Oz logo

The Wizard Of Oz (1939)

We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard Of Oz

The following is a comprehensive look at the movie as well as behind the scenes stuff. If you're not in the mood to read it right now, come back tomorrow

Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), a Kansas farm girl, lives with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. When Almira Gulch, who owns half the county, brings a sheriff's order to take Dorothy's little dog Toto away to have the dog destroyed, because Toto bit Miss Gulch's leg, Auntie Em and Uncle Henry refuse to go against the law, and they give the dog to Miss Gulch. However, as Miss Gulch rides away on her bicycle with Toto in her basket, the dog escapes and returns home. Realizing that Miss Gulch will come back, Dorothy runs away with Toto. They come to the wagon of the egotistical, but kindly Professor Marvel, a fortune-teller and balloonist, who tricks Dorothy into believing that her aunt has had an attack because she ran away. Dorothy rushes home greatly concerned, but a cyclone's approach causes her difficulty, and by the time she gets to the farm, Auntie Em, Uncle Henry and the three farmhands have entered the storm cellar. Inside her room, Dorothy is hit on the head by a window and knocked unconscious. When she revives, she sees through the window that the house has risen up inside the cyclone. When she sees Miss Gulch, traveling in mid-air on her bicycle, transform into a witch on a broomstick, Dorothy averts her eyes.
We're off to see the Wizard The house comes to rest in Munchkinland, a colorful section of the Land of Oz inhabited by little people, and lands on top of the Wicked Witch of the East. Dorothy is asked, "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?" Knowing that the dead witch's ruby slippers contain magic, Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, through her powers, transfers them to Dorothy's feet before the dead witch's sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, can retrieve them. The Wicked Witch vows revenge. Glinda then suggests that the wonderful Wizard of Oz can help Dorothy get back to Kansas and instructs her to take the yellow brick road to the distant Emerald City, where the Wizard resides. Along the way, Dorothy meets a friendly scarecrow who laments that he is failure because he has no brain, an emotional tin man, who longingly describes the romantic life he would lead if he only had a heart, and a seemingly ferocious lion who actually lacks courage.



Dorothy suggests that they all go with her to ask the Wizard for his help. With help along the way from Glinda to battle a spell of the Wicked Witch, the four friends reach the Emerald City, where in the great hall of the Wizard, they see a terrifying apparition that identifies itself as "Oz" and lambasts Dorothy's companions for their deficiencies. When the lion faints from fright, Dorothy rebukes the Wizard for scaring him, and the Wizard agrees to grant their requests if they will first prove themselves worthy by bringing him the broomstick of the Witch of the West. As they pass through a haunted forest on their way to the witch's castle, the witch sends an army of winged monkeys, who capture Dorothy and Toto. In her castle, when the witch threatens to have Toto drowned, Dorothy offers the slippers in exchange for her dog, but the witch cannot remove them, and she remembers that the slippers will not come off as long as Dorothy is alive. As the witch ponders the proper way to kill Dorothy, Toto escapes. The dog leads Dorothy's friends to the castle, where they rescue her, but the witch's guards soon surround them. After the witch sadistically says that Dorothy will see her friends and dog die before her, she ignites the Scarecrow's arm. Dorothy tosses a bucket of water to put out the fire, and when some water splashes in the witch's face, she melts. The guards and monkeys, relieved that the witch is dead, hail Dorothy and give her the broomstick. Upon their return to Oz, the Wizard orders Dorothy and her friends to come back the next day. As they argue, Toto snoops behind a curtain and pulls it back to reveal a man manipulating levers and speaking into a microphone, who then admits to the group that he is really the "powerful" Wizard.
We're off to see the Wizard Greatly disappointed and angry at the sham, Dorothy calls him a bad man, but he retorts that while he is a bad wizard, he is a good man. He then awards the Scarecrow a diploma, the Lion a medal and the Tin Man a testimonial, and states that where he comes from, these things are given to men who have no more brains, courage or heart than they have. Confessing that he is a balloonist and a Kansas man himself, the Wizard offers to take Dorothy back in his balloon. However, as they prepare to leave, Toto leaps from the balloon to chase a cat, and after Dorothy goes to retrieve the dog, the balloon takes off without them. Glinda then comforts Dorothy and reveals that she has always had the power to return home, but that she had to learn it for herself. Dorothy says that she has learned never to go further than her own backyard to look for her heart's desire. After Dorothy tearfully kisses and hugs her friends, Glinda tells her to click the heels of the slippers three times with her eyes closed and to think to herself, "There's no place like home." This she does, and she awakens to find Uncle Henry and Auntie Em at her bedside. Professor Marvel, having heard that Dorothy was badly injured, comes by, and she begins to tell about her journey, which Auntie Em calls a bad dream. The farmhands come in, and Dorothy remembers them as her three friends in Oz and the professor as the Wizard. When Toto climbs on the bed, Dorothy says she loves them all and that she will never leave again, and she affirms to her aunt that there is no place like home.
Ding-dong, the witch is dead

Over the last half century or so, the story of Dorothy and her friends on the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City has stamped itself indelibly on the national psyche, thanks to the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz. It is, perhaps, the closest thing we have today to a universal fairy tale. Stand outside when a strong wind kicks up and someone is likely to yell out, "Auntie Em! Auntie Em!" The theme music for Miss Gulch's demonic bicycle ride or the march of the Wicked Witch's palace guards come easily to everyone's lips. A scary situation will often be faced with someone saying, "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" And the phrase I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore, has become part of everyday parlance and even literary reference as an expression of the strange and wonderful encounters in life. It has been remade, sequeled, prequeled, spoofed, and referenced in dozens of movies, television shows, books (Wicked by Gregory Maguire [Harper Collins, 1996] tells the story from the witch's point of view), and music (notably Elton John's 1973 release Goodbye Yellow Brick Road), but none have had the imaginative power or lasting imprint of the original.

All of this was doubtless unforeseen by L. Frank Baum when he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), the first of his 16 successful books employing the characters and setting of the fantasy land beyond the rainbow. Baum was a devoted family man and dreamer who had little success at his various vocations store owner, stamp collector, newspaper publisher and actor. His lack of business sense brought just about every venture to ruin, and he filed for bankruptcy only a year before the first Oz book appeared. In writing children's fantasies, he at last found his calling.

The film's producer, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, probably had no clue to its eventual impact, either, although no expense was spared in bringing the story to the screen. Two early silent versions were made in 1910 and 1924, neither of which were particularly successful, and the 1939 version initially lost money, roughly a million dollars on its first release it was expensive to make, there was not a huge market for children's movies, and the onset of World War II dried up foreign markets for Hollywood product. It took more than a decade for the movie to go into the black, thanks largely to repeated showings on television beginning in the 1950s and video sales years later.

The making of the The Wizard of Oz wasn't exactly smooth sailing. Although the characters of Dorothy and her friends have become forever linked with the actors who created the roles, particularly Judy Garland, the film might have looked very different if original casting plans had been followed. W.C. Fields was the first choice to play the Wizard, but a disagreement between the studio and the notoriously difficult comic actor squelched that deal. Character actress Gale Sondergaard, memorable that same year as the Empress Eugenie in Juarez, was tested for the Wicked Witch. Sondergaard was an accomplished actress (whose career was halted for 20 years thanks to the Hollywood Blacklist), but her exotic beauty was bypassed in favor of Margaret Hamilton's more traditionally "witchy" look. Buddy Ebsen, best known today as Jed Clampett from TV's The Beverly Hillbillies began shooting as the Tin Man, but he was hospitalized with a near-fatal reaction to the silver paint used for the character's make-up and was replaced by Jack Haley (father of producer Jack Haley, Jr., who was once married to Garland's daughter Liza Minnelli). Laurel & Hardy were also considered for roles in a 1933 script. The following year, Samuel Goldwin bought the rights from MGM with the idea of casting Eddie Cantor (The Jazz Singer) and W.C. Fields, with Helen Hayes or Mary Pickford as Dorothy. Goldwin lost interest when Cantor refused to consider the story as "not my type." In 1938, the roaring success of Disney's Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs renewed interest in Oz, with Goldwin getting offers from five major studios in three days. 20th Century Fox wanted it for their star, Shirley Temple. After MGM bought back the rights, singer/producer Arthur Freed sent a lengthy memo to Louis B. Mayer suggesting that there should be an opening number like the "Some Day My Prince Will Come" song in Disney's movie, which became Dorothy's "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" set in b&w Kansas. The 1925 film used the same actors for farmhands in Kansas and characters in Oz and this idea was incorporated into the new script (see credits). The personality of the Cowardly Lion was originally written in the script with W.C. Fields in mind. A number of studio executives felt that Over The Rainbow slowed down the film too much before getting to the color scenes and wanted it cut. A version of the film with that song/scene cut was shown to a number of test audiences before Freed threatened to quit if it was cut. A scene called "The Jitter Bug" was cut instead, along with a planned reprise of "Ding-Dong The Witch Is Dead" and most of "Lions, Tigers & Bears." Producer Melvin LeRoy's first choice for the Wizard was Ed Wynn, who refused, then W.C. Fields, who also turned it down because he already was already starting You Can't Cheat An Honest Man. Wallace Beery wanted the role but LeRoy didn't think the notoriously cranky actor would fit with Dorothy. And here's one for Ripley's Believe It Or Not: Frank Morgan, the director and a wardrobe man, selected an old coat obtained from a second-hand store for the Professor to wear. Inside, they found the name "L. Frank Baum" and later confirmed that the coat had once belonged to the author! Buddy Ebsen was cast as the Scarecrow and Ray Bolger as the Tin Woodsman, but Bolger wanted the Scarecrow role - his childhood idol, Fred Stone had originated that role on stage in 1902; and Ebsen was dropped after the silver-aluminum paint put him in the hospital for 6 weeks (Jack Haley was told only that Ebsen had pnemonia, but the powder was changed to a paste makeup). Fanny Brice was considered for the Good Witch.

The other major accident during production occurred, according to an inter-office communication, on December 28, 1938 when Margaret Hamilton suffered first-degree burns on her face and second-degree burns on her hand. During a take of her exit as the "Wicked Witch" amid fire and smoke in the "Munchkinland" scene, Hamilton was severely scorched by flames before she was able to disappear on a hidden elevator. Hamilton was not able to continue work until the second week of February 1939.

And, of course, there was the central character herself, a part some sources say MGM head Louis B. Mayer was desperate to give reigning child star Shirley Temple, then under contract to Fox. With Temple unavailable, MGM contract player Judy Garland was brought in to the role that made her a star, won her a special juvenile-performer Oscar, and became an integral part of her legend. The memorable Harold Arlen/E.Y Harburg tune "Over the Rainbow" (which was almost cut from the picture) became Garland's theme and a song that has attained cult status in American music.

Casting was not the only problem. The script was labored over by 16 writers, 13 of whom went uncredited including cast members Jack Haley and Bert Lahr, poet Ogden Nash, and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who authored Citizen Kane (1941). The picture went through three directors, weathered legendary mayhem created by its 116 Munchkin extras (a story chronicled in the 1981 Chevy Chase-Carrie Fisher comedy Under the Rainbow), and almost fried Margaret Hamilton in the effects created for the Wicked Witch's fiery exit. Yet despite the difficulties, and the initial lackluster box office, The Wizard of Oz was Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, Color Cinematography, Interior Decoration, and Special Effects and won awards for Best Song ("Over the Rainbow") and Original Score. It also placed tenth on the list of the Greatest American Films of All Time, compiled in 1977 by 35,000 members of the American Film Institute.

The onscreen credits list "The Singer Midgets" as playing "The Munchkins." As early as February 1938, according to information in the Freed Collection, the studio planned to use the Singer Midgets, a vaudeville troupe of German and Austrian dwarfs formed and run by Leo Singer. By May 1938, Singer apparently had been contacted by the studio, as an inter-office communication from Freed to LeRoy in the Freed Collection states that Singer had suggested also using dwarf animals in the film. (This suggestion was not used.) Modern sources state that Singer was hired soon after to find 200 dwarfs for the production. As his own troupe had only eighteen dwarfs, he traveled the country and hired many of the rest of the dwarfs who appeared in the film. However, some signed with the studio independently of Singer. Henry Kramer reportedly brought in forty dwarfs, and the troupe of Harvey Williams and His Little People brought in eleven. A Daily Variety news item dated August 17, 1938 stated that 134 dwarfs had been signed and that the studio was searching for more. By the end of filming of the "Munchkins'" scenes, news items and studio publicity reported that 116 dwarfs were in the film; however, modern sources contend that there were between 122 and 124 "little people" and up to one dozen children.

A few of the actors playing "Munchkins" also performed as "Winged Monkeys." According to a modern interview with Ray Bolger, the actors playing the "Winged Monkeys" struck so that they would be paid for each time they were called to perform. A Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Pat Walshe, who played "Nikko," the leader of the "Monkeys," was a veteran animal impersonator from vaudeville. A number of the people connected with the production have commented disparagingly in modern sources concerning the behavior of the actors playing the "Munchkins"; however, modern sources contend that incidents of fights, drunkenness and lewdness suggested in these comments were comparatively low in number.

In the scene where "Dorothy" opens her door to "Munchkinland," the frames were handcolored to allow a smooth transition from black-and-white to color. Double exposure in color films, according to publicity reports, had never been accomplished before. A quarter-mile cable tunnel under the studio was used to record the echo of The Wizard's voice. The wings of a giant condor were borrowed from a museum for the production, and a mathemetician of renown, O.O. Ceccarini, was hired to devise an appropriate noise to represent the center of the cyclone.

Additional cast:
Frank Morgan (Professor Marvel/The Wizard of Oz/Doorkeeper of Emerald City/The coach driver/Wizard's doorkeeper)
Ray Bolger (Hunk/The Scarecrow)
Bert Lahr (Zeke/The Cowardly Lion)
Jack Haley (Hickory/The Tin Man)
Billie Burke (Glinda)
Margaret Hamilton (Miss [Almira] Gulch/The Wicked Witch of the West)
Charley Grapewin (Uncle Henry)
Pat Walshe (Nikko)
Clara Blandick (Auntie Em)
The Singer Midgets (The Munchkins)
Directors: Victor Fleming, King Vidor, Richard Thorpe (initial dir), George Cukor

Richard Thorpe quit to direct "Adventures Of Huckelberry Finn" (some sources say he was fired after early footage didn't pass muster). George Cukor (who had been planning Gone With The Wind since 1936) was brought in briefly. Though he "didn't like the book" and may not have shot any footage for the movie other than screen tests, his major contribution was to throw away a blonde wig Garland had been wearing as Dorothy and have her use her own dark hair, along with a somewhat revealing dress and a suggestion that she act as more of a farm girl than a fantasy character. All of the scenes shot with Dorothy dressed as a vampy blonde had to be reshot. Victor Fleming then completed the "color" portion of the movie, then left to work on Gone With The Wind. King Vidor then directed the black-and-white scenes on the farm, including the song "Over the Rainbow," the cyclone scenes, and the scenes with "Professor Marvel."

After minor changes had been made in the script, the script met the requirements of the Production Code, according to correspondence in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, although they warned that "care should be taken to avoid an effect which is too frightening to children." The film was passed by the British Board of Film Censors in November 1939 with an adult permit, "because the Witch and grotesque moving trees and various hideous figures would undoubtedly frighten children." Some shots were deleted for showings in Denmark, and in Sweden, the censors "deleted the alleged terrifying shots of the Wizard in the Throne-room. Also shots of the witch and flying monkeys, and Miss Gulch's disagreeable face in the crystal."

Because of distribution and advertising costs, the film actually lost about a million dollars in its 1939 release and did not produce a profit until its re-release in 1948-49. On December 25, 1950, Judy Garland starred in a broadcast of the story over Lux Radio Theatre. The film was first shown on television on November 3, 1956 by CBS, which subsequently broadcast it through 1967. The following year, NBC-TV purchased the rights, and they broadcast the film from 1968 through 1975. (A minute of footage was deleted by NBC to make room for commercial interruptions). The film was re-issued theatrically in 1970. In 1976, CBS reacquired the rights for broadcast. (In the 1980s, CBS cut further shots from the film for additional commercial time. However, in 1985, they restored the cut shots through video time compression, whereby various frames of film were removed to allow a running time of less than 100 minutes). All prints shown/made from 1956 to 1988 have the Kansas scenes in black and white, not the original sepia tones. The 1989 50th anniversary video cassette restores the sepia color of the Kansas scenes. All theatrical re-releases, TV airings, and video releases since then has the scenes in the sepia tones.

During the "If I Only had a Brain" sequence, there was originally a spectacular dance that Ray Bolger did. In the current release, he sings the first and second verses of "If I Only had a Brain", then fell over. In the original, though, he sang the first and second verses, began to dance around, and eventually a crow takes a large portion of the scarecrows straw, and so the scarecrow flies in the air to get his straw back, and he does. Then, he does some splits (forward and backward), and then a pumpkin rolls down the road, and just as it goes through the scarecrow's legs, he jumps high into the air. Watch deleted full version. Now, he comes down, bounces against the fences, sings a third verse of "If I Only Had a Brain", then falls down. The edited Ray Bolger Scarecrow dance sequence can be seen in part in the film That's Dancing (1985). Also deleted - a scene where the Wicked Witch of the West turns the tin man into a bee hive (as she threatned to do) was cut out for the current version. And during the "Lions and Tigers and Bears" scene, those words are said several more times in the premiere version. There was originally a scene where the Witch sends a pink and blue bug (known as the "Jitterbug") into the haunted forest "to take the fight out of" Dorothy and her friends. When the Jitterbug bit one of the characters, he\she would start dancing helplessly. This is perhaps the most famous deleted scene of them all, but the actual footage no longer exists.

By 1983, the film had made under $6,000,000 from theatrical showings, and $13,000,000 from television broadcasts. TV Guide reported in March 1989 that 473 million households had viewed the film by that date. After Turner Entertainment acquired the M-G-M film library, CBS negotiated a deal whereby they extended their license to broadcast the film until 1997-98 in exchange for giving up the television rights to Gone With the Wind. In 1989, MGM/UA Home Video released the fiftieth anniversary video, which included at the end a film clip of The Scarecrow's extended dance to "If I Only Had a Brain," as choreographed by Busby Berkeley, which was cut from the final film; a recording of Buddy Ebsen singing "If I Only Had a Heart," accompanied by photographs of Ebsen in costume; and the soundtrack to the deleted "Jitterbug," sequence, accompanied by stills and home-movie type footage shot by Harold Arlen during a dress rehearsal (shot from behind, clearly showing stagehands inside the moving trees).

A number of other films and plays have been based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or other "Oz" books by L. Frank Baum. In 1902, a stage version of the book opened in Chicago. A great success, the play, which reached Broadway on January 21, 1903, featured David C. Montgomery as the "Tin Woodman" and Fred Stone as "The Scarecrow" and toured the country. In 1908, author Baum produced a stage show entitled Fairylogue and Radio-Plays that included filmed scenes with characters from the Oz books, and in 1914 Baum formed the Oz Film Manufacturing Co., which produced four feature films, three of which were based on Oz books. The 1925 Chadwick production, also entitled The Wizard of Oz, contained a plot quite different from the novel. That film was directed by Larry Semon, who also starred as "The Scarecrow," and featured Dorothy Dwan as "Dorothy" and Oliver Hardy as "The Tin Woodsman" (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.6446). A short entitled Scarecrow of Oz starring The Meglin Kiddies was produced in 1931, and beginning in September 1933, NBC broadcast a radio series derived from the books. In 1975, the stage musical The Wiz, based on Baum's books, written by William F. Brown and Charlie Smalls, and with an all-Black cast, opened on Broadway. It was made into a film in 1978, which was directed by Sidney Lumet and starred Diana Ross. In 1981, Orion Pictures produced Under the Rainbow, a fictionalized account of rumored antics of the actors playing "Munchkins" in The Wizard of Oz; that film was directed by Steve Rash and starred Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher. The 1985 film Return to Oz, which was directed by Walter Murch and starred Fairuza Balk, was also based on Baum's books. In 1987, the Royal Shakespeare Company performed a stage version of the 1939 film in London, complete with the film's songs. That version played in the United States and Canada in 1988 and 1989.

Next scheduled on Turner Classic Movies on Mar 21, 8pm EST and Mar 22, 6pm EST, uncut and commercial-free

Tin Man (2007)

A dark science fiction version of "The Wizard of Oz" in which DG (Dorothy Gale) gets sucked into an alternate dimension called the "Outer Zone" where the law enforcement officers are called the Tin Men. On her search for the way home, she meets various familiar characters in the OZ. Among them is Raw, a cowardly, wolverine-like animal without a backbone (Raoul Trujillo, who played Zero Wolf in Apocalypto); a somewhat confused former inventor named Glitch (half his brain was removed while prisoner of the witch); a wicked sorceress named Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson of Scary Movie 2); and a wizard known as the Mystic Man (Richard Dreyfuss) who is still a bit hazy from past drug use. The witch is served by her Longcoat storm troopers and her winged Mobats (monkey-bats), having seized power from her mother Lavender Eyes (Anna Galvin), the rightful Queen. DG is played by Zooey Deschanel, who played the cynical girlfriend in "Elf" (the 2006 fantasy starring Will Ferrell as a man raised by Santa's elves, which was narrated by Bob Newhart). There are no friendly Munchkins to be seen in this version, only the dangerous resistance fighters of the Outer Guild who threaten to flay DC to see if she's lying. This is not a kid-friendly movie/miniseries. Premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel, December 2, 2007, in three 2-hour parts. Filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Wizard Of Mars (1964)

In 1974, four astronauts, silver shoe-clad Dorothy, overweight Doc, goofy Charlie, and wooden Steve, crash land on Mars when taking readings, with only four days of supplies. They must try to survive on the surface, which is barren except for some canals containing huge maggots with fins. After embarking through a golden igneous cavern, braving a storm and finding an unmanned Earth vessel, they discover a golden road which leads them to the unchanging ruins of what was once a beautiful Martian city including the last living Martian, the Wizard of Mars (John Carradine). The Martians are modeled on the Flatheads of Oz, and their collective consciousness, the "Wizard," forbids them to leave until they perform a very small task...
Roger Gentry, Vic McGee, Jerry Rannow, Eve Bernhardt. Technical Advisor: Forrest J. Ackerman
81 minutes, color, mono sound

Zardoz (1974)

In the distant future Earth is divided into two camps, the barely civilized group and the overly civilized one with mental powers. A plague is attacking the second group after which it's members cease to have any interest in life and become nearly catatonic. When Sean Connery one of the barbarian Terminators, crosses over, the tenuous balance in their world is threatened. Another reimagining of Baum's story, the title is a contraction of "Wizard-Oz." continued
104 mins, color, rated R, directed by John Boorman

Back to Monstervision.org or Scifans.com

Judy Garland bio at TCM.com

Link to this page from your website or blog: http://www.angelfire.com/mn/nn/Oz.html

Bill Laidlaw. All Rights Reserved. There's no place like home...
Images 1996 TBS Superstation.
Some text TM & 2008 Turner Classic Movies, A Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.
A Turner Entertainment New Media Network.