Following The Yellow Brick Road To Discover Unknown Facts About The Wizard Of Oz

By Iulia P October 19, 2021

The musical movie The Wizard of Oz played on the big screen for the first time on August 25, 1939. The story revolves around Dorothy (played by Judy Garland) and her friends on her journey. Big names players memorable characters such as Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton, and let’s not forget Terry the Terrier. Even though it was released during a tough economic time, The Great Depression, the movie managed to rake nothing more and nothing less than $29.7 million. This huge number, especially during that time, should be enough to describe the impact this movie had on the public and its place in popular culture nowadays. And, if you are a fan of it like we are, chances are that these unknown facts about our favorite classic will make your day, too.

Dorothy was real

It is already known that the movie was inspired by the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. But, many people are not aware that Dorothy, the heroine of the story, was named after the little niece that Baum and his wife lost at a very young age.

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She, unfortunately, died at the age of 5 months, leaving her whole family in grief. As a tribute to the little angel, Baum, who just finished his novel, named the main character “Dorothy,” which ish now a household name worldwide.

Victor Fleming

Victor Fleming directed the movie, and like many of the masterpieces he created, this one did not disappoint the public. The film gained multiple awards and is now considered a cultural symbol of the USA. Almost everyone who is anyone knows what this movie is.

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Fleming did not stay on set till the end of the production because he had to leave it in order to take over the production of Gone With The Wind. Despite this, it is fair to say that he still nailed every second that he directed.

Mervyn LeRoy

After Fleming left the set of The Wizard of Oz for Gone With The Wind, the screenwriter and director who took over the production was Mervyn LeRoy. LeRoy was a director for Warner Bros, and in 1939, he moved to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

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At MGM, he was going to serve as both director and producer. This is why he automatically became a director of the movie of Oz in 1939 when Fleming gave up on the movie. It’s fair to say that he, too, did a pretty fantastic job.

Gilligan’s Island

Do you remember the iconic character of Mary Ann Summers (pictured below on the left) from the show Gilligan’s Island? If we look closer at the two pictures, we may find a couple of similarities between the two beautiful icons.

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And this is because it turns out that Mary Ann was inspired by the character of Dorothy Gale. Take the gingham dress, the cute pigtails, and the fact that both of them were from a farm from the same town, Winfield, Kansas… Can it get any more obvious!

Snow White’s voice

Snow White appeared in the movie The Wizard of Oz, too. Oh, well, we should mention not how most of us imagine her, but she was there alright. You just need to pay a little more extra attention, especially when the Tin Man sings his famous song “If I Only Had A Heart.”

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At one point, for a short moment, a feminine voice sings along with the Tin Man. That voice belongs to the actress who was also the voice of the animated character of Snow White two years prior, Adriana Caselotti.

Feminist literature

Despite the fragile and naive girl Dorothy seems to be in Fleming and Leroy’s movie, L. Frank Baum never meant for her to be like this. As a matter of fact, Dorothy from the book is way different than the one from the movie.

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This is another good reason to read the book first and then see the movie. Baum created Dorothy to be a strong, independent, and brave girl because he wanted her to be a model for the little girls that would read his novel.

Ogden Nash

Did you know that the well-known American poet and writer, Ogden Nash, was the first-ever to write a screenplay for The Wizard of Oz? But, despite his funny nature and his writing talent, this piece never saw the light of the day.

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Instead, writers such as Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf all wrote screenplays that were later used and transformed into cinematographic masterpieces. Nonetheless, Nash left us 1000 other masterpieces that we’ll always remember him by.

Charley Grapewin

Charley Grapewin was the actor behind the character of Uncle Henry, the husband of Auntie Em. Even if in the movie Uncle Henry does not appear that often, in the book, Baum made sure he was present, even more than Auntie Em.

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The audience would say that he was a great actor. But, what if we tell you that he started off his career by being a trapeze artist. And from there, he made his way up to Vaudeville, silent films, and eventually to the audible ones.

Toto the Terrier

If you’ve watched The Wizard of Oz, chances are that the little four-legged ball of fluff might have stolen your heart too. In real life, Toto, Dorothy’s furry companion, was a Cairn Terrier and was actually a female named Terry.

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There is no need to tell you that Terry was really famous among the animals of Hollywood. Due to her talent and hours of training, the little terrier appeared in numerous productions, two of them being Bright Eyes and Tortilla Flat.

It was not successful

Not many of us know that the movie was not that big of a hit when it was initially released. There are some factors that might have contributed to this, such as the end of The Great Depression and even the release of Gone With The Wind.

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The film did win a couple of awards, but the recognition that it holds today was gained in the ’50s when it was played on household televisions for the first time. Now, the movie is estimated to have made no less than 29.7 million dollars at the box office.

The many versions

Even if the movie was released in 1939, which stars Judy Garland as the main role, most people don’t know that there are a couple of other The Wizard of Oz movies and remakes. Some of them were released even before the masterpiece we all know and love.

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There was one in 1914 named His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz, and another one called The Magic Cloak of Oz. In 1925, director Larry Semon collaborated with Baum, the author, in order to create another version, but it was not as successful.

The remake(s)

Here is another secret that not many are aware of. However, we are here to reveal that the movie we all know and love (the 1939 version) was the 10th remake of the film. It took ten adaptations of the movie in order to come up with a successful result.

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This should teach us all a lesson. Before the 10th adaptation, there was The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays (1908), The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910), and The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914). Each of them followed different storylines and a different aesthetic.

The 12 pounds and the corset

When Judy Garland was on the set of The Wizard of Oz, she was a teenager. She was only 13 years old when she signed with the MGM group and just 17 when they started shooting the masterpiece.

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Because she was way older than her character, Judy needed to look like a little pre-adolescent girl. So, she was forced to lose 12 pounds. The producers also made her wear a corset that would shrink her feminine shape.

Little Shirley Temple

It turns out that Judy Garland was not MGM’s first choice when it came to the actress that was going to play the role of Dorothy. They eyed little Shirley Temple, who at the time was 11 years old and who would have been a better fit in their opinion.

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Unfortunately for little Shirley, who loved the novel and was really hoping she would play the role of Dorothy, Fox, the company who promised the part to her lost the bidding in front of MGM, who eventually chose Judy.

Ray Bolger

Actor Ray Bogler was born in 1904. He started his career off as a dancer and singer in Vaudeville. He slowly climbed his way up from small spectacles to playing on Broadway. From Broadway, he went straight to the set of The Wizard of Oz.

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As it turns out, the role of the Scarecrow is the one that made him really famous. But who knew that he actually had two roles in the movie. Besides playing the Scarecrow, Bolger also played the character of Hunk.

The good witch Burke

If you watched The Wizard of Oz, it is impossible for you not to remember the good and beautiful witch, Glinda. She was all glittery and glamorous with her wavy hair. The famous Hollywood actress Billie Burke played Glinda in the movie.

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Even though she looks pretty young throughout the movie, Burke was 54 years old at the time that it was filmed. She was 18 years older than her sister, the wicked witch, who was supposed to be older in the movie.

Frank Morgan, the wizard

Frank Morgan was an actor who once signed with MGM. They loved him so much that they offered him a lifetime contract. Not many of the MGM actors received an offer like Morgan did, so it’s pretty fair to say he was one of the favorites.

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Despite the fame, the talent, and the good amount of money he made during his career, Morgan was not in good health. He battled alcoholism, and because of it, he died a couple of years before the movie was released for TV.

The wizard and his 5 roles

We knew exactly what we were saying when we said that Frank Morgan was one of MGM’s favorite actors. The fact that he had no more than five different roles in The Wizard of Oz proves this statement is not incorrect.

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Morgan played the role of the Oz, the professor who was a future teller, the driver from the Emerald City, the guard, and the doorkeeper at the Oz’s palace. This also shows the mysterious and omnipresent nature of Mr. Oz.

The kids of Judy Garland

Even if her career was going smoothly, things did not go as pleasantly as she wanted to when it came to Judy Garland’s love and family life. She was married a total of three times, and from two of those marriages, she had three kids.

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She had two girls and a boy: Liza Minelli, Lorna Luft, and Joey Luft. From all of her children, only the girls inherited the talent and followed into their mother’s steps while the boy steered clear of the spotlights.

“Over the Rainbow”

We were today’s year old when we found out that the song “Over the Rainbow” and the one by the Hawaiian singer, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, was not the first to sing the song. The song was presented and sung for the first time in the movie.

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Dorothy sings an acapella of this song while in Kansas at the farm of her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. The scene was cut from the movie because the producers from MGM thought that it was too long. They re-shot the scene while Dorothy was apparently imprisoned in the castle of the witch.

From the 30’s to the 2000s

You have to admit that the song Dorothy sang in the movie, “Over the Rainbow” is pretty melancholic and impactful. So impactful that even nowadays, you are able to hear remixes and remakes of it on the radio and on TV.

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The song even made it to a couple of movies. One of them is the movie about the life of the Mexican singer Selena. The little Selena is about to have her first performance at her dad’s restaurant, and guess what she chooses to sing. You guessed it right!

The author

Lyman Frank Baum, the author of the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was an American writer who wrote novels, poems, and scripts. Despite the numerous stories he wrote, he is known worldwide for his one and only masterpiece, the story about the Oz.

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The novel was written “solely to pleasure children,” as he used to say, and it was intended to make little girls believe that they could be courageous, independent, and intelligent just like boys could. The book had a feminist intention.

Dorothy’s shoes

Do you remember Dorothy’s slippers from the movie? They were red, high heel shoes made out of rubies. They were magical and helped her throughout her adventure. Well, in case you did not pay attention, they were not the same in the book.

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In the book, they were not red but silver and they were actual slippers. They chose to change the shoes after MGM thought that it would be more impactful due to the fact that red is an iconic color. They were definitely not mistaken.

Ray Bolger

Here are some facts that you probably did not know about the Scarecrow, a.k.a Ray Bolger. He was known before his Oz role, but he became famous after he finished the movie. When you think about him, you think about the Scarecrow, because he was the best Scarecrow of all time.

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Bolger had to sacrifice a lot for the best role of his entire career (sure, maybe we are a bit biased). Even if the costume was made for him, it used to leave marks on his face, and they were even noticeable a year after the production ended.

Culturally significant

Even if in the beginning, the film did not create that much of a frenzy among the public compared to Gone With The Wind, when it was streaming on TV around the country in the ’50s, people started to immediately take notice.

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They loved it so much that the movie has won several Oscars and is considered a culturally significant piece of are for the United States of America. Not only that, but now, it is a part of UNESCO’s heritage too. That is pretty cool!

Early technicolor

Here is another remarkable fact that left us all really impressed. The Wizard of Oz was one of the first movies ever to use the technicolor, which is quite aspiring considering that this technique was pretty expansive back then.

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The process of technicolor was long and required special cinematographers who knew how to work with it. Oz was the first non-animated movie to ever use Technicolor, and in order for the final result to come out perfect, they had to adapt to some specific requirements, one of them being a lot of hot lights.

The special effects

Yes! It may have been taped in 1939, but the movie of Oz has some wild special effects for that time period. Sure, if you watch them now when special effects are on an all-time high, you’d think that they are pretty naive. But, for those times, they had that wow factor.

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One of the many special effects that appeared in the movie was when the Wicked Witch showed up out of nowhere with fire and a big boom. Now, the industry has this effect down pat, but it was something to marvel at back then!

Terry and his other movies

Toto, or if we’re using her real name, Terry, she was a Cairn terrier. According to dog breeders, the Cairn Terrier is one of the oldest Terrier breeds in the world, and they are originally from Scotland. It is said that this breed is usually ‘left-pawed.’

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Over the years, there were a couple of Cairn Terriers that appeared in Hollywood movies, and it is pretty fair to say that all of them did a fantastic job. Despite the numerous Cairn Terriers, Toto is, to this day, the most famous one.

Animals that were left out

Did you know that there were some animals in the book of Baum that the directors and producers refused to bring on the set? For some, they had their valid reasons, and for others, not really. One of them is the Kalidahs, a fictional animal.

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The Kalidahs were half tiger and half bear, and even though it would have been cool to see something like this, MGM thought that a scene with this “animal” would be too shocking to the viewers. They also gave up the bumblebees, the wolves, and wildcats.

The animals

There are a ton of different animals that appear in the movie The Wizard of Oz. Toto the dog, the rabbit, monkeys, and even horses. And, it turns out that filming with the horses was not an easy job at all.

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And this because the horses had Jelly-O, ruby-like stones stuck to them to make them appear red. Now we understand why it was pretty hard to film those scenes. The horses would try to eat the sugary Jelly-Os. Filming that must have been a total mess.

The wicked message

The famous scene in which the Wicked Witch wrote the message, “Surrender Dorothy,” in the sky with her broom, was actually filmed in a small water tank. They used a little model to replace the witch which was attached to a needle.

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There was some water, milk, paint, and a needle with threads involved in the making of this scene, and it’s obvious when we say that all the hard work paid off. It surely translated on the screen. The scene looks as real as it could be.

The Singer Midgets’ name

Here is another fact about the movie that you might have missed. Kids do not totally portray the Munchkins from the movie, but by small people, too. The group that plays in the movie is called Singer Midgets.

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The group was famous for their singing, but their name actually comes from the name of their manager, who was named Leo Singer. The Singer Midgets came from Europe, and they were pretty famous in the States, especially after the film.

The story of the wicked witch

The story of the wicked witch inspired many writers and screenwriters. Subsequently, one of their works came out in 1995 and was named The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, and it has a bit of a turn compared to the original story.

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This time, the story follows the Wicked Witch and her relationship with a friend from school, the good witch, Galinda. In this Broadway show, we find out why the two are rivals. It turns out that they ended up in a fight over the love of a boy.

The wicked witch

Margaret Hamilton played the wicked witch in the film. Because the role of the witch implied a lot of special effects with fire and other dangerous things, the actress was injured while taping a particular scene. Her face and hand were burned.

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Hamilton had to be hospitalized. She was replaced by Betty Danko since she was was too severely injured, burnt, and needed to be hospitalized for two weeks. Her burned legs were permanently scarred, but this did not stop her from continuing her work.

Margaret Hamilton

Margaret Hamilton was an American actress who, despite the numerous roles she played in different movies, is best known for the role she played in the movie of Oz, the role of the Wicked Witch. She was in her thirties.

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Before starting to film for The Wizard of Oz, Hamilton had already made 25 movies. Which, for an actress that did not sign with any studio, was a pretty impressive number. She was, what we call nowadays, a freelancer back then.

Clara Blandick vs Auntie Em

The actress Clara Blandick played the role of Auntie Em. Even if the part was not as big as the other roles in the movie, it is pretty significant because auntie symbolizes home, stability, and protection.

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Auntie Em was a happy, jolly lady. On the other hand, Clara was dealing with a lot of health issues, depression being one of them. She committed suicide by taking a handful of pills. She died in her bed at 86 years old.

Tin Man

Actor Jack Haley was the one who played the character of Tin Man, the loveable one who was searching for Oz in order to ask him for a heart. Haley did a pretty awesome job with this role and also with the one of Hickory, the helping hand for Auntie Em’s farm.

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This came with a price. He was not the first choice for this character, but he was hired after actor Buddy Ebsen almost died due to the aluminum dust they used for the costume. They gave the aluminum dust up and used a paste instead, which caused Haley to need emergency surgery on his eye.

The cowardly lion

Bert Lahr played the character of the cowardly lion. The actor was known for his comic personality, and MGM thought he was fit for the role. Lahr was more than happy to be part of the production except for one thing…

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The costume. It was made out of real fur, and it is said to have been really disturbing for the actor. And no wonder with all those hot lights that they needed for the technicolor. Despite all the struggles he went through, the result was worth it.

Liza Minelli

Judy Garland had three kids; two daughters and a son. Both of her daughters inherited her singing talent and followed in her footsteps, but only her eldest managed to become famous. Liza Minelli, a very renowned Broadway dancer and singer, and also became a household name.

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She was (still is) very talented, and she even performed with her mother. Both of them created magic the moment they performed on stage, and many publications wrote about how they, despite being mother and daughter, looked like they were competing on stage.

Grammy Hall of Fame

Judy Garland did not have a very easy life. Despite the fame and money, she went through a lot of disturbing trauma: her father’s passing and the industry that drugged her in order to be able to keep up with the filming of different movies.

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All of this made her become an addict. She battled addiction her whole adult life, and eventually, this is exactly what killed her. Judy died at the age of 47 after an overdose of barbiturates. However, the police stated that it looked like it was not a suicide act.

The numerous awards Judy received

She did not live long, but during the time she was on Earth, Judy Garland left her mark on the history of the USA. She played in a total of 35 films and released eight studio albums. Her work brought her numerous prizes and awards.

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These awards consisted of Oscars and Grammies, but perhaps one of the most significant awards was when she was nominated in the top 10 American Actresses from the golden age by The American Institute of Films. She is also in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

The success

The Wizard of Oz was no doubt a hit the moment it was released on the television screen. Suddenly, ten years after this release, everybody was insanely in love with the production. This was when the movie started earning money at the box office.

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Eighty years later, the reactions to this old, vintage movie are the same. Despite the lack of advanced special effects, and realistic costumes, adults and children are still falling in love with this movie, and all this is because of the performance of the actors.

The extreme diet

We mentioned early that when Judy Garland signed with MGM to shoot the movie, she agreed to follow a rigorous diet. The management wanted her, a 17-year-old, to lose 12 pounds in order to look more like a young girl and less like a woman.

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This diet consisted of chicken soup and 80 cigarettes, which were used as food suppressants. On top of this, she was given amphetamines to stay awake. As cruel as it seems to us nowadays, it was perfectly normal back then.

The exploitation

It is safe to say that, unfortunately, young Judy was exploited. It is sad to think that a teenager was drugged with amphetamines and opioids in order to be able to stay awake for longer and film as much as it was apparently necessary.

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Not to mention poor Judy was always spied on by people hired by MGM in order for them to make sure she respects the poor diet that they forced her to adopt. All this drove Judy to suffer from addiction and lack of self-confidence.

Toto was exploited too

Yes, as sad as it sounds, Judy was not the only one who was exploited, but Terry (or Toto), too. The set of the movie proved to be very dangerous for the actors, and some claimed they were cursed.

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While filming a scene in the witch’s palace, one of the guards there stepped on Terry’s paw and broke it. With all these injuries and struggles that the actors went through, it is a miracle that they managed to finish the movie.

The Tin Man was once a real man

Though he was one of Dorothy’s closest friends during her quest, we don’t know much about the Tin Man before Dorothy finds him in the forest. The truth is that he was a real man named Nick Chopper. Quite the fitting moniker seeing as he was a lumberjack.

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As Chopper, he fell in love with a servant with a terrible boss who asked the Wicked Witch of the East to cast a spell on him to end the affair. The witch then enchanted Chopper’s axe to chop off all his limbs. Consequently, he kept replacing them with tin until he was all metal.

The truth about Emerald City

The capital city of the land of Oz has always been described as bright, covered with emeralds and other jewels, and green. But was that really the color of the city? Apparently not. In fact, the author said it was no more green than any other city.

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L. Frank Baum was actually inspired by Chicago’s White City era during the World Fair in 1893 when writing about Emerald City. It is only described as green since the Wizard ordered everyone to wear green-tinted glasses to protect them from the brightness of the city.