The fantasy film “Oz the Great and Powerful,” directed by Sam Raimi and starring James Franco, opens on March 8. The film is inspired by L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and is set before the events in the beloved 1939 classic film “The Wizard of Oz.” This week the List looks back on “The Wizard Oz” and highlights the top 20 interesting facts about the classic film.
- 20. Costumes - The wardrobe department at MGM made almost 1,000 costumes for the 600 actors in “The Wizard of Oz.” Each of Dorothy’s famous ruby slippers was covered with red satin, to which 2,300 sequins were applied.
- 19. Top 10 film - In the initial American Film Institute poll designed to determine “America’s 100 greatest movies,” in 1997, “The Wizard of Oz” placed sixth, behind “Citizen Kane,” “Casablanca,” “The Godfather,” “Gone With the Wind” and “Lawrence of Arabia.” In the 2007 list, “Oz” dropped to No. 10.
- 18. Awards - The film was nominated for six Academy Awards and took the competitive prizes for best song (“Over the Rainbow,”) and original score, plus a special juvenile prize for Judy Garland’s embodiment of Dorothy.
- 17. Opening - MGM previewed the film in three test markets a few days before its Hollywood opening on Aug. 15 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The town of Oconomowoc in Wisconsin claims the first viewing of the film at the town’s Strand Theater on Aug. 12, 1939.
- 16. The critics - When the film came out it generally got positive reviews but they were some naysayers. It was labeled a “stinkeroo” by the New Yorker. The New Republic said its humor and fantasy was weighing “like a pound of fruit cake soaking wet.”
- 15. The writer - L. Frank Baum first book was called “The Book of the Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs.” It was written when he was 30 and was a study on the breeding of a rare fancy chicken called the Hamburg. Baum’s first “The Wizard of Oz” book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” was published in 1900. He wrote 13 novel sequels.
- 14. Versions - A musical version of “The Wizard of Oz” played successfully for a decade on Broadway from 1903 and silent-film versions were made in 1908, 1910, 1914 and 1925. The 1925 feature transformed Dorothy’s character into a flapper ingenue of 18. The first play based on the story opened on June 16, 1902, at Chicago's Grand Opera House to critical acclaim. 13. Yellow Brick Road - The famous golden highway became the title of what is regarded as Elton John’s best and most popular album: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” released in 1973.
- 12. Ruby slippers - The Ruby Slippers worn by Dorothy were donated anonymously to the National Museum of American History in 1979 and are now on display in the exhibition: “American Stories.” The magical shoes, changed from silver slippers in L. Frank Baum’s book to those with an iridescent red hue, which played a central role in the color portion of the film.
- 11. Wizard - The flamboyant Frank Morgan played five characters in “The Wizard of Oz” including the Wizard. In his career, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for “The Affairs of Cellini” (1934) and played sympathetic characters, such as the alcoholic telegraph operator in “The Human Comedy” (1943) with Mickey Rooney, and the shop owner in the “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940) with James Stewart. W.C. Fields was originally chosen for the role of the Wizard, but the studio ran out of patience after protracted haggling over his fee. Morgan died of a heart attack on Sept. 18, 1949, while filming “Annie Get Your Gun.”
- 10. Glinda - Born in Washington, D.C., to a circus family, Billie Burke earned her first and only Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Emily Kilbourne in “Merrily We Live” (1938), but she was destined to be immortalized forever at the age of 54 as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. She was married to Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., who produced the of theatrical revues, the Ziegfeld Follies (1907-1931).
- 9. Wicked Witch of the West - Actress Margaret Hamilton produced one of the screen’s most memorable villains as the movie’s ugly and bad witch. She suffered serious burns whilte filming a scene - the fiery exit from Munchkinland - and had to recuperate in a hospital and at home for six weeks after the accident.
- 8. Victor Fleming - Victor Fleming directed “The Wizard of Oz” and then took over the direction of “Gone With The Wind,” for which he won the Oscar for directing, both released in 1939. It was probably the best year for a director until Steven Spielberg made “Jurassic Park” and won the Oscar for directing “Schindler’s List” in 1993.
- 7. Tin Woodman - Buddy Ebsen was the original cast as the Tin Woodman but an allergic reaction to the aluminum dust used in his makeup forced him to be hospitalized. He was replaced by Jack Haley. Ebsen later found fame as Jed Clampett in the “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Did you know that Haley’s son Jack Haley Jr. married Liza Minnelli, daughter of Judy Garland?
- 6. Cowardly Lion - Because of the many lights on the set, Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion costume was especially heavy and hot. After takes, Lahr would remove the costume, and both he and the costume were blasted with air from blow dryers to cool him. The mane originally consisted of a full-length wig with rubber ears sewn into the top, augmented with a separate beard under the actor’s chin.
- 5. Munchkins - MGM found 124 little people to play the Munchkins. As of today, only 3 of the little people are alive. Jerry Maren, 93, is the last surviving male munchkin and as of 2010 was still making public appearances.
- 4. Scarecrow - Vaudeville actor Ray Bolger who played the Scarecrow, was originally cast to play the Tin Woodman but in time that role went to Buddy Ebsen and then Jack Haley. Whenever asked as to whether he received any residuals from telecasts of the 1939 classic, Ray Bolger would reply: “No, just immortality. I’ll settle for that.”
- 3. “Over The Rainbow” - This beloved song was written for the 1939 film by Harold Arlen (music) and E.Y. Harburg (lyrics). It became Judy Garland’s signature song. The song is No. 1 on the Recording Industry Association of America’s 2001 “Songs of the Century” list. The song was almost deleted from the movie because MGM thought the Kansas scene was too long, but director Victor Fleming fought to keep the song. Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s 1993 version of the song, including a ukulele, continues to be a huge hit. Did you know that composer Harold Arlen’s wife was institutionalized in a sanitarium for seven years after repeatedly threatening to kill him?
- 2. Toto - Toto the dog’s real name was Terry. She was a Cairn Terrier, who was born on Nov. 17, 1933, and went to doggie heaven on Sept. 1, 1945, at the age of 11. During filming, the dog’s foot was broken and she spent two weeks recovering at Judy Garland’s house. Terry appeared in 15 films and was mostly paid $125 per week. Did you know that her owner Carl Spitz set up the World War II War-Dog program?
- 1. Dorothy - Judy Garland was 16 when she played the role of Dorothy and won a special Oscar for the best performance by a juvenile. She later won Oscar nominations for “A Star is Born” (1954) and “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961). Evidence suggests Shirley Temple was also considered for the role. Born Frances Ethel Gumm, Garland began her career singing in vaudeville acts as part of “The Gumm Sisters” with siblings Mary Jane and Frances Ethel. She died in 1969 at the age of 47 in Chelsea, England, from an overdose of barbiturates, just three months after her wedding to her fifth husband Mickey Deans.
Compiled By John Haydon
Source: Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com), The Washington Times, funtrivia.com and Library of Congress.
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