The classic film, The Wizard of Oz, was released in 1939. The movie initially earned $3 million and cost $2.7 million. It was a box-office flop but, in 1949, it was re-released and its profit margin turned around quickly. It is hard to imagine a movie like The Wizard of Oz ever being considered a failure. The story follows a Kansas girl named Dorothy, played by Judy Garland, who is transported to the magical land of Oz during a cyclone. In Oz, Dorothy journeys down the yellow brick road to Emerald City, where she intends to ask the wizard of Oz to send her home. On the journey, Dorothy makes various friends who all have some form of lack. A Scarecrow, who lacks a brain; a Tin Man, who lacks a heart; and a Lion, who lacks courage. In the end, all the characters possessed what they were seeking all along. With Dorothy wearing magical ruby slippers and tapping her heels three times, she says the iconic line, “There’s no place like home,” and wakes up in Kansas. Check out The Wizard of Oz screen facts below.
Shirley Temple Almost Played Dorothy
Judy Garland was the first choice for the role of Dorothy. Many other actresses were considered for the role. Arrangements had been made to use Shirley Temple, who was under contract with Fox, in exchange for Fox to be able to use two MGM actors. When one of the actors Fox had wanted passed away, the deal fell through. It was also decided that Temple’s singing voice would not be strong enough for the role. While these are the common beliefs about why Shirley did not play Dorothy, it is a bit of a Hollywood mystery as nothing has ever been publicly confirmed.
Toto Made More Than the Munchkin Actors
The actors who were playing the Munchkins were earning $50 per week which was prosperous at the time. Toto, Dorothy’s dog, was earning $125 per week which was more than double what the Munchkins were earning.
Much of the set and costumes were toxic to the professionals who starred in the film. The snowstorm scene in the poppy field was asbestos. This substance, which is highly toxic and cancer causing, was commonly used as snow for films because it was not flammable like cotton and made less noise than painted cornflakes.
The original actor cast to play the Tin Man, Buddy Ebsen, was replaced by Jack Haley. This occurred after Ebsen was hospitalized from the aluminum dust that was used in his makeup. The dust caused breathing problems for the rest of Ebsen’s life after nearly causing him to choke to death on set. The studio would use safer aluminum paste for Haley’s makeup following this incident.
The Wicked Witch of the West’s green makeup was also toxic, it contained copper oxide. Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch, was also severely burned on her hand and face during filming. Her makeup delayed burn treatment because the green makeup had to be removed first. She would go on to scream on set as they had to remove the makeup with alcohol, having just sustained burns.
Finally, while not toxic, the Scarecrow’s mask was made of rubber. It was so heavy and tight the actor couldn’t breathe when the hot studio lights were shining. Overall, all the costumes for Tin Man, Lion, and Scarecrow were so unbearable Judy Garland would say, “each one was making bets as to which makeup was the most difficult all the way through the picture.”
In addition to physical toxicity, there was figurative toxicity. Judy Garland, who was 16 at the time of filming The Wizard of Oz, would sustain verbal, physical and sexual abuse from MGM executives and cast members. They would call Judy, “a fat little pig with pigtails” and “little hunchback.”
The staff monitoring Judy’s weight also used extreme methods to keep her thin. She was watched all the time, and put on a strict diet of, “black coffee, chicken soup, and 80 cigarettes a day.” She was also given diet pills and appetite suppressants, more were given if she strayed from her already strict diet.
The male actors who played the Munchkins would make sexual advances on Judy too. They would sexually assault her by putting their hand up and under her dress. Their behaviour towards Judy became so poor that a staff member was hired to monitor them. At times, these actors were arrested and charged between shoots. Tragically, they would return to work, bailed out by MGM, as they were needed to finish filming.
JELLO Hair Dye
While the actors of the movie were dealing with suffocating and poisonous costumes, producers had enough forethought not to poison animals. The brightly colored horses used in The Wizard of Oz were dyed with JELLO powder. Multiple dyes were considered but JELLO powder created the desired effect perfectly. Filming of the scenes with the dyed horses had to happen quickly and with frequent reapplying of the JELLO powder because the horses would lick it off.