Has anything changed since the 1930’s? When the most iconic, adored stars were forced to work 18 hour days on film sets, irrespective of their age. This was Judy Garland’s truly disturbing experience on the set of The Wizard of Oz. At only 13 years old, she was fed pills day after day. The pills - so lovingly referred to as ‘uppers and downers’- kept her dancing for hours on set or to help induce sleep, so she could cram in a few hours shut-eye before starting all over again. Despite the young Judy’s occasional defiance, she was horrifically treated by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, (the most prestigious film studios at the time) and its producers. Louis B Mayer - Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s founder, nicknamed the young actress ‘my little hunchback’, because of her slightly rounded spine. Mayer restricted her diet, replacing nearly all food with chicken broth and diet pills, even hiring a team of producers to act as spies to ensure that she didn’t eat anything he didn’t permit.
The recent biographical ‘Judy’ film is an accurate, heart-wrenching account of the legend’s life, focusing on her final years. Renee Zellweger portrays Judy with beautiful vulnerability, depicting Judy as a broke, emotionally battered star that desperately attempts to maintain her reputation. Using alcohol and prescription pills as her aid, a coping mechanism that originated on the set of The Wizard of Oz. Her mental scars, from a life of victimisation and exploitation, are prevalent throughout the film. Garland performed at various London theatres in the last year of her life. This grubby, understated city adds to the films texture and gives us a great essence of London in the 1960’s.
The more recent Weinstein corruption and exploitation that came to light just a few years ago is not too dissimilar to the airs of the industry’s issues and immoral discourse from Judy’s time. It is no secret that there are regular occurrences of abuse of power that preys on the desperation of young performers. However, since the founding of organisations such as Equity and SAG, the protection of actors will continue to improve. But will the change ever be implemented truly, when most exploitation comes from those at the top?
Fortunately, there are plenty of people in this industry that still create for the pure love of the art, rather than fame and fortune. We aim to work and support those invaluable people, and strive to end exploitation against young performers.
“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.”