The 1939 film The Wizard of Oz is one of the most iconic films of all time. It launched Garland into the throes of major movie stardom. Though the film made Garland’s career, it also ruined her life. Oz was a gorgeous, Technicolor film, but there was an undeniable darkness on set – from addiction and assault to injury and near death.
“Over the Rainbow” Was Almost Cut from the Film
“Over the Rainbow” is one of the most well-known songs of all time, but it almost didn’t exist as we know it. The Wizard of Oz had an insanely long run-time. It was two hours long, and producers had to cut it down by at least 20 minutes for it to be a reasonable length. “Over the Rainbow” was originally cut because producers thought the black and white scenes dragged, and that younger audiences wouldn’t understand the song’s message (they were totally wrong). Instead of cutting the version Dorothy sang in Kansas, they ended up cutting the reprise when Dorothy was imprisoned in the Wicked Witch’s lair.
Read on to learn how the movie might have cut Garland’s life short
Victor Fleming Slapped Judy Garland on Set
Yes, it’s true. Victor Fleming slapped Judy Garland on set. To make things worse, the actress was just 16 years old at the time of the film’s shooting. Talk about totally inappropriate! It happened when director Victor Fleming ran into a bit of trouble during the scene where Dorothy slaps the Cowardly Lion. Apparently, Garland just couldn’t stop laughing. At this point in Garland’s career, she was less of a massive movie star and more of a teenage girl; she had never been in a production of this scale.
According to producer Pandro S. Berman, after Garland’s unshakeable case of the giggles was well under way, Fleming pulled her aside, slapped her and then told her to get back to work. That’s one way to rip the smile right off of a teenage girl’s face.
The Wizard of Oz Was Supposed To Look Totally Different
The film’s original director, Richard Thorpe, had an entirely different idea of how the film should look. Dorothy more closely resembled the original drawings in John R. Neill’s book and had a chicer, blonde haircut with a full face of baby doll makeup.
Judy Garland, who arguably made The Wizard of Oz what it was, wasn’t cast for the role of Dorothy, either. Thorpe was hopeful that the studio could score Shirley Temple (which didn’t end up happening, but more on that later). Thorpe was also the one who cast Buddy Ebsen as the tin man. Thorpe ended up being fired from the film after two weeks.
Judy Garland Almost Didn’t Play Dorothy
Judy Garland makes The Wizard of Oz what it is, and while she was always a studio favorite for the role, she wasn’t the studio favorite. Execs thought Shirley Temple was a better fit – she was a better age and a bigger star. Despite Temple’s fame, producers worried that she didn’t have a good enough singing voice for the part.
Fortunately for Garland, Temple was contracted to 20th Century Fox, not MGM. MGM wanted to trade Clark Gable and Jean Harlow for Temple, but the idea was shot down when Jean Harlow died unexpectedly at the age of 26. According to recent reports, it may have been Harlow’s toxic hair dye that caused her kidneys to fail and led to her untimely death.
A Temporary Director Came up with Dorothy’s Look
After Thorpe was fired, George Cukor was brought in to be the film’s temporary director. He never intended to stay throughout the whole movie because he hoped to land a gig as the director of Gone with the Wind. Unfortunately, that coveted job ended up going to Victor Fleming, who ended up being the director of Wizard of Oz, too.
During Cukor’s stay on set, he gave Dorothy her signature look. He threw away the blonde wig and opted for something more “natural” that would directly contrast the fantastical nature of Oz.
Buddy Ebsen, the Original Tin Man, Was Poisoned on Set
Poor Buddy Ebsen was cast as the hilarious, quirky tin man, but his stint on set was pretty short lived. Ebsen was actually poisoned in a freak accident that happened just nine days after filming began. Apparently, the silver makeup used in his character’s costume contained aluminum dust, which he inadvertently breathed in (it was all over his face, after all). His lungs failed, and he was hospitalized.
Ebsen spent two weeks in the hospital and took six more to recover at home. He had to be recast and was eventually replaced by Jack Haley, who did not suffer from the same aluminum allergy. To avoid the same problem, the makeup artists on set used aluminum paste instead of aluminum power.
Jack Haley Didn’t Have a Great Time as the Tin Man Either
Playing the Tin Man really seemed like a labor of love. While it’s true that Ebsen may have been poisoned by the makeup, it’s not like Jack Haley had it easy. Even though makeup artists switched from aluminum powder to aluminum paint, Haley still contracted an eye infection.
The costume was also incredibly stiff (obviously, it’s the Tin Man!). Haley couldn’t rest in the costume whatsoever because he couldn’t sit down. He couldn’t even get up on his own if he decided to lie down on the ground. This forced him to stand up for the entire time his costume was on, and his only relief was leaning against something.
Coming up: some say that filming The Wizard of Oz ruined Judy Garland’s life…
The Cowardly Lion’s Costume Was Actually Made from Real-Life Lions
The Cowardly Lion’s costume is epic and pretty detailed to resemble what a lion would actually look like if it was part human. This is no accident – Bert Lahr’s costume for The Wizard of Oz was partially made from the pelts of real lions. This caused the costume to weigh a whopping 48 lbs (though he still had it better than the Tin Man).
Rumors also report that MGM considered using their famous lion Jackie – the lion in their logo – to play Bert Lahr’s role, but they ended opting for an actual human. Bert Lahr offers a really relatable, humorous take on the character that wouldn’t really be possible with an actual lion.
Toto Made More Money Than the Munchkins
Toto was a star performer played by Terry, a female Cairn terrier who appeared in an impressive 16 films. At the time The Wizard of Oz was being filmed, Terry had already starred in a film with Shirley Temple (1934’s Bright Eyes). It’s no wonder that this movie star of a dog got paid more than the munchkins – actual human actors. Toto raked in $125 per week (equivalent to about $1,700 in 2017). The munchkins made between $50 and $100 a week, which is no small chunk of change for 1939, but hardly the movie star salary you’d imagine.
The Wicked Witch Was Supposed to Be Totally Different
Most of us know the Wicked Witch as a terrifying, hideous, bright green character – unless of course, you’re a fan of Wicked and see her more sympathetically. The Wicked Witch wasn’t always ugly and terrifying. She was originally going to be beautiful, sleek, and sexy. Of course, that doesn’t fit so well with the idea of evil witches being ugly, so producers changed the look to contrast more with the Good Witch.
Gale Sondergaard was not a fan of this new look. She was originally cast as the Wicked Witch, but when she saw the makeup, she bailed. Hamilton took the role instead.
The Wicked Witch Was too Scary, so Studio Execs Cut Her Scenes
Margaret Hamilton brilliantly played the Wicked Witch of the West – so brilliantly, the character now stars in her own Broadway musical, Wicked. Hamilton was undoubtedly terrifying, especially to the children watching what was supposed to be a meaningful but light-hearted story about family. This concerned studio executives who feared that Hamilton’s utterly evil performance was a bit too scary for children. They ended up cutting down Hamilton’s screen time down to just a few bits – though, that didn’t make her character any less of an important presence in the movie.
Margaret Hamilton Was Badly Injured on Set
Not only did producers cut some of Margaret Hamilton’s scenes, but she was so badly injured on set that she had to be removed from the production for six entire weeks.
Hamilton’s injury occurred in the scene where the Wicked Witch of the West leaves Munchkinland in a puff of flames. She was meant to drop down safely into a trap door before the flames ever came out. The door malfunctioned and didn’t open fast enough, but the flames came out as they were supposed to. This left Hamilton’s hands and face with terrible burns that took weeks to heal.
Judy Garland Was Molested By Munchkins
According to Garland’s third husband, Sid Luft, the actress was repeatedly molested by the actors who played the munchkins. Luft revealed this information in his scandalous posthumous memoir Judy and I: My Life with Judy Garland. He claimed that they made her life “miserable on set by putting their hands under her dress.” All of the men were 40 or more years old, and Garland was just sixteen.
There were many rumors about the munchkins that sort of back up this claim, saying that the actors were absolutely out of control on set. Various reports claim they were involved with prostitution and gambling while filming.
There Were Tons of Changes from the Book
Anytime you have a movie adapted from a novel, some things are guaranteed to change; however, most people didn’t expect The Wizard of Oz to change as dramatically as it did from the original text. In the book, Glinda is the Good Witch of the South, not the North. Oz is a real place, too. It’s not just a dream like it was in the film.
One of the most iconic details of The Wizard of Oz film is Dorothy’s red slippers. In the book, Dorothy had silver slippers, but studio head Louis B. Mayer wanted to swap the color for something brighter so he could test out MGM’s new Technicolor technology. Dorothy’s shirt was also a light pink, rather than white because white was hard to shoot in color.
Judy Garland Was Drugged to Get Through Filming
In 2017, you’d probably be outraged and shocked to hear that child actors were being fed drugs to keep up with their often nerve-wracking and intense filming schedule; however, in the ’30s, this was common.
Judy Garland was given barbiturates and amphetamines to keep her skinny on set (gross) and keep her awake. This experience may have helped her during the filming process, but it left her an addict, which she could never shake. Filming The Wizard of Oz made Garland’s career, but it also ruined her life. She died from an overdose at age 47.
The Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tin Man Always Ate Lunch Alone
Poor Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, and Jack Haley. All they wanted to do was play their roles without being exiled from the rest of the cast. Unfortunately, the 1930s were a lot different than they are now. They didn’t have intense slasher films and they didn’t have CGI that could make anything happen on film. In the 1930s, costumes like the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man were considered terrifying in real life. They were considered so frightening, that the whole gang was banned from MGM’s lunchroom and forced to alone in case they scared other MGM workers.
The Wizard of Oz Was Intended To Be Feminist Literature
In The Wizard of Oz film, Dorothy is pretty much a damsel in distress. She’s lost and completely in over her head in Oz, but that’s not the case in the actual book. Dorothy is a much stronger character, and Oz is a very real, credible place that she fits in. Dorothy does the majority of the saving in the novel, not the other way around. She does not need to be rescued. L. Frank Baum admitted that he wanted Dorothy to come across as a strong role model for young female audiences.
There Were Tons of Inconsistencies in The Wizard of Oz
Filming in Technicolor required an excessive amount of lighting, which made the set about 100 degrees. The lighting was so bright that you can see it reflected in shiny surfaces of the movie like in glass or the Emerald City floor.
There are also a number of other inconsistencies in the movie. Dorothy’s hair notably changes lengths. Props change or disappear out of thin air, like the Tin Man’s spear that turns into an axe or the bouquet of flowers from the Munchkins that disappear. It also doesn’t make sense that witch who is easily killed by water lives in a castle surrounded by a moat and has buckets of water all over.
L. Frank Baum’s Coat In Real Life Was The Wizard’s Coat In The Movie
Sometimes stars just align, and that’s what happened when costume designers were looking for the perfect coat for Frank Morgan, who played both the Wizard and Professor Marvel. They wanted a coat that looked fashionable, but heavily worn, so they hit up a bunch of local thrift stores in their search. They found the perfect coat, and on set, Morgan found a label stitched into the inside of the jacket that said “L. Frank Baum.” It was the author’s coat, which had been tailored just for him. After filming, producers gifted the coat to the author’s widow.
A Munchkin Did Not Hang Himself on Set
This is one of the many conspiracy theories that seem to surround The Wizard of Oz, but no, not a single munchkin committed suicide on set. In one scene, conspiracy theorists believe a Munchkin or disgruntled crew member can be seen hanging himself from the trees; however, it’s actually a bird.
MGM had rented about 400 birds from a local zoo that they’d use in various projects. Lots of these birds escaped from their cages, and some ended up on The Wizard of Oz set. The bird in question is an escaped crane that stretches out its wings in the background. It is not a hanging Munchkin.
Was Victor Fleming Pro-Nazi?
As the director of Wizard of Oz, Victor Fleming, he was infamous for more than just slapping Judy Garland off set. He was also directing Gone With the Wind at the same time, so he was famous and he had his hands full.
But, there were veracious rumors that Fleming was a Nazi sympathizer. Actress Anne Revere, who worked with Fleming in The Yearling, claimed that Fleming was “violently pro-Nazi.” She also said that he hated the British, which would seem to be correlative in the aftermath of World War II. It’s fair to say, that rumors had it that Fleming wasn’t a “nice” guy, and the story about him slapping Garland only serves to support reports of his personality and character.
Why Did They Want Shirley Temple?
Shirley Temple was America’s sweetheart. Everyone loved her, and she starred in many classic films throughout the 1930s. If there’s a classic novel that existed at that time, it’s a good bet they made a movie of it, starring Shirley Temple. Think: The Little Princess, Heidi, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and beyond.
She was also so popular that they made her the equivalent of a reality-TV star. Magazines published lots of photos of her off-screen adventures. In those photos, you can see that she was a fan of L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz series (or at least she had the books on her shelf. For so many reasons, she seemed the perfect choice for the role.
Arthur Freed Wanted Judy Garland For Dorothy
Arthur Freed was a legendary producer and lyricist. He was not credited for his work on Wizard of Oz, but it did mean a substantial promotion (they made him the head of his unit at MGM), and gave him his first credit with Rodgers and Hart’s Broadway musical hit, Babes in Arms, which featured Judy Garland with Mickey Rooney. Babes in Arms became the first of many “backyard” musicals that they all did together.
Of course, Louis B Mayer wanted Shirley Temple for the part of Dorothy, but Freed thought that Judy Garland was a better choice. Years later, in her autobiography, Shirley Temple claimed that Freed had exposed himself to her when she was 12, as he was trying to pursuit her to join MGM. According to Temple’s obituary, “Being innocent of male anatomy, she responded by giggling, and he threw her out of his office.”
Judy Garland (Dorothy Gale)
Judy Garland may have been the second choice, but she may have been better off without the role. Beyond the well-documented actuality of forcing her to take drugs, she also had to wear a corset, since her body had began to develop (she was 16). She was also told to lose 12 pounds.
Yes, the Wizard of Oz role catapulted her to stardom, but the obvious evidence of exploitation is also troubling. She was already sensitive about her weight (she thought she was overweight), so the constant oversight and demands on her to improve her appearance just further damaged her self-esteem. She once said, “I was frightful. I was fat – a fat little pig in pigtails.”
Dream Within A Dream?
One of the most controversial scenes in the movie and the book involves the Poppy fields, where Dorothy is doped, along with Toto and the Cowardly Lion. From the perspective of Jungian philosophy, you may have noticed the “dream within the dream,” since Dorothy is really (supposedly) in a delirious dream-like state, brought on by the Kansas tornado. Yep, she’s got a concussion, but it’s also ironic on multiple levels. The poppies were “poisonous” — they would have died if they’d stayed in the fields.
Dorothy (Judy Garland) was herself being poisoned by the drugs that eventually killed her at an early age, but other cast members were also poisoned on set. The land of Oz was dangerous.
The Gingham Jumper?
You’re probably familiar with that infamous gingham dress/jumper, but did you know that it was actually much more “special” than you may even have imagined. There’s a hidden pocket in the seam of the skirt that hid away a handkerchief. So, at just the right moment, Dorothy (Judy Garland) pulls it out and wipes away the tears of the Cowardly Lion.
But, more than the secret-trivia aspect of the star’s dress, you’ll be shocked by what one of the costumes auctioned off for a few years ago. In November 2012, a gingham dress was auctioned off for nearly half a milliondollars.
Margaret Hamilton (The Wicked Witch of the West)
You probably immediately recognize Margaret Hamilton immediately when you know that she was the “Wicked Witch” in Wizard of Oz, but she had a rather tame background before she took on the controversial role. She was a schoolteacher, and she had also been a character actress for seven years before auditioning for the part of the Wicked Witch. But, that role was to catapult her into the ranks of really epic movie stardom. She even ranked #4 on the list of Best Movie Villains.
For all of her “evil” ways as the witch in the movie, though, she was actually an prominent activist for the causes of children and animal welfare. She was also a big believer in public education.
What About The Wicked Witch’s Sickness?
You’ve probably heard about how poisonous and toxic the paint was for the original Tin Man, but you may not know how the Wicked Witch was affected by her make-up as well. Yes, the Wicked Witch’s make-up was toxic. Actress Margaret Hamilton reportedly swallowed some of her make-up (no word on how). She got so sick that she was on a liquid diet for days.
The green make-up was so invasive, with copper-based ingredients, that she couldn’t easily get it completely off. So, her face stayed green for weeks after the shooting for Wizard of Oz was long over.
A Broken Paw?
Yes, the set of Wizard of Oz was a dangerous place for many of the actors, but did you know that it wasn’t just the humans who were getting hurt. Toto was Dorothy’s famous sidekick on the movie (and in the book). She was a Cairn Terrier and she fit perfectly in her basket. But, she was also small and vulnerable. One of the witch’s guards accidentally stepped on his foot, leaving him with a broken paw. The dog’s real name was Terry in real life. She went on to star in some 15 films after Wizard of Oz.
The Yellow Brick Road
The feature of the Yellow Brick Road on the Big Screen (and even in our imagination, in the book) is an important part of the iconic magical fantasy of the Wizard of Oz. But, there was a (not-so) slight problem with the way it appeared, via Technicolor. They had to use industrial-grade paint on the road, because it had a greenish tint to the color when it was shot in full-color. Wouldn’t you know that one of the most memorable, and iconic, parts of the entire legend of Oz would also be so troublesome to recreate in “real” living color?
Ray Bolger (Scarecrow)
Ray Bolger took on the role of the empty-brained Scarecrow in the movie version of Wizard of Oz. It’s the role for which he is probably best remembered to this day, but he too was left with long-running after-effects from his appearance in the movie. The special mask was specifically designed for him, but it left marks on his face, which were still noticeable even a year after the movie shooting had ended. It could easily be said that nobody really escaped the movie’s effects unscathed.
Jack Haley (Tin Man)
MGM hired Jack Haley for the part of the Tin Man after Buddy Ebsen was nearly killed by the costume’s silver paint. With that incident so fresh in their memory, they switched from powder/dust to aluminum paste for Haley’s costume make-up. While he avoided the allergic reaction and the side-effects of having aluminum dust settle in his lungs, Haley still developed an eye infection so severe that he needed a surgical treatment, which put a hold on shooting for 4 days.
Of course, because he was the Tin Woodsman, Haley was also Hickory, a farm worker at Aunt Em’s place.
Bert Lahr (The Cowardly Lion)
Bert Lahr was an actor and comedian, and he brought that comic relief element to the cast of The Wizard of Oz. But, he also has that lovable, sensitive personae on screen. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect actor for the part. Of course, Lahr also was unbearably tormented by his costume, while shooting on-set. No matter how cool the costume might have been, the 100-degree temperature under the hot Technicolor lights was horrible with what amounted to a “real-fur” coat. He was warned that he might be typecast after his famous role, to which he replied: “Yeah, but how many parts are there for lions?” He appeared in various roles in vaudeville, the burlesque, and on Broadway.
I’ll Fly Away
Hot air ballooning makes a number of appearances through the movie, both in Kansas and with the Wizard of Oz. In Oz, it will carry her back home, but she’s forced to abandon that hope. She must choose between going home or being with her sidekick (and ever-faithful dog) Toto, when he runs after a cat.
Of course, after following her heart, she also discovers that she had all that she needed to get home after all. She just needed to click her heels together and say, “There’s no place like home.” The magic is in her own self-reliance, but she also could not have gotten where she was without the help from her friends (who have become her family).
Little Girl Lost
Biographers have referred to Judy Garland as a “lost little girl.” She was completely made over and made-up to be a different person than the Frances Ethel Gumm she once was. But, she’d also lost her father.
Frank Gumm, her father, died in 1935, leaving her alone with her mother. She often said, “My father’s death was the most terrible thing that happened to me in my life.” With many of her future relationships, she was seeking a replacement father figure. “I was always lonesome.” She said, “The only time I felt accepted or wanted was when I was on stage performing. I guess the stage was my only friend; the only place where I could feel comfortable. It was the only place where I felt equal and safe.”
Beyond Exploitation, What About Groping?
You’ve already seen some of the evidence of how MGM exploited Judy Garland, but the most common refrain appears to be, “That’s how it was done back then.” That may be the reality of how young child stars were treated, but it certainly doesn’t make it right.
The other sickening reality is that Garland claimed that Louis B Mayer also took to groping her when she was in his office, saying that it made her sing from the heart. She was a 16-year-old girl, unaware that she could say “no” and forced to work an insane work schedule with adrenaline shots and Seconal downers to keep her going at that haphazard pace. She was always afraid her contract would be torn up, and she also said that Mayer’s word was “law” at her house.
Louis B Mayer Kept Judy Garland Under Control via Spying
Judy Garland was an important part of the Wizard of Oz production, but it still seems just a bit creepy that Louis B Mayer had people who were sent to spy on her. If she dared to deviate from her diet of chicken soup, coffee and 80 cigarettes (to control her appetite), she received his famous reprimand. It was especially bad if they caught her with a sundae. Plus, a doctor would prescribe more diet pills. She really couldn’t win.
All of the spying and control over her life just fed into her already poor self-esteem. She already thought she was overweight, so those rants were just exacerbating many of the psychological issues. For Garland, her magical moment in the sun (with Wizard of Oz) really led to her own continued deterioration and eventual death at such an early age.
The Success of ‘Wizard of Oz’
We all know and love The Wizard of Oz, and itregularly receives critical acclaim. It often appears on the “best” movie lists. And, Frank Nugent called it a “delightful piece of wonder-working which had the youngsters’ eyes shining and brought a quietly amused gleam to the wiser ones of the oldsters.”
John C. Flinn wrote for Variety saying: “Some of the scenic passages are so beautiful in design and composition as to stir audiences by their sheer unfoldment.” He also called Garland Garland “an appealing figure.” So much more has been said about The Wizard of Oz.
What About Judy Garland?
Yes, The Wizard of Oz was a tremendous critical success, but Garland was a big part of why it was a hit. She was recognized for her role, when she Garland received an Academy Award (a Juvenile Award) in 1939. The recognition included both The Wizard of Oz and Babes in Arms, which were both released in the same year. It would have been difficult to see her as anything other than a well-regarded, even “bankable” star from that point forward, but she continued to struggle with depression, nervous breakdown and drugs for the rest of her life.
For her appearance on the Bing Crosby Show, she was hysterical (and had just survived her second suicide attempt), as she stood in the wings. And, he said, “We got a friend here, she’s had a little trouble recently. You probably heard about it – Everything is fine now, she needs our love. She needs our support. She’s here – let’s give it to her, OK? Here’s Judy.”
Over The Rainbow…
Judy Garland sang “Over the Rainbow,” but then seemed to want to forget the rainbow, after it never quite turned out as she would have hoped. She said, “We cast away priceless time in dreams, born of imagination, fed upon illusion, and put to death by reality.” Even through all the tragedies in her life, you know her name, and her legacy will always be remembered. She was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997, long after her death. Some of her recordings have also been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
She will never be forgotten.
Judy Garland’s Daughter Liza
Judy Garland had a daughter who became famous in her own right, Liza Minnelli. Liza clearly inherited her mother’s song and dance talents. Back in 1984, Liza reminisced about her mother in a New York Times article. Liza recalled the first time the two performed on stage together and how they went from loving to competing with one another in that moment. Liza told the New York Times, “I think that what Mama was saying was, ‘You’re everything I wanted you to be. You’re a force to be dealt with and I created it, and now I’ve come up against it.”’ Interestingly, Liza Minnelli, was also married for a time to Jack Haley Jr., the son of the actor who played the Tin Man.
Auntie Em – Clara Blandick
Clara Blandick was the actress who played Auntie Em in the Wizard of Oz. While the role was relatively small, it was certainly an important one and represented idealized happiness and home within the film particularly for the main character Dorothy. However, in real life Clara did not have happiness like the character in the film did. After her health began to fail in the 1950s, she especially dealt with her sight failing and from severe arthritis, and her happiness also began to dwindle. After attending church on April 15, 1962, she went home and rearranged her room.
See what happens next…
Clara Blandick was eighty-five years old, and while rearranging her room she ensured her most important papers and press clippings were in order. She then changed into an elegant royal blue dressing gown and fixed her hair. That night Clara took sleeping pills, laid down on the couch, and tied a plastic bag over her head. She also draped herself with a gold blanket. Clara did leave a note which read, “I am now about to make the great adventure. I cannot endure this agonizing pain any longer. It is all over my body. Neither can I face the impending blindness. I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.”
In the Wizard of Oz, there is the famous scene when Dorothy falls asleep in the “Poppy Field”. In the scene fake “snow” is used. The snow was made of 100% industrial-grade chrysotile asbestos. Apparently, it was already well known that asbestos had many health hazards yet they used it anyway. The discovery of how harmful asbestos was made in the very early 1900s and the Wizard of Oz was shot in 1939. There is no definitive evidence that any of the actors suffered harm directly linked to the harmful substance being used on set, however there were multiple other injuries on set. Yikes!
How Margaret Hamilton Played Dorothy
In 1968, Margaret Hamilton was best known as the Wicked Witch of the West when appeared on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It was almost fifty years after the original film had been shot.
Margaret discussed how she decided to play the Wicked Witch. She said that the character was sad and lonely who never got what she wanted. She also dressed up in the original Wicked Witch garb in order to show children that the costume was only makeup and that witches were not real and not to be afraid. The way that Margaret played the character was actually very similar to the basis of the future Broadway musical “Wicked”.
After Margaret Hamilton sustained injuries after being burned on her face and hand while filming the scene where the Wicked Witch is leaving Munchkinland. She returned to filming but refused to do anymore stunt work that involved fire. Actress Betty Danko worked as her stand-in for these scenes. Betty was only paid $11 a day although it rose to $35 a day after she began to do stunt work.
While filming the Surrender Dorothy scene, Betty was also severely burned. She was sitting on a smoking pipe that had been made to look like the Witch’s broomstick and the pipe exploded. Betty was forced to spend almost two weeks in the hospital. Unfortunately, her legs were permanently scarred but that did not stop her from doing other stunt work in the future.
Wicked is a Broadway play that was based on a novel written in 1995 called Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. The story aims to take another perspective of the happenings in the Wizard of Oz. Instead, the perspective shifts to the witches of Oz rather than Dorothy. More specifically, Wicked follows the story of Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) and Galinda ( Glinda the Good Witch). The two begin as friends although they could not be different personality wise. They end up fighting for the attention of the same love-interest. The play also showcases their reaction to what is portrayed as a corrupt government in Oz run by the Wizard. Ultimately, Elphaba has a public fall from grace. The musical has been a huge success after its original premiere back in 2003.
The majority of the Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz are portrayed by the “Singer Midgets”. However, their very aptly titled name was not chosen for their musical talents but actually for their manager, a man named Leo Singer. The Singer troupe who made up the munchkins actually came from Europe. While it was a wonderful thing to have work, the trip was even more pressing as many of the actors used the trip as a way to escape from the Nazis who were working on taking over many parts of Europe at the time. In spite of their name, other professional singers actually dubbed most of their parts. Especially because the majority of the actors couldn’t speak English very well. There are only two Munchkins who can actually be heard speaking in the film. These actors can be seen in the scene where the Munchkins give Dorothy flowers after she climbs into the carriage.
In the Wizard of Oz The famous “Surrender Dorothy” scene takes place after the Wicked Witch flies her broom through the sky to write the message to Dorothy. In real life, the scene was done by using a tank of water and a model Wicked Witch. In order to make it look like she was actually writing in the sky, the model was attached to the end of a long hypodermic needle and the syringe was filled with milk. While filming below the tank, the tip of the needle was put into the tank and the words were written in reverse. In 2010, Drew Barrymore went on to direct a film of called “Surrender Dorothy” which was touted as a loose sequel to the original film.
The Animals of Oz
There are multiple animals seen throughout the film Wizard of Oz and there are also some that are left out from the original novel. For the scenes showing the horses in the Emerald City, the filmmakers placed Jell-O crystals all over the horses’ bodies to give them their color. Of course, they had to shoot the scenes as fast as they could, because like any horse they would want to lick off the sugary concoction. Another interesting animal fact about the film is that a Cairn terrier named Terry played the role of the Toto the dog. Toto was also said to have made more money filming than the Munchkins did!
In the Wizard of Oz, the winged monkeys are played by humans in costumes. In the film, the head winged monkey is called Nikko. Nikko is actually the name of a Japanese town, the town is famous for having a shrine that features the origin of the Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil monkeys.
Animals Left Out Of Oz
A few animals seen in the original book were cut from filming. Allegedly, this was done because MGM felt that the scenes were too gory as L. Frank Baum wrote them. In the book, various animals, both real and imaginary, are seen including “Kalidahs” (tiger-bear hybrids), wildcats, wolves, and bumblebees. All of the scenes involving these creatures were somewhat gory including one where the Tinman uses an axe to kill a wildcat and forty wolves. The Wizard of Oz kind of has a creepy undertone as it is and would have been even more exacerbated had the director included these scenes in filming.
Toto The Cairn Terrier
The Cairn Terrier is one of the world’s oldest terrier breeds. The dog originated from Scotland. The name Cairn is actually a human made pile of stones, many are found in Scotland hence the name of the Cairn Terrier. An interesting fact about the Cairn is that they are usually left pawed. This breed has appeared in much media over the years, of course, most famous was Toto. However, the same breed has appeared on I Love Lucy when little Ricky owns a Cairn named Fred. Another Cairn terrier appeared much more recently on The George Lopez show and is named Mr. Needles. Allegedly, Judy Garland fell in love with Terry the Cairn Terrier who played Toto. She wanted to adopt her, however, Terry’s owner wouldn’t part with the beloved dog.
Early Special Effects
The Wizard of Oz was shot all the way back in 1939, and since then special effects have come quite a long way, although you must admit that the effects were quite impressive for their time. For scenes with the winged monkeys, piano wires were used to suspend them in the air. However, this did not always go well and several actors were injured when the wires snapped during the haunted forest scene.
Also, when the Wicked Witch is seen trying to remove the ruby slippers and fire springs up around her hands, this is actually apple juice which was squirted out of the shoes and then the film was sped up. In the tornado scene, a lot of special effects came into play. For Dorothy’s falling house, a miniature house was dropped onto a sky painting. Then the film was reversed which made it look like the house was falling towards the camera. To make it look as though a tornado actually came on the scene, a 35-foot-long muslin stocking was used. Filmmakers then took the stocking and spun it through miniatures of the farm and fields, of course with added dust.
If you look closely during the song “We’re Off To See The Wizard,” you can see shadows of the spotlights and camera equipment on the grass. The Wizard of Oz was one of the first non-animated films to use the new technicolor process. This did not mean it was always smooth sailing. For one, early technicolor needed a ridiculous amount of lighting. Of course, the lights back then were extremely hot which made the set around 100 degrees quite often.
Several tweaks had to be made to the set and costumes in order to get the color just right. For instance, Judy Garland’s white dress was actually pink as it was easier to shoot and showed up better on camera. Another similar instance is that the yellow brick road actually showed up green after the technicolor process so it had to be redone.
Library of Congress
The Wizard of Oz was a hit during its time and has remained a classic even until today. The film was nominated for many Oscars including Best Visual Effects, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Picture, and won for Best Original Music Score. In 1989, the film was recognized on an even greater scale and marked for its contribution to history. The Wizard of Oz was recognized as being “culturally significant” to the United States of America by the United States Library of Congress and has since preserved the film in the National Film Registry. The film was recognized again in 2007, when it was selected to be on the list of Unesco’s Memory of the World Register, which is an international list of significant “memories”.
Dark Side of The Rainbow
The idea of the Dark Side of The Rainbow refers to the pairing of the Pink Floyd album “The Dark Side of the Moon” and The Wizard of Oz. The synchronicity between the two gives the effect that the two were created to respond to one another, although this is not the case. The result is a music video-like effect, and it is commonly referred to as the Dark Side of The Rainbow. The origination of the link between the two seems to derive from a message board of Pink Floyd fans back in 1995 and has since spread into nearly mainstream notoriety. Pink Floyd band members have since commented on the interesting spectacle. David Gilmour, the singer and guitar player of Pink Floyd, said that it’s just a coincidence and even tried it for himself. Pink Floyd drummer, Nick Mason, similarly joked that the album was definitely based on The Wizard of Oz, but rather The Sound of Music.
In L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s shoes are actually a magical pair of silver slippers. It wasn’t until the film was being made that slippers were changed into ruby slippers, which was suggested by MGM head Louis B Mayer. When costume designers were first working on the shoes, an early design showed the slippers with curled up toes. Dorothy, or Judy Garland, wore the ruby slippers in a size 5. Throughout shooting, four different sets of slippers were used. The shoes have gone on to be displayed at various museums. One pair was ultimately displayed in a museum in Minnesota, where they were stolen back in 2005, even though they were insured for $1 million.
For the movie’s 50th anniversary, a real pair of ruby slippers with real rubies was made in 1989. The shoes were valued at over $3 million! Another pair of the slippers is on display at the Smithsonian. Although the pair is a mismatched pair from two different sets. However, the display is one of the most popular and often the staff of the Smithsonian has to replace the carpet around it because of constant wear and tear.
L. Frank Baum And Oz
L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900. Twenty years before that, he made a living as a specialty chicken breeder. Frank was said to have been inspired from his hard childhood which took place during a drought in South Dakota. Frank gave Dorothy her name for a particularly sentimental reason. His niece died when she was an infant and her name was Dorothy Louise Gage. Frank came up with the name Oz after he looked at his filing cabinets which had been organized by alphabet – from A-N and O-Z. Frank also wrote a variety of other things throughout his life including non-fiction works about stamp collecting. He also strongly supported the women’s suffrage movement, which says a lot about his character. Frank went on to publish even more works about Oz, including 17 sequels with three of them being published posthumously.
Singing Over The Rainbow
“Over the Rainbow” became a song synonymous with The Wizard Of Oz but was almost cut from the film. MGM studio thought that it stretched the entire Kansas segment too long. The studio also thought that the whole song intention would go over the heads of the kids watching the film.
Dorothy is seen singing the song while in the Kansas barnyard, and the studio apparently felt the location was “degrading.” They ended up shooting another version in which Dorothy was imprisoned in the Witch’s castle while reminiscing over Kansas. While filming this version Dorothy and the crew became emotional because the song was so melancholy. The first version ended up making the cut for the film.
Over The Rainbow In Other Media
Since The Wizard of Oz, the song “Over the Rainbow” has been used in tons of media over the years. One such instance was in the film Selena, starring Jennifer Lopez which depicted the life of Tejano music icon Selena Quintanilla. In the film, Selena can be seen as a little girl singing in her father’s restaurants in one of her first public performances. Of course, the song also takes on a melancholy meaning in the film as the movie tells the tragic story of Selena. Selena was gunned down by the woman who managed her fan club at the young age of twenty-three.
Lesser Known Judy Garland Children
Liza Minnelli is certainly the most well-known of Judy Garland’s children, however she was not her only child. Judy had two more children with her third husband Sidney Luft, another daughter named Lorna Luft and son Joey Luft. Like her mother, Lorna is also a singer and has released multiple albums over the years. She even once appeared in the stage version of The Wizard of Oz in England, playing the role of the Wicked Witch of the West. Judy’s son Joey has remained largely uninvolved in show business and out of the spotlight, except for when appearing in various films discussing his mother.
The Wizard Played Five Roles
Frank Morgan, the actor who played the Wizard, actually played five different roles throughout the film. First, he was the Kansan professor who seemed to foretell the future, then there was (of course) the Great and Powerful Oz, he was also the driver of the Horse-of-a-Different-Color in the Emerald City and can be seen as a guard at the Wizard’s palace, and also the doorkeeper there. While some might speculate that this was done to save on casting for the production team, it is more likely that this was simply the director being true to the real nature of the Wizard of Oz, who was both powerful and mysterious.
Frank Morgan: The Wizard
Frank Morgan was a contract actor for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The production company was apparently so impressed with Frank that they actually gave him a lifetime contract. He played a variety of roles in a multitude of films from comedy to more dramatic roles. In 1945, he had one of the strangest roles of his career when he played himself in a film where the premise is he is attempting to make his own film. It is considered to be one of the strangest movies produced by MGM at the time. Allegedly, Frank Morgan also suffered from alcoholism which was purported by his Wicked Witch co-star, Margaret Hamilton. He died of a heart attack in 1949 and never got to see the television release of the film which brought much of the cast fame.
Billie Burke: Glinda The Good Witch
Billie Burke was the actress who played the role of Glinda the Good Witch. Billie had been working in movies since the day of silent film. She had previously worked on another film with Judy Garland called Everybody Sing, in which she played Judy’s mother. While The Wizard of Oz was being filmed, Billie was fifty four years old, which was eighteen years old than Margaret Hamilton her Wicked Witch counterpart and “sister”. Billie continued working for the remainder of her life and her last film was shot in 1960. Billie died in 1970 at the age of eighty-five.
Ray Bulger: The Scarecrow
Ray Bolger was an actor who first got his start in the theater Vaudeville circuit. Ultimately, his dancing got him noticed and he was able to get quite a few roles on Broadway before he ultimately signed a contract with MGM. While filming The Wizard of Oz, the scarecrow face makeup and prosthetics was so intense that it actually left line marks on his face that took over a whole year to disappear. He continued acting in MGM films, including several with the Wizard Frank Morgan. In 1985, he co-starred along Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli in the film That’s Dancing! He continued acting (and dancing) until his death at age eighty three in 1987.
Shirley Temple Wanted
Judy Garland was actually not the first choice for The Wizard of Oz, she was seventeen-years-old at the time, but the production company actually wanted eleven-year-old Shirley Temple. Shirley was actually a huge fan of the books The Wizard of Oz and she and her mother really wanted to get the role. Apparently, Fox had ensured Shirley’s mother that Fox owned the rights, however Metro-Goldwyn Mayer ended up outbidding 20th Century Fox. Thus, Judy was cast and was ordered to lose twelve pounds in an effort to lose her womanly figure. That was the only thing that the studio had Judy do however…
While the studio all but forced Judy Garland to lose twelve pounds in order to lose her womanly figure and instead appear more like a young girl, that was the only thing they had her do when it came to her looks. For a time, they had some intense “baby doll makeup” and blonde hair, however that didn’t work and we ended with the look that we see in the film today. The studio also had Judy wear a super tight and super painful corset-type device that thinned her torso and also flattened her bust area in an effort for Judy to appear as a pre-adolescent girl.
Actually A Remake?!
The most famous film version of The Wizard of Oz is actually not the first rendition. Actually, the 1939 film was the 10th adaptation of the book, although they did not all tell the same story. Some other versions include The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays, which was a 1908 version which showcased silent film actress Romola Remus. Then there was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was a 15-minute film, made in 1910 and based on the 1902 stage musical. In 1914, The Patchwork Girl of Oz was made by L. Frank Baum’s motion picture company, The Oz Film Manufacturing Company. This story follows different characters than we are used to by the names of Ojo, Unc Nunkle, and Patchwork Girl.
Other Oz Versions
There were still even more versions of Oz including another 1914 adaptation called His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz. Next again was a story called The Magic Cloak of Oz which followed another character called Fluff who was the unhappiest person in Oz. In 1925, Larry Semon made Wizard of Oz in collaboration with L. Frank Baum, although it is not the version we have come to know and love. Lastly, an animated version was made in 1922, six years before the most famous version. For the rights to The Wonderful World of Oz, L. Frank Baum was paid only $75,000.
It Was A Flop
It is very seldom known that The Wizard of Oz was actually a flop at the box office. Granted it is important to keep in mind that it was the end of The Great Depression. The hit of the time was also Gone With The Wind, which was massively successful. The Wizard of Oz was barely even able to make back what it had spent on making the film which was a budget of $2.8 million. The film was still recognized, at least within the film industry and it won two Oscars including for best score and best original song. However, it did not become the massive hit until it was released on television almost twenty years later in 1956. The film was also the first ever MGM film to be shown on a national network.
Terry The Dog’s Other Films
Terry the dog, was the Cairn terrier who played Toto. She was truly a famous canine of the time and appeared in ten other films over the course of her life. Her trainer and owner was Carl Spitz, who trained her during the Great Depression. Some of her other films include Bright Eyes with Shirley Temple and Tortilla Flat where she was reunited with the director of The Wizard of Oz Victor Fleming and The Wizard Himself Frank Morgan. Terry’s daughter Rommy was also a famous movie pooch in starred in various films over her life time although none as famous as the iconic Toto. Terry died at age eleven and was buried on the property of her owner Carl. The grave was destroyed when the Ventura Highway was built in the 1950s, however years later a memorial was erected in her honor in 2011 at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Charley Grapewin: Uncle Henry
Charley Grapewin was the actor who played Aunt Em’s husband Uncle Henry. He first began his career as a circus trapeze artist, he later made his way to Vaudeville, then Broadway, silent film, and finally to sound film. He also played the integral character Grandpa Joad in the 1940 film version of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Although he appeared in over one hundred films in his long-spanning career he is probably best known for his role as Uncle Henry. Charley died in 1956, the same year The Wizard of Oz was shown on television at the age of eighty-six.
Ogden Nash Screenplay?
Ogden Nash is a well-known American writer and poet. He was also a humorist and often made pun like rhymes in writing. Perhaps this was why he was the one to originally write a screenplay for The Wizard of Oz. Although, his script was never to see the light of day. Instead, a screenplay by writers Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf was used. Despite his script not being used, Ogden is still remembered warmly for his writing and even had a postage stamp named after him in 2002. He died at the age of sixty-eight in 1971 after getting a bacterial infection which exacerbated his Crohn’s disease.
The actor who played the Coroner of Munchkinland was named Meinhardt Raabe. Raabe was three foot and six inches. His role in the film only last thirteen seconds, yet they are a very memorable part of the film. Another interesting fact about this character is that Raabe was once the shortest licensed pilot during World War II. He also earned a Master degree in business administration. He married a cigarette girl who was his height and the two remained married until her death in a car accident in 1997. Raabe lived all the way until age ninety-four. When he passed away in 2010 he was one of the last surviving Munchkin actors.
Snow White Connection
In the Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man has his most famous scene to a musical number, “If I only Had A Heart”. If you listen closely you can hear a female voice saying “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” The actress who whose voice is heard is actually the same woman who played Snow White two years before named Adriana Caselotti. In 1994, Adriana was named as a Disney Legend. In the early 1990s when the Snow White Grotto at Disneyland was opened, Adriana sang “I’m Wishing” at age seventy five. Adriana lived five more years until 1997 when she died at the age of eighty.
Gilligan’s Island Connection
The character Mary Ann Summers played by Dawn Wells, was modeled entirely after Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz. She is also said to be from Winfield, Kansas, and was born on a farm in a nod to Dorothy. On the show, she also often wore her hair in pigtails and sometimes even wore a gingham dress just like Dorothy. Dawn Well is still acting at seventy-eight years old, and along with her co-star Ginger (Tina Louise) they are the only surviving cast members of Gilligan’s Island. She has even recently reprised her most famous character in a web series called She’s Still On The Freakin’ Island.
Mervyn Leroy first got his start as a gag writer and actor in the silent film version of the Ten Commandments under the helm of famed director Cecil B. DeMille. It was then that he was inspired to work as a director himself after witnessing DeMille work. Ultimately, he directed many successful films and he was chosen as the head of production at MGM. He is the one responsible for choosing to make The Wizard of Oz. He also was the one who discovered a ton of Old Hollywood icons, including Clark Gable, Loretta Young, Robert Mitchum and Lana Turner.
Director Victor Fleming
Victor Fleming was the director behind The Wizard of Oz. He had another extremely popular film he made the same year as The Wizard of Oz – Gone With The Wind. Oddly, the two ended up competing at the box office, and Gone With The Wind initially fared better. Although he made many other films in his life it is these two that he is most remembered for, and they were both released in 1939. Although it has been claimed that Fleming might have been pro-Nazi, there have not been many who support the claim. It would also be rather interesting considering the head of MGM was Louis B. Mayer who was Jewish.
Baby Dorothy’s Grave
Dorothy Gale was named after the real-life baby niece of L. Frank Baum. Back in 1898, the brother and sister-in-law of Maud Gage Baum (L. Frank Baum’s wife) had a baby girl named Dorothy Louise Gage. She died only five months later and her mother was understandably heartbroken. At the time, Baum had just completed his novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and as a nod to his grieving wife and her sister-in-law he named the heroine of the novel Dorothy. The real-life baby Dorothy was buried in Bloomington, Illinois at Evergreen Memorial Cemetery in Bloomington, Illinois. Her grave was all but forgotten until 1996 when someone came across it. Mickey Carroll, who was one of the last living Munchkins, found out about the grave and decided to help replace her deteriorated headstone. Mickey actually owned his own monument company. In 1997, the new stone was dedicated and the cemetery even renamed the children’s section the Dorothy L. Gage Memorial Garden.
The Head Winged Monkey
In the Wizard of Oz one of the creepiest parts of the film is the winged monkeys who do the bidding of the Wicked Witch. In the film, the head winged monkey is named Nikko. Nikko is reportedly named after a Japanese town. The town also happens to be home to the shrine of the original “Hear No Evil/See No Evil/Speak No Evil” monkeys. The monkeys are found at the Tōshō-gū shrine. The monkeys are apparently the macaques monkey which is indigenous to the area. The monkeys also all have names, first is Mizaru seen covering his eyes, who sees no evil; then there is Kikazaru who is covering his ears, who hears no evil; and lastly there is Iwazaru who is covering his mouth, who speaks no evil. This is supposed to signify a person who present good thoughts, good speech, and good actions.