These Behind-the-Curtain Facts Will Change How You See The Wizard of Oz
From offscreen friendships and jarring pay inequality to the special effects and makeup tricks that brought some of the world’s favorite film characters to life, The Wizard of Oz (1939) had so much going on behind the emerald curtain and the Technicolor gloss of an amazing fantasy world.
In honor of the 80th anniversary of the film, follow the yellow brick slideshow to peek behind that curtain and learn more about the secrets and fun facts that make the beloved film a timeless classic.
Margaret Hamilton Was a Fan Before the Film
As a self-proclaimed lifelong fan of L. Frank Baum’s Oz series, Margaret Hamilton was thrilled to be considered for a role in the 1939 film adaptation. Hamilton called her agent to ask which character the producers wanted her to play, and her agent famously said, "The witch — who else?"
Dorothy's Original Look Was More Movie Star Than Farm Girl
Sure, Dorothy Gale doesn’t need prosthetics or aluminum makeup, but that doesn’t mean Judy Garland wasn’t put through the costume department wringer. Although she was young at the time, the 16-year-old Garland had to wear a corset-like device so she looked more like a preadolescent child.
The "Skywriting" Scene Employed Some Great Movie Magic
The Wizard of Oz employs a lot of great film tricks, and some of the most unique were used in the skywriting scene. In it, the Wicked Witch (Margaret Hamilton) flies above the Emerald City, leaving the phrase "Surrender Dorothy" in her wake in black smoke.
The "Snow" in the Poppy Field Was Actually Dangerous
One of the Wicked Witch’s last-ditch efforts to impede Dorothy’s quest to meet the Wonderful Wizard of Oz involves a poppy field and some magical sleep-inducing snow. While many like to joke that the poppies and their drowsiness are the result of opium (a component of poppies), the scene has a much more blatant toxic connection than that.
Scarecrow's Makeup Stuck Around for Awhile
In the end, Ray Bolger (Scarecrow) was probably grateful in more ways than one for Buddy Ebsen (the original Tin Man’s) willingness to trade parts with him. The Tin Man’s aluminum makeup caused a huge amount of problems for Ebsen, who was replaced by Jack Haley.
Margaret Hamilton Was Burned On Set
In a burst of flames and red smoke, the Wicked Witch (Margaret Hamilton) vanishes from Munchkinland. Although the scene is terrifying for viewers, it may have instilled more fear for Hamilton. On the first take, the smoke rose from a hidden trapdoor too early.
The Flying Monkeys Became Falling Monkeys
The Wicked Witch’s legion of flying monkeys — or Winged Monkeys as they’re called in the source material — have certainly been a source of terror for generations. Almost as scary as the Witch herself, these henchmen soar onto the scene to kidnap Dorothy and Toto — thanks to the magic of piano wires.
“Over the Rainbow” Was Almost on the Cutting Room Floor
To no one’s surprise, the American Film Institute ranked "Over the Rainbow" #1 on a list of 100 Greatest Songs in American Films. But what may surprise you? The (arguably) most iconic song of Judy Garland’s career was nearly cut from the film.
The Tin Man Costume Didn't Allow Jack Haley to Rest Easy
Although Bert Lahr had to schlep around in a 90-pound lion costume, Jack Haley didn’t have it easy either. From the lingering concerns about the aluminum paste-based makeup on his face and hands to the minimal flexibility of the "tin" torso and arms, Haley faced some challenges.
The Original Tin Man Was Rushed to the Hospital
Initially, Buddy Ebsen was cast as the Scarecrow, but traded parts with Ray Bolger. However, Ebsen’s new character, the Tin Man, caused him a world of issues. Namely, the character’s silver makeup contained a harmful aluminum dust that coated Ebsen’s lungs.
A Stocking & Some Miniatures Gave Us the Tornado
The tornado that strikes the Gale homestead is full of practical special effects that really hold up. The funnel itself was actually a 35-foot long stocking made of muslin. The special effects team spun it around miniatures that resembled the farms and fields of Kansas. Against the painted backdrop, the tornado looks menacing.
Hollywood Didn't Pay Up Then Either
Pay inequality has always been an issue in Hollywood. For example, Adriana Caselotti, voice of the titular character in Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), made $970 for her performance. The film went on to make roughly $8 million.
Bert Lahr's Lion Costume Was Taxing
Originally, MGM thought it might cast its mascot — the actual lion used in the studio’s title card — as the cowardly character. Fortunately, for the safety of the actors and the animal, the filmmakers decided to cast actor Bert Lahr as the anthropomorphic character instead.
The Initial Box Office Returns Were Uneven
The film started shooting in October of 1938 but didn’t wrap until March of 1939, racking up an unheard of $2,777,000 in costs. That’s nearly $50 million adjusted for inflation. Upon its initial release, the movie only earned $3 million at the box office — about $51.8 million by today’s standards.
The Dark Side of Oz in a Time Before “Me Too”
Judy Garland was just 16 years old when she was cast as Dorothy. Insecure and lonesome, she became addicted to amphetamines and barbiturates, which were often given to young actors to help them sleep after studios shot them up with adrenaline so they could work long hours.
The Voice of Snow White Had a Cameo
A few years before The Wizard of Oz debuted, Walt Disney’s feature-length animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) became a smash-hit. Not only did the film revolutionize the animation industry, it also reinvigorated the fantasy genre.
The Ruby Slippers Are Props & Treasured Artifacts
Keeping in line with the book, Dorothy’s iconic footwear was originally silver, but screenwriter Noel Langley felt the red color would really pop in glorious Technicolor. Designed by MGM’s chief costume designer Gilbert Adrian, the shoes are each covered in about 2,300 sequins.
Only One Sequence Was Filmed "On Location"
The Wizard of Oz is your classic adventure story, and Dorothy’s quest leads her from a Kansas farm to another world — complete with corn fields, poppy-filled meadows and forests. However, despite all these scenic locations, nearly all the scenes were shot on a soundstage.
A Second Toto Was Brought In
Toto, played primarily by Terry, is one of the most beloved dogs in film history. Terry was famously not a huge fan of special effects and can often be seen running out of a shot when something loud or alarming happens — like when the Tin Man spouts out all of that steam.
Margaret Hamilton “Mourns the Wicked” Witch
In addition to being a huge fan of the Oz books, Margaret Hamilton also believed her character was more than just your run-of-the-mill evil villain. More than 35 years after the film debuted, Hamilton, donning her Witch’s costume to show kids it was make-believe, appeared on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, where Fred Rogers interviewed her about the character.
The "Horse of a Different Color" Was Made Possible Thanks to a Food Product
In 1939, audiences were just as amazed as Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion when the horse in Emerald City took on a rainbow of colors. This "horse of a different color" was made possible thanks to a surprising food item…
The Makeup Department Hired on Extra Hands
From the citizens of Munchkinland and Emerald City to the Witch’s flying monkeys, so many actors had to undergo a makeup transformation in order to give life to this fantasy film. To keep up with the daily demands, MGM called upon workers from the studio mailroom and courier service to manage makeup stations.
Memorable (& Often Misquoted) Lines Fill the Film
The film is chock-full of iconic, memorable songs, and it has the great fortune of being responsible for some of the most quoted lines in movie history as well. In 2007, Premiere compiled a list of "The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" and placed a whopping three of the film’s lines on the list.
The Witch's Fire Employed Some Technical Wizardry (& Juice)
Clearly, the technical wizardry — or witchcraft — in the movie is incredible. Like the "horse of a different color" sequence, another iconic, special effects-heavy scene harnessed the power of everyday household items to pull off fun tricks.
Technicolor Required Some Ingenuity in the Props Department
Experimenting with Technicolor was part fun and part problem-solving for filmmakers. In order to properly capture scenes with the Technicolor camera, the soundstage needed to be lit with arc lights, which often heated the set up to a toasty 100 degrees.
The Wicked Witch of the East Makes More Than One Appearance
Part of the Wicked Witch of the West’s beef with Dorothy is that the young girl dropped a house on her sister, the Wicked Witch of the East, who was the short-lived owner of the ruby slippers. Although Margaret Hamilton already plays both the Wicked Witch of the West and her Kansas counterpart Almira Gulch, she also plays the Wicked Witch of the East — if only briefly.
The Film's Running Time Was Cut Down Several Times
The first cut of the film clocked in at a running time of 120 minutes. Although that seems like nothing by today’s Marvel movie standards, producer Mervyn LeRoy felt it was long and unwieldy and wanted to chop off 20 minutes.
So Much for a “Wicked” Witch
Filmmakers deemed Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West performance too frightening for audiences and cut or trimmed many of her scenes. But not everyone thought her performance was terrifying — namely Judy Garland, who played the Wicked Witch’s nemesis, Dorothy Gale.
Giving Credit to Technicolor
In the opening credits, the text reads "Photographed in Technicolor," as opposed to the more apt "Color Sequences by Technicolor." The phrasing of the credits makes it seem as though the entire film was shot in color. Was this done deliberately, or was it a minor syntactical faux pas?
One of History’s Most-Watched Films
Although The Wizard of Oz proved popular in theaters, another film released the same year, also directed by Victor Fleming, actually topped the box office. (You may have heard of that little movie — it’s called Gone with the Wind.) Nonetheless, MGM’s musical fantasy may have more staying power than other films of the era, thanks in part to re-releases.