The Wizard of Oz remains one of the most captivating and enchanting films ever to come out of Hollywood. It was a marvel of technical advancement, craftsmanship and artistry at the time, and it’s rightly still regarded as one of the best movies ever made.
That level of spectacle always comes at a price, though, and in many ways, in fact, the classic feature was a nightmare to make. If you don’t want to break the spell, best look away now – but for everyone else, here are 20 things you may not have known about the journey down the yellow brick road.
40. Victor Fleming slapped Judy Garland during filming
Director Victor Fleming was reported to have been a hard taskmaster on set. And this was perhaps most evident during shooting of the scene where Dorothy attacks the Cowardly Lion. According to producer Pandro S. Berman, Judy Garland couldn’t stop laughing at the time, so Fleming took Garland to one side, slapped her and then told her to get back to work. And this is a 16-year-old girl we’re talking about, remember…
39. The original Tin Man was poisoned on set
The Tin Man you see in the film was played by Jack Haley, but Haley was actually brought in as a last-minute replacement for another actor – Buddy Ebsen. After only nine days of filming, in fact, Ebsen was hospitalized after his lungs failed. The white makeup he had been wearing was coated with noxious aluminum dust, which the unfortunate actor had breathed in to his detriment.
38. The Wicked Witch of the West’s scenes were cut because she was too scary
The Wicked Witch of the West was played by Margaret Hamilton, who by all accounts was a lovely woman in real life. On screen, however, she apparently played the role a little bit too well. Indeed, studio execs were concerned over whether her appearances in the movie would prove just a bit too terrifying for children. And as a result, her screen time ended getting cut down.
37. The Cowardly Lion’s costume was made from real lions
Rumor has it that MGM actually considered using Jackie, the lion in their logo, to play the role of the Cowardly Lion. And while that didn’t end up happening, Bert Lahr’s costume for the film was actually partially made from real lion pelts. For this reason, it was also extremely heavy – weighing in excess of 48 pounds, in fact.
36. Judy Garland was given drugs to help her get through filming
Rather upsettingly, giving drugs to child actors wasn’t all that uncommon in the ’30s, and it was no different with Judy Garland. During Oz, for example, she was taking barbiturates and amphetamines to keep her slim and keep her awake. Unfortunately, though, the experience left her an addict. And, in the end, it was an overdose of barbiturates that killed her at the tragically young age of 47.
35. Toto got paid more than the Munchkins
Toto is undoubtedly one of the most iconic dogs in cinematic history, but did that part warrant a higher wage than actual human actors? Well, the people behind The Wizard of Oz certainly thought so. That’s because Terry, the brindle cairn spaniel who played Toto, earned $125 per week; by contrast, the actors who played the Munchkins were on between $50 and $100 a week.
34. Margaret Hamilton was badly burned during the shoot
When she leaves Munchkinland early in the film, the Wicked Witch of the West exits in a plume of flame. But while that flame was only supposed to come out after Margaret Hamilton had safely dropped through a trap door, on take two that door didn’t open fast enough. Hamilton’s hands and face were burned as a result, and the incident took her out of production for six weeks.
33. Judy Garland wore a corset to make her look younger
Judy Garland was 16 when she started working on The Wizard of Oz, but Dorothy was meant to be younger than that. To make Garland appear less womanly, then, her breasts were strapped down and she was put in a tight corset. And as well as aging Garland down, this was also intended to make her look thinner – yet another example of the producers obsessing over her weight.
32. The Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow were banned from the MGM canteen
Dorothy’s three companions were certainly endearing on film – but they evidently weren’t on set. Indeed, during the shoot actors Bert Lahr, Jack Haley and Ray Bolger were denied entry into the studio canteen. Apparently, their makeup was just too unsettling for them to be around other people during lunch.
31. “Over the Rainbow” almost didn’t make it into the movie
“Over the Rainbow” is undoubtedly the most well-remembered and well-loved song from The Wizard of Oz. But, believe it or not, it nearly ended up on the cutting room floor. According to Ernie Harburg, son of the song’s co-writer Yip Harburg, Victor Fleming wanted the tune gone from the final edit because it made the film too long. After Harburg and his colleague Harold Arlen talked to MGM kingpin Louis B. Mayer, however, it was eventually kept in.
30. The Munchkins didn’t see much of their earnings
As if being paid less than a dog wasn’t bad enough, the actors playing the Munchkins also had half of their pay taken from them. Hiring agent Leo Singer was the individual responsible for this nefarious practise; after some of the stars he brought on board turned out to not be short enough, his fee was reduced. As a consequence, he took 50 percent of their wages and kept it for himself to make up for the loss. What a charming man…
29. The fake snow had asbestos in it
After having a sleeping spell cast on them by the Wicked Witch of the West, Dorothy and company rest up in a poppy field while being lightly sprinkled with snow. In actuality, that snow was made from chrysotile asbestos fibers – a substance that we now know to be potentially highly dangerous to people’s health. At that time, however, asbestos was seen as a cost-effective, useful substance for making fake snow, and nobody really knew about the cancer risk.
28. The Wicked Witch of the West’s makeup was toxic
Almost-Tin Man Buddy Ebsen wasn’t the only person to suffer from potentially lethal makeup on set. Margaret Hamilton’s green body paint, for example, was copper-based, meaning that it was dangerous if she swallowed any. So, instead she had to have liquid lunches and drink through a straw as a precaution. The makeup also had to be taken off using rubbing alcohol after each day.
27. The winged monkeys had trouble staying airborne
Thankfully, the flying monkeys weren’t portrayed by actual monkeys but by people. Less thankfully, a number of them were hurt when the piano wires that held them aloft gave way. Yep, piano wire, because it wouldn’t show up on camera. Health and safety often took a backseat to spectacle on The Wizard of Oz.
26. It took four different directors to finish the film
While Victor Fleming is regarded as the film’s main director, he wasn’t the only one to sit in the chair. Richard Thorpe came first, then after he was fired George Cukor took the job for a week before Fleming came on board. Fleming eventually left to work on Gone with the Wind, though, leaving King Vidor to finish off the shoot.
25. The Wicked Witch’s stand-in was also injured
After being burned, Margaret Hamilton understandably refused to do any further scenes that involved fire. Sadly, however, her stand-in Betty Danko still failed to escape harm. While shooting a scene involving the Witch riding a broomstick that spewed smoke, the pipe supplying the smoke blew up, scarring Danko’s legs as a consequence.
24. Judy Garland was on a diet of chicken soup and black coffee during filming
As if the pills and corset weren’t enough, the studio also carefully monitored what Judy Garland was eating while the film was being shot. Crew members spied on her, reporting back to MGM, and Louis B. Mayer himself made sure that she was only given chicken soup and black coffee to consume. That was in addition to four packs of cigarettes a day, just to make things even more dangerous.
23. Toto went through mental and physical anguish too
Not even the dog was safe from the harsh environment that the shoot became, as Toto star Terry reportedly suffered “nervous breakdowns” while filming. At one point, moreover, one of the Wicked Witch of the West’s guards stepped on her, injuring her leg and taking her out of shooting for a few weeks.
22. The Munchkins may have been rather badly behaved
There are all sorts of rumors surrounding the troupe of little people who played the Munchkins in Oz. Producer Meryvn LeRoy, for one, has claimed that they were so rowdy that the police were often called to the hotel in which they stayed. He also suggested that orgies took place. Garland herself, meanwhile, said that they drank a lot, and a memoir written by her husband Sid Luft alleges that they actually groped her. However, others, like Munchkin star Margaret Williams, have asserted that many of these claims are simply exaggeration.
21. One of the Munchkins brought two loaded guns on set
Over 100 actors were cast to play Munchkins in the film, and given their number it’s perhaps no surprise that there was friction at times among them. At one point, for example, actor Charles Kelley arrived on set with two loaded pistols after reports that his co-star Charlie Becker had been eyeing up Kelley’s wife. Kelley then made a threat against Becker’s life and was thrown off set. Interestingly, though, Becker did eventually marry Kelley’s wife, so maybe there was something in the accusation after all…
20. Shirley Temple nearly played Dorothy
The Wizard of Oz’s leading lady could have looked completely different, had studio executives gone ahead with their initial choice. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than the legendary Judy Garland playing Dorothy. But child star Shirley Temple, who found fame at the age of just three, was the first name considered for the role of the Kansas farm girl.
19. Ray Bolger was left scarred for a year
Poor Ray Bolger certainly suffered for his art while playing the character of the Scarecrow in the classic movie. Given the nature of the role, the actor had to wear uncomfortable prosthetics every time he showed up on set. But apparently they were placed on his face so tightly that he was left with visible indentations for nearly twelve months after shooting on the film concluded.
18. Dorothy’s daughter married the Tin Man’s son
In 1974 Liza Minnelli walked down the aisle with Jack Haley Jr. The former was, of course, the daughter of The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy, aka Judy Garland. And the latter was the son of the Tin Man, aka Jack Haley. Sadly the pair didn’t get a happily ever after and they went their separate ways just five years later.
17. The Singer Midgets escaped from Nazi Germany
Several of the performing munchkins who can be seen serenading Dorothy had quite the dramatic backstory. The troupe, nicknamed the Singer Midgets and set up by Viennese showman Leo Singer, were originally from Germany. But they fled to the United States to escape the Nazi regime and its attempts to kill off all people they considered imperfect.
16. The Wicked Witch died on a significant day
The date on the Wicked Witch’s death certificate reads May 15. And this is a particularly significant day in the world of The Wizard of Oz. That’s because this is also the same date that the writer of the original children’s novel, L. Frank Baum, came into the world, in 1856. Baum died aged 62 just six days before this date in 1919.
15. The horses were dyed using Jell-O crystals
One of the most memorable aspects of The Wizard of Oz is its vibrant use of color. But producers took unusual steps to make sure that the Emerald City horses fitted in with the whole aesthetic. The animals were dyed purple using none other than Jell-O crystals. Unsurprisingly, the horses spent much of their time on set attempting to lick their makeup off.
14. Dorothy’s slippers were stolen
In 2005 a pair of Dorothy’s iconic ruby red slippers were pinched from the Judy Garland Museum in Minnesota. The same museum later hired their own P.I. to track down the footwear, which were insured for a whopping $1 million. However, it was an undercover FBI operation in 2018 that finally helped to recover the cherished piece of Hollywood memorabilia.
13. The ‘suicidal actor’ is just an urban legend
Some The Wizard of Oz fans believe that a background shadow in one of the film’s scenes has a tragic explanation. Indeed, the theory that an actor committed suicide on set has become the stuff of Hollywood folklore. But in fact it’s nothing more than an urban legend. The shadow in question actually belongs to a big bird simply spreading its wings.
12. The Tin Man’s tears were edible
Ever wondered what exactly the Tin Man’s tears are made of? Well, The Wizard of Oz’s producers initially used oil to stream down the character’s famous grey face. But the substance wasn’t particularly photogenic and so it was replaced by something far tastier. Indeed, when Jack Haley is seen turning on the waterworks, he’s actually crying chocolate sauce.
11. Judy Garland wanted to keep Toto
Dorothy’s relationship with her furry friend Toto is one of The Wizard of Oz’s most heartwarming. And Judy Garland established such a bond with the lovable canine – whose name in real life was Terry – that she actually wanted to take him home with her for good. Unfortunately for the actress, Terry’s owners weren’t on board with the idea.
10. Frank Morgan played several parts
Frank Morgan could never be accused of slacking on The Wizard of Oz’s set. Indeed, not only did the actor take on the important role of the Wizard himself. He also portrayed several other characters, including the Emerald City gatekeeper, Professor Marvel, the horse carriage coachman and the guard who originally doesn’t allow Dorothy and co. access to the Wizard.
9. The Yellow Brick Road initially showed up as green
One of The Wizard of Oz’s most famous musical numbers, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” could perhaps have done with a lyric change for its original screen test. Indeed the paint that producers first used for the film’s pathway initially showed up green on camera. The behind-the-scenes team then had to repaint it using a standard industrial yellow.
8. The Scarecrow gets the Pythagorean Theorem wrong
Turns out that even when the Scarecrow gets a brain he can’t do math. The character reels off the Pythagorean Theorem after receiving his upgrade, but incorrectly claims it can be applied to a triangle of the isosceles variety. That’s because actor Ray Bolger, who had a lot of trouble remembering the theorem, failed to get the equation right on the day of filming. And so the producers simply had to make do and use his incorrect utterances.
7. More than 3000 costumes were made for the film
Gilbert Adrian certainly had his work cut out to get all of The Wizard of Oz’s outfits ready in time. With the assistance of 178 staff members, the costume designer ended up creating an incredible 3,120 different fashion items. Luckily, Adrian had been a lifelong fan of Frank L. Baum’s original story and so had already had filled numerous notebooks with design ideas by the time he was appointed.
6. The shabby coat belonged to L. Frank Baum
In an incredible coincidence, the coat that Professor Marvel can be seen sporting belonged to The Wizard of Oz’s creator. The fashion item was picked out randomly for Frank Morgan at a second-hand store. But when the actor turned one of its pockets inside out he discovered that it had been inscribed with L. Frank Baum’s name. The author’s widow later assured people that the coat did, in fact, belong to her husband.
5. The crystal ball was used in several other films
The crystal ball owned by the Wicked Witch had the kind of filmography that many actors at the time would have envied. As well as appearing in The Wizard of Oz, the 25-inch diameter ball was also used in two 1932 releases, action movie The Mask of Fu Manchu and fantasy Chandu the Magician. In 2011 the object went for over $126,000 at an auction.
4. The Tin Man was turned into a beehive
The Wizard of Oz’s running time stands at 101 minutes, but its original cut reached the two-hour mark. Therefore, several scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. One of the most intriguing is when the Tin Man is transformed into a human beehive by the Wicked Witch. Luckily, the bees flee in defeat after their attempts to sting him result in bent stingers.
3. A fire was created using apple juice
The Wizard of Oz may have boasted some of the most groundbreaking special effects for its time. But some of the tricks the film’s producers used to create its magic were very simple. Indeed, the fire that suddenly erupts when Dorothy’s red slippers are yanked by the Wicked Witch was created by speeding up a shot of apple juice.
2. You can see wrinkles in the Tin Man’s pants
The Tin Man is, of course, supposed to be made of nothing more than metal. The clue is in the name. And yet some eagle-eyed The Wizard of Oz viewers have spotted that his grey outfit sometimes appears to defy the laws of chemistry. Indeed, in one particular scene the character’s grey outfit can be seen quite clearly creasing.
1. There are approximately 40 differences between the book and the film
There are approximately 40 notable differences between L. Frank Baum’s original novel and MGM’s big-screen adaptation. Notable examples include the film’s omissions of the backstories of the Witch of the North and the Tin Man, Scarecrow and the Lion. Also, the fact that Dorothy’s adventure turned out to be a dream is not insinuated within the novel. Furthermore, the book was also a little darker and more violent than the family-friendly Hollywood version.