25 Fascinating Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The Wizard Of Oz
The Wizard of Oz is one of the most iconic movies of all time. However, not many people know about the urban legends and mistreatment of actors that took place. We have gathered the most obscure and compelling facts about the film, from costumes that made actors ill, an actress catching on fire, and fake snow that was ultimately toxic to everyone exposed to it. If you are already shocked, read on, because there's much more to find out!
Judy Garland Got Paid Less
With so much talk nowadays about the gender wage gap, it was much worse back in the day, especially in Hollywood. Although Dorothy is the star of the 1939 classic, she earned a lot less than her male counterparts, even though she had the most screentime. Judy only made $500 per week, while those who earned the most were Ray Bolger (Scarecrow) and Jack Haley (Tin Man), receiving around $3,000 per week.
It Cost Millions To Make
The Wizard of Oz is estimated to be one of the most expensive movies to date, with a budget similar to movies such as CGI fantasy films like Command, Star Wars, Avengers, and Avatar. Back in the day, the amount of money put into the movie was unheard of. It was probably the most expensive film to make in Hollywood history, from special effect costs to makeup, costumes, reshoots, rehearsals, and extended production times. In total, the movie cost $3 million to make, which was massive at the time.
The Horses Were Covered In Gelatin
To give them their purple color, the special-effects team painted the horses of the Emerald City with a gelatin mix. They used four different horses as the film crew thought that multiple color changes on one horse to give the impression that it was changing color from moment to moment would be too confusing. The only problem was that the horses kept trying to lick the sweet stuff off, but the team still managed to make it work somehow!
In the movie, Dorothy, Toto, and the Cowardly Lion fall asleep in a field of poppies but are woken up magically by falling snow. To imitate snow, asbestos was used, as they often were to fake snow from the mid-1930s to the 1950s. Many years later, it became widely known that the effects of asbestos were harmful, but it was then obviously too late to help the actors who had been exposed to it on set.
For the actors, wearing the costumes was absolute torture. Bert Lahr was constantly hot and sweating as the lion costume he had to wear weighed 90 lbs. Every night, a few assistants had to dry it out. As Buddy Ebsen's Tin Man costume was made of actual metal, he couldn't sit while wearing it. Also, he had an extreme reaction to the makeup he had to put on.
Five Different Directors
While Victor Fleming is the only officially credited onscreen director, four other directors also worked on the movie. Initially, Richard Thorpe was in charge, but he was fired after only two weeks. Then, George Cukor took over, but he was asked to go work on Gone With The Wind. Later, Viktor Fleming was brought in, and he was around the longest until he was also asked to assist with Gone With The Wind, which is when King Vidor was hired to finish the movie.
The Infamous Urban Legend
For many years, there has been a somber rumor going around about the supposed death of a munchkin that was accidentally captured by the cameras and that ended up appearing on the big screen. However, the belief that one of the little guys committed suicide is false. The dark spot that appears in the distance when Dorothy, the scarecrow, and the tinman skip down the yellow brick road was just a bird, as many exotic birds were used on set to make the background look more compelling.
Scarier Than You Think
There are significant differences between the book and the movie. In comparison to the film, the book is more explicit and horrible. For example, in the book, a scene depicts tiger-bear hybrids who are killed in an abyss. Also, Tin Man kills a wildcat and 40 wolves with his ax, and bumblebees swarm and sting the scarecrow, causing their death. These scenes were never used in the film as they were deemed to be too scary or gruesome.
The Tin Man
Initially, Jack Haley was not cast as the Tin Man; he was his replacement. Initially, the role was played by Buddy Ebsen, who went through the first ten days of filming. Unfortunately, he fell sick and needed to be admitted to the hospital, and it was rumored that this was due to inhaling the aluminum powder lathered on him. Fortunately, when Jack Haley replaced him, they switched to aluminum paste.
The Wizard of Oz was considered a box office failure, but the truth is a bit more complicated than that. The movie raked in $3 million while in theaters, which was considered very successful at the time. However, due to high expenses for production, such as technical demands, cast changes, and director changes, the film ended up breaking even. Also, it was pulled from theaters earlier than other competing movies such as Gone With The Wind, which ran for many years.
Burned On Set
During the shooting of the scene where the Wicket Witch escapes Munchkinland in a burst of smoke, a malfunction caused Margaret Hamilton's broom, hat, and makeup to catch fire. The incident severely burned her face and hands. To remove the toxic makeup, medics used rubbing alcohol, which was also very painful. After healing and returning to the set, she was asked to film the "Surrender, Dorothy," scene, but as it required smoke effects, she refused, and her stunt double Betty Danko took over.
Before playing the Wicked Witch of the West in the film, Margaret Hamilton was a kindergarten teacher. Ironically, this lovely kindergarten teacher is most famous for her scary disposition and criminal behaviors, as she scared the daylights out of generations of small children. She often mentioned that her biggest fear is that her role will give younger people the wrong idea about who she really is.
The Lost Song
Although "Over The Rainbow" is one of Judy Garland's most iconic hits, it's important to point out that the song wasn't originally written for her. The song intended for her was a cheerful dance tune called "The Jitterbug", which was based on the dancing trends of the time. The emotional song was inspired by a 1915 operetta called "Over The Rainbow". It was initially recorded, but during the editing process, it was left out.
Shirley Temple Was The Original Dorothy
While the obvious choice for the role of Dorothy was Judy Garland, fans of the book voted for Shirley Temple instead. As Judy was already fifteen years old at the time, she was considered too old for the role. Also, she was very bubbly, and the role of Dorothy in the film was different than in the book. However, Judy Garland was still the most serious contender for the role.
Sneaky Frank Morgan
In The Wizard of Oz, Frank Morgan played a total of five roles. Everybody knows he played the Great and Powerful Oz, but he also played the role of a fortune-telling professor in the opening, the taxi driver driving the Horse-of-a-Different color carriage, a guard at the palace, and finally, also a doorkeeper at the palace.
Before Billie Burke played the role of the Good Witch in the film, she was already a Broadway stage star, and she had been in many silent films, too. At the time, Billie Burke was 54, eighteen years older than her counterpart Margaret Hamilton who played the role of the Wicked Witch of the West. Billie Burke made a career out of playing these strange, motherly figures. Before The Wizard of Oz, she played the role of Judy Garland's mother in the 1938 film "Everybody Sing".
More Than 3,000 Costumes Were Made For The Movie
It is not surprising that the Wizard of Oz required the use of many costumes, especially with all the Munchkins everywhere. However, a movie filmed in 1939 didn't usually require that many costumes. Interestingly, most of the costumes used were lost years later, but the Cowardly Lion Head is still alive at the Motion Picture Academy of Arts, while the Scarecrow costume is at the Smithsonian.
The Date On The Wicked Witch’s Gravestone
If you pay close attention, you can see the date on the Wicked Witch's gravestone. The date indicated is May 6, 1938. This was in honor of L. Frank Baum, the author of the book, who died twenty years earlier. The gravestone was not the only thing that linked the movie to the book; Professor Marvel's jacket also used to belong to Frank Baum.
Inappropriate Behavior On Set
In his memoir, Sid Luft, Gerard's ex-husband, spoke about the inappropriate behavior on set towards young Judy. He claimed that most of the inappropriate behavior was initiated by the Munchkins who used to party and gamble every night after shooting the movie. The police were even called several times as guests at the hotel complained. Also, a Munchkin actor got stuck in a toilet, and he had to be saved.
The Truth About Lunch
Due to all the effort needed to wear the costume, Bert Lahr, who played the Cowardly Lion, was forbidden from eating while he had it on. Therefore, he filled himself up with soups, milkshakes, and other liquid foods, until his diet made him ill. The movie took many years to film, and Lahr had to fight for his right to eat a regular meal between takes. After eating, he would ask for his costume to be retouched.
More On Lunch
When it came to eating, Margaret Hamilton also had restrictions. The paint used for her customer was highly toxic as it contained copper. So, to avoid eating any of the paint by accident, people helped feed her while she was wearing the Wicked Witch costume. At one point, she ate some of the makeup by accident and ended up falling extremely ill for many days, without being able to eat for some time.
In its debut, the movie was so popular that people wanted a sequel of it. However, due to Gerard's success at the time, it didn't happen. She was busy as she starred in many other movies, so the sequel didn't happen until 1985 with the release of Disney's "Return to Oz". Although the film wasn't well-received in the United States, it became a cult following in other places. It was even nominated for an Academy Award for best visual effects.
In the 1970s, MGM had to clean the warehouse that had nearly all the Wizard of Oz props. As Kurt Warner was one of the set's designers during the movie's production, he was in charge of cleaning the warehouse. In return, he was free to take whatever he wanted back with him. One of the most popular items he took with him is the famous red slippers Dorothy wore in the movie. Today, they're worth a whopping $1.5 million.
Although Garland was just fifteen years old when she took on the role of Dorothy, the studio wanted her to look even younger, so they strongly advised her to take on a diet to shed any excess fat. She was assigned a personal trainer who was also a spy for the studio at the same time. It is widely known that MGM would assign people to shadow their biggest stars due to clauses in their contracts regarding their behavior and how they conducted themselves.
Billie Burke went through plastic surgery just for the film. One must keep in mind that this was before cosmetic surgery had become so mainstream. Techniques were still primitive, and a method to give a facelift was to fix small pieces of fabric in front of an actress' ears, before pulling them up tight with a string. Then, it would be covered by a wig, reviving the cheeks and droopy neckline. She did this to appear ageless on camera, but she was really 54 years old.
Speaking of horrible costumes; apparently, the Scarecrow's costume tiny scars on the actor's face. Every morning, the rubber mask was glued to his face, only to be taken off after filming at the end of the day. Some say that the scars went away after a few years, while others claim that the marks were permanent. Also, Margaret Hamilton's face was stained due to her tinted makeup.
Temperature On Set
One of the most essential qualities of The Wizard of Oz is the use of Technicolor technology, which showed brighter and more saturated colors. To work correctly, the technology needed extremely bright lighting. So, hot studio lights that made the set go over 100 degrees were used, and this caused issues as there was a buildup of carbon dioxide. Those poor actors were forbidden from eating for hours, and they had to stand in a scorching set while wearing their costumes. Poor actors!
Dorothy And The Scarecrow
After filming Dorothy's return, a closing scene in Kansas was never filmed. If it had been, Dorothy's relationship with the bumbling scarecrow would've ended quite differently. In the last scene, the scarecrow is about to leave for agricultural college, and he asks Dorothy to keep in touch. This was meant to imply that there would be a romance between both characters. Traces of this plot can be seen throughout the movie; for instance, when Dorothy is about to leave Oz, and she tells the Scarecrow "I think I'll miss you most of all".
According to L. Frank Baum's original children's book, The famous red slippers were meant to be silver. However, this was changed when making the movie as MGM studio heard Louis B.Meyer wanted to take advantage of Technicolor technology with brighter hues, so the slippers were made ruby red instead of the original silver.
The Tornado Stocking
To create the tornado, a muslin stocking was used. Obviously, way back in 1938, special effects were far from what they are today. To create the initial storm that creates conflict at the beginning of the film, a 35-foot-long muslin stocking was used, and it was inspired by airports' windsocks. They made it spin round and round with a lot of dirt, dust, and wind to give it that destructive look.
As Judy Garland had spent a lot of time with Terry, the dog that played Toto, it created an exceptional bond between the two. After production ended, she wanted to keep Terry. However, Toto made around $125 a week starring in the movie, which was higher than what some of the Munchkins got paid, so Carl Spitz, Terry's trainer did not allow her to keep it.
Not The First
In 1910, a 13-minute silent version of The Wizard of Oz was created. Looking at it now, it is creepy and even terrifying, but one hundred years ago, it was probably revolutionary. The movie also changed a lot of Baum's original story, which would be confusing for a modern audience. At the end of the 1913 film, Dorothy ditches Kansas and decides to stick around in this mysterious magical land. There's no place like Oz?