In September 1935, Louis B. Mayer asked songwriter Burton Lane to go to the Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles to watch the Garland Sisters’ vaudeville act and to report to him. A few days later, Judy and her father were brought for an impromptu audition at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Culver City. Garland performed “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” and “Eli, Eli”, a Yiddish song written in 1896 and very popular in vaudeville. The studio immediately signed Garland to a contract with MGM, presumably without a screen test, though she had made a test for the studio several months earlier. The studio did not know what to do with her, as at age thirteen, she was older than the traditional child star, but too young for adult roles.
Her physical appearance was a dilemma for MGM. She was only 4 feet 11.5 inches (151.1 cm), and her “cute” or “girl-next-door” looks did not exemplify the most glamorous persona then required of leading female performers. She was self-conscious and anxious about her appearance. “Judy went to school at Metro with Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, Elizabeth Taylor, real beauties”, said Charles Walters, who directed her in a number of films. “Judy was the big money-maker at the time, a big success, but she was the ugly duckling … I think it had a very damaging effect on her emotionally for a long time. I think it lasted forever, really.” Her insecurity was exacerbated by the attitude of studio chief Louis B. Mayer, who referred to her as his “little hunchback”.