9 Shocking Stories Of Hollywood Stage Parents Who Exploited Their Own Kids

Published September 8, 2021
Updated October 20, 2021

The Wicked Witch Who Raised Judy Garland

Judy Garland With Stage Mother

Los Angeles Public LibraryGarland (left) and her stage mother Ethel Gumm.

Judy Garland became an iconic part of cinematic history in 1939 with her role in The Wizard of Oz. A mere teenager while filming the classic, Garland’s fairytale experience onscreen belied the childhood abuse she suffered behind off camera.

Garland was born to Ethel Gumm in June 1922, after Gumm underwent a failed abortion. Within two years of her birth, Garland’s mother put her on the stage.

“The only time I felt wanted when I was a kid was when I was on stage, performing,” Garland later revealed.

Driven by fame and fortune, Garland’s mother paraded her around countless vaudeville venues and adult nightclubs when she was just a child. One of those places was raided for gambling during her Garland’s performance.

Judy Garland Old

Ron Galella/WireImage/Getty ImagesAfter a childhood of being fed diet and sleeping pills, Garland died of a drug overdose at 47.

“She would sort of stand in the wings when I was a little girl and if I didn’t feel good, if I was sick to my tummy, she’d say, ‘You get out and sing or I’ll wrap you around the bedpost and break you off short! So I’d go out and sing.”

Garland’s stage mother even supplied her 10-year-old daughter with diet pills — which were mere speed that boosted Garland’s energy and performances. To counteract the effects at bedtime, Garland’s mother supplied her with sleeping pills. She ultimately even conspired with the studios themselves to regulate the child’s diet.

“From the time I was 13, there was a constant struggle between MGM and me — whether or not to eat, how much to eat, what to eat,” said Garland. “I remember this more vividly than anything else about my childhood.”

Garland would later describe her own mother as “the real Wicked Witch of the West.” And in the end, her years of being force-fed medication yielded to a lifelong struggle with addiction — and ended in her fatal overdose in 1969.

After learning about nine of the worst stage mothers and fathers ever, read about nine famous deaths that shocked vintage Hollywood. Then, learn about the sordid history of the Viper Room, Hollywood’s infamous rock club.

Marco Margaritoff
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.