Judy was here
Traces of Garland in the Valley
It’s not quite Hollywood’s Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, but Lancaster has its own version of a celebrity footprint.
It belongs to Judy Garland before she became Judy Garland, a world-famous movie star and beloved icon.
In the summer of 1928, when she was about 6 years old, Garland, then known as Frances Gumm, traipsed through some wet concrete with a friend, Ina Mary Ming, on the north side of Newgrove Street between Beech Avenue and Sierra Highway.
“Gumm ... wore boots and made the print on the right. Ming, now Ina Mary Ming Miller, was barefoot, and made the print on the left,” according to one Valley Press account.
It’s a moment that reflects a happier, more carefree time in Garland’s life, before she succumbed to the pressures and burdens of Hollywood stardom.
BBC Los Angeles correspondent Barbra Paskin, who worked on a 2008 radio documentary that included an episode about Garland’s time in Lancaster, noted then that Garland’s time spent in Lancaster was a key point in her life, her formative time before she made it big in Hollywood.
“These six or seven years in the life of a youngster is a huge period,” Paskin said. “Especially where Judy’s life is concerned, these were years that shaped her. It was not long after that she became the property of MGM. Lancaster was her only years of freedom in many ways.”
The weathered sidewalk slabs, described as having “light foot indentations,” were salvaged, some seven decades later, and placed in the garden behind the Western Hotel Museum on Lancaster Boulevard.
They are among several artifacts of Garland’s brief time in the Antelope Valley. Other reminders and echoes include the three houses she and her family resided in and part of a school she attended that are all still in existence.
In addition, a roll of tickets from the Lancaster moviehouse that her father ran and a dressing table mirror dating from the 1930s that Garland used are housed at the Antelope Valley Rural Museum at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds.
In 1927, Garland, at about age 4, and her family moved from Minnesota to Lancaster where her father, Frank Gumm, leased and ran the Valley Theatre on Antelope Avenue, what is now Sierra Highway, south of Lancaster Boulevard.
Between movies, Garland and her two older sisters, Mary Jane and Virginia, performing as the Gumm sisters, sang and did vaudeville acts.
The family lived in three different Lancaster homes: the first in the 200 block of West Lancaster Boulevard, the second on Cedar Avenue just south of Newgrove Street, and the third next door at the southwest corner of Cedar Avenue and Newgrove Street.
The last home, one of Lancaster’s largest at the time, is where the Gumms lived most of their time in the Valley.
Frank Gumm lost his lease at the Valley Theatre in 1933, but the girls continued to appear at the theater that year and the next.
The family moved to the Los Angeles area in the mid-1930s. By 1935, their father had set up shop in the Lomita Theatre in Lomita. Frances landed her first contract with MGM at age 12 in 1935 under the name Judy Garland. “The Wizard of Oz,” Garland’s 14th film, was released in 1939.
The roll of tickets from the Valley Theatre and Garland’s dressing table mirror with light sockets were donated to the Rural Museum by Dayle DeBry, a museum director.
DeBry said she happened upon the roll of tickets at a garage sale in Lancaster about 10 years ago. She bought it and tickets from the Randsburg theater for $10.
“I knew right away what it was,” DeBry said. “I had been interested in the history of the Valley for quite a while. I saw the tickets and knew they were a good find.”
Debry was given the dressing table by the late Glen Settle, noted local historian and author, who picked it up at a 1963 auction at the Hal Roach Studios in Culver City.
Settle told DeBry that the classic comedy duo Laurel and Hardy had given the table to Garland. The table itself is in storage elsewhere.
DeBry kept the dressing table in a room in her house. “It was kind of surreal to think it was really hers,” DeBry said.
Garland attended Lancaster Grammar School on Cedar Avenue, south of what is now Lancaster Boulevard, about a half block north of where she lived.
Opened in 1914, the reinforced concrete building had two stories and stairs leading up to an arched entryway. Actor John Wayne, then Marion Morrison, also attended school there, more than two decades earlier.
Part of the school was torn down in the 1950s, but the remainder, an auditorium and classroom wing, survives as a storage facility for the Lancaster School District
Garland performed onstage at the auditorium in school programs.
Lifestyle Hometown History columnist and former Valley Press managing editor Vern Lawson credits writer Kenneth Nickel for discovering the existence of Garland’s footprint.
Nickel interviewed Ming before she passed away and first reported about it in a 1977 Valley Press article.
“She’s the one who identified the two footprints. One was barefoot, and one was a shoe print,” Lawson said.
Memories are a bit gauzy on how the concrete slab ended up at the Western Hotel Museum.
Lawson recalls telling then-Lancaster Museum/Art Gallery curator Norma Gurba at a chamber meeting about it, and both going in separate cars to go look at it, after which she had it moved.
Gurba remembers Lawson excitedly telling her about it, and then the sidewalk piece showing up the next day at the museum.
“It was a long sidewalk section, and they brought it over in a truck, an open-bed truck,” Gurba said.
Garland returned to the Valley only once, the story goes. in a limousine, after the making of “The Wizard of Oz.”
While Garland biographers state that she had few good things to say about the Valley, one former resident said she wistfully recalled her days here, according to Gurba.
The late George Mumaw, who moved to the San Fernando Valley in the early 1930s and went to work at Warner Bros. as a grip, told of a conversation he had with Garland when he worked on “A Star is Born,” the 1954 film starring Garland and James Mason.
After a long day of filming, Garland remarked to Mumaw, “I think we should never have left Lancaster. Life was so much slower and easier there.”