In The Wizard Of Oz, young Dorothy was whisked away to a fantastical dream world full of witches, munchkins, and all sorts of colorful characters. Unfortunately, for the cast of the movie, life was less like a dream and more like a horrifying nightmare that never seemed to end. Years after the film made cinematic history, the unnerving truths about the abuse endured by the actors, especially the young star, are finally coming out.
The Director Slapped Dorothy
Remember, this movie was made in the 1930’s, and things were quite different back then. Fleming was quite the character as a director, and during a scene where Judy Garland couldn’t stop laughing, a 16-year-old girl working alongside the hilarious Cowardly Lion, Fleming took her aside, slapped her in the face and told her to get back to work. This shows you what kind of a man Victor Fleming was, and what a tough job it was to be an actress back in the day.
Original Director had Other Plans
It’s a shame that Richard Thorpe hasn’t stayed director, who was the original choice for the role. He wanted the movie to be totally different, and for it to be closer to the drawings from the John R Neill book, with Dorothy being Shirley Temple, with a chic blonde haircut and babydoll style make up. His vision never made it to the screen, and Thorpe was fired as director after just two weeks, opening the door for Fleming on his way out.
Judy Garland Almost Wasn’t Cast
Thorpe wasn’t the only one who wanted Shirley Temple in the role of Dorothy. Lots of the executives believed she would be a better fit, although they worried about her ability as a singer, as music is such a large part of the movie. In the end, issues between MGM and 20th Century Fox meant that they couldn’t get Temple anyway, which may have been a good thing for Shirley, considering what the role did to Judy Garland.
Dorothy’s Iconic Look
George Cukor was also a director for the movie for a short time, between Thorpe and Fleming. He was the one who decided that Dorothy shouldn’t be blonde, gave her the iconic style we all know and love, with the pigtails and the more natural look. He wanted to show that it contrasted the bright lights and fake style of Oz, and it looks amazing! He would probably have continued to be an excellent director if Fleming hasn’t been chosen instead.
Tin Man Was Poisoned
Did you know there were two Tin Man’s? The first was Buddy Ebsen, who was cast as the part, but only ended up filming for nine days. The powder make up they used had aluminium inside, and when he breathed it in, his lungs failed, leaving him hospitalized for two weeks and unable to continue with the part due to the allergy. Yikes! The job was taken over by Jack Haley, and the make up was changed too, from powder to paste.
Tough Job Being Tin Man
Jack Haley didn’t have an easy job being the Tin Man either. They switched the make up from the powder to paint, but Haley quickly got an eye infection from the paint. In his heavy and cumbersome constime, he also was unable to sit anywhere, or lie down without help, so he ended up standing or leaning for hours and hours at a time. Not the most fun costume to be stuck in day after day, we’re sure you’ll agree.
You might have noticed that Bert Lahr’s costume is pretty lifelike, and there is good reason for that! The Wizard of Oz costume was actually made with the pelts from real lions! Sign of the times, as I’m sure fur activists would have something to say about that now. The costume was so heavy, that it weighted 48 lbs in total, which must have been pretty tough to wander around in! It’s an incredible costume though.
Bert Lahr Almost Wasn’t the Lion
Not because they had a better offer, as Bert Lahr was absolutely the best actor for the job of the cowardly lion. But because they almost didn’t go with an actor at all! Believe it or not, there were talks of MGM using their advertising lion, Jackie, which appears in their logo instead of hiring a real-life actor. We’re glad they went for Lahr in the end, as he is a brilliant and hilarious cowardly lion who often steals the show.
Toto was Well Paid
Terry the Cairn Terrier played the part of Toto, Dorothy’s cute little canine sidekick, and he was well paid for his trouble! Already a bit of a star in the movie industry, having acted in Bright Eyes with Shirley Temple, he got $125 per week, which is around $1,700 by today’s standards. This was more than the munchkins did! After hearing about the vile behaviour of the munchkins (keep reading) you’ll be glad they got less than the adorable Toto!
Ding Dong the Witch is… Ugly
If the Wicked Witch had been as intended, she would have been a gorgeously sexy character rather than the wicked looking character we know today. The producers decided to make her ugly inside and out, which led to another surprise. While Gale Sondergard was booked to be the Witch, when she heard about the appearance change, she thought again, and Margaret Hamilton stepped in, accepting the role of a lifetime.
Imagine being so frightening that the studio execs on set cut most of your scenes! That’s exactly what happened to Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West. She was so terrifying that her scenes were cut extensively, although she remains one of the most memorable parts of the film. Knowing that loads of kids would love seeing the film, they were worried that the light hearted story was being made too scary.
Did you know that Margaret Hamilton missed six whole weeks of filming after a shocking injury while on set? During the scene where the Witch leaves Munchkinland in a cloud of smoke and flames, the mechanism on the trap door didn’t work as planned. When the flames started, Hamilton wasn’t quite out of harms way, and she ended up with burns on her face and hands which took weeks of recovery to heal.
Sid Luft, who was married to Judy Garland, tells a frightening and awful truth about the set of the movie. Apparently, the Munchkins were known for trying to abuse Judy, making her life miserable by putting their hands under her dress. The munchkins were played by forty year old men, while Judy was just 16 years old at the time. Other reports claim that the munchkins were involved in hiring prostitutes and heavy gambling too. Disgusting.
Nothing Like the Book
There are a lot of differences between the book version of the Wizard of Oz, and the eventual movie which we all know and love. Some examples are small, like Glinda becoming the Good Witch of the North rather than the South. Others are bigger, such as how Dorothy had silver slippers in the book version, and then of course they were changed to red for the big screen to take advantage of the technicolor filming.
You Can’t Sit With Us
It’s hard to believe how different the movie business was in the 1930’s, and costumes were seen as something new, and somewhat terrifying as well! So much so, that during filming, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man were so frightening to the rest of the cast and crew, that they weren’t allowed to eat with everyone else, and had to find somewhere to have lunch alone! A literal lunch room ban! Insane.
L Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz, actually meant for Dorothy to be a strong female role model for the women of the world, his version of feminist literature. Dorothy might need saving, but she ends up saving herself, along with many of her friends too. She doesn’t need rescuing, unlike the movie adaptation where Judy Garland plays more of a damsel in distress kind of character. We’d love to see an update the way it was meant!
Bright Lights Shadow City
The Wizard of Oz was made a long time ago, and some of the special effects were difficult to hide, or even to gauge how they would appear on screen. One example is the lighting. The decision was made to film in technicolor, which meant they needed a truly excessive amount of lighting. The set was 100 degrees at times! Not only that, but the lighting was so bright that in some scenes, like when there is a shiny floor in the Emerald City, you can see the lighting reflected.
The lighting wasn’t the only problem with the movie. There are a lot of places where things don’t quite make sense. Dorothy has magical growing and shortening hair, clearly due to the days things were filmed, and certain props change or disappear without explanation, such as the Tin Man’s spear which becomes an axe! One weird plot hole is that the Wicked Witch, who lives surrounded by water, can be destroyed by the stuff!
A Fated Coincidence
This is one of the coolest stories from the set of the Wizard of Oz. When the costume directors were choosing the Wizard’s coat, they looked far and wide for the perfect choice, something that looked fashionable, but was also not too new looking. They found ‘The One’ in a thrift store, and thought no more of it. But then, during filming, Morgan found a label inside, with none other than the author’s name on! L Frank Baum had actually had the coat tailored just for him, and fate had found it’s way back to set.
Nope, That’s Not a Dead Munchkin
Some crazy things happened on set of this movie, but a Munchkin killing himself by hanging was absolutely not one of them! This photo started conspiracy theorists wondering, but actually, it’s a bird you can see in the distance! MGM used more than 400 birds for parts of the film, and that one is a Crane which had escaped and is stretching its wings. Animal rights concerns? Maybe. But suicidal Munchkins? Not today, friends.
We already know that Victor Fleming has some interesting working practices, including slapping a 16 year old girl on set. A busy guy, he was directing Gone with the Wind at the same time as Oz. Anne Revere, who worked with the director in The Yearling said that Fleming was “violently Pro-Nazi.” She said he was anti British as well, and obviously wasn’t quiet about his political opinion. Seems like a really nice guy, not.
You remember that Judy Garland was not the first choice for Dorothy, it was America’s Sweetheart-Miss Shirley Temple. She had proved her skills in movies like Heidi and The Little Princess, and was also known to be a fan of The Wizard of Oz books, and L Frank Baum. She was clearly an obvious choice, and the nation loved her to pieces, which was sure to help with the popularity and success of the movie as well. It’s no wonder she was top of the list.
Freed Supports Garland
Despite Louis B Mayer arguing that Temple would be the perfect Dorothy, Judy Garland had another powerful voice in her corner. Arthur Freed was a producer and a song writer, and he believed in Garland as the right choice for the part of Dorothy. But did he have a reason to not want Shirley on set? According to Temple, years later, Freed had exposed himself to her at the age of 12, and when she simply giggled, she had been thrown out his office. What an animal.
Body Image Issues
Whatever the reasons, Judy Garland was given the role, and with it came what many actresses would have called a nightmare. Forced to take drugs, to wear a corset and told to lose 12 lbs in weight, despite her already being perfectly healthy and slim. By being told all the time she needed to lose weight, it did terrible things to her body image, leading her to look back and say, “I was frightful. I was fat – a fat little pig in pigtails.”
Too Close to Home
Remember the Poppy Fields? Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion and Toto are drugged, and experience the dream within the dream. These poppies were dangerous, and could have killed the characters if they were there for too long. Off camera, the cast were also being drugged, especially Dorothy, given pills to keep her awake for long hours and looking skinny. These ended up killing her at an early age, so the scene is a bit too close to home.
Dorothy’s gingham dress is nearly as famous as the red slippers, but there were a few secrets you might not know about. Firstly, it had a hidden pocket, which was under the skirt, where Judy could put a handkerchief, so that Dorothy could pull it out at just the right moment to wipe away the Cowardly Lion’s tears. The hanky appears as if from nowhere, and now we know exactly where it came from! But there’s more…
There’s no way that Judy Garland could have guessed how much money the iconic outfit was going to worth in the future. And it doesn’t even need to be the exact dress that Judy wore on set! There were a number of the costumes which were around at the time, and every so often, one appears at auction. Most recently, in November 2012, one of the dresses was auctioned off for an incredible amount of money – almost half a million dollars!
Best Movie Villains
Margaret Hamilton was a better actress than you even know! She is iconic as the Wicket Witch of the West, and was even listed as number four on the top list of movie villains of all time. But off screen, she was much more gentle than you ever could have imagined! Hamilton was known for being a activist for several children and animal welfare charities, trying to do good and make a difference in both charity and education. Who woulda thought?!
Poisonous Make Up
It wasn’t just the Tin Man who had problems with the make up they used on him. Hamilton, as the Wicked Witch had to wear thick green make up for her role, which had copper in the ingredients. Because of that, it wouldn’t come off for weeks, leaving her with a green face long after the filiming was wrapped up. Not only that, but the make up was toxic, and when she swallowed some, she ended up sick enough to be forced onto a liquid diet.
It’s not just humans who got into trouble on the set of The Wizard of Oz. It wasn’t a great place for the animals either! Everyone’s favorite canine star Toto even ended up with a broken paw, after one of the witch’s guards stepped on his leg on set! Poor Toto (real name Terry) was one of the most vulnerable ‘actors’ on set, as he was so small and easy to miss. It didn’t damage his acting career though, as he starred in 15 more films after Oz!
Green Brick Road?
If you say what comes to mind when you think Wizard of Oz, it won’t be long before you mention the iconic Yellow Brick Road. But did you know that it kept coming up green under the technicolor and lighting? The crew members ended up having to use industrial level paint to get it yellow, making it one of the most difficult parts of the book to recreate. Follow the green brick road just wouldn’t have sounded right, we’re sure you’ll agree.
You might think that without makeup, the Scarecrow would have managed to escape some of the long term damage that his co-stars had through their costumes. But unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The mask which the Scarecrow wore was specially made for him, but left lasting marks on his face, which didn’t go away until more than a year later! Ray Bolger who played the Scarecrow was clearly less than happy with his parting gift!
Perhaps the biggest tragedy of the whole production was Judy herself. Even before she was cast for the role of Dorothy, she was already in a low place emotionally, having never recovered from the death of her father. “I was always lonesome.” She said, “The only time I felt accepted or wanted was when I was on stage performing. I guess the stage was my only friend; the only place where I could feel comfortable. It was the only place where I felt equal and safe.”
A surgical intermission
Although The Wizard of Oz producers eventually changed the deadly silver paint to a less-dangerous aluminum paste, Jack Haley still suffered from his shiny costume. While he wasn’t breathing in harmful toxins, the paste did manage to get into his eye – which didn’t end too well. In fact, the paste caused such a horrific eye infection that Haley had to go to the hospital and have surgery. This put filming for the movie back a whopping four days.
Over the Rainbow Almost Wasn’t
The Wizard of Oz is a long movie, and it started out even longer! The producers needed to cut at least 20 minutes to make it the right length, and one of the things they wanted to get rid of was the iconic song, Over the Rainbow. Luckily, they changed their minds, cutting a reprise of the song instead which she sings when she is imprisoned by the Wicked Witch. It’s hard to imagine the movie without Over the Rainbow, so we’re glad they came to their senses!
One day I’ll fly away
Throughout The Wizard of Oz, there are numerous themes and images that flow through the whole storyline – but some of them are a load of hot air. Hot air balloons make various appearances in this movie and offer Dorothy the chance to go home once and for all. But will Dorothy choose to leave the land of Oz, or will she continue to live her life with Toto and the gang? In the end, she chooses to click her heels, instead.
Unable to say no
During her time on the set of The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland was worked to the bone to ensure that filming ran on schedule. She was exploited, she was drugged, and she was even groped. However, she wasn’t just groped by the Munchkins. While on set, Garland confessed that she was also groped by Louis B. Mayer in his private office when she was just 16 years old. She later noted that she didn’t know she could say ‘no.’
A life of control
However, office trysts weren’t the only encounters Judy Garland had with Louis B. Mayer. As the leading lady of his production, Louis was intent on keeping his actress up to the best possible standard. Because of this, Mayer spied on the young actress and kept tabs on her daily behavior. Mayer enlisted the help of workers to watch Judy’s moves – and would update him on her eating habits. If she ignored her diet plan, she would be reprimanded.
One of the greatest movies
Although we love nothing more than sitting down over the holiday period and watching The Wizard of Oz with our family, it seems that this movie is so much more than a fan favorite. In fact, it’s a critic favorite. Since its release, the movie has appeared near the top of almost every ‘best and greatest’ movie lists, and critics have praised the storyline, the actors and the production of the movie since it debuted in theaters.
While critics praised the storyline and the whole cas, it’s fair to say that Judy Garland was the star of the whole production. In fact, her character and her role have inspired generations of budding actresses since. Thankfully, all of the hard work and turmoil paid off for Judy, as she was praised for her role of Dorothy with an Academy Award (or a Juvenile Award) in 1939. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to make her forget her experiences on set.
Always the perfectionist
Although she suffered terrible experiences while on the set of The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland prided herself on the fact that she was a perfectionist. Yet, because of this, she was never happy with her recording of ‘Over the Rainbow’ and wanted to forget about it as soon as she recorded it. However, the world thought differently, and Judy was eventually awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Many of her solo recordings have also found their way into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Amazingly, Judy Garland wasn’t the only talented celebrity in her family. She later gave birth to the famous singer, Liza Minnelli. Both singers in their own right, the mother and daughter duo would often perform on stage together. However, it wasn’t always amicable. While their performances would start off loving and intimate, the pair would soon start to compete to be the best they could be. In Liza’s eyes, this was her mother trying to push her to success.
Much of The Wizard of Oz took place in the wonderful world of Oz, but we did get a little glimpse into Dorothy’s life in Kansas, thanks to her Auntie Em. While Em only played a small part in the movie, she had a huge impact on Dorothy’s life. Unfortunately, the actress who played Auntie Em was not as happy as her on-screen character. In the 1950s and 60s, Clara Blandick struggled from ill health. Before too long, she had taken her own life.
Considering The Wizard of Oz was filmed in the ‘30s, it’s fair to say that it was a feat of engineering and technology. However, there were still aspects of the movie that would never be used nowadays due to health and safety rules. For example, the scene where you see Dorothy fall asleep in a poppy field of snow, the creative team actually used chrysotile asbestos. Although they knew that asbestos was harmful and dangerous, they used it anyway.
While Margaret Hamilton continued to star as the Wicked Witch of the West after her horrific burns, she had a few stipulations. Most notably, she refused to take part in any stunt-work that would put her in any more danger. To take over this role, the creators of the movie enlisted the help of the actress Betty Danco to star as her stand-in. She was only paid $11 a day for her hard work, although this eventually rose to $35 a day.
A Wicked time
The Wizard of Oz proved so popular it inspired numerous spin-off stories and novels. One of the most notable books to date is Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. This novel was published in 1995 and was written to show the lives of Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West before they parted ways into good and evil. In recent years, this book has been transformed into a worldwide musical hit called Wicked!
The Singer Midgets
While the Munchkins in Munchkinland were known for their singing voices, the troupe of actors used for the roles was actually called ‘Singer Midgets’ thanks to their manager – who was called Leo Singer. These actors and actresses had made their way over to America from Europe to take part in the production, but it seems their casting also helped them escape the persecution of millions in Nazi Germany. In fact, their casting saved many of their lives.
One of the most famous scenes in The Wizard of Oz involved the Wicked Witch of the West writing ‘Surrender Dorothy’ in the clouds. With few special effects in their production, the producers had to think of a new and innovative way to show this on camera – and it turns out the whole thing was a lot smaller than we thought. It was filmed in a bowl of water with a tiny model witch. The writing was the work of a hypodermic needle and dyed milk.
The horses of Oz
In the world of Oz, the magic of the place really shines through. From the impressive yellow brick road to the shining palace, everything is much more ornate and colorful than Dorothy’s home in Kansas. However, it seems that the coloration of some of the animals in Oz was a lot less glamorous than you would think. The horses in the Emerald City were actually dyed with Jell-O crystals. Unfortunately, the scenes had to be shot quickly, as the horses kept licking themselves…
The flying monkeys
When you think of the Wicked Witch of the West, there’s a fair chance you also think of the evil winged monkeys that fly by her side. Rather than using real monkeys or special effects, the production team decided to dress actors up with wings and fur and pass them off as monkeys. Although they were incredibly weird and creepy in the movie, it seems this was all an effect. In reality, these were simply men in suits and prosthetics.
However, the animals in the Wizard of Oz were no way near as creepy or exotic as they should have been. In the original book, L. Frank Baum actually included unique and scary animals that were left out of the final script. This was because the producers believed these animals would be too frightening for younger viewers. Some of the animals that were left out include the ‘Kalidah’ (a hybrid of a tiger and a bear), as well as bumblebees, wildcats and wolves.
Because The Wizard of Oz was filmed in the ‘30s, the production crew had to deal with the fact that they couldn’t use all of the magic and special effects that they wanted – but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t try. In the scene where the Wicked Witch tries to steal Dorothy’s ruby slippers, you see flames and fire erupting from the shoes. In real life, this fire was actually just apple juice that was sped up on film.
Life changing awards
Since it was first released, The Wizard of Oz has continuously been nominated for awards and achievements that show its importance in the world. In the ‘30s and ‘40s, the movie was nominated for numerous Oscar Awards but has since been recognized for its impact on modern life. In 2007, it was added to the list of Unesco’s Memory of the World Register, and it has also been called ‘culturally significant’ by the United States Library of Congress.
When it comes down to it, Dorothy’s ruby slippers are one of the most iconic aspects of The Wizard of Oz – but even they were different in the book. Yep, in L. Frank Baum’s original novel, the shoes were still magical, but they were silver, rather than ruby. However, Louis B Mayer thought that ruby slippers would look more cinematically pleasing. Throughout filming, dozens of ruby slippers were made for Judy Garland, and some even had curled toes!
Judy Garland was Drugged
One of the most shocking things about the way that Garland was treated on set was that she was fed barbiturates and amphetamines to keep her both skinny and awake for hours at a time on set during the filming. Sure, the pressure of filming was tough, but this was an extreme response even for the time. The drugs affected her badly, leading to a life long addiction which she never got over. At age just 47, she died from an overdose. It’s safe to say that The Wizard of Oz ruined her life forever.