Oz at the 1939 Oscars

We recently profiled Pink’s performance of “Over the Rainbow” at this year’s Academy Awards® show. Her stunning rendition, a tribute to the 75th Anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, was enthusiastically applauded by everyone in attendance, most notably perhaps, Judy Garland’s own three children.

Most aficionados of the film know that The Wizard of Oz did not win for Best Picture at the 1939 Oscars®, losing out to Gone with the Wind. Interestingly, as hard as it is for Oz fans to imagine now, the movie never really was considered a contender to beat out David O. Selznick’s film about the Old South, which won ten Academy Awards that year, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress (Vivien Leigh) and Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to win an Oscar). The film also grossed nearly $192 million, a huge sum for a film of that era.

More probable to create an upset in the Best Picture category was Goodbye, Mr. Chips, the story of a teacher and former boarding school headmaster who recalls his life over the years (starring Robert Donat and Greer Carson), or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which Jimmy Stewart’s character naively takes on government corruption after being appointed to fill a vacant Senate seat. These movies were, according to Film Daily‘s Annual Film Critics Poll that year, ranked numbers one and two, respectively.

Of course, The Wizard of Oz did win several awards, including Best Song for “Over the Rainbow.” No real surprise there. What is surprising is that The Wizard of Oz wasn’t recognized by the Academy for its technical achievements, which had been the talk of the Hollywood press since the film’s release. While 1939 was the first year Oscar offered a special effects category, a film called The Rains Came won for its realistic depiction of a severe flood and the resulting devastation.

Judy Garland received an honorary Oscar the following in 1940 for her “outstanding performance as a screen juvenile during the past year.” While it wasn’t officially designated for her performance as Dorothy Gale (she’d also starred in the well-received Babes in Arms that year), everyone in Hollywood seemed convinced that the award was, indeed, for The Wizard of Oz.

You could argue that in the end, even in Hollywood, awards don’t matter. The Wizard of Oz remains one of the most loved and highly praised films of all time. Accolades enough for the millions of Oz fans around the world.