What the new Judy Garland biopic and ‘Sid & Judy’ documentary tell us about her life

Fifty years after the death of Judy Garland, the star is being reborn via two new films. 

In the biopic “Judy” (in theaters now), Renee Zellweger portrays the fading singer in the dwindling days of her career, performing her final London shows before dying from a barbiturate overdose at age 47.

And in the Showtime documentary “Sid & Judy” (Friday, 8:05 PM ET/PT), rare recordings of Garland’s voice, along with passages from her third husband Sidney Luft’s memoir (narrated by Jon Hamm and Jennifer Jason Leigh), are used to paint a picture of the successes and struggles that followed her from child stardom into adulthood.

Both films answer burning questions about the girl, born Frances Ethel Gumm, who would become the iconic musical star of “The Wizard of Oz” and “A Star Is Born.”

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Renee Zellweger (left) as the star of "Judy" and the real Judy Garland (right). (Photo: DAVID HINDLEY/SHOWTIME)

How much of a stage mom was Judy Garland’s mother?

In “Sid & Judy,” Garland says this in an interview about her mother: “She was truly a stage mother, a mean one (who would say), ‘You get out and sing or I’ll wrap you around the bedpost and break you off short.’ ”

She continued: “(My parents) would argue and fight, and my mother would always use me as a pawn.” By the time Garland’s mother, Ethel, died in 1953, “their relationship had deteriorated so badly,” according to Luft. Less than two months earlier, Garland had prevented her mother from meeting newborn daughter Lorna. 

What was Judy’s real history with prescription meds?

In “Judy,” Darci Shaw plays a young Garland who takes appetite-suppressing “pep pills,” and Zellweger shows an adult Garland who swallows pills to help her sleep.

The star’s real addiction was so serious that as a teenager she was amped on benzedrine to fight exhaustion as she shot musical numbers for Busby Berkeley productions. According to Luft in the documentary, even as an adult, Garland had Tuinal capsules sewn into the lining of robes in an effort to hide her habit. Her drug use led to numerous sick days and at least one near-fatal hospital visit. 

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