25 Wonderful and Weird Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The Wizard Of Oz

From urban legends to shocking mistreatment of actors, this is what you don’t know about the making of The Wizard of Oz

Judy Garland Got Paid Less

With all the buzz nowadays around the gender wage gap, it was certainly way worse back in the day, especially in Hollywood. Even though Dorothy is no doubt the star of the 1939 classic, Judy Garland earned much less than the other actors, even though she had the most screentime. Judy only earned $500 per week for her role as Dorothy. Meanwhile, her fellow co-stars, Ray Bolger (Scarecrow) and Jack Haley (Tin Man) earned the most, about $3,000 per week.

Judy Garland Got Paid Less

It Cost Millions To Make

The Wizard Of Oz is considered to be one of the most expensive movies made to date, matching the type of budget that today’s CGI fantasy films command, like Star Wars, Avengers and Avatar. At that time, there had never before been so much money put into a movie; there were special effects, makeup, costumes, reshoots,  rehearsals, and extended production times, probably the most in Hollywood history. All told, the movie cost $3 million to create, which was a huge amount at the time.

It Cost Millions Of Dollars To Make

The Horses Were Covered In Gelatin

The special-effects team decided to paint the horses of the Emerald City with a gelatin mix in order to give them their color. Four different horses were used as the film crew found that multiple color changes on a single horse were too time-consuming to give the impression of an animal that changes color from moment to moment. The only issue was that the horses constantly tried to lick off the sweet stuff, but the team managed to make the effects work anyhow!

The Horses Were Covered In Gelatin

Toxic Snow

In the film, Dorothy, Toto, and the Cowardly Lion fall asleep in a poppy field but are magically awakened by falling snow. Because history is a never-ending carnival of terrors, that snow was asbestos. Asbestos fibers were often used as fake snow from the mid-1930s to the 1950s, in films such as The Wizard of Oz. It wasn’t until many years later that people discovered the harmful effects of asbestos, far too late to help the actors exposed to the carcinogenic snow.

Toxic Snow

Tortuous Costumes

The actors had to endure absolute torture to wear their costumes. Bert Lahr’s Lion costume weighed 90 lbs and wasn’t well ventilated – he was constantly sweating. It took a few assistants to dry out the costume every night. Buddy Ebsen’s Tin Man ensemble was made of metal, so he wasn’t able to sit while wearing it. He also had an extreme reaction to the makeup.

Tortuous Costumes

Five Different Directors

Victor Fleming may be the officially credited onscreen director, but The Wizard of Oz can boast four other directors. Initially, Richard Thorpe was fired after two weeks. George Cukor was brought in after, but he was requested to go work on Gone With the Wind. Then Viktor Fleming came in and he was probably around the longest until he too was called over to assist with Gone With the Wind, and King Vidor was in the end hired to complete the movie.

5 Different Directors

The Infamous Urban Legend

For years there has been a grim rumor circulating about the death of a Munchkin that was supposedly inadvertently captured by the cameras and ended up on the big screen. The speculation that one of the little people took his own life is false. The dark spot in the distance as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man skip down the yellow brick road, was a bird — MGM had a bunch of exotic birds around the set to make the background look more compelling.

The Infamous Urban Legend

Scarier Than You Think

There are crucial differences between the book and the movie. The Wizard of Oz book is more explicit and horrible compared to the film. For instance, in the book, there’s a scene with tiger-bear hybrids being killed in an abyss. Also, Tin Man uses his ax on a wildcat and 40 wolves. Bumblebees swarm and sting the scarecrow and die. All these scenes were never put in the script or shot for the film as they were considered to be too scary and gruesome.

Scarier Than You Think

The Tin Man

Jack Haley was not cast as the original Tin Man; he was his replacement. Buddy Ebsen was the original Tin Man and went through the first ten days of filming. But unfortunately, he fell terribly ill and was taken to the hospital amid rumors that inhaling the aluminum powder lathered on him for the part may have been the reason for his undoing. When Jack Haley took over the role they, fortunately, made sure to switch over to aluminum paste.

The Tin Man

Theater Flop

The Wizard of Oz was regarded as a failure at the box office, but the truth is a little more complicated. The movie did manage to bring in $3 million while in theatres, making it very successful for that time. However, the expenses of production, including technical demands, cast changes, and director changes made the film break even. It was also pulled from theaters earlier than other competing titles like Gone With the Wind, which kept on playing for several years.

Theatre Flop

Burned On Set

During the filming of the clip where the Wicked Witch escapes Munchkinland in a burst of smoke, there was a malfunction, resulting in the actress Margaret Hamilton’s broom, hat, and makeup catching fire. Her face and hands were severely burned. Medics had to use rubbing alcohol to remove her toxic makeup, which was also extremely painful. After returning to work, she was asked to film the “Surrender, Dorothy,” scene, which also required smoke effects. She refused, so her stunt double, Betty Danko, took over.

Burned On Set

Kindergarten Witch

Before Margaret Hamilton took on the part of the evil Wicked Witch of the West, she taught little children as a kindergarten teacher.  It’s ironic that this charming and loving kindergarten teacher is best known for her frightful disposition and her criminal behaviors, not to mention for scaring the daylights out of generations of little children. The former teacher often said her biggest fear was that her large role on-screen would give younger people a false impression of who she is.

Kindergarten Witch

The Lost Song

“Over the Rainbow” is one of Garland’s most iconic hits, but it’s essential to note that the song wasn’t originally written with her in mind. It turned out the song that was intended for Garland was a cheerful dance number titled “The Jitterbug” based on the dance fad at the time. It was recorded but then discarded during the editing process. The song was an emotional ballad inspired by a 1915 operetta titled “Over the Rainbow.”

The Lost Song

Shirley Temple Was The Original Dorothy

While Judy Garland was the obvious choice for the role of Dorothy, it was child star Shirley Temple who received the popular vote by fans of the book. Judy Garland was not the popular candidate among book fans; she was 15 years old, which was considered too old for the role. She was bubbly and over the top. The Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz has a very contrasting personality from what we see in the film. But otherwise, there was never a serious contender except for Judy Garland.

Shirley Temple Was The Original Dorothy

Sneaky Frank Morgan

The actor Frank Morgan didn’t just play one role in The Wizard of Oz, the Great and Powerful Oz made five appearances in the movie. Most people can’t tell but not only did he depict the Great and Powerful Oz. With the help of extra wardrobe, a mustache, and makeup, he also played the fortune-telling professor in the opening, the cabby driving the Horse-of-a-Different-Color carriage, a guard at the wizard’s palace, as well as the doorkeeper at the palace.

Sneaky Frank Morgan

Showbiz Royalty

Before Billie Burke charmed audiences as the Good Witch, she was already a reigning Broadway stage star in New York City and had appeared in numerous silent films as well. At the time of filming, Billie Burke was 54, so that would make her 18 years older than her counterpart Margaret Hamilton, who portrayed the Wicked Witch of the West. Billie Burke established her career by playing these strange, motherly characters. Before The Wizard of Oz, she played Judy Garland’s mother in 1938’s Everybody Sing.

Showbiz Royalty

More Than 3,000 Costumes Were Made For The Movie

It shouldn’t be a surprise that The Wizard of Oz required so many costumes, especially with all those Munchkins walking around the land. It still comes as a shocker that a movie that premiered in 1939 required that many costumes for its production. The interesting fact is that most of the costumes of the movie were lost years later. The Cowardly Lion head is at the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Scarecrow costume is in the Smithsonian.

More Than 3,000 Costumes Were Made For The Movie

The Date On The Wicked Witch’s Gravestone

If you look closely and pay attention, you can spot the date on The Wicked Witch’s gravestone. It shows that she died on May 6, 1938. This was done in honor of L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, who died 20 years prior to that.  The Witch’s gravestone wasn’t the only thing that connected the movie to its book; Professor Marvel’s jacket used to belong to Baum as well.

The Date On The Wicked Witch’s Gravestone

Inappropiate Behavior on Set

Sid Luft, Gerard’s ex-husband, wrote in his memoir about the inappropriate behavior that happened on set towards young Judy. He mentioned the inappropriate behavior came mostly from the people playing the Munchkins, who also used to party and gamble every night after filming. In several occasions, the police showed up to at the Culver Hotel due to complaints made by other guests. One Munchkin actor even got stuck in a toilet once and had to be rescued.

Inapropiate Behavior on Set

The Truth About Lunch

Bert Lahr, who played the Cowardly Lion, was not allowed to eat while wearing his costume because all the effort it took to put it together. He lived off soups, milkshakes and other liquid food for a while, until he became sick of his diet. The movie took years to film, and Lahr had to fight for his rights to eat a solid meal between takes. He demanded his costume be retouched after eating.

The Truth About Lunch

More On Lunch

Margaret Hamilton also had restrictions when it came to eating her food. The paint used for her costume was highly toxic when consumed because it contained copper. She had to have people feed her or help her eat when wearing the Wicked Witch costume to avoid accidentally eating any of the paint. On one occasion, Hamilton consumed some of the makeup and was extremely sick for days, not being able to eat for a period of time.

The Sequel

The movie was so popular during its debut that people were dying to see a sequel of it. But given Gerard’s success, this didn’t happen. She was cast for other movies and was busy with other projects, so the sequel of The Wizard of Oz didn’t happen until 1985 when Disney released Return to Oz.  The movie didn’t do so well in the United States, although it became a cult following in other countries. The sequel was nominated for an Academy Award for best visual effects, although it didn’t win.

The Sequel

Missing Slippers

During the 1970s, MGM needed to clean the warehouse that contained most of the Wizard of Oz props. Kurt Warner was one of the set’s designers when the movie was in production, and he was instructed to clean said warehouse. In return, he was allowed to take whatever he wanted with him. Among the items he took are the famous red slippers Dorothy wore in the film. Today they are worth around $1.5 million.

Red Slippers And Other Costume Items

Weight Loss

The studio insisted that their teen star shed any excess fat – even though Garland was only 15 years old when she began her role as Dorothy, they wanted her to look even younger. They strongly suggested that she diet. They also assigned her a personal trainer, who also served as a spy for the studio. MGM was infamous for assigning people to shadow their biggest stars because they had a clause in their contracts concerning how they conducted themselves.

Weight Loss

Plastic Surgery

Billie Burke had plastic surgery specifically for the film. This was before cosmetic surgery became so mainstream, and an easy and often less painful way to give a facelift was to fix small pieces of fabric in front of an actress’ ears and then pull them up tight with a string. A wig would then cover it, making the cheeks and the droopy neckline magically revived. Billie Burke, who played Glinda the Good Witch, underwent surgery to appear ageless on camera, but she was actually 54 years old.

Plastic Surgery

Scars

Talk about horrible costumes! Apparently, the Scarecrow’s costume left the actor’s face full of tiny scars. Every morning he had to have the rubber mask glued to his face, and had to take it off at the end of the day.  It is rumored that scars disappeared within a year, while others say that he had the marks on his face permanently. Margaret Hamilton’s face was also stained for a while after wrapping the movie due to her tinted makeup.

Scars

Temperature On Set

One of the movie’s most famous qualities is its use of Technicolor technology, which showed brighter and more saturated colors on screen. The technology required extremely bright lighting for it to work properly. For it, they used hot studio lights which made the set reach above 100 degrees and also created issues with carbon dioxide buildup. Imagine wearing those heavy costumes or not being able to eat for hours, only to stand on a set that reached such high temperatures. Poor actors!

Temperature on Set

Dorothy And The Scarecrow

A closing scene back in Kansas after Dorothy’s return was never filmed. If it had, we would see Dorothy’s relationship with the bumbling Scarecrow quite differently. In the end scene, the Scarecrow leaves for an agricultural college and asks Dorothy to write to him. This scene was meant to imply that a romance would develop. Traces of this plot idea can still be noticed throughout the film, particularly when Dorothy is about to leave Oz and tells the Scarecrow, “I think I’ll miss you most of all.”

Dorothy And The Scarecrow

Silver Slippers

The iconic red slippers we are all familiar with were originally supposed to be silver, in the novel by L. Frank Baum. As read in the original children’s book, the slippers that played such a crucial role throughout the storyline were silver. But when creating the film, The change was made because MGM studio head Louis B. Meyer wanted to take advantage of the new Technicolor in films, which they could in a brighter hue, and that’s how the ruby red slippers came to be!

Silver Slippers

The Tornado Stocking

The tornado was created using a muslin stocking. Keep in mind, this film was made back in 1938, so special effects were nothing like they are today. The tornado that brings about the initial conflict within the film was created using a 35-foot-long muslin stocking, and it was inspired by those windsocks they have (or had) at airports. They whirled it around and around with plenty of dirt, dust, and wind involved to give it a disastrous look.

The Tornado Stocking

Toto

Judy Garland had spent a lot of time with Terry, the dog who played the role of Toto, on and off set and developed a very close bond with her. She wanted to keep her as her pet beyond the film. But Toto made about $125 per week working in the movie, which was more than some of the munchkin actors got paid, so the idea vanished when Terry’s trainer, Carl Spitz, turned down the request.

Toto

Not The First

Back in 1910, a 13-minute a silent version of the film called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was made. Nowadays, it’s would be creepy and even terrifying, but 100 years ago, it was probably a revelation. The movie also took a lot of license with Baum’s original story, which can be confusing for the modern audience. The movie ends with Dorothy ditching Kansas and opting instead to stick around this far more exciting magical land. “There’s no place like–Oz?”

Not The First