My thesis on the Wizard of Oz will look at this classic and beloved 1939 film from the behind the camera’s eye, through the camera’s eye, and through the audience’s eye. I will examine the difference between the book, written by L. Frank Baum in 1900 and the screenplay for the film. I will explore the actors, both on screen and off screen as well as their character’s role and meaning to the film. L. Frank Baum, the genius behind the novel, published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900 and in addition to the grand success of this book, he penned thirteen novel sequences.
A musical version of his novel opened on Broadway in 1903 and ran for ten years. Silent films and plays evolved from 1908 through 1925. In Baum’s book, Dorothy’s ruby slippers were silver. They were changed in color to fit better into the colorized portion of the film. The Wizard of Oz was nominated for six Academy Awards, competitive prizes for the best song, Over the Rainbow and a special juvenile prize for Judy Garland. As in all films, production companies use test markets. MGM used three and Oconomowoc, Wisconsin lays claim to the first viewing of the classic on August 12, 1939.
The original cast choices, for one reason or another, did not make it to the filming or to the final cut. The original choice for the Wizard was W. C. Fields. He was replaced by Frank Morgan due to constant disagreements over his fee to play the character. Buddy Epson was the second choice for the role of the Tin Woodman, however had to be replaced by Jack Haley after being hospitalized for an allergic reaction to the aluminum dust in the make-up. Ray Bolger was the original Tin Woodman character, but took the role of the Scarecrow.
Rumor has it that Shirley Temple was also up for consideration for the role of Dorothy. Judy Garland, whose birth name was Frances Ethel Gumm, assumed the role (Washington Times). The opening and closing scenes were originally filmed on sepia tone film, which is the brown tint. In 1949 all copies of the film were changed from sepia to black and white for those scenes. The movie remained this way until it was restored to its original sepia version with the 50th anniversary edition in 1989.
At the time when The Wizard of Oz made its debut on home televisions, it was viewed completely in black and white, color televisions were not a common place item. As color televisions became more popular and readily available, the film was one of the few movies of the time that were in color. (Geek Twins) MGM purchased all rights to the Wonderful Wizard of Oz in January of 1938. After a multitude of rewrites, the script’s final draft was complete on October 8, 1938. In addition to all of the cast changes, there were multiple directors as well.
Filming began on October 13, 1938 with Richard Thorpe at the helm. Thorpe was fired after an unknown number of scenes had been filmed. George Cukor took his place temporarily until he had to leave the set to return to his rightful place on the Gone with the Wind set. Cukor made some character changes that required scenes to be reshot. He actually never filmed any of The Wizard of Oz and let the set on November 3, 1938. Victor Fleming took over the role of director at that point. Fleming continued to film until he replaced Cukor on February 12, 1939 at the Gone with the Wind set.
King Vidor became the final director for the film. The filming ended on March 16, 1939. Vidor refused to accept any public credit for his role until the death of his friend, Victor Fleming (Wizard of Oz Movie Web). The transformation to television became an annual event of sorts. The first airing occurred November 3, 1956 on CBS. It is estimated that the airing drew an audience of 45 million viewers. It was not shown again until December 13, 1959 as a Christmas special. It ran yearly in December from 1959 through 1962. It was omitted in December 1963; speculations are that the assignation of John F. Kennedy in November of that year or the scheduling of other Christmas programs kept it off the calendar. It did appear in early 1964 and ran for two decades as a yearly event. In the late 1960’s, NBC bought the rights, however it was reverted to CBS by 1976.
It can now be viewed multiple times a year on such channels as Tuner Classic and TBS The film was the first video that was released by MGM/CBS Home Video in 1980, with all subsequent home video releases through Warner Home Video. The Wizard of Oz has been released in other formats including aser disc and DVD over the years. Various versions of the movie with out- takes, bloopers, deleted songs, trailers, newsreels, and photo galleries are on the market. (Movie Web). The casting department hired 124 people from Leo Singer, who operated a vaudeville show that consisted of little people dubbed the “Singer Midgets”. When necessary, MGM would hire children to fill in gaps for production. They became the famed Munchkins of Munchkin Land. In 2007, there were seven surviving Munchkins who were given the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Destination Hollywood).
Henry Littlefield, a high school teacher in 1964 penned an article, “The Yellow Brick Code”. Littlefield defined his theory as a friendly critique of the Populist thinking. In an effort to teach students the issues of the time era, instructors have used Littlefield’s critique. He used symbolism of the characters to explain Populist beliefs. The author of Oz was a Populist, hence many theories circulate that his novel was laden with Populist thinking. The following is Littlefield’s symbolism. Dorothy represents the everyday citizen Scarecrow is a farmer
Tin Woodman is an industrial worker Lion represents William Jennings Bryan, a politician who backed the silver cause Wizard of Oz is the U. S. Presidents of the late 19th century Wicked Witch represents a malign Nature, who was destroyed by the farmer’s most precious commodity, water Winged Monkeys represent the Native Americans or the Chinese railroad workers who have been exploited by the West Oz is an abbreviation for ounce or as Baum writes the O-Z taken from the filing cabinet Emerald City is Greenback paper money, exposed as fraud Munchkins are ordinary citizens (moviemeanings).
Some of these explanations or critique sound like conspiracy theories. However, one also must remember the era that had just ended, the Great Depression. The stock market had crashed; people were still rebounding and struggling to survive. I can agree with some of the above analogies, such as Dorothy, the Wizard, the scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman. I see the movie as a young girl living in Kansas with her aunt and uncle, surviving off their land. Kansas and the farm is all she knows.
The film at this point is shot in the sepia color to represent the bland lay of the flat land of Kansas, the normalcy of her life, and the color of the world as Dorothy sees it that surrounds her. The twister that Dorothy ultimately is rendered unconscious during transports her to another world, another time, another life. The bright colors, the singing, the Lollipop kids, and the celebration for her killing the witch (the one the house landed on and where the ruby slippers come into play) are overwhelming to Dorothy.
As she travels the Yellow Brick Road on her way to Emerald City and the Wizard, she encounters familiar faces that act as protectors to her as she makes her way to the unknown. She knows them as the Scarecrow, the Tim Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. Of course, we know them as the farm hands. There is good and evil, as in any great classic story, and Dorothy encounters both. The beauty of the promised land of Emerald City is to me the old adage of the grass is always greener on the other side.
Once she made her way to the Wizard with her companions, she was instructed to face the Wicked Witch and retrieve her broom. This equates to facing our fears and overcoming them. The wicked witch that Dorothy must overcome is Miss Gulch from the farm, the woman who wanted to take Toto away from her. Once she succeeds in getting her broom, she has not only freed herself but liberated those in her capture. She returns to Emerald City to lay the Witch’s broom at the Wizard’s feet in order for him to keep his promises to her friends (brains, courage, and a heart) and to get her back to Kansas.
She discovers that everything one needs to overcome and succeed is within them. They only need to want it and believe in themselves. After tearful good-byes, she is on her way in the hot air balloon headed home, when Toto jumps out. The balloon leaves without her and she believes all is lost and she will never get back home. Glinda the good witch tells her the secret to the ruby slippers that would have taken her home at any point in her journey; click your heels three times and say “there’s no place like home”.
All the color disappears as Dorothy awakens in her sepia room with her Aunty Em fusing over her. Everyone had been so concerned for her while she was unconscious and far away in Oz. Dorothy realizes that all of them had been with her in her dream, except her aunt and uncle who were her grounding force, her reason to want to go home. There is symbolism in this film, but I do not believe it to be conspiracy, populist, or any other theory. This magical, fantasy world of a young farm girl gives young and old a classic family film to share throughout the generations.