The Wizard of Oz 80th Anniversary: 25 Whimsical Facts You Didn’t Know About the Film
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.
A 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Reports quote MGM securing movie rights from L. Frank Baum for $75,000. Now, that’s big money during those times.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.