The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Dorothy and Friends

'The Wizard of Oz' is a fantasy adventure film musical made by MGM in 1939, based on a children's novel 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' written in 1900 by L. Frank Baum, and which sold over a million copies. The movie was directed by Victor Fleming, with King Vidor and others, and starred the teenage Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale.

Because of its extensive national television exposure the movie has been seen by more people than any other, and it has become one of the best loved classic family movies of all time. In a People Magazine poll, it was chosen as the favorite movie of the twentieth century, and it is still the film for which Judy Garland is best remembered.

Its signature song, "Over the Rainbow," which was almost cut from the film as being too sophisticated for the young Garland, won an Oscar for Best Song and has been voted the greatest movie song of all time by the American Film Institute. Judy Garland, who was only sixteen, won a special Oscar for the best performance by a juvenile, for her role in the movie. It was her only Academy Award.

The production costs for the film were $2,777,000. On its initial release in America it earned only $3,000,000 on its initial release but the returns in the rest of the world, particularly Great Britain, Scandinavia, and South America were exceptionally good.

'The Wizard of Oz' ranks at number 2 on the AFI's list of Greatest Musicals of All Time. (after 'Singin' in the Rain'.)

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Plot Summary

Dorothy Gale, a young orphan lives on a Kansas farm with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. She is unhappy with her boring life and yearns to travel "over the rainbow" to a different world. She gets her wish when a tornado whisks her and her little dog, Toto, to Munchkinland, a Technicolor area in the Land of Oz.

She offends the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton), but is protected from the old hag's wrath by the ruby slippers that she wears. At the suggestion of Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (Billie Burke), Dorothy travels down the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City, where dwells the all-powerful Wizard of Oz, who, she hopes, will be able to help her return to Kansas.

En route, she meets and befriends a group of friendly characters, each of whom has an inner wish he would like the Wizard to grant. The Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) would like to have some brains, the Tin Man (Jack Haley) needs a heart, and the seemingly ferocious lion (Bert Lahr) actually lacks courage. They reach Oz and the Wizard agrees to grant their wishes if they can first prove themselves worthy by bringing him the broomstick of the Witch of the West.

After many adventures they are successful in killing the Witch and bringing back the broomstick. They discover that the Wizard is really an ordinary man from Kansas and he explains that they each already possessed the qualities they had been searching for all along.

Dorothy tearfully bids farewell to her friends and then follows Glinda's instructions to get home. She wakes up in bed at home surrounded by her family and some farmhands whom she remembers as her three friends from Oz. Dorothy states the moral of the tale - 'There's no place like home.'


Movie Rights
The movie rights to L. Frank Baum's book were originally purchased for $40,000 by Sam Goldwyn in 1933. After Walt Disney's 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' was released and became a huge hit in 1937, MGM wanted a movie to rival it. They paid Goldwyn $75,000 for the movie rights, a gigantic sum at the time.

MGM announced that Mervyn LeRoy, recently transferred from Warner Bros. would be the producer and that Judy Garland would play the starring role of Dorothy. MGM boss Louis B. Mayer refused LeRoy's request to also direct the movie.

Ultimately it took five directors to bring the story to the screen. The first director assigned was Norman Taurog in 1938, but after making some test scenes he was removed. He went on to earn a Best Director nomination for 'Boys Town' later that year.

He was replaced by Richard Thorpe, who shot the first couple of weeks but was replaced in his turn, in October 1938, by director number three, George Cukor. MGM gave the reason as Thorpe's "serious illness". In fact Mayer felt that the movie lacked the fantasy element under Thorpe's direction. He had given Judy Garland a blonde wig and lots of makeup. The first thing Cukor did was to discard both makeup and wig to make Garland look more like a real Kansas farm girl.

Cukor left the production after less than a month to take over the direction of 'Gone with the Wind' and Victor Fleming took over, becoming the fourth director in as many months. When Fleming replaced George Cukor once more to take over the direction of 'Gone with the Wind' in February, 1939, the fifth and final director, King Vidor, finished off the shoot, directing the black-and-white farm scenes at the beginning and end, the song "Over the Rainbow," and the cyclone scenes.

It is difficult now to imagine anyone other than Judy Garland in the role of Dorothy, but, in the planning stages of the film there were several other contenders including Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin and Bonita Granville.

Ed Wynn was Mervyn LeRoy's first choice to play the Wizard, but Wynn declined the role because he felt it was too small. W. C. Fields also turned it down, before Frank Morgan was given the part.

The "Wicked Witch"was originally envisaged as a glamorous role and the beautiful actress Gale Sondergaard was considered for the part but Margaret Hamilton was given the role as being more suitably evil looking.

Fanny Brice was considered for the role of "The Good Witch," before the part was given to Billie Burke.

The credited screenwriters, Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf, were by no means the only contributors to the screenplay. Before shooting began a number of scripts and script ideas were created by writers such as Herman J. Mankiewicz, Noel Langley and poet Ogden Nash, none of whom realised that the others were working on the same story.

Langley was taken off the project in June 1938, which was when Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf began work. In August, 1938, Langley was reassigned to the project and substantially rewrote the Ryerson and Woolf script. It was Langley who insisted that the Oz characters should have their real life counterparts to make the story more believable.

The final screenplay was completed in early October, 1938 and was credited to Langley, Ryerson and Woolf, although other contributions were used from comic, Sid Silvers, who worked as a writer with the original director, Richard Thorpe, producer, Arthur Freed and writer, John Lee Mahin, a friend of director Victor Fleming.

Shooting began on 13 October, 1938 and was completed five months later on 16 March, 1939.

One device which was introduced in the movie, and which aided the telling of the story was the mixing of sepia-tinted footage into what was mainly a Technicolor movie. The real world is portrayed as dark and drab, while Oz, in contrast, is full of vibrant colors.

Margaret Hamilton was almost too good as the Wicked Witch. Some of her scenes were shortened or removed completely, as they were considered too frightening for children

Judy Garland was 16 at the time of filming with a naturally curvy figure. To make her appear younger, MGM insisted that she wear an uncomfortable body shaper to flatten her chest.

The cowardly lion's costume was made from real lion skin, weighed 90 pounds and was very hot, making Bert Lahr sweat profusely under the arc lights. MGM employed two people to spend each night during the shoot, drying the costume.

Bert Lahr was not the only actor who suffered while working on the set. Margaret Hamilton received serious burns to her face and hand during a stunt which used firework pyrotechnics. Like many work injuries she needed several weeks to recover before returning to the set. Any Hollywood or Chicago workers comp lawyer today would have encouraged Hamilton to sue the studio over the injury, but Hamilton agreed not to sue and return to work as long as she did not have to do any more stunts that involved fireworks.

Main Cast

Judy Garland ... Dorothy Gale
Jack Haley ... The Tin Man
Bert Lahr ... The Cowardly Lion
Ray Bolger ... The Scarecrow
Frank Morgan ... Professor Marvel [/The Wizard of Oz/Doorkeeper of Emerald City/The coach driver/Wizard's doorkeeper]
Billie Burke ... Glinda
Margaret Hamilton ... Miss [Almira] Gulch [/The Wicked Witch of the West]
Charley Grapewin ... Uncle Henry
Pat Walshe ... Nikko
Clara Blandick ... Auntie Em
The Singer Midgets ... The Munchkins


Directors ... Victor Fleming, King Vidor (Offscreen)
Producer ... Mervyn LeRoy
Story ... Based on the novel by L. Frank Baum
Screenplay ... credited: Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and E.A. Woolf
Writers, uncredited: Arthur Freed, Sid Silvers, Herman Mankiewicz, and Ogden Nash
Format ... Black and White (Sepiatone), Color (Technicolor)
Duration ... 97 or 101 minutes
World premiere ... 12 August, 1939

Academy Awards

2 Wins:
Music (Original Score) ... Herbert Stothart
Music (Song) ... "Over the Rainbow," Music by Harold Arlen, Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
4 Unsuccessful Nominations:
Outstanding Production: MGM
Art Direction ... Cedric Gibbons, William A. Horning
Cinematography ... Hal Rosson (not an official nomination)
Special Effects ... A. Arnold Gillespie, Douglas Shearer