This week “Art’s World” takes a nostalgic trip back in time to 1939. That was the year I saw my first two movies when I was just 4 years old. They were the “Wizard of Oz” and “Gulliver’s Travels”. I still remember getting on the Jackson Ave. trolley in Jersey City with my mom going to Journal Square then entering the huge, cathedral like Loews State Theater to see these movies, and what a big thrill it was. I recently came across some behind the scenes facts about the “Wizard” so I thought I would share them with you. Some I knew, some I didn’t, so I hope you enjoy this.
The Tin Man – He was played by Jack Haley who was brought in as a last-minute replacement for Buddy Ebsen. After only nine days of filming Ebsen was hospitalized after his lungs failed. The makeup he had been wearing was coated with noxious aluminum dust to make it silver, which he had breathed in to his system and almost cost him his life.
The Cowardly Lion – Played by funnyman Bert Lahr, his costume was partially made up from real lion pelts and weighed almost 50 pounds. Lahr had to stay in costume and makeup the entire days of the shoot with temps near 100 degrees on some shooting days.
Judy Garland – She was 16 at the time of filming and was given a steady diet of both barbiturates and amphetamines to keep her slim and keep her awake. The practice was not uncommon in the 30’s, but it did leave her an addict and it was an overdose of barbiturates that would take her life from us at the still young age of 47.
Toto -Toto is undoubtedly one of the most iconic dogs in cinematic history. Terry, the brindle cairn spaniel who played Toto, earned $125 per week and the actors who played the Munchkins were paid only between $50 and $100 a week.
Margaret Hamilton – She was badly burned during the filming. When she leaves Munchkinland the Wicked Witch of the West exits in a plume of flames. The flame was only supposed to come out after she had safely dropped through a trap door, but the door didn’t open fast enough. Hamilton’s hands and face were burned. As a result, the incident took her out of production for six weeks.
The Cowardly Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow – Believe it or not they were banned from the MGM dining hall. During the shoot actors Bert Lahr, Jack Haley and Ray Bolger were denied entry. Apparently, their makeup was just too unsettling for them to be around other people during lunch. So, box lunches were sent to them on the set.
The Munchkins – 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. Agent Leo Singer was the person who was responsible. After some he brought in were not short enough, his fee was reduced. So, he took 50 percent of their wages and kept it for himself to make up for the loss.
The Wicked Witch of the West – Buddy Ebsen wasn’t the only person to suffer from potentially lethal makeup on set. Margaret Hamilton’s green body paint was copper-based, meaning it was dangerous if she swallowed any. 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.
The Scarecrow – Ray Bolger who played the character was left scarred for a year. Given the nature of the role, the actor had to wear uncomfortable prosthetics every time on set. But they were placed on his face so tightly he was left with visible indentations for nearly twelve months after the film was done.
Judy Garland – As if the drugs we mentioned earlier weren’t enough, they also had her in a corset and her breasts strapped down to make her appear younger. They also kept her on a diet of black coffee and chicken soup to keep her thin. Any wonder why this great star had so many problems later?
And you thought making a movie was fun?
If you want to see the whole list that include loaded guns, injuries to stand ins, different directors, horses and Jell-o and more backstage happenings that went on go to: http://petsdetective.com/a/pop-culture/film/behind-the-scenes-secrets-wizard-of-oz/40/ There are some eye opening things to learn about this classic film.
I hope you all enjoyed this peek at the backstage and what went on in the making of one of Hollywood’s all time classic films.
Art Koch, National Features & DVD Editor, NightMoves Magazine and AAN