was Hollywood’s singing sweetheart Judy Garland. MGM was too fearful of tampering with that image, not to mention that they would also lose out on her services during the Fox production schedule. One of the great loves of Judy’s life, Tyrone Power, also starring in the film. It would have been fascinating to see Judy and Power together in a film. Perhaps Judy would have been nominated, and maybe even won, the Supporting Oscar as well?
YOLANDA AND THE THIEF (1947)
Judy was never seriously in the running for this film. It was planned for production at the same time as The Harvey Girls. Because Yolanda was being directed by her husband Vincente Minnelli and it was to star Fred Astaire, Judy wanted to be in it rather than The Harvey Girls, and tried to persuade producer Arthur Freed to switch the roles. He convinced her that The Harvey Girls was a better showcase of her talents. He was right. Yolanda was a flop and ended Lucille Bremer’s brief time as a leading lady. Of course, Astaire’s career recovered quite nicely.
ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948)
Warner Bros. wanted Judy for the lead role in this breezy Technicolor musical. Obviously MGM wasn’t about to loan her out at this point in her career, so Doris Day got the part, making her feature debut and beginning her own phenomenal film career. One wonders what magic Judy could have brought to Day’s big hit song from the film “It’s Magic.”
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (1948)
Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen had turned in a story idea to producer Arthur Freed that included Kathryn Grayson as the lead. Freed swapped out Grayson with Judy. Judy had recently had a tough time filming her numbers for Words And Music and beginning, then being taken out of, the production of The Barkleys of Broadway (below), Freed replaced her with Esther Williams. Judy worked on Barkleys from June 14, 1948 through her removal on July 18, 1948. Take Me Out To The Ball Game began filming just ten days later on July 28, 1948. This means that Judy was probably taken out of any serious consideration for Take Me Out To The Ball Game due to her fragile physical and emotional state. Take Me Out To The Ball Game was completed in 1948 but not released until 1949. NOTE: The Rodgers & Hammerstein song “Boys And Girls Like You And Me” that was deleted from Meet Me In St. Louis was here sung by Frank Sinatra to Betty Garrett, but deleted as well.
THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY (1949)
The Barkleys of Broadway holds the dubious distinction of being the first film that Judy could not complete due to her physical and mental frailties. Barkleys was conceived as Judy and Fred Astaire’s follow-up to the huge success of Easter Parade. At the time Judy began rehearsals on June 14, 1948, it was still titled You Made Me Love You, a nod to her early MGM success with the song of the same name in Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937). The plan was to have Judy reprise the song here. Unfortunately, after the strain of working on Easter Parade and immediately recording and filming “I Wish I Were In Love Again” for Words And Music, Judy was completely exhausted. Going into another strenuous production schedule for another high-profile big-budget musical, and the pressures that went along with it was more than Judy could weather. She lasted through a month of rehearsals and preliminary work before MGM reluctantly replaced her with Ginger Rogers. Due to this, Judy never recorded any of the songs or filmed any footage.
The studio had spent $23,077 to date. Judy later made an impromptu appearance on the Barkleys set, in costume. It’s reported that she paraded around being very friendly with everyone, except Rogers. Rogers retreated to her dressing room. Director Charles Walters asked her to leave and she refused. Finally, he physically escorted her out, while she “hurled insults at Rogers.” A studio photographer was on hand and snapped a photo of Judy with Oscar Levant (photo shown above).
The completed film, reuniting Astaire and Rogers after 10 years, opened on May 13, 1949, and was a big success.
SHOW BOAT (1940s/1951)
This is another film that had been earmarked for Judy for several years during her tenure at MGM. Producer Arthur Freed had wanted to remake the Oscar Hammerstein/Jerome Kern milestone since becoming a producer in 1939 (and probably before). He had the studio finance a 1946 revival on Broadway after purchasing the rights from Universal, who previously had made an early 1929 part-talkie film and a well-loved 1936 version. Of note, that revival resulted in the first American record album of songs from the show utilizing the cast and released as a “cast recording.”
Freed put the Kern biopic Till The Clouds Roll By into production, a lengthy opening “mini-musical” version of “Show Boat” was created, with Lena Horne in the role Freed was to give to Judy in a full-length film version: The tragic singer “Julie.” The full-length film version wouldn’t get made until 1951 after Judy had left the studio. Garland fans have always speculated on how different the role and the film would have been if Judy had the chance to play the role. It had also been argued (with some validation) that if Judy had stayed at MGM, her status as the studio’s premiere musical leading lady would most likely have prevented her from being cast in a secondary role that basically disappears from most of the last half of the story. Audiences would have wanted “more Judy.” In the end, Ava Gardner gave a wonderful performance as “Julie” in the 1951 version.
The clippings below are from 1944 & 1950.
SOUTH PACIFIC (1950s)
In October of 1950, Judy was in New York for the baseball World Series and meetings with her new William Morris Agency representative, Abe Lastfogel. There were talks with Rodgers & Hammerstein about taking over for Mary Martin in “South Pacific” currently on Broadway. Rodgers & Hammerstein hoped to write a film or stage musical for her based on the 1936 Katherine Hepburn film Alice Adams. Judy had played the part on radio November 5, 1950, on NBC’s “Theatre Guild on the Air” – Click here to download that show. There were also rumors that Judy would star with Ezio Pinza in Slightly Dishonorable. Judy’s name was attached to the project again in 1954 thanks to her success in A Star Is Born. It was rumored that she would co-star with Mario Lanza.
“South Pacific” made it to the screen in 1958 with Mitzi Gaynor in the starring role. It’s doubtful that by 1957 when casting would have been decided on (possibly 1956) Judy would have been seriously considered for the film role, chiefly because she wasn’t the Nellie Forbush type anymore.
ALICE ADAMS (1950/1956)
As noted above, in 1950 Rodgers & Hammerstein had hoped to write a musical version of this show for Judy. It’s reported that in 1956 Judy “turned down” an offer from RKO to star in a remake they were apparently preparing for her.
THE HELEN MORGAN STORY (1957)
Jack Warner, head of Warner Bros., originally wanted Judy for the title role, but in 1957 there was still bad blood between him and Judy and her husband Sid Luft, going back to their work together on 1954’s A Star Is Born. But Warner still loved and respected Judy’s talent and her voice. Singer Ann Blyth got the role, but was famously dubbed by Gogi Grant. The reason for the dubbing is that Warner wanted a singer with a Garland sound and the real Helen Morgan’s voice was much closer to Judy’s voice than Blyth’s.
THE THREE FACES OF EVE (1957)
Judy turned down this role in 1956. She would have been incredible, but it’s been speculated that perhaps the thought of digging into her own inner demons for this film may have scared her away. Joanne Woodward was given the role and won the 1957 Best Actress Oscar.
BORN IN WEDLOCK (aka GAIETY GIRL) (1957)
In a 1957 interview, Judy reported that she was taking her Palace show to France, Germany and England where she would film the movie version of the book “Born In Wedlock” that she and husband Sid Luft had acquired, the acquisition of the property by Judy and Sid was first reported in 1956. Then on May 11, 1958, after her show at the Minnesota State Centennial Celebration, Sid announced that he was going to produce “Born In Wedlock” on Broadway that fall starring an unknown, with the intention of later filming it with Judy in the lead role. Late July 1959: With backers in place, Judy and Sid checked into the Health Farm “Comanche Ranch” in Hidden Valley, California to lose weight in anticipation of the filming of Born In Wedlock which had been renamed Gaiety Girl. On November 14, 1960, “Billboard” magazine reported that Fred Finklehoffe was writing a screenplay for this project that would begin filming in England “next year.” The film was never made.
On March 10, 1965, Judy signed with Electronovision to play Jean Harlow’s mother in their version of Harlow with Carol Lynley as Jean Harlow. The contract called for three weeks of rehearsals followed by a scheduled shooting start date of March 31st and a projected release date of May 12th. Judy began rehearsals on March 21st, but by the 22nd she withdrew from the production. Eleanor Parker replaced Judy, but she too left and was replaced by Ginger Rogers. The producers said that Judy’s departure was due to “billing problems” and a spokesman for Judy said she left due to a “commitment conflict” and that her ability to do the film rested on her “ability to juggle other commitments” citing rehearsals for her upcoming on the Oscar Awards telecast. Judy told Lynley: “Honey, I’m not drunk, I’m not on drugs, and I’m telling you this is a piece of junk, and I’m getting out!”
Judy’s instincts were usually spot-on, and she no doubt realized this was a quickie production (filmed on tape for transfer to film, no less!) meant to compete with another film about Harlow with Angela Lansbury as Harlow’s mother and Carroll Baker as Jean Harlow. It was Rogers’ last film appearance. Neither film did very well, coming off as highly fictionalized soap opera. Too bad, as Jean Harlow was one of the greatest stars of the 1930s and deserved better. In a better production Judy could have done some justice to Harlow’s story.
Image: March 21, 1965 – Barry Sullivan, Lorna Luft, Judy, and Joe Luft look at the poster planned to promote Judy’s involvement in Harlow.
Images below: A series of clippings documents Judy’s involvement with the film in March, 1965.
During Judy’s tenure at MGM, the following films were allegedly planned for her and/or she was on the filmmakers’ “wish lists.” Some of this information could be apocryphal and based solely on recollections decades later, rumors, and legends. As noted above, Judy was MGM’s top female musical star, so it stands to reason that she would be first in line for most musical roles. For instance, Judy fan Joe Pasternak was head of his own musical unit at MGM that had a friendly rivalry with the famed Arthur Freed Unit. Pasternak always wanted Judy in his films, but as she was the “property” of the Freed Unit, he rarely got that chance. It’s safe to assume that unless a film was created specifically for another star, Judy would have been his first choice.
Judy’s involvement in many of the titles goes no further than simple mentions in fan magazines, usually provided by the massive MGM publicity department as part of their attempts to keep the star’s names (including Judy) in the public’s consciousness as much as possible. Many other titles (mostly in the early 1940s) were no more than ideas thrown out as possible projects for Judy and Mickey. Producer Arthur Freed was always on the lookout for ideas and stories that would make great film musicals. The result is that most of the titles listed below didn’t get past the idea stage while others actually had story outlines or screenplays written and some were made without Judy.
Image: Judy with Perry Como and MGM producer Arthur Freed, April 18, 1948.
Babes in Hollywood (1934) – Not to be confused with the proposed MGM film of the same name as noted below, this earlier MGM version allegedly would have included Judy and her sisters.
Rosalie (1937) – The MGM Music Department records show that Judy recorded “Who Knows?” for the film on August 27, 1937. The recording has not survived. The final film starred Eleanor Powell and Nelson Eddy.
National Velvet (1937) – The all-time classic 1944 Elizabeth Taylor hit was allegedly suggested for Judy around 1940.
The Sarah Bernhardt Story (circa 1937/38) – Judy would have played the young Sarah.
The Fanny Brice Story (circa 1937/38) – Not to be confused with the proposed project of the same working title in the 1950s. At this point, Judy would have played the young Brice.
Molly, Bless Her ( circa 1938) – Another biopic, this time about the late, great actress Marie Dressler.
The Captured Shadow (circa 1938) – Another film for Judy, Mickey Rooney, & Freddie Bartholomew from a screenplay by F. Scott Fitzgerald based on his 1929 “Saturday Evening Post” story.
American Symphony & Wonder Child (both circa 1938) – Two possible titles, no other information is known aside from this blurb about Wonder Child.
Topsy & Eva (circa 1938/39) – This title had a lot of mileage. The film version of the Duncan Sisters’ stage hit of the same name (a musical comedy based on “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”) was allegedly first brought to MGM by Mervyn LeRoy in the late 1930s. It was first planned to star Judy and Betty Jaynes, then in 1941 for Shirley Temple and Judy (Temple had just signed with MGM). The project was again planned to be made in the late 40s and early 50s but never was.
Looking After Sandy (1939) – Another co-starring possibility for Judy and Freddie Bartholomew based on Scottish playwright Margaret Trunbull’s 1914 novel. The story centers on a girl orphan whose charms win over a rich American family (sounds similar to MGM’s 1957 Debbie Reynolds hit film Tammy And The Bachelor).
Valedictory (circa 1939) – In the July 1, 1939, “Independent Film Exhibitors Bulletin” magazine’s section titled “Production Section – Studio Size-Ups” it notes: An American ‘Mr. Chips’ has been gathering dust on MGM’s story shelves in the form of a yarn called ‘Valedictory,’ now being dusted as a vehicle for Lionel Barrymore, Judy Garland, and Freddie Bartholomew. This was most likely another example of the studio getting Judy’s name in the press as part of their big star build-up just before the premiere of The Wizard of Oz a month later. This title was never made into a film.
Susan And God (1939) – The film adaptation of Rachel Crothers’ 1937 Broadway hit was originally going to star Greer Garson as “Susan” co-starring Fredric March with Judy playing Susan’s daughter. The film was made with Joan Crawford, March, and Rita Quigley in the daughter role.
High School (1939) – A title suggested for a possible Judy and Mickey film.
Dear Old Broadway (1939) – Another title suggested for Judy and Mickey.
Broadway Melody Of 1940 (1940) – Judy’s name naturally came up as this was the first entry in the “Broadway Melody” series after she had stolen the show in Broadway Melody Of 1938 with her star-making rendition of “(Dear Mr. Gable) You Made Me Love You.”
The Youngest Profession (1940) – A proposed re-teaming of Judy with Walter Pidgeon, this project about teenagers who collect autographs (and the ensuing situations they find themselves in) was made with Virginia Weidler in the lead role opposite Edward Arnold.
There They Grow (1940) – Another title suggested for a possible Judy and Mickey film, similar in theme to Babes In Hollywood (noted above).
No, No, Nanette (1940) – The 1925 Broadway hit that gave us such songs as “Tea for Two” and “I Want To Be Happy” was another title suggested for Judy and Mickey. Warner Bros. released it in 1950 as Tea For Two starring Doris Day and Gordon MacRae. It was originally adapted for the screen in 1930 and released by First National. Only the soundtrack of that early talkie survives. First National was a subsidiary of Warner Bros. making it doubtful that the rights to the property ever left the Warner lot, meaning it was just another title idea for MGM’s hot teen duo “Mickey & Judy.”
Funny Face (1940) – Yet another title suggested for Judy and Mickey. The original Gershwin musical was a big hit on Broadway in 1927 starring Fred Astaire and his sister Adele. Astaire finally got to make a film version in 1957 co-starring Audrey Hepburn and featuring Judy’s great friend (and Liza’s godmother) Kay Thompson stealing the show. The 1957 Stanley Donen project was originally planned as an MGM musical but when the studio wouldn’t finance it, the cast and crew went to Paramount, producing the only “MGM Musical” made at a different studio. A sign of the times for film musicals in the late 1950s.
Lady Be Good (1940) – Another title suggested for Judy and Mickey. It made it to the screen starring Ann Sothern, Robert Young, and Eleanor Powell.
Thousands Cheer (1940) – Judy appeared as a guest star in the all-star finale of the 1943 version starring Kathryn Grayson, but the project was originally touted as Judy’s “first glamour role” in 1940.
Kathleen (1940) – Another role allegedly suggested for Judy that went to someone else, this time to Shirley Temple in 1941.
The Big Time (1940) – No relation to the working title of Judy and Gene Kelly’s 1942 hit For Me And My Gal, this project was to star Judy with Lana Turner, James Stewart, Walter Pidgeon, and Rags Ragland.
The Corporal’s Cousin Katie (1941) – Based on the title and the fact that George Murphy was planned as Judy’s costar, this title was most likely suggested as a follow-up to their 1940 teaming in the Irish-themed Little Nellie Kelly.
Eight Girls And A Horse (1941) – An idea to star Judy and Kathryn Grayson.
Panama Hattie (1941) – RKO Studios wanted to film Cole Porter’s stage smash as Ginger Rogers’ follow-up to her Oscar-winning role in 1940s Kitty Foyle. MGM producer Arthur Freed convinced MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer to offer a deal for both “Panama Hattie” and Porter’s other recent stage hit “DuBarry Was A Lady.” The Freed version was released in 1942 starring Ann Sothern, Red Skelton, and (briefly) Lena Horne. Panama Hattie was in production at the same time as Judy and Mickey’s Babes on Broadway, so it’s unlikely that there was any serious thought to having either star appear in the film. There were some early ideas to star the Judy and Mickey with Shirley Temple, which may have been the bait Freed used to get Mayer to purchase the property.
Feeling Like A Million (1941) – A title suggested for Judy and Tony Martin. In 1937, Judy recorded a test of the song “I’m Feelin’ Like A Million” with Roger Edens at the piano, for Broadway Melody Of 1938, but the song ended up being performed by George Murphy and Eleanor Powell in the final film. It’s likely that if this film were ever made, Judy would have reprised the song.
Dragon Seed (1942) – Judy wanted to be in the film adaptation of Pearl S. Buck’s novel. It was made by MGM in 1944 starring Katherine Hepburn.
Babes In Hollywood (1942) – Sid Silvers produced a story outline dated February 16, 1942, which places any production schedule for this project after Babes On Broadway. It was a logical next step after “the kids” conquered the barn, then the high school gym, and then the Broadway stage. Producer Arthur Freed probably didn’t give the film the green light for the same reasons he didn’t make “Very Warm For May” as noted below. This project is not to be confused with the 1934 project of the same name noted above.
Jumbo – This was another project that Freed wanted to make from the late 1930s into the 1950s. It was based on the 1935 stage hit “Billy Rose’s Jumbo.” Freed planned to star Judy and Mickey, then in 1948 and 1951, he planned to pair Judy with Frank Sinatra (Joseph Fields turned in a screenplay dated October 2, 1951). MGM made the film in 1962, produced by Joe Pasternak starring Doris Day, Stephen Boyd, and Jimmy Durante. Durante was in the original 1935 stage version. The 1962 film recreates his famously hysterical comedy bit of attempting to sneak Jumbo the elephant off the circus grounds. He’s stopped by a sheriff who asks “Where are you going with that elephant?” and Durante delivers the punch line as only he could: “What elephant?”
The Story of Gaby Des Lys (1943) – Freed had the idea to star Judy in a biopic of the famous French actress and dancer. Screenwriter Irving Guttman turned in a script treatment on March 12, 1943, which was followed by another treatment dated May 2, 1948, by screenwriter Robert Thoren.
The Moon Vine (1943) – Another Freed idea, based on the 1943 Broadway show written by Patricia Coleman.
Anchors Aweigh (1943) – The film was produced by Joe Pasternak and released in 1945 starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Kathryn Grayson. In 1943 it was on the list of possible projects for Judy and Gene Kelly.
Valley Of Decision (circa 1944) – Another idea for a young Judy. It was made in 1945 starring Greer Garson and Gregory Peck.
Young Bess (circa the mid-1940s) – Judy and James Mason were early ideas to co-star in this biopic of the early life of Elizabeth I of England. MGM released an all-star version in 1953 featuring Jean Simmons (as Elizabeth), Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr, and Charles Laughton.
Weekend At The Waldorf (1944) – Judy was on an early list of possible stars for this remake of the studio’s 1932 classic Grand Hotel. This version was released in 1945 starring Ginger Rogers, Van Johnson, and Lana Turner.
Forever (1946) – Judy would have starred opposite her former lover Tyrone Power. On October 12, 1946, screenwriters Miriam Stuart and Robert McElwaine turned in a script for the project. It was later slated for Judy and Gregory Peck featuring songs by Rodgers & Hammerstein (this could have been connected to their interest in Judy for South Pacific as noted above).
Cimarron (1946) – Another Freed idea, this time a musical version of the 1931 Oscar winner for Best Picture, to co-star Judy and Gene Kelly. This version never got past the idea phase but the film was finally remade in 1960 by MGM as a straight dramatic film starring Glenn Ford, Maria Schell, and Anne Baxter.
Finian’s Rainbow (1947) – The stage version opened on Broadway on January 10, 1947, and Freed immediately wanted to produce the film version starring Judy with Gene Kelly, Mickey Rooney as the leprechaun “Og” and Barry Fitzgerald as “Finian.” Later rumors claimed that Judy and Frank Sinatra would lend their voices to an animated version. Sinatra even recorded a few songs for an unrelated and ultimately aborted animation project. It was finally made as a live-action musical by Warner Bros. in 1968 starring Fred Astaire (as “Finian”), Petula Clark, and Tommy Steele (as “Og”).
Pride And Prejudice (1947) – Freed had the idea to make a musical version of the classic Jane Austen novel, to star Judy with Peter Lawford, Kathryn Grayson, June Allyson, and Lucille Bremer. Sally Benson (author of the Meet Me In St. Louis stories) turned in a screenplay on April 2, 1947, followed by another screenplay that was written by Sidney Sheldon dated August 12, 1947.
Roberta (1948/49) – Freed wanted to produce a remake of the 1935 RKO Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers musical. Judy would have starred with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Betty Garrett. It was later produced by Jack Cummings in 1952 as Lovely to Look At starring Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton, Ann Miller, and Marge & Gower Champion.
Cabbages & Kings (1948) – Allegedly this was a title considered as a follow-up to Judy and Fred Astaire’s 1948 mega-hit Easter Parade.
Peg O’ My Heart (1948) – MGM filmed the only sound version of the 1912 Laurette Taylor play in 1933 starring Marion Davies. Taylor had starred in the silent version in 1922. This 1948 version would have teamed Judy with Robert Stack.
Some Of These Days (1948/1953) – A biopic of Vaudeville legend Sophie Tucker (Judy’s co-star in Broadway Melody of 1938 and Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry). In 1948, Louella Parsons reported in her column: Sophie Tucker, singer and night club entertainer, announced at her 60th birthday party yesterday that her book, “Some of These Days,” the story of her life, had been sold to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios to be made into a movie picture. Miss Tucker said that she did not know the terms of the sale as yet and that Actress Judy Garland and actor John Garfield would be cast in the leading roles.
Miss Liberty (1949) – With words and music by Irving Berlin, direction by Moss Hart, and book by Robert E. Sherwood the Broadway production opened on July 15, 1949, and ran for 308 performances. Considered a disappointment, Freed still wanted to make a film version starring Judy. Of note is the fact that Berlin’s song “Mr. Monotony” which had been cut from Easter Parade was added to this show, but also deleted prior to its Broadway opening. Watch the video of Judy’s outtake version here.
Outtakes (1948/49) – Allegedly some of the existing musical outtakes from various MGM musicals were compiled by George Murphy and “shown privately” with the idea to make a feature film.
The Duchess Of Idaho (1950) – Eleanor Powell and Lena Horne made guest appearances in this musical starring Esther Williams and Van Johnson. Judy was considered for a routine with Powell and Fred Astaire.
Strictly Dishonorable (1950) – Supposedly Judy and Ezio Pinza were “discussed” for this film, released in 1951 starring Janet Leigh and Pinza.
Give A Girl A Break (circa 1950) – Originally slated for Judy and Gene Kelly, the completed 1953 film starred Debbie Reynolds, Bob Fosse, Marge & Gower Champion, and Kurt Kaznar.
The Romberg Story (1951) – Another musical biopic, this time based on the life and music of Sigmund Romberg. No doubt Freed had Judy on his early lists of guest star appearances. A screenplay was delivered by Joseph Fields on December 2, 1951. The project was turned over to Roger Edens and released by MGM in 1954 as Deep In My Heart.
Cause For Alarm (1951) – This project really was a cause for alarm. The producer, Tom Lewis, wanted Judy for the lead. Loretta Young was Lewis’s wife and wanted the role. A lot. It’s a Hollywood legend that she had a lawyer threaten to sue Lewis on the grounds of discrimination because he wouldn’t give the role to her. She got the role. Young went to all that trouble yet the film is mostly forgotten today.
Brigadoon (1954) – Judy was an early consideration for the role played by Cyd Charisse in the finished 1954 MGM film starring Gene Kelly. Although Judy and Cyd were complete opposites in terms of the strengths of their talents, it’s not as far off as one would think. In the original Broadway show, the lead female role was a predominantly singing role, switched to a dancing role in the film to accommodate Charisse’s particular talents. It’s doubtful that by the time production actually happened in 1954 that Judy would have seriously been considered. She had just made A Star Is Born at Warner Bros. and the word around town was that Judy had dragged that production on longer than anyone wanted. It’s unfair, but at the time, that’s how it was.
Say It With Music (1963 – 1970) – This project was envisioned as the grand finale of the careers of Arthur Freed, Vincente Minnelli, and Irving Berlin. It’s been suggested that in the project’s early stages Freed wanted Judy to star in the film. The story of the attempts to get the film made is a good example of how much Hollywood filmmaking had changed after the fall of the Studio System in the 1950s.
As noted above, any filmmaker or studio preparing a musical film usually wanted Judy as a star or guest star. Even in the years when Judy’s reputation for unreliability was at its worst, filmmakers still (if only wistfully) considered her for various projects. After she left MGM and found triumph on the stage and with her Oscar-nominated 1954 film comeback in A Star Is Born, producers and directors of dramas increasingly wanted Judy for her acting abilities, and not just her singing. Her subsequent Oscar-nominated supporting role in Judgment At Nuremberg and triumph at New York’s Carnegie Hall, both in 1961, made Judy Garland a hot property, again.
As with many of the other titles listed here, some are merely rumors or conjecture – or a result of creative PR people attempting to get print space for various projects.
The following are films that Judy was allegedly in the running for at other studios/production companies before, during, and after her tenure with MGM.
Photo: Snapshot of Judy in 1952.
The Unexpected Father (Universal – 1932) – This Universal film starring Zasu Pitts is the earliest known feature film that Judy (then still Frances Gumm) was considered for. Her role was played in the finished film by Cora Sue Collins.
Pigskin Parade Sequel (20th Century-Fox, circa 1937) – A sequel to Judy’s feature film debut was suggested, but never made.
Pot O’ Gold (United Artists, 1940) – It’s reported that director George Marshall wanted to borrow Judy from MGM and co-star her with James Stewart. The film was released in 1941 starring Stewart and Paulette Goddard.
Claudia (David O. Selznick, 1941) – Judy expressed interest in starring in the film version of the 1939 book “Claudia: The Story of A Marriage” and its subsequent Broadway play. The play ran from 1941 – 1943 and starred Dorothy McGuire, who recreated the title role for her film debut in the 1943 film version made by 20th Century-Fox.
Saratoga Trunk (Warner Bros., 1944) – Warner Bros. supposedly wanted Judy for the lead. The film was released in 1946 starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman.
The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (20th Century-Fox, 1946) – Fox wanted Judy for the lead, eventually played by Betty Grable in 1947.
The USO Story (RKO – 1950) – Another patriotic all-star salute to the Armed Forces, this time featuring stars entertaining troops for the U.S.O. (United Service Organization). The film was never made.
The King And I (20th Century-Fox – 1950) – Fox had an exclusive agreement with Rodgers & Hammerstein as their studio of choice for any film project, especially adaptations of their stage successes. The team supposedly first came to Fox with the idea for an original musical film version of “Anna & The King Of Siam” in 1950. The project never materialized, and it’s possible this is just rumor or wishful thinking on the part of Rodgers & Hammerstein. A short while later “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I” opened on Broadway in 1951 with Yul Brynner and Gertrude Lawrence. Too quick of a turnaround to ax a Garland project in 1950 and have it reformatted for the stage, ready to open on Broadway in 1951 with a new cast, songs, and rehearsal/tryout period.
Judy’s colossal success at the London Palladium in 1951 followed by even greater success at New York’s Palace Theatre in 1951/52 prompted Hollywood to consider her for several film roles that never materialized:
Do Re Mi (1952) – Universal planned to film this at the suggestion of Garson Kanin. Kanin’s idea was to surround Judy with “passe mugs” like Edward G. Robinson and George Raft, with the added feature of guest spots by the pop stars of the day such as Peggy Lee and Jo Stafford. Kanin is quoted as listing Eddie Fisher among these names, although at the time this project was proposed Fisher was in the U.S. Army and by 1953 was making TV appearances, in uniform, as a vocalist for the U.S. Army Band. Kanin may have seen him on TV, but it’s doubtful that Fisher would have made a list of top pop stars to be featured in a film in 1952. This sounds more like a rumor, no factual documents have surfaced to verify the validity of this claim.
Bloodhounds Of Broadway (1952) – George Jessel wanted Judy for this 1952 20th Century-Fox musical. Mitzi Gaynor was given the role.
Paint Your Wagon (1952) – Louis B. Mayer was fired from MGM not long after Judy. He attempted to make independent films, and on his list was a film version of this Lerner & Lowe musical to star Judy. That never happened, and the musical was finally made in 1969 starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood. Yes, they both “sing” in this colossal film musical flop. Mayer also wanted to make The Judy Garland Story at this same time.
The Road To Bali (1952) – After Judy’s big success at the London Palladium, Paramount reportedly made an offer to Sid Luft for Judy to star with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in the latest Road picture. Sid turned the offer down.
Pygmalion/My Fair Lady (Stage 1952) – In a 1952 interview, Judy mentioned that she was wanted for a proposed Broadway musical version of “Pygmalion.” That became Lerner & Lowe’s 1956 Broadway mega-hit “My Fair Lady” starring Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison.
The Fanny Brice Story (mid-1950s) – Not to be confused with the late 1930’s MGM project of the same name. This is the version that eventually became “Funny Girl” starring Barbra Streisand on Broadway in 1964 (and the 1968 film version). It was originally a film musical idea for Judy from producer Ray Stark, who was the late Brice’s son-in-law. The screenplay for that version was by Isobel Lennart who later adapted it for the stage musical. Judy’s loss was Barbara’s gain.
Butterfield 8 (the mid-1950s) – Judy was supposedly considered for the role eventually played in the 1960 film by Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor won the first of her two Best Actress Oscars for this film.
Careless Love (mid-1950s) – A project based around the song “Frankie & Johnny.”
Manhattan Tower (circa 1956) – Possibly a Paramount project, based on Gordon Jenkins’ concept album, starring Judy with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. In 1959 Jenkins and Judy would create another concept album “The Letter.”
All About Eve (20th Century-Fox – 1957) – There was talk of making a film musical version of the 1950 Oscar winner for Best Picture that starred Bette Davis and Anne Baxter. Judy would have played the role made famous by Davis; Margo Channing. “Eve” was to be played by Peggy King. Another idea consisted of having Cole Porter write the songs. All About Eve the musical made it to Broadway in 1970 as “Applause” starring Lauren Bacall, who won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. The book for the new show was written by previous Freed Unit wunderkinds Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with music and lyrics by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams. The show also won the Tony for Best Musical of the year.
Spring Reunion (1957) – United Artists had Judy on their wish list for this project. The final film was released in 1957 with Betty Hutton playing the role of Margaret “Maggie” Brewster.
The Unsinkable Molly Brown (stage 1960) – While in London in 1960 Judy’s agents were in talks for her to possibly star in the London production of the popular musical. People have assumed that Judy was in the running for the film version, but in reality, it was this London project. Debbie Reynolds would receive an Oscar nomination for “Best Actress” for her performance in the 1964 musical (made at MGM, partly on the “St. Louis” street created for Judy’s 1944 Meet Me In St. Louis, and directed by Easter Parade director Charles Walters).
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (20th Century-Fox – 1961) – Judy was always mentioned in various talks about bringing the 1951 musical version of the famous book by Betty Smith to the screen. Judy would have played “Aunt Cissy,” played on Broadway by Shirley Booth. The musical never made it to the screen.
Hold Back the Dawn (stage 1961) – On March 6, 1961, Hedda Hopper reported that Judy was considering three plays: One with Dorothy Fields writing lyrics to the late Jerome Kern’s scores; a musical version of the play “Hold Back the Dawn”, and a show reportedly being written by Roger Edens. None of these were ever made.
By the Beautiful Sea (stage 1961) – On May 5, 1961, Hedda Hopper reported that Chuck Walters intended to direct Judy in the film version of the 1954 Dorothy Fields Broadway musical (not to be confused with the Fields/Kern project listed above) about a Coney Island boarding house owner in the early 1900s that had starred Shirley Booth. No film of this show has ever been made.
Gypsy (1962) – Judy was one of several stars mentioned for the pivotal role of “Mama Rose” the film version of Ethel Merman’s Broadway triumph. Other actresses mentioned: Merman, Judy Holliday, Ann-Margaret (as “Gypsy”). Rosalind Russell got the role.
Irma la Douce (1961) – Judy was supposedly in the running for the film version of the 1960 Broadway musical. The show made it to the screen in 1963 without the songs and co-starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.
It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (United Artists, 1963) – Director Stanley Kramer wanted Judy to be one of the many cameos in this star-studded comedy.
A Handful Of Dust (circa 1962/1963) – An alleged British independent production based on the 1934 Evelyn Waugh novel, to co-star Judy with David Niven. The book was finally adapted for the screen in 1988, featuring Judi Dench, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rupert Graves, Angelica Huston, and James Wilby.
Laurette (circa, 1962) – Judy would have been amazing as the loved and respected, legendary stage actress Laurette Taylor. Director George Cukor and even the late Taylor’s daughter, Marguerite Courtney, wanted Judy for the role. The film was never made.
Little Me (Embassy Pictures – circa, 1963/64) – It was reported in contemporary papers that Judy was considered for the lead in the film version of the popular 162 musical. To date, no film of the show has been made.
New York Town (1963) – Judy was penciled in to make a guest appearance and sing “Why Was I Born” and “Chicago Can’t Touch New York” for this eventually unproduced project for Rosalind Russell, Jane Wyman, Troy Donahue, and Sandra Dee.
Little Big Man (circa, 1965/66) – Columnists listed Judy as one of the potential stars for the film version of Thomas Berger’s 1964 novel. The film was made and released in 1970 starring Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway and directed by Arthur Penn.
The Night Of Generals (circa, 1965/66) – Judy was considered for a cameo in this World War II film, released by Columbia in 1967.
This Property Is Condemned (Paramount – 1966) – Judy was considered to play Natalie Wood’s mother in this film version of the Tennessee Williams play. Kate Reid played the role in the final version, released in 1966 co-starring Wood, Robert Redford, and Charles Bronson.
Our Mother’s House (1967) – Jim Johnson’s website The Judy Garland Database features a promotional photo of Judy from the 1940s used in connection with this film, but nothing else is known.
The Graduate (1967) – Judy was considered for the role of “Mrs. Robinson,” played in the finished film by Anne Bancroft.
Biographies of Aimee Semple McPherson & Edith Piaf (1967 & 1968) – In a March 1967 interview with Radie Harris, Judy said she wanted to play McPherson’s mother in a biopic about the evangelist. Meanwhile, George Cukor allegedly wanted Judy for a biopic of French singer Edith Piaf who was sometimes referred to as “The French Judy Garland.” Cukor intended to film Judy in concert singing songs Piaf made famous.
Mame (1967) – The title role of “Mame” and the role of “Mama Rose” in “Gypsy” are two roles that to this day Garland fans still talk about as being potential crowning achievements to Judy’s film career. Songwriter Jerry Herman had always wanted Judy for “Mame,” but in the late 1960s, Judy was considered too high of a liability risk due to the perception of her inability to sustain the grueling weekly schedule of a big Broadway musical. Judy had stated on a few occasions that she wanted to replace Angela Lansbury on Broadway. Judy was never seriously considered for the film adaptation, made after Judy’s death in 1974 with Lucille Ball.
The Wonderful Land Of Oz (1969) – In their January 1, 1969 issue, “Variety” reported that director Barry Mahon was negotiating to have Judy provide the narration for this film. The deal fell through, but the film was made – without narration.
The Judy Garland Story (1969) – Boston newspaper executive Ken Mayer reportedly presented his idea for a Judy Garland biopic to producer Joseph E. Levine around this time, with the intent to have Judy make an appearance in it. It’s unclear if her appearance would be as herself later in her life or as a narrator/host.
A Day In The Life Of Judy Garland (1969) – A controversial project and a part of the Garland legend from Day One. In March 1969, Judy’s husband Mickey Deans entered into an agreement with European concert promoter Arne Stivell and his Music Artists of Europe company to film a documentary about Judy titled A Day In The Life Of Judy Garland. Deans would co-produce the film with Stivell. They filmed footage of Judy in concert at The King Kroner Club in Malmo, Sweden on March 23rd. Black & white footage was also filmed two days later in Copenhagen of Judy and Deans walking around town, Judy putting on make-up for her show, and other random things. Also rumored to be filmed some footage of Judy nude in her bathroom, shot with a hidden camera. After that final concert (the final concert of Judy’s life) in Copenhagen on March 25, 1969, Stivell and the footage disappeared. Legal action was taken to prevent the film from being shown (Judy and Deans owned 25% each, while Stivell owned the remaining 50%). In 1970, thirty minutes of the footage appeared on British television under the title The Last Performance. The program included color concert footage from the March 23rd concert with audio poorly replaced with the audio of the March 25th concert. Also included in the film was some of the black and white footage of Judy and Dean as noted above. After that brief appearance, the program wasn’t seen again (although it circulated among Garland collectors) until 1995 when the American show “Entertainment Tonight” aired some of the footage as part of a story about the “recently uncovered film” coming up for auction. Allegedly Judy’s daughter Lorna Luft had lawyers for Judy’s estate stop the auction. To date, the footage has not been seen since, aside from copies of some of the footage being traded among collectors over the years. Thankfully, none of that rumored nude footage has seen the light of day.
In the years since, there have been several major television documentaries and two made-for-TV movies chronicling various aspects of Judy’s life and career, with varying degrees of success. The most successful was the 2001 miniseries Life with Judy Garland featuring Emmy award-winning performances by Tammy Blanchard and Judy Davis as the young and adult Judy, respectively. To date, it’s still the best biopic ever made about the life and career of Judy Garland.
These include the 1985 PBS documentary The Concert Years which focused mainly on Judy’s post-MGM career and brought many of her 1963/64 TV series performances to the public for the first time; the two hour documentary from the Arts & Entertainment channel (highly recommended) and the 2004 PBS documentary Judy Garland – By Myself (also highly recommended and included in the extras on the Easter Parade special edition DVD). In 2011 a film project about Judy’s life, based on the 2000 biography “Get Happy” by Gerald Clarke and possibly starring Anne Hathaway as Judy was in and out of the press. Nothing has come of it yet, although it’s still mentioned from time to time. In 2019, Renee Zellweger played Judy in the film, Judy, for which her anemic performance was lauded by many and she won multiple acting awards including the Oscar for Best Actress of 2019. Read my review of this tepid film here. Hopefully, in the future, a truly great theatrical film will be made about all of Judy’s amazing career and not just one small period.