Back in the day, MGM was a studio among studios, known for its expansive acreage, a multitude of soundstages, and an impressive stable of Hollywood stars, which included Clark Gable, Mickey Rooney, Jean Harlow, Spencer Tracy and, of course, Judy Garland.
MGM had its own train station, park and zoo, and plenty of neighborhood houses and streets, so it could film almost any story using, in large part, what already existed inside its impressive compound.
When it came to the filming of The Wizard of Oz, however, the studio was faced with some unique new challenges. Nowhere within the studio walls was there a ready-made Gale farm, Witch’s Castle, Emerald City, poppy field, or Enchanted Forest. All of these had to be created from scratch and required a vision unique to 1930s Hollywood, as this type of fantasy film had never been created before. If any studio could do it, prevailing wisdom held, MGM could.
“Despite its farm, forests and poppy field,” write authors of The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion, “The Wizard of Oz was filmed almost entirely on soundstages…the only hint of authentic exterior footage is a streaming cloud montage over which the main titles were printed.”
You’d never know it watching the film. With scenery and effects that are incredible even by today’s standards, it’s clear that the thinking and labor that went into the construction of the world of Oz—from the Gale farm with its weathered, Depression-era appearance to the fantastic fantasy streets and buildings of Munchkinland and the Emerald City (and let’s not forget the most incredible man-made twister ever filmed) was unlike anything Hollywood had ever undertaken. To think that this world existed inside the buildings of a movie studio is mind-boggling.
Isn’t it great that we get to marvel at the genius behind this incredible film every time we watch it?