“Wizard of Oz”: What You Don’t Know About a Classic

A scene from "The Wizard of Oz." (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
A scene from “The Wizard of Oz.” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1939, “The Wizard of Oz” premiered in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

Here are some things you may not have known about the landmark film.

Many people incorrectly think it was the first film in color. The first color film was 1903’s hand colored “The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ.” The first feature to be shot on color film was a 1912 documentary called “With Our King and Queen Through India.”

The first feature-length color film featuring dialogue was 1929’s “On With the Show.”

“The Wizard of Oz” was released 10 years later. The mid-movie switch from monochrome to color was directly inspired by the original book by L. Frank Baum. Baum described Kansas as being in “shades of gray.” He also uses the color gray to describe the house Dorothy lives in, as well as her aunt and uncle.

However, producing a film in color was still a rarity and it took MGM’s art department nearly a week to decide which shade of yellow would be used on the yellow brick road.

MGM decided to develop the film following the success of Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” However, because recent fantasy films had not been well received, the studio wanted to downplay the fantasy aspects of the book. This is what led to the decision to make much of the film a dream sequence. In an early treatment of the screenplay the scarecrow was a human who was so stupid, the only job he could get was as a scarecrow. The Tin Man was supposedly a heartless criminal who was sentenced to live in a tin suit for eternity. The time in the suit was to have made him gentle and kind.

Judy Garland may not have been the first choice to play Dorothy. It’s believed that MGM tried to negotiate with 20th Century Fox to loan Shirley Temple to play the part. Deanna Durbin was also considered for the role. Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow, was originally cast as the Tin Man. He traded roles with Buddy Ebsen. Ebsen was forced to quit the movie when he was hospitalized after inhaling the aluminum powder makeup for the Tin Man character. Bert Lahr filled out the original main cast as the Cowardly Lion.

When Ebsen was hospitalized, it gave the studio a chance to review what had been shot. Producers felt that director Richard Thorpe was rushing the production and fired him. He was replaced on an interim basis by George Cukor, before Victor Fleming took over. During Cukor’s time at the helm, Jack Haley was cast to replace Ebsen as the Tin Man. Also, the Tin Man makeup was changed from a powder to a paste.

Because of the bright lights the Technicolor process required, the temperature on set often climbed above 100 degrees. Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch was burned during an accident when a trap door failed and a pyrotechnic device exploded in her face. The explosion ignited the grease in her makeup, and she was hospitalized for six weeks before returning to the set.

Fleming left the film in February 1939 to replace Cukor as director on another film. Fleming was replaced by King Vidor. Vidor was responsible for the monochrome Kansas sequences, including Garland’s performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

The film was shown in three test markets, including Oconomowoc, Wisconsin; Cape Cod, Massachusetts; and San Bernardino, California; The theaters were chosen to see how the movie played in various parts of the country.

“The Wizard of Oz” was nominated for Best Picture, and won Oscars for Best Song for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and best original score.

The American Film Institute ranked the film as the sixth best movie of the 20th century, and the best fantasy film of that time period.

Our question, what was the film that Cukor and Fleming directed after “The Wizard of Oz”?


Today is International Youth Day, World Elephant Day and Russian Air Force Day.

It’s unofficially National Kool-Aid Day, National Middle Child Day, and Vinyl Records Day.

It’s the birthday of film director Cecil B. DeMille, who was born in 1881; actor George Hamilton, who is 77; and the first female Harlem Globetrotter, Lynette Woodard, who turns 57. It’s also my brother-in-law Brian Olson’s birthday.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1970, the top song in the U.S. was “Close To You” by The Carpenters.

The No. 1 movie was “Chisum,” while the novel “Love Story” by Erich Segal topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.



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