We all know about official state birds, state trees, state flowers, and the like. There are even official state dances (spoiler alert: 25 of them are square dancing), and thirteen states have even gone so far as to nominate official state dinosaurs (shoutout to Hypsibema missouriensis!).
But thus far, California is the only US state to have nominated an official state element. And it’s all down to Judy Garland.
According to the memoirs of George Cukor, who directed Garland in A Star Is Born in 1955, during a production meeting in New York in 1954 Garland happened to refer to California as her “glittering land of gold.” It was a “throwaway comment,” Cukor recalled, but the nickname apparently stuck in his imagination, and before long he was using it; then most of his crew; and eventually much of the Warner Brothers lot—including a gentleman by the name of Leonard Patrick Gray.
A Warner executive at the time, LP Gray later abandoned filmmaking for a career in politics, and at the time of Garland’s untimely death in 1969, was working as Chief of Staff to the then California state governor, future US President (and fellow former Hollywooder) Ronald Reagan.
Wanting to commemorate Garland’s extraordinary career in Hollywood, Reagan arranged a meeting with his staff shortly after her death, during which Gray happened to recall that the state had forever been her “land of gold.”
Just as they had with Cukor, the words caught Reagan’s imagination—and on 2 February the following year, he signed the legislature making gold California’s official state element in Garland’s honour.