My big bad The Wizard of Oz page



The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, by L Frank Baum, illustrated by Robert Ingpen – We all know the movie so well, we never really think about the original book by L Frank Baum. Have you read it?

This revisit of the classic, published in 2011, comes a few years before Oz The Great And Powerful film, which didn’t really do all that well in the theatres, but, according to my 11-year-old, was a wonderful tale anyway. I tried to get him to read the “sequel” to this non-L Frank Baum prequel to The Wizard Of Oz, but he lost interest quickly, so I read it myself. I’m glad I did.

This book comes with a very good intro to L Frank Baum (I never knew he was born into a life of fortune, but lost everything and had to hustle and write to make ends meet). The book is quick and easy to read, this version comes in a large, durable, and highly-illustrated hardcover version. It’s full of finished drawings and sketches, with at least one classic drawing – of the woodcutter being transformed slowly into a tin man – really jumping off of the page.



The story mainly follows what happens in the film, with some additional adventures thrown in.

There’s a great sense of adventure and purpose – Dorothy collects companions one after another, everyone is kind to each other and helps others, with the exception of a few evil people who do the opposite. Nice pictures of Oz’s balloon, and great adventures as the lion gets his own kingdom, the tin man his own, and the scarecrow his own – may they always rule with magnanimity and wisdom. Of course, there’s always the weird adventure in the dainty china country, and the land of the weird little Quadlings.

But the best parts are when we learn just who our four adventurers are, and what motivates them.

“All the same,” said the Scarecrow, “I shall ask for brains instead of a heart; for a fool would not know what to do with aheart if he had one.”

“I shall take the heart,” returned the Tin Woodman; “for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.”

There are also some surreal moments, like when the cowardly lion attacks the three travelers before befriending them:

“When [my claws] scratched against the tin it made a cold shiver run down my back. What is that little animal you are so tender of?”
“He is my dog, Toto, ” answered Dorothy.
“Is he made of tin, or stuffed?” asked the Lion.
“Neither. He’s a – a – a meat dog,” said the girl.

Funnily enough, we get the sense before our adventurers reach Oz that the lion is not so cowardly, that the tin man has a heart, and that the scarecrow has brains. It’s a conceit, and so is the wizard. Only the witches have power – not sure why – and there are beasts and strange creatures; there are even tacked-on adventures, such as the visit to the kingdom of the china dolls… really not sure why that’s included in the tale, as it’s totally superfluous. At least it’s not all a dream, as we read about Dorothy falling asleep and waking up.

The illustrations are beautiful. There’s a two-page sweep of a cyclone in Kansas, Dorothy with her new silver shoes (the garish scene of her house crushing the Wicked Witch of the West is not played up at all), the cowardly lion looking very lion-ish, the raft over the river, a two page spread of the giant poppies that nearly do them in, the four faces of Oz, Oz as a seven-eyed creature, the release of the flying monkeys, and many others.

Now, let’s see what the movie’s like…



The movie comes with some pretty good bonuses. On Disc one there are several: there’s a highly-truncated tour of an illustrated version of the book, which doesn’t serve to do much other than to show how different the book and the movie are. It’s nicely animated to spice things up. We are reminded that the Wicked Witch of the East wore silver (not ruby) slippers.

There’s an 11-minute documentary on the restoration of the film, from the original camera negative, but also with lots of preserved and archival materials, at 300 megabytes per second.

A feature called “We haven’t really met properly” gives bios of all the actors. Frank Morgan (Francis Wupperman) as The Wizard/Professor/Cabbie/Guardsman/someone else, nearly lost the role to WC Fields (that would have been interesting…). Hollywood was a small town then, and he appeared in a film with Margaret Hamilton/Miss Gulch in “Saratoga”, and in other films, such as Tortilla Flat (oddly enough, Frank Morgan and WC Fields rented the same home, later owned by Lily Tomlin). He got several Oscar nominations. Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, almost turned the film down when they wanted him for the role of Tin Man. Great dancer with long skinny legs, “The Hardy Girls” in 1946 dancing with Judy Garland. Burt Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, a regular stage guy but who later did film and television. Jack Haley as the Tin Man, had been in Vaudeville and Broadway, also with Margaret Hamilton (Miss Gulch), his son later married Judy’s daughter Liza Minelli. Billie Burke, as Glinda the Good Witch Of The South, was 54 years old when she acted in The Wizard Of Oz – born in 1885, she’s had an interesting life, and later married a zillionaire. She’d acted with a young Judy Garland in “Everybody Sing.” Ironically, “Margaret Hamilton was adored by anyone who met her, especially children and little animals.” Charlie Grapewin, Uncle Henry from Kansas, made more than 100 pictures between age 60-82, including The Grapes Of Wrath and They Died With Their Boots On, and The Good Earth. Also a playwright and novelist – his first film was in 1900. Clara Blandick as Auntie Em, she had been born on an American ship in Hong Kong harbor!! Was in a 1921 comedy, Wise Girls. Toto was a terrier bitch named Terry, probably the most recognisable animal performer of all time. Was painfully shy, famed animal trainer Carl Spits drew him out. He was Spencer Tracy’s pet Rainbow in the thriller Rainbow in 1936. He was also in The Women, worked with Frank Morgan in Tortilla Flat in 1942. Passed away in 1944.

There’s also a “Music and effects track”, which cuts out the dialogue, and the “Original mono track”. This is all that’s on Disc One.

On Disc Two, the Special Features Disc, we get “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic” (50 minutes), “Memories of Oz” (27 minutes), “The Art of Imagination: A Tribute to Oz” (30 minutes), “Because of the Wonderful Things It Does: The Legacy of Oz” (25 minutes), “Harold Arlen’s Home Movies” (five minutes), “Outtakes and Deleted Scenes” (14 minutes).

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic” is a cool documentary about the movie. “More people have seen it than any other movie – over a billion of them. It’s probably the most beloved movie made in any language.” You get a glimpse of the macho Spanish version (the lion roaring), the French version (“lions and tigers and bears”), the German one (showing the witch – of course, it’s German), Angela Lansbury narrates. “Those who created this work came as close to perfection as anyone could ask” (barf!!). “Backstage there was confusion, chaos, and often danger.” Producer Mervyn LeRoy talked about how the budget of $2,600,000 was a lot for the time, he was nearly fired for spending so much. The three guys were sick of being full of make-up. Jack Haley hated it – hard work, not fun at all, nothing funny about it. No residuals, but immortality, the guys say on the Mike Douglas show. Directed by Jack Haley Jr, this documentary was created in the summer of 1989, the 50th birthday of the film, when Macy’s “Tap-Oz-Mania” was the record-breaking biggest tap-dancing sensation.

In 1939, Walt Disney’s success with Snow White inspired Louis B Mayer to create an MGM version of such a film, hence buying the rights to Oz. LeRoy was under pressure to cast Shirley Temple for the film, thought it would be too much for her (here the filmmakers get an ironic shot of Temple saying “there’s no place like home.” Judy Garland’s big voice and greater age helped her get cast over Shirley Temple. LeRoy and Mayer were convinced that this movie could make her a star. The documentary includes the voice of Judy Garland briefly talking about the film, as well as the voices of her daughters Liza Minelli and Lorna Loft talking about how their mother loved making the film.

The casting of the wicked witch was controversial – they didn’t want a slinky and seductive witch like what was in Snow White; because Fields had haggled endlessly over his salary as Oz, he lost it to Fank Morgan who got to play the Wizard, Professor Marvell, the Doorman, the Cabbie, and the Guard. Scenes of Bert Lahr’s Vaudeville films show what a nut he was – totally off the wall. Ray Bolger angry to be cast as the Tin Man, wanted desperately to be the Scarecrow; fought with Louis B Mayer and got it. “Recently discovered in the MGM vaults, it raises the question: how long is too long?” Judy danced with Buddy Ebson in “Broadway Melody” in 1938 (there’s a clip), still under contract to MGM; he was happy to be the tin man, but he had a living nightmare from the aluminum dust that coated his lungs and nearly killed him – the result was the worst personal and professional disaster he ever endured, replaced by Jack Haley, on loan from 20th Century Fox, his make-up now changed from aluminum powder to aluminum paste.

The documentary tells tale of L Frank Baum, and how by 1938 over 10 million Oz books had been sold. The screenplay had 14 writers and five directors, although the screenplay was attributed to three writers. Noel Langley changed Dorothy’s shoes from silver to ruby, made the hired hands the three companions of Oz, and gave Dorothy the line “there’s no place like home.” Luft and Minelli talk about Judy Garland’s version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. The Song was cut after the premiere, because it seems to slow down the film, but it is restored later (good thing too). Directors are changed; one came in, told Judy Garland to lose the curly wig and make-up, and look more like a little pig-tailed girl from Kansas (good call).

Victor Fleming did most of the work on Wizard of Oz, before being called into Gone With The Wind to finish that off (!!!), so King Vidor was called in to finish The Wizard Of Oz (!!!).

Over 100 little people came into MGM, “the singer midgets”, freelancers from Vaudeville and circuses all over the land. A lady midget was given the role of the bearded coroner dude. Five weeks while costumes were made for all of the midgets, while rehearsals were done, make-up done, and all sorts of crazy make-up continuity.

A whole section on the special effects of the films. The tornado was the toughest one, but it was built out of muslin that was moved around. Harold Arlan composed backstage home movies. Burt Lahr’s costume was 90 pounds, but a nervous guy who was always moving, he couldn’t eat anything or he’d get gas… Margaret Hamilton got burned badly by the flames when she got dropped down into the “disappearing pit”, she had burns on her face and hands from the copper in her make-up. The munchkins were all over the place, hiding under benches, in bushes, coming down stairs… Drinkers! Working six days a week, 5:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney are at the opening of the film in New York (it’s not explained why Mickey Rooney is involved). The film lost money in its first week, against stiff competition from Gone With The Wind. Bob Hope was the MC for the Oscars, a ramshackle affair compared to today’s choreography.

“Memories of Oz” is yet another TV special that includes quotes by John Waters, as a cult member, talking about “the most mainstream cult of all.” Good job synthesizing the movie into a three act structure. Daughter of Bert Lahr, Jane Lahr, giving the zeitgeist of 1939 – a cyclone approaching, a fascistic witch with her awful soldiers. Hitler at that time had been cast as the wicked witch, England was the (cowardly) lion.

At that time there was state-of-the-art matte backgrounds. The sepia-coloured world changing to Technicolor was original. Many of the munchkins are interviewed, each of them in costume, lots of discussion of the Munchkin scene.

“I’m the only child in the audience who always wondered why Dorothy ever wanted to go back to Kansas,” says John Waters. ‘Why would she want to go back to Kansas and that dreary black-and-white farm, with an aunt who dressed badly and seemed mean to me, when she could live with winged monkeys, magic shoes, and gay lions. I never understood it.” Munchkin voices were recorded at a certain speed, perhaps unusually slow, were sped up to gain that strange texture. Nice moments interviewing choreographer Donna Massin. Great vaudeville in “Flying High.” Cowardly Lion was a leo!! He was shy, serious, had a great sense of humour that he didn’t show all the time.

The “I’ll miss you most of all [Scarecrow]” line refers to a possible sub-plot that Hunk and Dorothy were having an innocent romance, that was later jettisoned.

Buddy Ebsen interviewed – “why not give Judy a chance?” They gave Judy a chance and she became a superstar.

The munchkin actors were fascinated with Judy Garland, she was interested in them too. A great view of the Judy Garland Dorothy doll, they made hers the same as the Shirley Temple movie. There’s an archivist’s view of the recycling of the Wizard Of Oz movie props – the Witch’s hourglass, Munchkin costumes, Mrs Gretsch’s basket, Munchkin houses, the tornado. The movie didn’t turn a profit until 1949.

“The movies you should re-make are the bad ones, not the good ones,” says John Waters. “It’s actually blasphemy to re-make that movie, and I would root for the failure of any production that would do so in any form!”

“The Art of Imagination: A Tribute to Oz” (30 minutes), is another documentary; it starts off talking about how in those days Louis B Mayer ruled over 180 acres of MGM city, eventually providing a bit of zeitgeist). Randy Newman, Peter Jackson, Sean Astin, Howard Shore (a different movie linked to his name each time he appears), John Dykstra.

It was a fantastic gamble for MGM at the time. It was a gut-level decision. “If I Only Had A Brain” had been written two years earlier. “If I only had the noive,” a very Brooklyn accent. A lot of classical music would have been heard at the time, they used Mussorgsky in the castle, and people would have been familiar with it at that time. They had a complex system of lip synching to pre-recorded music. The cornfield backdrop was 25 ft high, and 400 ft long, painted over three weeks by 13 artists. Discussion of the “Surrender Dorothy” effect. Commentators often wear green to their interviews (Peter Jackson, etc). Narrated by Sydney Pollock.

“Because of the Wonderful Things It Does: The Legacy of Oz” (25 minutes) – Television catapulted it over the top in 1956, with Judy Garland’s daughter and a collector, they scheduled it before Thanksgiving. They waited three years to show it again, because more than once a year was too often, after that they’d play it once a year – that was part of the magic.

Celebrities like Carole Henson, of the Jim Henson company. Influences on Star Wars, with the awards ceremony, the hairy fighter, the girl and the man, the mission. Significant in ET – it’s Oz in reverse, the fantastic creature comes to normalcy and dealing with normal people and finding a place home. The ruby slippers were the highest-paid item on auction when MGM emptied the archives, and they ended up in the Smithsonian institute, where they regularly have to replace the carpet in front of it because it’s so heavily-viewed.

“Harold Arlen’s Home Movies” is “16mm footage [made] during the portrait sittings of the film and visits to the set” by the film’s composer. The pieces are incredibly funky – there’s the cowardly lion mugging for the camera, the wicked witch of the west cackling gloriously, the scarecrow posing with his favorite crow, which at one point feeds him a piece of straw and then sits on his head, Judy Garland, the resplendent 16-year-old, the Scarecrow without his straw hat mugging with Judy, scenes in the Emerald City. Make-up people helping out on the yellow brick road, stage hands – crazy stuff!! I watched it several times, just stunning stuff!

In the “Outtakes and Deleted Scenes” section, we get “If I Only Had A Brain”, “If I Only Had A Heart”, “Triumphal Return to Emerald City”, “Over The Rainbow”, and “The Jitterbug”. There was a deleted dance to “If I Only Had A Brain”, where there’s a wonderful extended bit that was cut because the studio thought the film was getting too long, where the scarecrow finds a piece of his straw stuffing that a crow flew off with, he flies through the air, does the splits, Toto rolls over a pumpkin that rolls through his legs and knocks him in the air, he bounces off of the rubberized fences, runs off in reverse – it’s nutty (and the best thing on either disc!!!!!). Buddy Ebson fell ill to aluminum poisoning, but they run a track of how Buddy Ebsen pre-recorded the song, and there are stills of him doing the scenes, as well as dressed up as Winky guards. The “Triumphal Return to Emerald City” had different sounds, and a huge choral sequence that has been lost, but from which stills remain. A reprise of “Over The Rainbow” was to appear when a tearful and scared Judy Garland was locked in the witch’s castle, sobbing and now clearly regretting ever wishing she had once wanted to be far from Kansas (over the rainbow is now, ironically, meant to be Kansas). Recorded live on the set with piano accompaniment (orchestra was to be added later). Covered by stills and test frames only. “I’m frightened, Auntie Em, I’m frightened!!” “The Jitterbug” number was a huge production that was cut from the movie after the first preview, despite taking five weeks to prepare and “tens of thousands of dollars to prepare, rehearse and film”; the jitterbug was a creature that had been under orders from the wicked witch to sting actors and “sends them into a jivey swing dance in the haunted forest.” We only see movies Harold Arland made during a camera rehearsal, with also stills of the stars. Basically, it’s a musical number never heard in the original film!! Arland’s shots of the rehearsals look like they were taken clandestinely, who knows why, and we only see the stars from between the rubbery horror-trees, manipulated as they were by stage hands. Nice.

And of course, how can you write about The Wizard of Oz without writing about Dark Side Of The Rainbow, the game when you sync the film with Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” album, with its prominent rainbow-influenced cover. I did watch it (by starting the music with the third roar of the MGM lion at the beginning); the experience is underwhelming to say the least, but there are some great moments of overlap, such as all of “The Great Gig In The Sky”, when Dorothy feels the coming of the cyclone, rushes home, and is then lifted up into… the sky; also, the first beat of “Money” begins when she opens the door and sees the Technicolor world of Munchkinland. Nice. During “Us And Them”, there’s a great point where the lyrics say “which is which”, and you get to see the two witches confront each other – great pun. There’s also great interplay with the lyric “the lunatic is on the grass” as the scarecrow dances about.

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