Like many member of Generation X, Judy Garland may well have been the first actor from the Golden Age of Hollywood that I ever encountered. For those of you who were either too young to remember or were not born yet, there was a time, from the Fifties into the Nineties, when The Wizard of Oz (1939) was shown every year on American network broadcast television (CBS for most of that time). It did not matter whether you had cable or satellite television, as long you had a TV aerial you could still be guaranteed of seeing The Wizard of Oz once every year.
It is for that reason that The Wizard of Oz was probably the first classic film ever seen by many Americans (and I suspect many Canadians) of my generation. As a result, Judy Garland was the first classic movie star to whom many of us were exposed on a regular basis. In fact, I cannot even remember the first time I watched The Wizard of Oz. My earliest memory of The Wizard of Oz comes from when I was five years old, and even then I remember that I had seen it before. Regardless, I was aware of Judy Garland before I was Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Bette Davis, or even John Wayne (which is really saying something given I came from a household of Western fans).
That having been said, Judy Garland was not my first classic movie star crush (that would be Vivien Leigh), although I would eventually develop a crush on her. Having seen The Wizard of Oz while very young, as I grew older I would see yet more of Miss Garland's films, including Babes in Arms (1939), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), the "Andy Hardy" movies she made with Mickey Rooney, and others. As I got yet older I saw her in more mature roles, such as Ziegfield Girl (1941), Presenting Lily Mars (1943), The Harvey Girls (1946), Summer Stock (1950) , and so on. It was upon seeing Judy Garland in her more mature role, no longer the ingénue, that I realised she was very attractive. I developed a crush on Miss Garland that has lasted to some degree or another to this day.
Of course, even in her more mature roles Judy Garland did not have the glamour that, say, Vivien Leigh, Hedy Lamarr, Gene Tierney, or Margaret Lockwood had. At least to me she was not one of Hollywood's great love goddesses. That having been said, she held her own sort of attraction to me that was in some ways more assessable than that of such beauties as Vivien Leigh or Hedy Lamarr. Quite simply, she was the ideal girl next door. This was the role she played in the film that shot her to stardom, The Wizard of Oz. After all, Dorothy Gale was the sort of girl one would expect to find on a Kansas farm, although prettier and smarter than most. Miss Garland's roles that followed The Wizard of Oz would vary a good deal, from the daughter of a Missouri businessman (Meet Me in St. Louis) to a Harvey Girl (The Harvey Girls) to a movie star (A Star is Born), but in most cases Miss Garland played women who were still girls with American, small town values in their heart. Pretty, intelligent, talented, and yet Judy Garland played the sort of women one might see walking down the street of one's hometown. In many ways this made Judy Garland every bit as attractive, emotionally and spiritually if not physically, as Hollywood's reigning goddesses of glamour.
I know that I am not alone in having had a crush on Judy Garland in my youth. I know of many red blooded, American men who count Judy Garland as one of their first crushes. I am not sure if the reasons for their crushes on Judy Garland are the same as mine. There may be many who find Judy Garland glamorous and sexy in the same way that Hedy Lamarr and Ava Gardner are. For myself, however, Judy Garland remains the idealised, American small town girl, someone who combined wholesomeness, morals, and sex appeal together in one very attractive package. Given The Wizard of Oz continues to air on TCM and other cable channels, as well as seeing the occasional re-release to theatres, I have no doubt that it will be the first classic film many will ever see in their lives. I also have no doubt that for may Judy Garland will still remain among their first crushes.