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The Wizard of Oz 80th Anniversary: 25 Whimsical Facts You Didn’t Know About the Film

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OpramagNearly eight decades ago, a twista uprooted a Kansas farm girl and her little dog from her sepia-toned rural life and dropped her smack-dab in the middle of a candy-colored fantasy land populated with witches and wizards and munchkins, oh my. The Wizard of Oz, MGM’s enduring musical comedy film helmed by a handful of directors (including Victor Fleming) and based on the tale penned by L. Frank Baum, was released on August 25, 1939. And though it was met with a modest run at the box office, it picked up popularity steam when it was released in Technicolor on television—its poppies popping off the screen in 1956.

Judy Garland classic that is still broadcast several times a year on network television, The Wizard of Oz is a movie its fans can quote from opening to closing credits, and yet there are factoids and tidbits that managed to stay discreet. Here, we are celebrating the beloved film’s 80th anniversary by pulling back the curtain on the Land of Oz. We’re revealing the wizardry of the special effects, what set life was like behind the scenes, and just what that sticky goo was in the Tin Man’s oil can. So join us, we’re off to see the truths behind the Wonderful Wizard of Oz!

1Those adored slippers weren’t originally ruby red.
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Dorothy’s slippers were originally silver. At least, that is how novelist L. Frank Baum wrote them in his 1900 fantasy, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Film producers favored a glittering bright red, however, for that Technicolor wow.

2And that wasn’t a real spark.
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It was juice. To achieve the desired effect of sparks or fire bursting from Dorothy’s coveted rubies when the Wicked Witch gets too close, the crew used a splash of applejuice and sped it up on film.

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3Judy Garland wasn’t the first choice.
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Judy Garland wasn’t a shoo-in. Shirley Temple, then 11, was the front-runner destined for a trip to Oz. Alas, the filmmakers decided she didn’t have the vocals necessary to carry the film’s interludes.

4Age was nothing but a number.
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Written as a 12-year-old farm girl, Dorothy was played by a 16-year-old Judy Garland. The Wicked Witch of the West, depicted as old and mean, was played by Margaret Hamilton, 34 at the time. And Glinda the Good, young and beautiful, was played by Billie Burke at age 54.

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5The Wizard of Oz is the most-watched movie of all time.
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But not only by our account. The Library of Congress backs us up. And now, thanks to the film being regularly broadcast on network television—usually each year around Easter and Christmas—and its digitally restored version, the classic is available for generations to come.

6The Cowardly Lion’s costume weighed a ton.
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Or, actually, nearly 100 pounds. But that’s still some heavy-duty costuming, as Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion costume was made with real lion pelts. Bonus fact: The facial prosthetic he wore was crafted from this highly technical fabric known as the brown paper bag.

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7The Queen Mother cried during “Over the Rainbow.”
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It’s said that the Queen Mother told Judy Garland years later that “Over the Rainbow” brought a tear to her eye whenever she heard it. “Ma’am,” Garland replied, “that song has plagued me all my life.”

8Dorothy’s friends didn’t really make friends on set.
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The intricate makeup jobs of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion frightened those around them. So the guys each ate their meals in their dressing rooms, rather than the MGM café.

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9MGM spent a chunk for movie rights.
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Reports quote MGM securing movie rights from L. Frank Baum for $75,000. Now, that’s big money during those times.

10Hollywood’s MGM lion mascot almost won the part.
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Forgive us for not fully believing this one, but rumor has it the MGM real-life lion was the front-runner for the role of the Cowardly Lion. They were going to dub in his lines by an actor. Good thing Bert Lahr actually got the part and Jackie kept to solely roaring for the bumper of the film—for the rest of the cast’s sake at least.

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11The Good Witch’s dress was already famous.
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Glinda the Good Witch of the South’s poofy pink ball gown was indeed a hand-me-down. Jeannette McDonald, who played Mary Blake in the 1936 film San Francisco, donned the tulle garment first.

12The Wicked Witch was too dang scary.
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The Wicked Witch of the West was too scary for little ones. File this under “no duh,” but the majority of the green witch’s scenes were either edited or cut due to the fact that she would no doubt haunt the dreams of onlookers.

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13There’s a surprise vocal in “If I Only Had a Heart.”
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The female vocal you hear singing “Where for art thou Romeo” in the Tin Man’s solo, “If I Only Had a Heart,” belongs to Snow White. More specifically, Adriana Caselotti, who voiced Disney’s very first animated heroine. Listen here.

14The Emerald City odyssey snagged them a trip to the Oscars.
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The Wizard of Oz was nominated for a grand total of six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Cinematography. It won two, but alas, it lost the top prize to Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable’s antebellum wartime romance, Gone with the Wind.

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15The Scarecrow wasn’t a math whiz.
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No one said scoring a doctorate in thinkology would make one a mathmetician. When he gets his smarts, the Scarecrow recites a mangled version of the Pythagorean Theorem: “The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side.” Rumor is the actor, Ray Bolger, couldn’t get the rule down, so the filmmakers went with their best take.

16Someone stole Dorothy’s ruby red slippers.
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A pair of authenticated ruby slippers were stolen years after the film was released. There were four pairs used in the film. Three pairs have known whereabouts—the Smithsonian Institute, the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, and a private collector. The fourth? Not even a $1 million reward could bring them back—until the FBI located them years later.

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17That wasn’t oil in that squirt can.
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We now know what was really in the oil can: It was chocolate sauce! In The Wizardry of Oz, Jack Haley said, “The oil Ray Bolger squirted at me, to loosen up my joints, was not oil but chocolate syrup. They squirted chocolate in my face, because the oil wouldn’t photograph right, but chocolate will.”

18The Tin Man wasn’t actually made of tin.
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This one probably comes as a no-brainer. Because how can the Tin Man dance and frolick if he’s actually made of one of nature’s most unweildy substances? But as the film treads along, one can plainly see that the Tin Man’s trousers continue to wrinkle and crease. Dedicated Oz die-hards have noted this fabric flub and forgiven it nonetheless. See his knickers in action on BuzzFeed.

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19“Over the Rainbow” almost never existed.
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“Over the Rainbow” was almost over on the cutting room floor. The execs said it made the movie too long, was too sad, and Judy had no business singing in a barnyard. They wanted to cut the now-iconic musical interlude but kept it in thanks to rightful protests.

20Judy Garland is related to the Tin Man.
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Or rather the actor who played him. Stick with us as we climb this family tree: Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli was married to Jack Haley Jr., who’s the son of Jack Haley, who’s the vaudeville actor in the pseudo-metal suit in the beloved film.

21The Wizard of Oz had an ’80s resurrgence.
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The Wizard of Oz hit the big time in 1980: by becoming available on VHS. Meaning the Rubik’s Cube had some stiff competition in keeping folks entertained.

22The Times said critics of the film should be “spanked.”
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Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times had a few choice words for those critical of the film. “It is all so well-intentioned, so genial and so gay that any reviewer who would look down his nose at the fun-making should be spanked and sent off, supperless, to bed.” Today, it’s rating on Rotten Tomatoes resides at a super-fresh 98 percent.

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23That’s not blue and white you’re seeing.

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Dorothy’s pinafore apron dress in that signature gingham print was actually checkered blue and pink. Classic white and Technicolor didn’t play nice, but pink really popped. It has also been said that Judy Garland had to wear a corset under that number to achieve the shape of the 12-year-old farm girl she was portraying. No thanks.

24That’s not yellow. It’s Jell-O.
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The Horse of a Different Color in Emerald City was actually done with four creatures. Don’t try this at home, but each horse was covered in a vibrant hue of Jell-O gelatin powder to achieve the colors of the rainbow.

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25Toto was actually a good girl.
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Dorothy’s good boy Toto was actually a female Cairn terrier named Terry. And she really raked in a fortune. Even banking a reported $125 a week, which was more than some of the munchkins. She died in 1945 and is buried under what is now a Los Angeles freeway. R.I.P., little lady.

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