Judy: How Accurate Was The Judy Garland Biopic?

Garland with her kids in Judy

It's a bit early for Awards Season, but there are already some contenders being spoken about for the coveted nominations that will come in 2020. Todd Phillips' Joker is one such movie, with Joaquin Phoenix seemingly guaranteed to get some nominations. But then there's Rupert Goold's musical biopic Judy, and specifically Renee Zellweger's tour-de-force performance as the title character. The Oscar winning transformed her voice and body to become the beloved Judy Garland, specifically during the last few months of her life. But how accurate was the movie?

Countless movies have begun with "based off true events", with real-life stories adapted onto the screen, and filmmakers often taking some creative liberties in the process. The end of Judy Garland's life isn't necessarily well-known, so moviegoers might be confused as to how much was fact vs fiction. After all, Judy was based off the stage play End of the Rainbow, which ran on both Broadway and The West End. We've got the real story, but obviously spoiler alert for the contents of the movie.

Judy Garland Was Given Drugs By MGM As A Kid

Judy opens with some serious movie magic, as a young Garland is shown walking on the set of The Wizard of Oz. This was the movie that would make Garland a household name, as the teenage actress used her incredible vocal talents to wow the public. And while that performance and her time at MGM might have a special place in the hearts of her fans, they were decidedly dark from the inside. Namely, because the studio kids like her were given drugs by their employer. This is a true aspect of the story, adapted on the screen throughout various flashbacks. When there was concern over her weight, Judy Garland was given "pep pills" which suppressed her appetite and kept her energetic. And at the end of shooting days, she was given downers to help her sleep, resulting in a dependency on pharmaceuticals that would plague her throughout the rest of her life.

Her Marriage To Mickey Deans

Renee Zellweger stars in every scene of Judy, and the second biggest character is Finn Wittrocks' Mickey Deans. Deans was Judy Garland's fourth and final husband, and they met in the final stages of the legend's life. While that was an accurate plot point, exactly how the pair met was changed for the fictionalized version of the story. In Judy they meet at a party, which is also attended by Garland's daughter Liza Minelli. But in Deans' book Weep No More, My Lady, he tells another story. Namely, that they met at her hotel, when he was delivering stimulants to the singer/actress. Other than that, their relationship seems to play out accurately in Judy, down to the wedding dress she wore, which was recreated for the movie.

The Dinner With Her Fans

Around halfway through Judy, the title character wraps up one of her shows, and heads to the stage door to meet her fans. There are just two, a gay couple named Dan and Stan. She asks them to a late dinner, which they are thrilled to host. What results in a night of music and laughter, and even some tears, as they reveal the anti-gay laws of the time. The sequence is one of Judy's most powerful, but is purely fictional. Director Rupert Goold added it to show what Garland meant to her fans, especially members of the LGBTQ+ community who felt seen and validated by the icon.

Getting Booed Off Stage

This one really happened. Judy Garland's personal demons, including her substance abuse problems, often resulted in the legendary singer showing up to her London gigs very late. This was shown a few times during Judy, where ticket holders were dismayed to see Garland arriving on the The Talk of the Town so late. One such real-life occasion made it into the film, where Garland arrived an hour late, and the audience threw rolls and other items at her and booed her off the stage.

Money Problems

This one is accurate, too. The very plot of Judy is very much focused on the financial hole the late singer found herself in during her final years. That's why she traveled across the pond for her sold out concert series; because she needed the money to provide for her family. Ultimately she never really crawled out of that financial hole. At the time of her death, she still owed money to the IRS and her personal estate was valued at just $500,000. Her daughter Liza Minelli and family friend Frank Sinatra reportedly helped pay her debts off.

The Sing-Along

Judy's gut wrenching final scene features Garland performing at her concert one last time, after closing her tenure early. She gets on stage in all her glory, much to the joy of Stan and Dan. And while attempting to sing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", she become too emotional to get through the song. The audience sings along with her, in a moment of hope and solidarity. But it's unclear if this group sing actually happened. There's no record of a specific performance where this happened, including her closing night. So while it might have been possible, there's no guarantee that this emotionally satisfying moment happened in real life.

Judy is in theaters now, and it'll be interesting to see how Renee Zellwegger's Oscar chances are as the Awards Season gets closer. In the meantime, check out our 2019 release list to plan your next trip to the movies.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Graduated with degrees theater and literature from Ramapo College of New Jersey. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid. He's particularly proud of covering horror franchises like Scream and Halloween, as well as movie musicals like West Side Story. Favorite interviews include Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Jamie Lee Curtis, and more.