The Real WIZARD of Oz
For OVER 100 years, L. Frank Baum's story, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been captivating children around the world. It's sentiments are timeless and truly are the workings of an "American Fairytale".
After a slew of bad career choices, Baum turned to writing. He published the Mother Goose Stories, which was a moderate success and decided it was his true calling. A few newspaper stories followed until, his mother in-law suggested that he write down some of the stories he had created to tell his children and their friends. One of those stories was about a little girl named Dorothy, who lived on a Kansas farm with her Aunt Em, Uncle Henry and her little dog named Toto. Sure, nothing too exciting right? Wrong! It all happened when a tornado came one day and swept the little girl and her farmhouse, right up into the Kansas sky and dropped her smack in the middle of a magical world called Oz. There it was; his meal ticket. A story about a girl that had wonderful adventures and a fairy world. Baum didn't expect much from this story being published. It was just another job, until the book became a best seller and Baum wrapped himself in the story of 'Oz'. He wrote 13 sequels and merchandise soon followed. Even a few silent films were created. The story was even adapted to the stage starring legend Fred Stone as the Scarecrow. It was a HUGE success and ran for many years. After becoming ill in May of 1919, L. Frank Baum dies and a critic writes, "The children of the world have lost their dearest friend." The World of Oz is then left to Baums widow, who eventually gives rights for author Ruth P. Thompson to continue the adventures of Dorothy and her friends. Baum's final Oz book, "Glinda of Oz" was released after his death and was another hit. The Wizard of Oz had always been successful, but even Baum himself couldn't have imagined what lie in store for the Wonderful Wizard of Oz!
HOLLYWOOD TAKES OVER OZ:
Gaiety-Glory-Glamour: Three words the papers used to describe MGM's 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. After a year in production, the picture was finally released to Hollywood on August 15th and premiered at the historic Chinease Theater, where Judy Garland was to lay her imprints only months later, but Judy almsot didn't play the role of her career and 'Oz' almost didn't happen!
In 1937, MGM gave songwriter and aspiring producer Arthur Freed the green light to make a movie he had always dreamed of bringing to the silver screen. It was a fantasy based on the popular storybooks by L. Frank Baum about a girl from Kansas who is transported to a magical land called Oz. For decades Baum's books had been translated into stage productions, radio shows and even film, but nothing would come close to the spectacular that MGM would create using a brand-new invention: Technicolor. Freed had another motivation for making The Wizard of Oz. He wanted a vehicle to promote the talents of an up-and-coming ingenue named Judy Garland. MGM would spend an unprecedented 2.77 million making The Wizard of Oz -- almost three times the cost of an average film at the time. (That year, only the epic Gone With the Wind exceeded Oz's budget by a million.) Although the film would perform modestly at the box office when it was first released in June, 1939, it would prove its staying power a decade later when MGM re-released the film and more than recouped its investment. By that time, Arthur Freed had become a major producer of some of MGM's biggest musicals and had succeeded in propelling young Judy Garland over the rainbow into super-stardom. Contrary to popular myth, Judy Garland -- not Shirley Temple -- was MGM's first choice to play the role of Dorothy. Garland had been under contract with the studio since 1935 when at the tender age of 13, she auditioned and was hired on the spot, reportedly without a screen test. Her voice, it seemed, was enough to convince the studio executives of her potential at the box office, but some MGM execs wanted to borrow Shirley Temple from FOX Studios to play Dorothy in their 'Oz' production. She had been the number 1 box office draw for the past 3 years and they thought Temple would secure the movie as a hit. Well, a screen test was held, but MGM knew that Judy was the way to go, and the rest is history!
THE MAKINGS OF A TRUE CLASSIC:
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'' 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). The first week's footage was found to be too flat, lacking in fantasy and charm, the keystones of the Oz property. Thorpe was let go after only twelve days although cameraman Rosson remained. Though producer Mervyn LeRoy was itching to direct this film himself, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer brought in George Cukor instead. Cukor occupied the director's chair on the Oz set for all of two days before being called away to another film, Gone With The Wind (1939). After Cukor was pulled off the project, Victor Fleming took the helm. Fleming had worked well with Rosson previously on Reckless (1935) and Bombshell (1933). By this time, the production team had become aware of several technical problems. Fleming's philosophy on the set was "Don't get excited! Obstacles make a better picture". After shooting many of the color sequences, Fleming left Oz to take over another MGM picture. On twenty-four hours notice, King Vidor was called in to finish the film. Vidor's initial apprehensions were quickly dispelled after hearing a pre-recording of Judy Garland singing "Over The Rainbow". He re-shot a few of the musical sequences and most of the Kansas scenes. On March 16, 1939, Oz headed into post-production.
The success of Oz was, in large part, due to the ingenuity of the art department. Without their captivating sets, makeup and costumes, the fantasy world of Oz would not have been a reality.
Make-up for Oz presented a major challenge, but it was also one of the biggest achievements of the picture. The head MGM make-up man, Jack Dawn, had to come up with a way to turn three actors into a tin man, a lion, and a scarecrow, not to mention designing makeup for a wicked witch, 350 Munchkins, and an army of flying monkeys. The makeup team made great advancements in creating nonhuman characters at the expense of a near fatal trial and error incident. It involved Buddy Ebsen, the actor originally cast in the role of the Tin Man. Early makeup for the Tin Man's silvery veneer consisted of white glue and aluminum dust, and it was nearly impossible for Ebsen not to inhale the aluminum dust. He noticed that his fingers and toes would occasionally lock up and become immobile, but he continued to be the good trouper and forced himself to work despite the physical problems. Later during the shoot, the Tin Man's silver coating would be touched up frequently as Ebsen wilted under the hot lights. The aluminum dust collected and coated his lungs leading to convulsions, almost suffocating him to death. He survived the poisoning, but was dropped from the picture. Not many people were told about the severity of the accident. Jack Dawn and his make-up department learned from the mishap and made a thick paste with aluminum which could not be inhaled by the next Tin Man, played by Jack Haley.
The makeup team also had to come up with "faces" for Dorothy's friends, something that would bring their characters to life without sacrificing a certain human quality. Face pieces were created from foam rubber and the material was used on the Scarecrow's neck and on the Cowardly Lion's face, and then painted over. The Lion's new face made it impossible for Burt Lahr, who played the lion, to open his mouth all the way. Since reapplying makeup would have been too time consuming during the day, Lahr had to stay in costume and eat all his meals through a straw for the duration of the 26-week shoot.
Another challenge for the makeup crew was the herd of midgets hired to play the Munchkins. There were at least 350 of them and they came from all over the world. Only about half could speak English and when they tried to sing en masse the Munchkin anthem "Welcome To Munchkin Land", it was a garbled mess. Victor Fleming, decided to have them just mouth the words and dubbed the lines in later with professional singers. To say the midgets were a rowdy bunch would be an understatement. Some of them were always up to trouble, often carrying knifes, and propositioning the Metro personnel. The concerns over their makeup wasn't a technical issue but the enormous amount of time it took to apply. It took twenty makeup artists to do nine Munchkins per hour. The Munchkins were naturally restless and sometimes the makeup artists would forget that the midgets were, in fact, adults and did not like to be picked up. The makeup assistants quickly found out that the midgets preferred getting into the makeup chair on their own, even if it meant a five minute struggle getting into it.
Special effects were another huge hurdle. The special effects departments experimented ceaselessly in the effort to create a realistic Kansas cyclone. Arnold Gillespie, the head special effects man, was one of the best in his field. Even with all his tricks, Gillespie could not figure out how to create a believable, yet fantastic-looking cyclone until he had a spark of inspiration. He grabbed a woman's stocking and tied an end to a fan. He turned on the fan and the hosiery created a fast transparent twirling like a cyclone. It was a stroke of genius. The production would require 4,000 costumes and sixty-five sets that would take up twenty-five acres. The costumes had to be color coordinated with the art department, which oversaw the set construction and wardrobe. The art department made sure that the colors of the costumes did not clash nor blend with the sets. Materials had to be photographed to see how their textures would reflect the lights.
As expensive as each scene and musical number was, there were many revisions and one of the costlier numbers, "The Jitterbug" sequence, was deleted. All that remains of that number are some test prints and production stills. The Wizard of Oz was an innovative step forward in the history of filmmaking. MGM had this film slated as their prestige picture, going all out with the fantasy and musical elements and all of it in color! Color was a big leap forward then and was still considered a novelty, a big-budget one at that. In fact, Technicolor was still in development for Gone With The Wind, which was being shot at the same time. The Wizard of Oz served as a guinea pig for Technicolor experiments at MGM and introduced many new problems for filming. For one, it meant that the cameras required brighter lights, causing great discomfort and inconvenience for the actors. Also, colors showed up differently on camera and getting the Yellow Brick Road to look like a real yellow brick road took literally hundreds of different paint samples.
The new color process also created a problem in shooting the scenes with the Munchkins. The Munchkins were outfitted in green costumes and when shot together looked like a big glob of green, indistinguishable from one another. Victor Fleming solved this dilemma by instructing the camera operators to keep moving. George Cukor's solution was to apply the technique of the non-stop moving camera, which allowed the Munchkins to be seen individually and not blend together.
The Wizard of Oz opened on August 18, 1939 and grossed over million upon its initial release which was a notable feat, considering the other releases of 1939. It was a momentous year of movie production, with Stagecoach, Ninotchka, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Wuthering Heights, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Dark Victory, Gunga Din, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Gone With The Wind, just to name a few. The Wizard of Oz was nominated for several Oscars, among them the Oscar for Best Picture. Gone With The Wind would, of course, win for Best Picture that year and sweep up most of the other awards, but Oz did garner two statuettes, one for Best Score by Herbert Stothart and one for Best Song ("Over The Rainbow").
Since 1939, The Wizard of Oz has passed through the hands of several networks, enjoyed a re-release and made a huge profit. In 1998, the American Film Institute placed The Wizard of Oz on its top 100 list, citing its excellence as a fantasy, musical and family film. In 1989, The Library of Congress officially identified it as a piece of Americana. The National Film Registry, under the Library of Congress, archives and protects outstanding examples of "culturally, historically or esthetically significant" American movies. That is why since 1989, The Wizard of Oz makes its annual TV appearance in its entirety - two hours and ten minutes. Under the National Registry, the film can not be edited, cut or altered in any fashion.
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. Anyone not familiar with the dialogue, images and music of this classic tale has to have been living under a rock for most of their lives. 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.
Awards, Honors and Notable Dates in Oz History
The Academy Awards of 1940- The Wizard of Oz was nominated for 5 categories including Best Picture, but only won 3. It took home Best Song "Over the Rainbow", Best Original Score, and Judy Garland won an Oustanding Juvenile Award for her work in the film.
In 1989 Oz became a "National Treasure" when the National Registry formed it's list of "treasured" films. The Wizard of Oz was among them and is now protected under laws that forbid it to be alterd or edited from it's original state without approval and only under strict conditions.
Also in 1989 The Wizard of Oz celebrated it's 50th Anniversary. It was a year long event that was honored by everyone from Macy's to Downy. The film aslo earned the title as the Most Seen Movie of All Time. By now, it is said that Oz has been seen by a staggering 3 billion people world-wide!
The movie made history by becoming the first film to be shown annually on commercial television. It debuted on November 3, 1956 on CBS. It set record ratings. In 1998 Oz bid farewell to CBS and made the leap to cable television on November 21, 1999 on TBS. It was shown in it's newly restored "60th Anniversary" form, with digitally remasterd picture and soundtrack.
In 1998, American Film Institue (AFI) released it's 100 Greatest Films of All Time list during a CBS television special. The Wizard of Oz rang in at # 6. AFI has also named the film the #1 Family Film of All Time.
In the fall of 1998, Warner Bros. digitally restores the film, soundtrack and all, and re-release it to over 8,000 theaters. The film earned 15 million at the box-office. Not bad for a 60 year old film.
According to TV Guide's 50 Greatest Films Ever Released On TV & Video, The Wizard of Oz was named the 4th greatest!
Time for more AFI... In 1999 AFI/ CBS aired the 100 Years, 100 Stars special. A list of the greatest Hollywood legends of all time. Judy Garland was honored as the 8th greatest. I think there was a miscount!
October 19, 1999: Warner Home Video releases Oz to video and a feature filled DVD. It became one of the best selling DVD's of the year.
March 2001, the National Endowment For the Arts released their list of the Most Celebrated Songs of the Century. Judy Garland's rendtion of Over the Rainbow was chosen as #1.
Also in March 2001, TV Guide picked the 50 Greatest Movie Moments. The witch's "Meltdown" took the #7 spot.
In the summer of 2001 AFI released the 100 Greatest Thrills. Their list of the most "chilling and thrilling" movies of all time. The Wizard of Oz crash landed at #43!
November 24th 2002, The Wizard of Oz returns to Network Televison when it airs on theWB network. The presentation set record ratings for the network scroing a 7.4 millon audiance. It aired on theWB again on Dec. 7th 2003 rating a 6.2m veiwers!
June 2003, The Wizard of Oz was honored by AFI once again. This time as part of the 100 Greatest Heros & Villians TV special. The Wicked Witch viciously took the #4 spot of the worst movie villian of all time!
February 2004, Animal Planet airs the 50 Greatest Hollywood Animals. Who should happen to land at #1? None other than Toto. Dorothy's beloved dog and hero.
June 2004, AFI's list of 100 Years... 100 Songs includes 5 of Judy's greatest hits and 'Ding Ding the Witch is Dead' landed at # 82. The #1 Movie-song of all time according to AFI was Somewhere 'Over the Rainbow'! As if there were any doubt.
Halloween 2004, Bravo! network airs the 100 Scariest Moments, a list of terrifying movie moments hosted by the best in the buisness. The Wizard of Oz ranked #86 and featured scenes from the witch and her flying monkeys.
November 19-21st 2004, TBS honors the 65th anniversary of 'Oz' by devoting an entire weekend of primetime slots to the film. November 19-21 Oz aired at 8/7c. The film was accomponied by trivia questions during commercials.
December 19th 2004, TheWB airs the classic film in HDTV (High Definition) for the first time ever. The pictures sharper and the sound is greater, if you have an HDTV available to you. It's a major step for the 65 year old film.
On June 21, 2005 CBS aired AFI 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes. Oz has 6 quotes originally nominated. The final list featured: "I'll get you my pretty..." At the #99 spot, "There's no place like home." At #23 and finally, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." Took the #4 spot.
October 25th, 2005, 65 years after it's release, The Wizard of Oz is restored to it's original brilliance and restored with Ultra Resolution. Warner Home Video re-releases the film in not one, but two bonus packed DVD editions. The Wizard of Oz: Two Disc Special Edition and The Wizard of Oz: Three Disc Collector's Edition.