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5 Backstage Secrets Of The Wizard Of Oz

If you claim you haven’t clicked your heels three times, said “there’s no place like home,” and pretended to be Dorothy Gale… well, you’re probably lying. The Wizard of Oz is one of the most famous films in Hollywood history, with a legacy that includes sequels and remakes, a smattering of awards, and one of the most famous ballads of all time. It also transformed Judy Garland into a major movie star. Little do most fans know that Garland was battling demons on set, or that Oz wasn’t such a magical place for the rest of the cast. Read on for backstage secrets from one of Hollywood’s greatest films…

“Over The Rainbow” Almost Didn’t Make It Into The Film

It’s hard to imagine one of the most famous tunes of all time being cut from the film, but it almost happened. The Wizard of Oz initially had a two-hour runtime. While that’s standard for movies today, producers decided that they needed to cut out 20 minutes of footage to keep it a reasonable length.

One of the scenes they originally cut was Dorothy’s signature song, as producers wanted to get rid of the black and white scenes and focus more on the colorful world of Oz. They also thought that younger viewers wouldn’t understand the message of “Over the Rainbow.” The countless song covers, American Idol auditions, and critical acclaim have since proved them very, very wrong. Would the film even be as famous without Dorothy’s powerful ballad? Although they kept her song, the producers did cut a reprise that Dorothy sang after she was kidnapped by the Wicked Witch of the West. 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Dorothy Was Supposed To Be Blonde And Doll-Like

Judy Garland was the definition of old Hollywood beauty, and her performance as Dorothy made her a star, but she wasn’t what the original director, Richard Thorpe, had in mind. He wanted her to look similar to the way Dorothy was portrayed in the book, with blonde hair and a full face of makeup. Basically, just like another little girl who was already a huge star at the time: Shirley Temple.

Temple was the studio’s first choice to play Dorothy, but they ultimately decided that she may not be a good enough singer for the role. Luckily, everything worked out with Garland wearing the ruby slippers.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Witch Was Supposed To Be Beautiful

The Wicked Witch of the West is famously green and ugly, with a hooked nose and cackling laugh that could frighten all the citizens of Oz…but she wasn’t initially supposed to be that way. In fact, the original witch was beautiful and seductive, similar to the wicked stepmother in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

However, the producers decided to give her a more “witchy” look that fit with the public’s narrative. Actress Gale Sondergaard, the original Wicked Witch, left the production after this change, feeling it was not good for her image, and Margaret Hamilton took the role instead. It was a good move for executives to change the witch’s appearance, otherwise the world wouldn’t have been blessed with the smash Broadway musical Wicked.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Tin Man Couldn’t Catch A Break

Walking around in the Tin Man costume was just as uncomfortable as it looks on screen and even turned out to be pretty dangerous. Jack Haley was only cast in the role after the original actor, Buddy Ebsen, was poisoned on set after just nine days in the metal suit. The silver makeup all over his face contained aluminum dust, which nearly killed him after he continuously inhaled those toxins.

That led to a failed lung, two weeks in the hospital, and a six-week recovery period…all because of some silver paint. It was all for nothing, too, as the Tin Man needed to be immediately recast. Poor Buddy Ebsen!

Toto Was Very Well Paid

Dorothy’s famous canine companion made more money on set than most humans ever did, including all the munchkins. He was played by Terry, a Cairn terrier who performed as an animal actor in 16 films. While playing in The Wizard of Oz, the pup made a total of $125 each week- equivalent to roughly $1,700 today. To put things into context, each munchkin made about $50 to $100 a week. And this was way before the age of Petco dog toys and fancy puppy cupcakes…so what did he do with all that money, anyway?

Off To Oz

Things aren’t always black and white, as poetically demonstrated by one of the most iconic movies of all time. As happy and beautiful as Oz seemed onscreen, the filming of The Wizard of Oz wasn’t nearly as pretty. The actors playing the Tin Man and the Wicked Witch of the West both nearly died from inhaling too much face paint. Judy Garland fell deeper into substance abuse issues that would plague her all her life. Like most beautiful things, the film has a dark side…but it’s still has a legacy that makes fans feel like they’re already home- no ruby slippers required.