In September 1935 Judy Garland had a personal audition with Louis B. Mayer at MGM and was signed to a contract for $100 a week. She was 13, bright-eyed, pudgy, adorable and enormously talented. The talent came paired with a trembling vulnerability, the eyes almost on the verge of tears, the tremble in the voice. She starred in nine movies opposite Mickey Rooney, usually playing the true-hearted best friend, then in 1939 she played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz; she was 16.
Louis B. Mayer thought her plumpness unattractive and he and other MGM executives urged her to lose weight. She was given pills to accomplish this. She grew thinner but became addicted to the pills. Pills and alcohol made her an unreliable performer on set and she was fired from several pictures during production, she suffered nervous breakdowns and paralyzing episodes of self-doubt, but she remained a galvanizing presence on stage. Audiences sat mesmerized while she performed on that narrow space between perfection and collapse, an apt metaphor for stardom if there ever was one. Judy Garland appears six times in A Book of Ages.