"Well, we haven't really met properly, have we?"
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. Garland first film role was in Fox's Pigskin Parade. MGM realized her star power and launched her into kiddie films with pal Mickey Rooney, including Love Finds Andy Hardy, but The Wizard of Oz was her show. It was her chance to prove herself. Ad needless to say, she did. As a contract performer with the studio, Garland made only her standard a week for her appearance in the film. Of course, after the movie's tremendous success, the 16-year-old starlet was positioned to command a much richer salary and her old contract was torn up. Although she starred in over two dozen films throughout her sadly abbreviated career, no role would ever eclipse Dorothy Gale. Garland would receive her only Academy Award -- a special miniature Oscar for "most outstanding performance by a juvenile" -- for the role.
Professor Marvel, The Doorman, The Cabby, the Palace Gaurd and of course... The Wizard of Oz
Though best known for his portrayal of the Wizard, Frank Morgan was a veteran of Hollywood long before he landed the title role in the MGM film. Born in 1890, Morgan got his start in silent movies and made the transition to "talking pictures" in both comic and dramatic supporting roles. Some of his many film credits include The Three Musketeers (1948), Tortilla Flat (1942 -- another Victor Fleming film, for which Morgan received one of his two Academy Awards and The Shop Around the Corner (1940). In an odd stroke of coincidence, Morgan found the name L. Frank Baum sewn into the pocket of the coat he wore as Professor Marvel. As it turned out the coat had been purchased by MGM with other used clothing and was later verified to have indeed belonged to Oz's creator.
Hunk and The Scarecrow
A talented song-and-dance-man, Ray Bolger began his career in vaudeville before moving onto Broadway and Hollywood. Appropriately, his film debut was in the movie The Great Ziegfield (1936). Oz producer Arthur Freed originally intended to cast Bolger as the Tin Woodman, and slated hoofer Buddy Ebsen as the loose-limbed Scarecrow. However, Bolger lobbied hard for the Scarecrow role and Freed finally conceded. Although Ebsen eventually dropped out of the production due to aluminum dust poisoning from the Tin Woodsman's makeup, Bolger also suffered under the rubber prosthetics mask that he wore for his part. (It is said that Bolger went through over 40 masks in the course of the filming.) Although his fame as the Scarecrow would never be matched, Bolger continued to make movies for nearly five more decades until his death in 1987.
Hickory and The Tinman
A contract actor with Paramount Studios, Jack Haley was loaned to MGM to replace Buddy Ebsen after Ebsen was hospitalized when the aluminum dust-tainted make-up used to create his tinny complexion resulted in poisoning. Like Ray Bolger, Haley got his start in vaudeville before making a name for himself as an on-screen comedian. Haley also appeared with Judy Garland in her debut film, Pigskin Parade (1936). Years later in 1974, Jack Haley's son, Jack Haley Jr. would marry Judy Garland's daughter, Liza Minnelli. Haley died in 1979 at the age of 80.
Zeke and the Cowardly Lion
All of Dorothy's entourage had to undergo their share of hardships when it came to costumes and make-up on the set of The Wizard of Oz and Bert Lahr was no exception. To portray the King of the Jungle, Lahr had to don an outfit made from two genuine lion skins that weighed fifty pounds. The result was an extremely hot and cumbersome costume that Lahr claimed was like "working inside a mattress." Like his companions on the Yellow Brick Road, Lahr was a veteran of vaudeville. Post-Oz, he made a few less-than-notable appearances in films (he reportedly once quipped to reporters, "How many lion parts are there in pictures?"), as well as a now-classic Lays Potato Chip commercial in the '60s. Lahr died in 1967 at the age of 72.
Miss Gulch, The Wicked Witch of the East and West
Margaret Hamilton won her part after actress Gale Sondergaard proved too pretty for the role of the Wicked Witch. It's is rarely mentioned that Hamilton also played the WWof the East during the tornado scenes. But portraying the WWW was not a bed of poppies for Hamilton, who was badly burned when her highly flammable green make-up ignited during the taping of the scene where the Witch disappears from Munchkinland. Although she will always be best known for her portrayal of Dorothy's nemesis, Hamilton was a prolific character actress who enjoyed a long career on stage, screen and television. She logged roles in some 70 films in her 50 year tenure as an actress and was also well-known as "Cora," the kindly Maxwell House Coffee spokeswoman. She died in 1985 at the age of 82.
Glinda, Good Witch of the North
Born in 1886, remarkably, actress Billie Burke was 53 years old when she landed the role of Glinda. "Age is something that doesn't matter," the comedienne once quipped, "unless you are a cheese." A star of stage and vaudeville, Burke made her debut on the silver screen in 1915. Although she preferred the stage, after the death of her husband, Florenz Ziegfeld in 1932, Burke returned to Hollywood in order to offset the debt she inherited. From 1915 to 1960, she appeared in more than 80 films. She died in 1970 at the age of 84.
According to Aljean Harmetz's book, The Making of the Wizard of Oz, the role of Toto turned out to be the hardest to fill. "The Property Department was handed a copy of L.Frank Baum's book and told to find a dog that looked like the dog in W.W. Denslow's drawings," writes Harmetz. However "no one in the Property Department could recognize the breed Denslow had drawn." No doubt Terry the Cairn Terrier landed the coveted role due to her extensive resume -- she had appeared in four films, Ready for Love (1934), The Dark Angel (1935), Fury (1936) and The Buccaneer (1938) -- as well as her on-screen charm. Terry and her trainer, Carl Spitz, received a week for their work on the film. Like her co-stars, the diminutive darling found the set of Oz hazardous. When one of the Wicked Witch's guards accidentally stepped on her an understudy had to be brought in to take over while Terry made her recovery. She went onto appear in three more films before her death in 1945.
AND THE "SINGER MIDGETS" AS THE MUNCHKINS
THE WIZARDS BEHIND OZ
Directed by Victor Fleming
Produced by Mervyn LeRoy
Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf
Adaptation by Noel Langley
From the book by L. Frank Baum
Musical Adaptation by Herbert Stothart
The Lyrics: E.Y. Harburg
The Music: Harold Arlen
Associate Conductor: George Stoll
Orchestral and Vocal Arrangements:
George Bassman, Murray Cutter, Paul Marquardt and Ken Darby
Musical Numbers Stage by Bobby Connolly
Photographed in Technicolor by Harold Rosson, A.S.C.
Associate: Allen Davey, A.S.C.
Technical Color Director: Natalie Kalmus
Associate: Henri Jaffa
Recording Director: Douglas Shearer
Art Directory: Cedric Gibbons
Associate: William A. Horning
Set Decorations by Edwin B. Willis
Special Effects by Arnold Gillespie
Costums by Adrian
Characters Makeups Created by Jack Dawn
Film Editor: Blanche Sewell