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Saturday, June 16, 2012


February of 1938, MGM Studios announced that it had acquired the rights to Frank Baum’s children’s novel “The Wizard of Oz” and would shortly begin production on a feature film of the story to be released early the following year. They also announced that young star Judy Garland has been named for the principal role of Dorothy in the film.
Well, the rest is history as they say. The film’s script, direction, production, cast, and release are all Hollywood legend. So much trivia is now known that it could easily fill a book. We have gone through some of the stories and came up with our favorite anecdotes about the making of “The Wizard of Oz” which are listed here.
The title role, the Wizard himself, was originally offered to actor Ed Wynn who turned it down as he considered it a cameo role. MGM executives actually preferred W.C. Fields for the role; but he declined after not being able to get the $100,000 he wanted. Frank Morgan, who did the role, was the third choice.
Ray Bolger was originally cast as the Tin Man but insisted that he wanted to be the Scarecrow. Buddy Ebsen was given the Scarecrow role but agreed to switch with Bolger just before shooting began. The change turned unlucky for Ebsen, however, after ten days of shooting. The Tin Man costume contained aluminum dust which entered his lungs. He had an allergic reaction and couldn’t breathe. Ebsen was rushed to the hospital. He survived of course but his role was immediately given to Jack Haley. Ebsen considered that the biggest humiliation of his career. No one told Haley the real reason that Ebsen left the production, he just assumed the man was fired.
Early on Shirley Temple was considered for the role of Dorothy. She was closer to the character’s age in the book. A deal was struck whereby her studio contract with 20th Century Fox would be exchanged (for one film) with MGM’s contract for Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. The deal was voided when Harlow suddenly died. Shirley Temple’s vocal talents were seen as inadequate for the singing role.
The Munchkins were played by members of the “Singer Midgets,” a touring group of small actors from Europe. Several took advantage of their trip to Hollywood to immigrate and escape the Nazis. The roles of the singing Munchkins had to have the voices dubbed in because few of them spoke English, or they were unable to sing. The Munchkins on the set were paid $50 per week for a six-day week. Terry the dog (playing Toto the dog) was paid $125 per week.
Bert Lahr’s inspiration for the role of the Cowardly Lion was Curly Howard of the Three Stooges.
The role of Toto, Dorothy’s dog, was played by Terry. One of the Witch’s guards (called Winkies by the way) accidently stepped on Terry. They had to get a double for Terry for several weeks.
Judy Garland had to wear a painful corset device around her torso to make her appear younger (she was 16) and flat-chested. It also made her eyes “bug out” slightly which the executives liked.
Many of the Wicked Witch of the West’s scenes were trimmed or deleted entirely. The actress Margaret Hamilton’s performance was believed to be too frightening for younger audiences.
The costume of the Cowardly Lion weighted 90 pounds (and was made from a real Lion skin). The lights used in filming raised the temperature on the set to over 100 degrees. Actor Bert Lahr used to sweat so profusely that the costume would be soaked by the end of the day. Two technicians were assigned to spend each night drying the costume. It was occasionally dry cleaned, but the crew still reported that “it reeked.”
The wardrobe department found a shabby looking coat at a local second-hand store which was considered perfect for the character of the Wizard. One day on the set, Frank Morgan casually turned out one of the pockets and discovered that the coat was made for Frank Baum, the author of the “The Wizard of Oz.” The coat was confirmed as genuine by Frank Baum’s widow.
The song “Over the Rainbow” was almost cut from the film. Executives felt that it made the Kansas scene too long and would be too far over the heads of the potential children’s audience. They also believed that it would be degrading to have Judy Garland singing in a barnyard.
During the scene where the song “We’re Off to See the Wizard” was performed there is a disturbance off to the side that for a long time many believed was a member of the crew or one of the Munchkins committing suicide by hanging himself. In fact it was just a large bird stretching its wings.
In the haunted forest scene, several actors playing the Winged Monkeys were injured when the wires from which they were suspended broke dropping them to the floor.
The horses in Emerald City that keep changing colors were actually colored with Jell-O crystals. The scene had to be shot quickly before the horses started to lick it off.
The “Ruby Slippers” were originally silver. Louis B Mayer, MGM Chief, realized that a Technicolor film would be improved by having the slippers a brighter color. Seven pairs of slippers were made in various designs. Today, the whereabouts of several pairs are still unknown. One pair is in the Smithsonian (they are mismatched). Each pair is valued at about $1.5 million. When the Witch tries to remove the slippers from Dorothy, fire strikes her hands. This was done by having dark apple juice spew out of the shoes. It was sped up to make it look like fire.
Behind the Scenes
The film had five different directors. Richard Thorpe directed for a few weeks in the beginning. He was replaced by George Cukor. Victor Fleming then took over for the majority of the film but was transferred to the set of “Gone With the Wind.” King Vidor and Mervyn LeRoy finished up.
Fourteen writers took a hand in writing the screenplay, including Ogden Nash. The early scripts contained new incidents designed to lighten up the story. The original idea was to turn it into a slapstick comedy.
Walt Disney wanted to make “The Wizard of Oz” but MGM owned the rights to the book and refused to sell them to him.

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