All the spoilers all the time. You have been warned! But is it really necessary with this one? On any account…you have been warned!
This blog will be like the yellow brick road: long and winding, sometimes seeming to have no end but colorful all the way through. It will be a mix of my thoughts, history on the movie and a ton of trivia (and myth debunking). Let’s celebrate the 80th anniversary of a beloved movie! I hope you enjoy.
My Thoughts While Watching (there were many):
This was such a great thing, I cannot begin to tell you how tickled I am to now be able to say that I have seen The Wizard of Oz on the big screen! Especially after having seen it HUNDREDS of times on TV. I was accompanied by my good friend Nau who dressed accordingly. And into the theater we went!
This movie used to come on around Thanksgiving every year and I would watch it with my Mawmaw. It is a cherished memory for me, this film and its place in my childhood. Forty-four million people tuned into its first television broadcast on November 3, 1956. I can only begin to imagine the actual numbers to date.
So, I know you are not supposed to take pictures during a movie but I did. When the moment rose up to me, I would take a picture. Things to remember, things to write about. They are not crystal clear, and I do not plan to print them out and put them on my wall. But, they were sort of bookmarks for me during the film.
First: this is a remake. I am always amazed by that. The original bore little resemblance to the actual work of Baum. It was a silent film released in 1925. I have not watched it (yet). When I do, of course I will let you know. The book had been around for thirty-nine years by the making of this version. The only location footage in the entire film are the clouds over the opening titles.
My favorite of all the iMDB trivia: Rick Polito of the “Marin Independent Journal” in Northern California is locally famous for his droll, single-sentence summations of television programs and movies which the newspaper reports will be broadcast. For this film he wrote, “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.”
This film was directed by Victor Fleming. He started in the industry as a stuntman. From there he moved to cameraman (he served in the Signal Corps as a cameraman during World War I.). According to iMDB: “Victor Fleming entered motion pictures as a combination driver and stunt man at the Flying A studio in Santa Barbara, California, in 1912, following a series of jobs that included bicycle mechanic, taxi driver, auto mechanic (He also did a little racing on the side), chauffeur and auto salesman. Allan Dwan took credit for hiring him after he repaired Dwan’s car, but Fleming’s real conduit was his actor pal Marshall Neilan, whom he had met as a chauffeur.” He is the only director to have two films listed in the top 10 of the American Film Institute’s 1998 list of the 100 greatest American films, Gone with the Wind (1939) and The Wizard of Oz (1939).
iMDB trivia: The film’s running time was originally 120 minutes. Producer Mervyn LeRoy realized that at least 20 minutes needed to be deleted to get it down to a manageable running time. Three sneak previews aided in his decision of what to cut. The original film in its entirety was only seen once by an audience in either San Bernardino or Santa Barbara, and it was the only time the famed Jitterbug number was seen by the public. After this preview LeRoy cut the aforementioned Jitterbug number and the Scarecrow’s extended dance sequence to “If I Only Had a Brain.” A second preview was held in Pomona, where the film ran 112 minutes. After the preview LeRoy cut Dorothy’s “Over The Rainbow” reprise, a scene in which the Tin Man turned into a human beehive, and the Emerald City reprise of “Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead,” as well as a few smaller scenes and dialog, notably two Kansas scenes in which the Hickory character was building a machine to ward off tornadoes, as well as dozens of threatening lines by the Wicked Witch of the West. By the third preview, held in San Luis Obispo, the film finally was down to its 101-minute running time, where it has remained ever since.
The music and vocal tracks for all the deleted sequences have survived and can all be heard on Rhino Records’ Deluxe 2-CD soundtrack edition of the film’s songs and score. Every track on that album is heard in the exact order in which it would have appeared in the film had the movie never been edited to its final release length.
The Wizard of Oz was written by L Frank Baum as a series which included fourteen books:
- 1900 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
- 1904 The Marvelous Land of Oz
- 1907 Ozma of Oz
- 1908 Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz
- 1909 The Road to Oz
- 1910 The Emerald City of Oz
- 1913 The Patchwork Girl of Oz
- 1914 Little Wizard Stories of Oz
- 1914 Tik-Tok of Oz
- 1915 The Scarecrow of Oz
- 1916 Rinkitink in Oz
- 1917 The Lost Princess of Oz
- 1918 The Tin Woodman of Oz
- 1919 The Magic of Oz
- 1920 Glinda of Oz
iMDB trivia: Some see L. Frank Baum’s story containing political and social satire. The little girl from the Midwest (typical American) meets up with a brainless scarecrow (farmers), a tin man with no heart (industry), a cowardly lion (politicians, in particular William Jennings Bryan) and a flashy but ultimately powerless wizard (technology). Although the little people keep telling her to follow the yellow brick road (gold standard), in the end it’s her silver (in the original story) slippers (silver standard) that help her get back to the good old days.
There are sequels and satires and Broadway plays and Audio books. There is also the phenomena of The Wizard of Floyd. I will delve into some of that in later blogs.
If you read ANY of the history of this movie you will realize the treatment of Judy Garland during the filming was nothing shy of child abuse. She was sixteen years old and starting to develop into a woman. She was made to wear a very tight corset to conceal her maturity as she was playing the role of a ten year old. There were certain child labor laws that applied to this film and she was only allowed to be on set a limited time. To work around this, the production team would arrive at Garland’s house in the wee hours of the morning, wake her and do her hair and makeup there. When she arrived on set she could begin filming immediately. She was fed barbiturates to keep her energy up which would lead to an unrelenting addiction. Judy Garland would die as a result of that addiction at the age of 47.
The day of Judy Garland’s death there was a tornado in Kansas.
“Over the Rainbow” was nearly cut from the film; MGM felt that it made the Kansas sequence too long, as well as being too far over the heads of the children for whom it was intended. The studio also thought that it was degrading for Judy Garland to sing in a barnyard. A reprise of the song was cut: Dorothy sang it to remember Kansas while imprisoned in the Witch’s castle. Garland began to cry, along with the crew, because the song was so sad. The song was ranked #1 by the American Film Institute in 2004 on the 100 Greatest Songs in American Films list.
iMDB trivia: In 1898, Dorothy Louise Gage was born to the brother and sister-in-law of Maud Gage Baum, wife of author L. Frank Baum. When little Dorothy died exactly five months later Maud was heartbroken. Baum was just finishing “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and, to comfort his wife, named his heroine after Dorothy, changing her last name to Gale in his second book. Dorothy Gage was buried in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery in Bloomington, IL, where her grave was forgotten until 1996 when it was rediscovered. When Mickey Carroll, one of the last existing Munchkins from the movie, learned of the discovery, he was eager to replace her deteriorated grave marker with a new one created by his own monument company. The new stone was dedicated in 1997 and the children’s section of the cemetery renamed the Dorothy L. Gage Memorial Garden, in the hope that bereaved families would be comforted in thinking of their lost children as being with Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz.”
Judy Garland’s portrayal of Dorothy was the main inspiration for the character of Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island (1964).
iMDB trivia: When filming first started, Judy Garland wore a blonde wig and heavy, “baby-doll” makeup. When George Cukor assumed the role of intermediate director (after MGM fired original director Richard Thorpe and before it found a replacement), he got rid of the wig and most of the makeup and told her to just be herself. Her hair length gave us many giggles while watching. One second it was short, the next it was long, the next it was somewhere in the middle.
There were many discussions about her hair/costume as is evident from old costume photos:
Ms Gulch! I loved her. I seriously did. Not that she was a misunderstood character, just that she was a well played one. There was a woman who worked with me in NY who rode her bike to work. She dressed just like Ms Gulch (sans hat). I watched her ride the bike dangerously through traffic without a seeming care once (terrified me). From that day forward, I would hear the Ms Gulch theme in my head whenever I saw her on her bike.
Would this be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?? Ha! Interesting observation: Professor Marvel never returns Dorothy’s picture of Aunt Em. I got a weirdo old guy vibe from him from the first moment on screen.
When Aunt Em tells Hickory that “she saw him tinkering with that contraption” (after Dorothy falls in the pigpen), she’s referring to a wind machine that Hickory is trying to invent, which is focused on in a deleted scene. This machine, consisting of a boiler, funnel, wires, tubes, etc., is intended to break up winds in order to prevent tornadoes.
Because Clara Blandick’s voice was inaudible during the tornado sequence, one of the Munchkin actors Mickey Carroll dubbed her cries telling Dorothy to get in the house.
The shot of Dorothy’s house falling from the sky was achieved by filming a miniature house being dropped onto a sky painting on the stage floor, then reversing the film to make the house appear to fall towards the camera.
The transition from black and white to technicolor as Dorothy opens the cabin door to the Land of Oz is handled very simply. The whole scene is filmed in Technicolor. It’s just that the interior of the cabin is painted in shades of gray to simulate black and white photography. A double for Dorothy (carrying Toto) wearing a dress in shades of gray to match the colored patterns on Judy Garland’s dress is shot from behind. The double hands Garland the dog, just before she walks into frame, to create the seamless illusion from black and white to color.
iMDB trivia: The Munchkins are portrayed by The Singer Midgets, named not for their musical abilities but for Leo Singer, their manager. The troupe came from Europe, many of them were Jewish and a number of them took advantage of the trip to stay in the US in order to escape the Nazis. Professional singers dubbed most of their voices, as many of the Midgets couldn’t speak English and/or sing well. Only two are heard speaking with their real-life voices–the ones who give Dorothy flowers after she has climbed into the carriage.
According to lead Munchkin Jerry Maren, the “little people” on the set were paid $50 per week for a six-day work week, while Toto received $125 per week.
There is a movie called Under The Rainbow that included a scene about the munchkin actors from the Wizard of Oz and I thought it was hilarious. There is a porn with little people ALSO called Under The Rainbow and I once picked up the later to show my Ma, intending the non-porn version.
There are tons of stories about the bringing together of all the little people it took to make the movie. The casting directors searched worldwide. It was the first time, for many of them, to see other folk who looked just like them. Language barriers aside, there were tales of orgies and parties that went on long into the night after filming wrapped for the day.
Meinhardt Raabe, who played the Coroner of Munchkinland, was at one time the shortest licensed pilot in the U.S. During WWII he volunteered for military service, but was turned down. He was accepted as a volunteer instructor in the Civil Air Patrol.
Terry aka Toto was stepped on by one of the witch’s guards. This required Terry needing a double for a couple of weeks. Judy Garland begged to be able to adopt Terry but Terry’s owner wouldn’t give her up. Terry went on to a long career in films. She died in 1945 and was buried in her trainer’s yard. Terry was not given credit as Terry in the credits at the end of the film.
I called out “Elphaba!” when she arrived on the screen!!
iMDB trivia: In the first take of the scene when the Wicked Witch of the West leaves Munchkinland, the smoke that was supposed to go up around her came early and started forming before she stepped on the platform she was supposed to be on. On the second take, part of Margaret Hamilton’s cape became caught in the platform when the burst of fire appeared. Her make-up heated up, causing second- and third-degree burns on her hands and face. It was later discovered that one of the key components in her makeup was copper. The producers used the first take. You’ll notice the early appearance of the red smoke.
Originally contracted for six weeks, Margaret Hamilton ended up working for 23. She revealed her approach to the character of the Wicked Witch in an interview with Fred Rogers for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968). Hamilton saw the Witch as a person who relished everything she did, but who ultimately was a sad, lonely figure – a woman who lived in constant frustration, as she never got what she wanted (this is, in fact, the basis of the novel and musical “Wicked,” in which the Wicked Witch of the West is portrayed as an unfortunate protagonist). In the same interview, Hamilton also famously donned the original Witch costume to explain that the witches were only make-believe, and that children shouldn’t be afraid of them.
Many of The Wicked Witch of the West’s scenes were trimmed and/or deleted because they were thought to be too scary. That is part of the reason she asked to come on Mr Rogers, to calm the kids who were frightened later in years.
iMDB trivia: While filming the scene in which Dorothy slaps the Cowardly Lion, Judy Garland got the giggles so badly that they had to take a break in shooting. The director, Victor Fleming, took her aside, gave her a quick lecture, and then slapped her. She returned to the set and filmed the scene in one take. Fleming was afraid that this would damage his relationship with Garland and even told a co-worker he wished that someone would hit him because of how bad he felt, but Garland overheard the conversation and gave him a kiss on the nose to show that she bore no hard feelings. In the film she can still be seen to be stifling a smile between the lines “well, of course not” and “my, what a fuss you’re making.”
In the song “If I Only Had a Heart,” the girl who says “wherefore art thou, Romeo?” is Adriana Caselotti, the voice of Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). She was also paid $1000 for her only line in the film. Disney tried to buy the rights to this film but MGM refused to sell. I sort of wonder if the use of Caselotti was MGM’s way of thumbing their nose at Disney? MGM paid $75,000 for the film rights to L. Frank Baum’s book, a towering sum at the time.
Judy Garland’s feet hurt so much in the ruby slippers that she could only wear them for shots when they would be on camera. A brief glimpse of Judy Garland wearing her rehearsal soft shoes is visible briefly in the scene where the Tin Man is dancing and then falls backwards. Nau remembered this gem and we saw it as it happened!!
The Cowardly Lion’s costume was extremely heavy (some estimates I have read are upwards of ninety pounds). Because of the lighting and the immense weight, Bert Lahr would be soaked in sweat by the end of a day’s filming. There was a crew whose one job was to dry the costume out every night. Although they were able to dry clean it some times, that was not always the case. There are stories about how bad the costume smelled.
During the haunted forest scene several of the “Winged Monkeys” were injured when the wires suspending them snapped and dropped them to the floor of the sound stage.
iMDB trivia: Ray Bolger was originally cast as the Tin Man. However, he insisted that he would rather play the Scarecrow–his childhood idol Fred Stone had originated that role on stage in 1902. Buddy Ebsen had been cast as the Scarecrow, and now switched roles with Bolger. Unbeknownst to him, however, the make-up for the Tin Man contained aluminum dust, which ended up coating Ebsen’s lungs. He also had an allergic reaction to it. One day he was physically unable to breathe and had to be rushed to hospital. The part was immediately recast and MGM gave no public reason why Ebsen was being replaced. The actor considered this the biggest humiliation he ever endured and a personal affront. When Jack Haley took over the part of the Tin Man, he wasn’t told why Ebsen had dropped out (and in the meantime, the Tin Man make-up was changed from aluminum dust to aluminum paste as one of its key components). However, his vocals remain whenever the song “We’re off to see the Wizard” is played. Jack Haley’s vocals were never used during the song, but were used for “If I Only Had a Heart” and “If I Only Had the Nerve.” Ebsen’s vocals are also heard in the extended version of “If I were King of the Forest,” though the spoken segment has Jack Haley. Although Ebsen didn’t appear in the film, surviving still photos show him taking part in the Wicked Witch’s castle sequence, and his voice is the one heard in the song “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”
A myth that persists even to our watching the film this weekend is that of a munchkinlander committing suicide during the filming. At the end of the sequence in which Dorothy and the Scarecrow first meet the Tin Man, as the three march off singing “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” there is a disturbance in the trees off to the right. It is the silhouette of a stork stretching its wings. The conspiracy was disturbing enough for Warner Bros to edit the footage, and in all official, remastered version releases since 1998, the “Hanging Munchkin” is gone and the stork has been digitally colored bright pink so that it cannot be mistaken for anything else. However, further confusion grew in the 2000s, when an unknown person released a short clip of “original, enhanced footage” in which the stork had been entirely erased and a clearer image of a hanging human form edited in its place. The urban legend of the “Hanging Munchkin,” while false, persists.
The Scarecrow can be seen briefly holding a pistol in the scene in the Enchanted Forest when they are searching for the witch. I am mad that I did not get a picture of it when I noticed it! At the same time the Lion has a spray pump with “Witch Remover” printed on it. In the next shot, it’s gone. There is a deleted scene in which the lion says that “the Witch Remover doesn’t work but it’s wonderful for threatening with.” Disgusted, the Scarecrow takes the spray pump and throws it away. There is a close shot in which the spray pump hits the ground and vanishes.
Nikko (the head winged monkey) is also the name of the Japanese town which houses the shrine featuring the famous Hear No Evil/See No Evil/Speak No Evil monkeys.
In the Poppy Field scene the snow used in those camera shots was made from industrial-grade chrysotile asbestos. This was even though the health hazards of asbestos had been known for years.
We all know that poppies (opium) bring you down and that snow (cocaine) brings you up. I will always believe this is a double drug reference!
iMDB trivia: When the wardrobe department was looking for a coat for Frank Morgan (Prof. Marvel / The Wizard), it decided it wanted one that looked like it had once been elegant but had since “gone to seed.” They visited a second-hand store and purchased an entire rack of coats, from which Morgan, the head of the wardrobe department and director Victor Fleming chose one they felt gave off the perfect appearance of “shabby gentility.” One day, while he was on set in the coat, Morgan idly turned out one of the pockets and discovered a label indicating that the coat had been made for L. Frank Baum. Mary Mayer, a unit publicist for the film, contacted the tailor and Baum’s widow, who both verified that the coat had at one time been owned by the author of the original “Wizard of Oz” books. After the filming was completed, the coat was presented to Mrs. Baum.
The horses in Emerald City palace were colored with Jell-O crystals. The relevant scenes had to be shot quickly, before the horses started to lick it off.
During the “Wash and Brush Up Co.” scene, the lyrics “We can make a dimpled smile out of a frown/Can you even dye my eyes to match my gown” are sung in counterpoint to the orchestra playing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
The above shots are from one of my favorite scenes in the film, due in part to how it is blocked. I love it. FLY FLY FLY!!! When reading (and recently listening) to the Wicked series by Gregory Maguire, this scene would come to mind often.
The chant of the Wicked Witch of the West’s Palace Guards was later incorporated into the songs “I’m That Type of Guy” by LL Cool J, “Games” by New Kids on the Block , The Frayed Ends of Sanity, by Metallica and in a faster form in “Jungle Love” by Morris Day and The Time.
iMDB trivia: The movie’s line “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” was voted as the #24 of “The 100 Greatest Movie Lines” by Premiere in 2007. “There’s no place like home.” was voted #11 in the same. “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” was 62. The latter is frequently misquoted as, “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”
The name for Oz was thought up when L. Frank Baum looked at his filing cabinet and saw A-N and O-Z.
State Fair of Omaha??!? Kansas ain’t in Omaha!
The original ending called for the final shot to be camera panning down to reveal Dorothy was still wearing the ruby slippers, but the studio believed that audiences were too sophisticated for that. In the books, Oz is a real place, as opposed to a dream.
Some Interviews and Extra Video:
IMDB Synopsis: Dorothy Gale is swept away from a farm in Kansas to a magical land of Oz in a tornado and embarks on a quest with her new friends to see the Wizard who can help her return home to Kansas and help her friends as well.
|Frank Morgan||…||Professor Marvel / The Wizard of Oz / The Gatekeeper / The Carriage Driver / The Guard|
|Ray Bolger||…||‘Hunk’ / The Scarecrow|
|Bert Lahr||…||‘Zeke’ / The Cowardly Lion|
|Jack Haley||…||‘Hickory’ / The Tin Man|
|Margaret Hamilton||…||Miss Gulch / The Wicked Witch of the West|
|Charley Grapewin||…||Uncle Henry|
|Clara Blandick||…||Auntie Em|
|Terry||…||Toto (as Toto)|
|The Singer Midgets||…||The Munchkins (as The Munchkins)|
Director: Victor Fleming
Additional Movie Info:
It received a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 98% Fresh. It received a Rotten Tomato audience rating of 89% liking it. Average Rating with number of User Ratings at 875,668.
Specs: Release date: 23 Aug 1939 (USA) / Runtime: 102 minutes / Budget: $2.8M