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Encyclopedia > The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The Wizard of Oz is a 1939 musical fantasy film based on L. Frank Baum's turn-of-the-century children's story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in which a resourceful American girl is snatched up by a Kansas tornado and deposited in a fantastic land of witches, talking scarecrows, cowardly lions, and more. It stars Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Billie Burke and Margaret Hamilton.



L. Frank Baum (born Lyman Frank Baum on May 15, 1856) published his book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900. Over the following years it sold millions of copies, and Baum wrote thirteen more Oz books before his death on May 15, 1919.

In January 1938, MGM bought the rights to the book. The script was completed on October 8, 1938. Filming started on October 12, 1938 and was completed on March 16, 1939. The film premiered on August 12, 1939.

The movie's script was adapted by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf. Several people assisted with the adaptation without official credit: Irving Brecher, William H. Cannon, Herbert Fields, Arthur Freed, Jack Haley, E.Y. Harburg, Samuel Hoffenstein, Bert Lahr, John Lee Mahin, Herman J. Mankiewicz, Jack Mintz, Ogden Nash, and Sid Silvers. It was directed by Victor Fleming, Richard Thorpe (uncredited), George Cukor (uncredited), and King Vidor (uncredited).

It won Academy Awards for Best Music, Original Score and Best Music, Song (Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg for Over the Rainbow).

Casting the film was problematic, with actors shifting roles repeatedly at the beginning of filming. One of the primary changes was in the role of the Tin Woodsman. The Tin Man was originally slated for Ray Bolger, and Buddy Ebsen was to play the Scarecrow. Bolger was unhappy with the part, and convinced producer Mervyn LeRoy to recast him as the Scarecrow. Ebsen didn't object to the change at first, but just 9 days into filming, he suffered an allergic reaction to the metallic makeup and had to leave the movie. Jack Haley was given the part the next day.

The role of Dorothy was given to Judy Garland on February 24, 1938. After the casting of her role, a few executives at MGM contemplated replacing her with Shirley Temple, but were not able to get Fox to comply with the "loan" of the young actress. Other MGM officials vetoed the idea of using Temple.

Originally, Gale Sondergaard was cast as the Witch. She became unhappy with the role when the Witch's persona shifted from a sly glamorous witch into the familiar ugly hag. She turned down the role, and was replaced on October 10, 1938 with Margaret Hamilton.

On July 25, 1938, Bert Lahr was signed and cast as the Cowardly Lion. Frank Morgan was cast as the Wizard on September 22, 1938. On August 12, 1938, Charlie Grapewin was cast as Uncle Henry.

Filming began on October 12, 1938, with Richard Thorpe directing. Thorpe was fired and George Cukor took over. He changed Judy Garland and Margaret Hamilton's makeup and costumes, which meant that all of their scenes had to be discarded and re-filmed. Cukor had a prior commitment to direct the movie Gone with the Wind, so he left on November 3, 1938, and Victor Fleming took over for him.

Ironically, on February 12, 1939, Victor Fleming again replaced George Cukor in directing Gone With The Wind. The next day King Vidor would be assigned as director to finish the filming of the movie (mainly the sepia shots of the Kansas farm).

The movie's filming was completed on March 16, 1939. On June 5, 1939 it had its first sneak preview. After this preview, as a response to several audience members, some scenes were deleted. Audience members thought the movie was too long; others found some of the witch's scenes too scary.

On August 7, 1939, The Wizard Of Oz, a movie that cost $2,777,000 to make, unheard of at the time, was officially and legally copyrighted. It premiered at the Strand Theatre on Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on August 12, 1939, and in Hollywood's Grauman's Chinese Theater on August 15.

On August 17, 1939, the movie opened nationally. Judy Garland and her frequent film co-star Mickey Rooney performed after the screening at Loews Capitol Theater in New York City, and would continue to do this after each screening for a week.

In spite of the publicity, the movie was only moderately successful in its initial theatrical run. It achieved its iconic status after decades of television showings, beginning on November 3, 1956. The viewing audience for this broadcast was estimated at 45 million people, and was the beginning of a tradition. For decades to follow, the movie was aired in the United States on or near Easter, although today with the Turner cable networks now holding the television rights, the film is generally shown during the summer and Christmas seasons. As of now, the rights to its distribution are held by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment.


(Also including deleted scenes and other filming information.)

These opening scenes were the last ones to be filmed. They were filmed from late February - March 16, 1939. Dorothy is an orphan from Kansas, raised by her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. At the beginning of the film, Dorothy is telling the three farm hands about her conflict with a local rich woman, Almira Gulch (played by Margaret Hamilton, who also plays the Witch of the West). Each hand advises her in his characteristic way, foreshadowing their appearance in Dorothy's dream of Oz. One suggests that it's not smart to walk with Toto near Gulch's property (Scarecrow). The next starts making a passionate speech, straight from the heart (Tin Woodman), but is stopped in mid-speech by Aunt Em. The last recommends a more aggressive approach (Cowardly Lion).

Dorothy's dog, Toto, gets in trouble for biting her, and Gulch comes to Dorothy's house with an order from the sheriff allowing her to take the dog to be put to sleep. Dorothy's aunt and uncle argue unsuccessfully with Ms. Gulch, and Toto is taken away. He escapes, though, by jumping out of Ms. Gulch's basket, who doesn't notice. When the dog gets home, Dorothy decides that they should run away from home, because Ms. Gulch would be coming back for him.

Dorothy and Toto begin their journey, and they soon encounter Professor Marvel (played by Frank Morgan, who also the plays the Wizard of Oz, the doorman, the cabbie, and the guard). He leads Dorothy into his trailer and pretends to see Aunt Em crying in his crystal ball. Dorothy is convinced, and she and Toto hurry home. On her way out of the trailer, though, a cyclone begins to form. When she gets home, her whole family is down in the storm cellar. Dorothy gets to her bedroom, and a strong wind blows her window out of its frame, hitting Dorothy on the head, knocking her out.

Dorothy awakes to find that her house is inside the cyclone. She sees some familiar faces out of the window, including the wicked Ms. Gulch. Gulch transforms into a witch and her bicycle into a broomstick. She cackles and flies away. Minutes later, Dorothy and Toto land in Munchkinland, a county in the land of Oz. The movie changes from sepia-toned to Technicolor as Dorothy and Toto walk out of the house.

Shortly thereafter, Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (played by Billie Burke), arrives in an iridescent bubble. She asks Dorothy whether she is a good witch or a bad witch, and despite Dorothy's repeated explanations, Glinda never quite understands who Dorothy is nor where she comes from. She informs her of where she is, and that she killed the Wicked Witch of the East with her house. She introduces her to the Munchkins, a small community of little people who sing and dance in order to thank Dorothy for freeing them from the Witch's terror.

Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West
Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West

Mid-song, there is a burst of fire and the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) arrives. She wants to know who killed her sister, and she wants to claim her dead sister's powerful ruby slippers. To her horror, Glinda magically moves the slippers to Dorothy's feet, replacing a pair of homely, black lace-ups. The Wicked Witch makes threats to Dorothy, but Glinda informs her that she has no power in Munchkinland: "Oh rubbish! You have no power here! Be gone! Before somebody drops a house on you!." The Wicked Witch vows revenge on Dorothy and Toto, and she disappears in the same way she arrived.

The Munchkin Land scenes were filmed from December 10 - 23, 1938.

On December 23, 1938, during a second filming of her departure from Munchkinland the lift Margaret Hamilton was standing on did not go down fast enough. When the fire started she nearly got caught in it. She got severely burned and was out of the filming for six weeks. She returned to the set on February 11, 1939.

Glinda tells Dorothy that the only way to get back to Kansas is to follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City, where she can ask the mysterious Wizard of Oz for help. Before Glinda disappears in her bubble, she tells Dorothy never to take off the slippers, and to always follow the Yellow Brick Road.

from left to right, Jack Haley, Ray Bolger, Judy Garland, and Bert Lahr
from left to right, Jack Haley, Ray Bolger, Judy Garland, and Bert Lahr

On her journey, Dorothy befriends a brainless talking scarecrow (Ray Bolger), a heartless tin woodsman (Jack Haley), and a cowardly lion (Bert Lahr). All three of them sing songs detailing their difficult handicaps. They too decide they will visit the Wizard to obtain what they desire, despite the Witch's threats to stop them.

Two scenes filmed along the way were cut. First was about 2 minutes of Ray Bolger's "If I only had a brain" song scenes. The second one was a scene where the witch follows up on her threat to turn the Tin Man into a beehive. Originally there was a scene with dozens of bees flying around the Tin Man.

Just before the group reaches the Emerald City, the Wicked Witch casts a spell to stop them. She produces a giant field of poppies that put Dorothy, Toto and the Lion to sleep. The Scarecrow and the Tinman cry for help, and Glinda produces a counterspell in the form of a snow shower to wake everybody up. They immediately arrive at the Emerald City, where they are only allowed in after Dorothy proves that Glinda sent her there.

Dorothy and friends arrive at the Emerald City
Dorothy and friends arrive at the Emerald City

Inside the Emerald City, everything is green except for the Horse of a Different Color who takes the group to a salon. They clean up and, just before they go to see the Wizard, the Wicked Witch flies above the Emerald City, writing the words "SURRENDER DOROTHY" in the sky with her broomstick. After some difficulty, they finally make it to the Wizard.

(Originally it was "SURRENDER DOROTHY OR DIE SIGNED WWW"; the last few words were cut after the first preview. A lot of the witch's scenes were cut, or script ideas never filmed, because MGM executives felt it made the witch too scary for kids.)

When the party meets the Wizard, they find him to be a terrifying floating head surrounded by fire. He bellows that he will only help them if they can obtain the broomstick of the Witch of the West. On their way to her castle, flying monkeys, sent by the Wicked Witch, capture Dorothy and Toto and take them to the castle.

Here was another deleted scene that the witch hints at when she says "They'll give you no trouble; I promise you that. I've sent a little insect on ahead to take the fight out of them" she sends a fictitious bug, "the jitterbug", that bites or stings them, causing Dorothy and friends to dance helplessly until the flying monkeys arrive to take Dorothy and Toto away. It, too, was cut after an early preview. (The only archival evidence remaining of this scene is the sound recordings and a backstage home movie filmed during rehearsals. Unfortunately, the original footage appears to have been lost.)

Once Dorothy gets to the witch's castle, the Witch demands the ruby slippers, but it turns out that Dorothy cannot remove them. In a fury, the Witch orders one of her monkey slaves to kill Toto. The latter, however, escapes. He finds their friends and leads them to the castle to save Dorothy.

Dorothy, meanwhile, is locked inside a chamber with an hourglass and a crystal ball. When the hourglass runs out, Dorothy will die. As she waits and cries, she sees her Aunt Em in the crystal ball, wondering where her niece is. Dorothy cries out to her aunt, but the image of Aunt Em soon turns into the Wicked Witch, cackling and mocking Dorothy.

(Originally, during these scenes there was a reprise of Dorothy, in terror, singing "Over the Rainbow" with slightly altered lyrics. It too was cut after an early preview of the film.)

When they finally get inside the castle, they find Dorothy and try to escape. The Witch stops them and, once she and her soldiers have them cornered, sets the Scarecrow on fire. Dorothy grabs a nearby bucket of water and, in throwing the water on her friend, she also hits the Witch and causes her to melt. To the travelers' surprise, her soldiers are delighted. They give Dorothy the broom and allow them to leave.

Originally, the crew returned to the Emerald City to a "hero's welcome", with everyone singing "The Wicked Witch is Dead". This too was cut after early previews. Footage of this scene no longer exists, except for a few frames seen in a later re-issue trailer. Once they are in the wizard's room they present the broom to a shocked Wizard. He tells them to come back later. Dorothy scolds the Wizard for lying, and they soon discover, thanks to Toto's exploring, that the Wizard is just a man behind a curtain (also played by Frank Morgan), and not really a wizard at all. The four friends are horrified, but the Wizard solves their problems. He gives the Scarecrow a diploma, the Tinman a heart-shaped clock (he calls it a "testimonial"), and a Lion a badge of courage.

He explains to them that his presence in Oz was an accident, that he was lost in a hot air balloon, and that he is, in fact, from Kansas as well (which seems strange since the text on his balloon reads "Omaha", a town in Nebraska). He promises to take Dorothy home in the same balloon that got him there in the first place. He announces to his people that he will leave the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Lion in charge of the Emerald City. Just before takeoff, though, Toto jumps out of the balloon's basket to chase a cat. Dorothy goes after him, and the Wizard accidentally takes off, unable to get back to the ground.

Just as Dorothy is resigning herself to spending the rest of her life in Oz, Glinda appears. She tells Dorothy that she can use the ruby slippers to return home. She didn't tell her at first, though, because Dorothy had to learn a lesson. When asked what she has learned, a tearful Dorothy replies that, if she can't find what she's looking for in her own backyard, then she never really lost it to begin with.

Dorothy and Toto say goodbye to their friends, and Glinda instructs her to click her heels together and repeat the words, "There's no place like home." She awakens in her Kansas house surrounded by her family and friends. She tells them about her journey, and they tell her it was all a bad dream. The movie ends with Dorothy hugging Toto and exclaiming to her Aunt Em that there really is no place like home.

Differences from the book

The film's basic plot is not very different from the original novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but quite a bit less detailed. Baum originally provided complex back stories for all the characters and locations, which are largely omitted in the film. The book also featured several irrelevant sub-plots (such as confrontations with various monsters en route to the Emerald City) which are omitted as well. It is also worth noting that in the original book the enchanted slippers were silver, not ruby. This was changed to show off the film's sophisticated color technology.

In the movie, Glinda is the name of the Good Witch of the North, who returns to show Dorothy how to use the Ruby Slippers to go home. In the book, however, the Witch of the North's name is not given; and Dorothy must journey to visit Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, to learn how to use the silver shoes.

The main point of contention with Baum's fans is the ending, which they feel strongly goes against the nature of the original. In Baum's novel, there is no hint that Oz is anything but a real place, to which Dorothy returns repeatedly (she eventually moved to Oz permanently and was joined by her aunt and uncle) in the numerous sequels.


The Wizard of Oz has generated many rumours and stories, some of which have reached the level of urban legends. The most common of these, which refuses to die, claims that one of the cast or crew hanged himself on the set, and can be seen in the Enchanted Forest scene. This is not true. It is in fact an animal handler recapturing an escaped bird. Additionally, the large group of "little people" cast to play the Munchkins were rumoured to have held wild drunken orgies, but these stories are likely to have been exaggerated.

According to another story which appears to be true, the coat Frank Morgan wore as Professor Marvel, which was handpicked from a second-hand clothing rack, once belonged to L. Frank Baum (the author of the Oz series of books). The inside pocket had his name on it. After completion of the film, the coat was presented to Baum's widow who confirmed it was indeed his.

The movie continues to generate a cult following, despite its age and original creative intent as a musical cinematic fable for children. Director John Boorman utilized aspects of the film in his 1974 science fiction classic Zardoz. Wizard of Oz collectibles, such as autographs and memorabilia related to the film, are actively pursued. On May 24, 2000, a pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the film (with red sequins; seven pairs may exist) sold at auction for $666,000.

Several film scholars have written interesting interpretations of the film, including several attempts by structuralist semiologists suggesting that the film was intended to prepare America for entry into war, although this ignores the fact that the Second World War had not yet started. Such obscure and esoteric interpretations usually posit Dorothy as representing a depressed, monochrome America, turning to Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal (the flimflam magician) for hope. She enters a more colourful Europe (Munchkinland), threatened by the Wicked Witches of the East (Stalinism) and West (Fascism). She defeats Stalinism when her house falls upon the Eastern Witch early on, which suggests the overwhelming power of commercial capitalism and its precedence in Western Europe. To defeat Fascism, she receives the aid of Britain (Glynda), the naive peasantry (the Scarecrow), the dehumanized Proletariat (the heartless Tin Man), and the emasculated nobility (Cowardly Lion). The Wizard who encourages and profits from the defeat of the Western Witch turns out to be another version of the same flimflam man she met at home, a cynical politician who realizes that none of Dorothy's allies truly require anything that they didn't already have. He is both a supreme humanitarian and a misanthrope, in that he excels at detecting the weaknesses of others, because he knows his own so well. He is, in fact, the spirit of democracy.

There are also several coincidences between this movie and the Pink Floyd album, Dark Side of the Moon. For more detail about this, see Possible film and music synchronizations

The film has been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

The film is #6 on the American Film Institute's 100 years, 100 movies list, and two songs from the film are on the 100 years, 100 songs list (Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead was #82 and Somewhere over the Rainbow was #1).

In 1977, Aljean Harmetz wrote The Making of the Wizard of Oz, a detailed description of the creation of the film based on interviews and research; it was updated in 1989. ISBN 0-7868-8352-9


Sequels and related films

See also

External link

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
The Wizard of Oz (1939 movie)

The land | The characters (including Dorothy and The Wizard)
The books | The authors (Baum | Thompson | McGraw | Volkov) | The illustrators (Denslow | Neill)
The film adaptations (The Wizard of Oz | The Wiz | Return to Oz)

  Results from FactBites:
The Wizard of Oz (1939 film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (5704 words)
He explains to them that his presence in Oz was an accident, that he was lost in (ironically enough) a "hot air" balloon, and that he is, in fact, from Kansas as well (which seems strange since the text on his balloon reads "Omaha", a city in Nebraska).
Wizard of Oz collectibles, such as autographs and props from the film, are among the most sought-after of all movie memorabilia.
The Wizard who encourages and profits from the defeat of the Western Witch turns out to be another version of the same flimflam man she met at home, a cynical politician who realizes that none of Dorothy's allies truly require anything that they didn't already have.
Encyclopedia: The Wizard of Oz (1939 movie) (10527 words)
Dorothy and Toto begin their journey, and they soon encounter Professor Marvel (played by Frank Morgan, who also the plays the Wizard of Oz, the doorman, the cabbie, and the guard; all of his characters are essentially a "humbug", in his own words, i.e.
He explains to them that his presence in Oz was an accident, that he was lost in a hot air balloon, and that he is, in fact, from Kansas as well (which seems strange since the text on his balloon reads "Omaha", a town in Nebraska).
Meinhardt Raabe (IMDB:nm0704638), (born in Jefferson County, Wisconsin, 1915-09-02) is the oldest surviving Munchkin-actor from The Wizard of Oz.
  More results at FactBites »



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