Originally conceived for Vera-Ellen and Fred Astaire, Royal Wedding went into production with Astaire and June Allyson in the lead roles. After eight days of rehearsals, Allyson became pregnant and had to bow out. Meanwhile, Judy Garland was on the third week of a promised eight month vacation when she got the call to come in and replace Allyson. She reluctantly returned to the studio. Another major change followed. Charles Walters was the original director of Royal Wedding, but when Judy came on board, he bowed out. He had just worked with her on the grueling and stressful shoot for Summer Stock and told producer Arthur Freed that the couldn’t make it through another film with her. Freed replace Walters with Stanley Donen. The song “You’re All The World To Me” was assigned to Judy and Freed asked songwriters Alan J. Lerner and Burton Lane to write a special song for her. They came up with “Too Late Now” which would be nominated for the Oscar for “Best Song” (Judy later sang it on her TV series in 1963). After a few weeks of rehearsals, it was apparent that Judy was in no shape to complete the film.
On June 17, 1959, after she called in to say she’d miss that day’s rehearsals, the studio fired Judy from the production. Judy later joked: “…they fired me – by telegram!” Judy made an appearance on Bing Crosby’s radio show in March 1951 and just before they were to sing the novelty song from the film, “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I’ve Been A Liar All My Life,” Crosby noted it was from Royal Wedding. Judy confirmed that she was going to be in the film and humorously explained her departure with: “I was [supposed to be in the film] until Leo the Lion bit me!”
Two days after her removal from the film (June 19th – the same day she was to start pre-recording the songs) Judy ran into her bathroom, smashed a drinking glass and attempted to slashed her throat. Husband Vincente Minnelli busted down the door and found her with the broken glass and a superficial scratch on her throat. The reality of the situation is that it was really a cry for help more than a serious attempt to end her life. The past few years had been demoralizing for Judy. She had struggled with her addiction to prescription medications, severe fatigue, and her own insecurities about her talents and ability to perform at the level everyone expected of her. In being fired from Royal Wedding, Judy felt her career was over. Because her career had been her life since childhood, naturally she felt her life was over as well. The news made international headlines. The studio thought it would taint Judy’s public image, but instead it had the opposite effect in that it brought public opinion to Judy’s defense.
For years there had been rumors and stories about Judy’s health issues and overwork. This seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Also helping Judy’s image was the fact that Summer Stock had opened and was proving to be quite successful, prompting audiences to burst into spontaneous applause after her numbers. On September 29, 1950 Judy was released from her contract with MGM. Contrary to what many have assumed over the years, MGM was planning on keeping Judy under contract, but it was Judy herself who asked for the release. This time, MGM didn’t resist. Within a short six months, Judy would begin the third and final act of her career: The legendary “Concert Years.” During this time, Judy had several film successes, including her Oscar nominated role in 1954’s A Star Is Born, but she never returned to MGM.
The photo above was taken on June 16, 1950 and features Judy and Astaire in costume for the “How Could You Believe Me…” number, complete with Judy’s blond wig. This was her last day of work on an MGM set.
May 23, 1950: Judy’s first day of work on Royal Wedding consists of rehearsals from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
May 24 – 26, 1950: Rehearsals.
May 27, 1950: Judy was not needed on this day.
May 28, 1950: Rehearsals.
May 31, 1950: Rehearsals.
June 1, 1950: Wardrobe fittings and rehearsals.
June 2, 1950: Rehearsals.
June 3, 1950: Judy was not needed on this day.
June 5 – 7, 1950: Rehearsals.
June 8, 1950: Wardrobe fittings and rehearsals.
June 9, 1950: Rehearsals. This is the day that the company helped Judy celebrate her 28th birthday (on June 10), as shown in the photos above and at right.
June 10, 1950: Judy’s 28th birthday. She was not needed at the studio on this day.
June 12, 1950: Rehearsals.
June 13, 1950: Rehearsals.
June 14, 1950: Wardrobe fittings and rehearsals.
June 15, 1950: Rehearsals.
June 16, 1950: Wardrobe, makeup tests and rehearsals. The photo above is the only known photo from this day, showing Judy and Fred in costume for the “How Could You Believe Me…” number. This was Judy’s last day of work at MGM. She had been at the studio just three months shy of fifteen years.
June 17, 1950: Judy called the studio at 11:25 a.m. stating she woke up with a migraine and could not make the 1 p.m. call for rehearsals. The studio fired her from the film and placed her on suspension.
June 19, 1950: Judy attempted suicide at her home, making international headlines. Luckily the “suicide” was a light scratch on the neck and was seen as a more of a call for help than serious attempt at ending her life. On this same day, a studio memo went out from F. L. Henrickson to the MGM executives and producer Freed that read: For your information Judy Garland’s contract has been suspended commencing June 17, 1950. No requests of any kind to render services are to be made of her unless advised otherwise by Mr. Thau. It’s unknown if Judy was aware of this memo when she made her suicide attempt, or if the memo was sent after the news hit the studio.
September 29, 1950: Judy asked for, and received, a release from her contract with MGM. It was fifteen years to the month from her first audition with the studio in 1935. Six months later, she launched her legendary concert career at the Palladium in London, England.