Monday, February 24, 2014

FEBRUARY 24 = MGM Purchases "The Wizard of Oz"

"I like Dorothy, because she was in the dress and stuff. But I didn't like the witch." - Film lover Quinn Brianna Mc Dunough on "The Wizard of Oz".
"...a delightful piece of wonder-working which had the youngsters' eyes shining and brought a quietly amused gleam to the wiser ones of the oldsters....not since Disney's Snow White has anything quite so fantastic succeeded half so well." - Film critic Frank S. Nugent on "The Wizard of Oz"

On today's date in 1938, the entertainment trade newspaper Variety
reported that the film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) had bought the rights to adapt L. Frank Baum’s beloved children’s novel "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" for the screen, and that the studio had cast 16-year-old Judy Garland in the film’s central role, Dorothy Gale. And with these first steps an American, indeed a world classic was born. But there were a lot of bumps on this particular road to Oz, with changes of cast, story and at least one signature song almost ending up on the cutting room floor.

L. Frank Baum and "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz".

Based on "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", by Lyman Frank Baum (right, 1856 - 1919), a story published in 1900, the movie makes quite a number of departures from Baum's story, but comes a lot closer than the two silent versions of 1910 and the 1925 version in which Dorothy was made a princess of Oz. There was also a animated cartoon in 1933. In Baum's book, Oz was a real place to which Dorothy would return in later Oz books. Whereas in the 1939 film Oz is a dream world in which she meets several characters based upon people in her real life such as Miss Gulch, Professor Marvel, and the farmhands, none of whom appear in the book.

Casting "Dorothy""the Wizard" and "the Tin Man"

Casting was a bit of a problem. The film's Producer Mervyn LeRoy always maintained that he had Judy Garland in mind for the lead role of Dorothy. But there is evidence that suggests that at least some negotiations were conducted at an early stage with 20'th Century Fox to obtain the services of child star Shirley Temple. These were the days when the all-powerful Hollywood "Studio System" (wherein a studio basically owned a star and could loan them out or not as they saw fit)
was in full force. But the deal never happened. Originally the tall lanky dancer Ray Bolger was set to play the Tin Man, and Buddy Ebsen (left), who later became famous later as "Jedd  Clampett" in "the Beverly Hillbillies" on TV was set to play the Scarecrow. But Bolger was convinced that his frame and his long legs were just right for the Scarecrow, so he convinced Mervyn LeRoy to recast him for that part, and Buddy Ebsen
for the Tin Man. But fate had different plans in mind. Ebsen wound up developing a serious allergic reaction to the silver dust make-up being used for the Tin Man, and thus had to leave the film altogether. Jack Haley was brought in to replace him. And the comedian W.C. Fields was originally planned for the title role of the Wizard. But MGM became exasperated at his negotiations for his fee. So they hired Frank Morgan for the role.

Some Items Which(Almost) Didn't Make the Cut...

Inevitably, there were some cuts to both the story and the finished film, as well as some cuts which almost happened. One interesting cut to the story came in the relationship between Dorothy and the Scarecrow. There was in the script a scene in the conclusion of the film wherein the character of Huck (the real-world counterpart to the Scarecrow) gets Dorothy to promise to write to him when he leaves the farm for Agricultural College. Clearly there was a romance intended for these two, but it was removed from the final script. But it seems pretty obvious that Dorothy leans on the Scarecrow most of all during the film. And this does make it into the final cut when just before she is to leave Oz, she tells the Scarecrow, "I think I'll miss you most of all."  There was an elaborate dance scene called the "Jitterbug" planned for when the flying monkeys intercept the quartet of heroes in the forest.
This was cut for time purposes, but this too survives in the final film when just after sending them after their quarry, the witch says "And just to take the fight out of them I'll send the little worm ahead." But most important of all was a cut which did NOT happen. The film was running on a bit too long, so MGM was looking for some room to cut. "Over the Rainbow" in their eyes made the Kansas portion of the film drag, and was also beyond the understanding of the target audience of kids. But the song with words by E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, and music by the great Harold Arlen was a favorite of Producer Mervyn Le Roy, and he fought to have it kept in, and obviously he won. Happily so, as the song went on to win the Academy Award for "Best Original Song" of 1939. And of course it wound up being the signature song of Judy Garlands concert career.

A Long Afterlife on Television

"The Wizard of Oz" was shown on television for the first time on November 3, 1956 on CBS, as the last installment of the "Ford Star Jubilee" , which made it the first Hollywood film ever shown uncut in one evening on a commercial television network. The Oz scenes were shown in color, but most televisions at that time were not color sets, so very few members of the TV audience saw the film with the full color sequences. An estimated 45 million saw this first broadcast. However, it was not rerun until three years later. On December 13, 1959 the film was shown as a two-hour Christmas season special. This Christmas broadcast was an even bigger ratings hit, so CBS made it an annual Christmas tradition, showing it from 1959 through 1962 always during the Christmas season. This was changed in 1963 due to the proximity of the John F. Kennedy assassination, which had occurred just a few weeks earlier. So the broadcast occurred that year on January 26, 1964. And since then, The Wizard of Oz has been shown at least once a year for nearly three decades. And with the advent first of color television, and then the wide availability of VHS and then of DVD copies and players, this tale has come to be one of the best loved films of all time, being ranked number six on the American Film Institute list of the Top 100 films of all time.


- MGM, 1939; Produced by Mervyn Leroy.


The poster =

L. Frank Baum =

Buddy Ebsen =

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" =

+ 3268.
+ 453.

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