Judy Garland (born Frances Ethel Gumm; June 10, 1922 – June 22, 1969) was an American actress and singer.
Judy Garland is considered a gay icon. The Advocate has called Garland “The Elvis of homosexuals.” Reasons frequently given for her standing as an icon amongst gay men are admiration of ability as a performer, the way her personal struggles supposedly mirrored those of gay men in America during the height of her fame, and her value as a camp figure.
The tragic aspects of gay identification with Garland were being discussed in the mainstream as early as 1967. Time magazine, in reviewing Garland’s 1967 Palace Theatre engagement, disparagingly noted that a “disproportionate part of her nightly claque seems to be homosexual.” It goes on to say that “[t]he boys in the tight trousers” (a phrase Time repeatedly used to describe gay men, as when it described “ecstatic young men in tight trousers pranc[ing] down the aisles to toss bouquets of roses” to another gay icon, Marlene Dietrich) would “roll their eyes, tear at their hair and practically levitate from their seats” during Garland’s performances. Time then attempted to explain Garland’s appeal to the homosexual, consulting psychiatrists who opined that “the attraction [to Garland] might be made considerably stronger by the fact that she has survived so many problems; homosexuals identify with that kind of hysteria.” and that “Judy was beaten up by life, embattled, and ultimately had to become more masculine. She has the power that homosexuals would like to have, and they attempt to attain it by idolizing her.”
In discussing Judy Garland’s camp appeal, gay film scholar Richard Dyer has defined camp as “a characteristically gay way of handling the values, images and products of the dominant culture through irony, exaggeration, trivialisation, theatricalisation and an ambivalent making fun of and out of the serious and respectable.” Garland is camp, he asserts, because she is “imitatable, her appearance and gestures copiable in drag acts.” He calls her “ordinariness” in her early MGM films camp in their “failed seriousness” and her later style “wonderfully over-the-top.” Garland herself acknowledged her camp appeal during her lifetime, saying “When I die I have visions of fags singing ‘Over the Rainbow’ and the flag at Fire Island being flown at half mast.” Fire Island, a resort community with a large LGBT presence, is also referenced in Garland’s final film, I Could Go On Singing, described as “her most gay film” and as the film most aware of its gay audience.