Thursday, June 8, 2017

Judy Garland's First Movie: The Big Revue (1929) -- June 8, 2017

This post is part of  the Judy Garland Blogathon hosted by Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood (  

Some people think Judy Garland's first movie was The Wizard of Oz in 1939.  Some people who know more about old movies think it was The Broadway Melody of 1938 in 1937 (don't ask).  Some movie geeks may think her first movie was her first for M-G-M, a 1936 short subject starring Judy and Deanna Durbin, "Every Sunday," which was rumored to be a contest to see which actress the studio would keep under contract.

Judy Garland's first movie, made in 1929,  ten years before The Wizard of Oz, was "The Big Revue." Judy, then using her birth name, Frances Gumm, performed with her two older sisters, Suzy and Virginia and the Meglin Kiddies.

Frances Gumm was born in 1922 in Grand Rapids, Minnesota (not Grand Rapids, Michigan.  People get them confused).  Her parents, Frank and Ethel, had performed in vaudeville as Jack and Virginia Lee. In 1913, with vaudeville in decline, they settled in Grand Rapids, Minnesota where Frank managed the Grand Theater.

Film Daily Yearbook, 1926

The Grand Theater was listed in the 1926 Film Daily Yearbook as having 450 seats. It was open seven days a week.  Note the name of the theater on the line above. 

When Frances was two-and-a-half, she joined her sisters onstage at the Grand to sing "Jingle Bells" in a Christmas show.  The Gumm Sisters continued to appear at the Grand, accompanied by their mother on the piano, until the family suddenly left Grand Rapids in 1926.  Frank had been accused of making improper advances towards male ushers.

The family settled in Lancaster, California, way out in the High Desert.

Film Daily Yearbook, 1926
The 1926 Film Daily Yearbook lists Lancaster as having a population of 1017.  The Lancaster Theater seated 220 customers, which was a step down from the Grand.

Hollywood Filmograph, 31-December-1932
The Gumm Sisters continued to appear on stage and their parents decided that they should get some professional training.  Ethel enrolled them in the Meglin Professional Children's School, also known as the Meglin Dance Studios.  Ethel helped to pay their tuition by playing the piano during lessons.

Variety, 01-September-1926

Ethel Meglin, who said she had danced in the Ziegfeld Follies, started the school in the mid-1920s.  Many Hollywood stars got their start as members of the Meglin Kiddies.  Mack Sennett let her hold her first classes in a building on his studio lot. The "30 Ethel Meglin Wonder Kiddies" performed at the Los Angeles Exposition in 1926, along with a fashion show. 

Meglin Kiddy News, April, 1933
Meglin Studios spread all over Southern California and even out to Houston, Texas.

Meglin Kiddy News, April, 1933

The school's elite students, the Professional Kiddies, performed in movie theaters and other venues, like the Pantages Theater, Hollywood.

Exhibitors Herald-World, 20-August-1930

The interior of the Pantages Theater, Hollywood.

Variety, 28-August-1928

The Meglin Kiddies went on to appear in a series of two reel revues for Mayfair Pictures, an independent producer.  "Just 146 youngsters in each."

Hollywood Filmograph, 15-March-1930
I wonder if the "famous Meglin trio" was the Gumm Sisters.

Hollywood Filmograph, 24-May-1930

"...there isn't a benefit show that you don't find her and her young charges working for some good and fine charity cause..."

Film Daily Yearbook, 1930
"The Big Revue" was shot at Tec-Art, an independent studio on Melrose Avenue.

Try as I might, I could not find a review of "The Big Revue."

"The Big Revue" seems to exist only in an edited one-reel version, which naturally retains the part with the Gumm Sisters.   It starts with a nice high-angle view of a stage covered with about 146 dancers.  A closer shot shows that they are kids.  Then a boy and a girl come out and do an acrobatic number.  They are a little shaky.  After that, we see an orchestra playing.  The musicians are all kids and the conductor is a little girl.  The conductor introduces the Gumm Sisters. 

I could not find the whole thing on YouTube, but this clip has the Gumm Sisters' number, "That's the Good Old Sunny South," and their endearingly clunky dancing, which reminds me of what I have seen at many dance recitals.

The Gumm Sisters made more short films, and so did the Meglin Kiddies, but they did not appear together.

Variety, 30-August-1932
The Gumm Sisters continued to perform in vaudeville, mostly between movies.  "Gumm Sisters, harmony trio, socked with two numbers.  Selling end of trio is the 10-year-old sister with a pop of a lowdown voice.  Kid stopped the show, but wouldn't give more."

Variety, 13-March-1935
"Garland Sisters, three femmes, one of whom, Frances, is still a child and about 80% of the combination, are excellent harmonists, but it remained for the youngster to tie things up in a knot.  Girl looks like a bet for pictures and should make rapid headway."  George Jessel claimed that he persuaded them to change their name to Garland, after he heard audiences laugh at the name Gumm.  The group stopped working together in August, 1935 when Suzi got married.

Judy Garland was not the only Hollywood star who worked her way up from being a Meglin Kiddy.

Meglin Kiddy News, April, 1933
Shirley Jame Temple.
Ann Miller.
Virginia Grey.
June Lang.
Jackie Cooper.
Scotty Beckett.
 According to some sources, Judy Garland's best-known co-star, Mickey Rooney, was a Meglin Kiddy. 

There was a Meglin Kiddies television show in the 1950s.  Ethel Meglin retired in 1962.  She closed the studios and disbanded the professional troupe. 

This post is part of  the Judy Garland Blogathon hosted by Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood (  Thank you to Crystal for all the hard work.  Thank you to everyone who visited and I encourage you to read and comment on as many posts as you can.  Bloggers love comments.  

This post is my third blogathon post of 2017 and my 48th since 2007.  This is my 31st blogathon.    This page has a list of all my blogathon posts.  


  1. "...a pip of a lowdown voice." Indeed. Judy was born with a gift.

    1. Hi Caftan Woman. That was a great description. I suppose nowadays if a girl had a voice like that, we'd take her to the pediatrician to get her hormones checked.

  2. Very interesting! It's always fun to see how big stars begin.

    1. Thank you Rebecca. I don't think I had ever heard of the Meglin Kiddies before I started researching.


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