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Judy Garland, The First Abused Child Superstar



For those  who have seen the  new Judy Garland bio-pic  featuring the ravishing Rene Zellweger , it  comes as a shock too see Judy as a child star being emotionally and physically abused by  her studios boss.

But what  the actual Judy in real life went through  was  much worse that what’s shown  in the  film. Judy was abused from the age of 11 when she signed with the  MGM studio  boss Louis B Mayer who had spotted Judy(real name Frances) singing with her sisters. Mayer wanted only  Judy. He made sure he  got her by coercing her  father with financial temptations and  then proceeded to treat the  child as  a glorified apprentice.

Allegedly young Judy was put under 24-hour surveillance.A  stern Hitlerian chaperone followed her everywhere,  even the bathroom, to make  sure she  didn’t “fall into the wrong company”(meaning, didn’t get into  any  normal  relationships with boys)  .

 But  it was her draconian weight-watch that made Judy the most abused child in  the  history  of  American cinema. Judy was  put on diet pills from the age of 12. She was  not slowed to eat anything that children  enjoy. In the bio-pic on Judy we see how she was  not allowed to have cake  even  on her own  birthday. Mayer  personally kept reminding Judy  of  how  fat she was  when in fact Judy was a skinny under-fed  near-anorexic child who craved  to enjoy a burger  or sip on  a  cola. Pleasures that she was  sternly  and  often  abusively  denied.If she broke the  diet code she was threatened  with immediate dismissal from the  MGM roster.

The MGM boss himself  made sure Judy went through teens as a traumatized overworked MGM  staff member with no idea of her earnings and no  consciousness of her yearnings.

The behaviour was  plainly abusive. And indicative  of  the way children are  treated  all over the world in show business. I remember  the  actress Sarika  who did many films  as a child actor,telling me  that  she was  often slapped by her own  mother to  keep  her awake on the sets during long hours  of  shooting.

Filmmaker Amol Gupte  who  has worked very  closely with children’s  associations to protect them  from  abuse at  work places says,“It’s the system. Everyone is a victim including the parents. The government needs to enforce laws against children being made to work long hours. When I was the chairperson of the Children’s Film Society I pushed for a law preventing children from being made to shoot for more than 5 ½ hours. That law is now existent. The law says children cannot shoot for more than 5 ½ hours for TV serials or films. But how many people follow this law? More needs to be done to ensure they are comfortable.  The work-load for children has to be decided by the people who make them work. No law can dictate the individual conscience.”

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