Oz Experts Answer Your Questions

Fans were recently invited to ask questions about The Wizard of Oz movie or anything else Oz related.

The response was extraordinary, which probably comes as no surprise to Oz fans.  There has been enormous fan participation which has proven that this timeless classic is still a favorite among young and old.

We’ve included some of the questions and answers below – enjoy!

Many thanks to all the enthusiastic questions posed on this post by so many fans of The Wizard of Oz! While we would have liked to respond to each and every inquiry, the sheer volume has necessitated that we instead try to focus on those that seemed most prevalent to the largest number of readers.

Question: A number of folks wrote asking about the mysterious figure seen moving in the background of one scene in the Wizard of Oz.

Answer: The Wizard of Oz was never envisioned to play on a screen as small as a TV set, so confusion has arisen about the unusual motion in the background as Dorothy skips away with the Scarecrow and Tin Man. In the 1970s, it was speculated that a stagehand was caught on camera unaware. By the 1990s, a new urban legend fabricated a Munchkin suicide-hanging caught on film among other variations of this theme. The notion that anyone was in the background during a movie scene that was unnoticed is improbable. At any given moment there would’ve been upwards of fifty people on the set, from Judy Garland’s mother and her tutor to make-up and wardrobe staff to bird wrangler Bill Richards. In actuality, the movement seen on screen is that of a large stork or crane (on loan from the Los Angeles Zoo) reacting to the main characters’ dancing by rising up and unfolding its wings defensively. On page 100 of The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion, you can see Mr. Richards with the bird in question waiting in the background for their big scene to begin on the Tin Man set.

Question: Veronica Diaz asked, “Does anyone know if Judy Garland said what her favorite part of filming the movie was?

Answer: During interviews she gave in 1938-40, Judy Garland indicated that The Wizard of Oz was always her favorite story. During early wig and make-up tests, she was especially excited about wearing a blond wig (which was discarded) and told reporters that she was going to “be beautiful” as Dorothy. Before the film premiered, Judy Garland spoke about the fascinating transformation from black and white to color and how “real” it felt being chased by the Winged Monkeys. In 1940, she said that “Over the Rainbow” was her favorite popular song and that she was “lucky” to have lived Dorothy’s experiences in the Emerald City and Munchkinland. By 1952, Garland attested that the “entire production is precious to me.” Curiously, Judy Garland did not see The Wizard of Oz in its entirety until about a year after it debuted when M-G-M screened a print of it for her in a studio projection room.

Question: Bill Hickok wrote, “In the movie, the Emerald City is very futuristic looking. In all the [L. Frank Baum] books though, it’s very castle-like. Who deserves credit for the futuristic version?

Answer: The art department at M-G-M was responsible for creating an Emerald City that reflected the futuristic art moderne style of similar, otherworldly metropolises in contemporary films like Things to Come (1936)and Lost Horizon (1937). In interviews with M-G-M staff, they indicated that they did not use the Baum books as a reference but, instead, relied upon their own imaginations. After rejecting grandiose sketches of what resembled the Taj Mahal, it was determined that the Emerald City exterior would be comprised of a series of tiered, domed spires. This design was echoed in the décor surrounding the Wizard’s throne, similar to a majestic cathedral pipe organ—appropriate for an audience with a mysterious entity.

Question: Many people asked about releasing a version of The Wizard of Oz with additional or excised footage restored.

Answer: The answer to this question is that most anything still extant has already been used as supplemental material in the various editions of the movie for home viewing format. We are aware of publicly unseen special effects footage in a private collection. There are also single Technicolor film-frame outtakes from deleted scenes like those from Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow dance, two of which are reproduced on page 123 in The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion. There’s also the original 1939 theatrical trailer, which was longer than the re-release versions and featured additional outtake footage, although a copy has not been made public to date. Over three dozen Technicolor clips of the Wizard’s green head being tested exist (samples are on page 121) and could conceivably be assembled to construct a film sequence.

Question: Beth Gruetter Williams asked, “Who owned Toto? And how long did the dog live?”

Answer: Toto was a five-year-old, seventeen-pound female Cairn terrier owned by Hollywood dog trainer Carl Spitz. At the time of making The Wizard of Oz the dog’s name was Terry, but after the film became popular her name was adjusted to Toto permanently. Many major film productions, such as The Wizard of Oz, gained public interest and following by announcing nationwide searches for actors to fill certain key roles. Since Judy Garland was already cast in the leading role early on, M-G-M promoted the casting of Toto. In early March 1938, Mervyn LeRoy, the film’s producer, was wondering whether Toto should talk (like the Cowardly Lion does) and what breed of dog he should be. It was said that there was an international search to find the proper dog. Meanwhile, Carl Spitz had already been training Terry to perform the tricks from the original story, like playing “dead” in the poppy field. Since Spitz’s dog looked like the sketches in the book and had prior “acting” experience, she got the part on sight. Terry/Toto appeared in movies before and after The Wizard of Oz and can be seen hamming it up with The Three Stooges in a 1942 comedy short. Toto passed away toward the end of World War II.

Question: Fans of The Wizard of Oz have been puzzling over the identity and relevance of the objects carried by Dorothy’s friends as they enter the Haunted Forest en route to the Witch’s castle.

Answer: After leaving the Emerald City to go in search of the Wicked Witch of the West, Dorothy’s friends have acquired assorted pseudo weapons to ward against the “spooks” they anticipate encountering. The Scarecrow brandishes a silver pistol and a long stick that bends in its center. In addition to his ax, the Tin Man shoulders a large wrench. And the Cowardly Lion arms himself with a butterfly net and a spray pump of “Witch Remover.” As proof of their supernatural surroundings, the Cowardly Lion’s Witch Remover vanishes into thin air in a brief bit cut from this scene (and the butterfly net goes missing at about the same time). The Tin Man’s wrench is never recovered after he is suddenly levitated and dropped back to earth. The Scarecrow drops his pistol and stick to rush to the Tin Man’s aid.

Question:  Mary Leonard wanted to know why Dorothy was staying with her aunt and uncle and wondered as to the whereabouts of Dorothy’s parents.

Answer: While not explained in the movie itself, L. Frank Baum’s original book stated that Dorothy was an orphan—although specifics about her parents were never divulged in this volume. “When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her,” Baum wrote in Chapter One of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, “Aunt Em had been so startled by the child’s laughter that she would scream and press her hand to her heart whenever Dorothy’s merry voice reached her ears . . .”

Question: Frankie Craig asked about the validity of Margaret Hamilton reportedly being badly burned while filming a scene for the film as the Wicked Witch of the West.

Answer: Margaret Hamilton did indeed suffer injury in the form of severe burns to her face and right hand, which kept her off the picture for six weeks. This occurred during a shooting in late December of 1938, as Hamilton performed her own stunt involving the Wicked Witch’s fiery disappearance from Munchkinland (after uttering her now-famous threat, “I’ll get you my pretty. And your little dog, too!”). Hamilton herself confirmed this incident during interviews of later years, as did others who were on the set that day. Hamilton’s make-up man on the film, Jack Young, specifically recalled: “I had just made up Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch . . . At the end of her tirade, the Wicked Witch disappears in a puff of smoke and a flash of flame . . . Something went wrong. She screamed she was on fire, her voice muffled from beneath the floor.”

Question: More than one person requested clarification as to what the Witch’s guards—the Winkies—were chanting during their maneuvers outside the Witch’s castle.

Answer: Although many people have asserted that the deep-voiced soldiers are stating that “All we owe, we owe her!” (with “her” being the Wicked Witch of the West), the chant is simply the non-translatable phrase, “O-Ee-Yah! Eoh-Ah!” This is published on page 73 of The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion. To create the Winkies’ ominous tone, their voices were pre-recorded in natural pitch at fast-speed and then slowed down to make the sound deeper. The opposite was done for the Munchkins’ high-pitched voices. That is, their speaking and singing parts were recorded in normal sound, but then sped up for purposes of the actual soundtrack.

Question: Chelsey Robichaud wanted to know how long it took to film The Wizard of Oz.

Answer: The movie officially began filming on October 13, 1938. Make-up testing, however, began as early as the previous April, when fifteen-year-old Judy Garland (who would turn sixteen in June) was photographed wearing the elaborate blond wig that was first conceived for the on-screen character of Dorothy (as shown on page 36 of The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion). Most, if not all, of the footage shot during the first two weeks, was discarded after director Richard Thorpe was dismissed and temporary director George Cukor stepped in to make significant changes to the actors’ make-ups, costumes, and impersonations of their respective characters. Once filming resumed under the screen-credited direction of Victor Fleming on November 4, 1938, principal photography would continue until March of 1939, with miscellaneous retakes and “pickup” shots continuing as late as June 1939. At the time, the film’s lengthy production time became fodder for industry insiders who joked that only Hollywood veterans could remember the time when the film had first gotten underway!

Question: “Nina Hi Doll” asked about “The Jitterbug” musical number and wanted to know why it was deleted from the movie before its general release.

Answer: Likely inspired by the bees sent by the Wicked Witch of the West to attack the travelers in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the jitterbug was to have been a pink-and-blue insect sent by the film’s Wicked Witch to make the four principals dance themselves into exhaustion. The accompanying song for this musical number was the first one written for the film’s score, in the “swing” style for which young Judy Garland was known. After early test audience previews, however, the entire musical number was excised from the film. This was due to a number of factors including the general need to shorten the film’s lengthy running time, the inconsistency of the song’s upbeat tempo within a dramatic point in the film’s plot, and the feeling that the sequence did nothing to advance the storyline. The deletion of this sequence created a slight continuity inconsistency in the final cut of the movie when the Wicked Witch announces to the Winged Monkeys that she has “sent a little insect on ahead to take the fight out” of Dorothy and friends. Interestingly, “The Jitterbug” music, as written specifically for The Wizard of Oz, resurfaced shortly afterward in an Our Gang short. Released on December 2, 1939, “Time Out for Lesson” presented the song as an instrumental tap routine executed by child performer Larry Kert, who later became “Tony” in the original Broadway production of West Side Story.

Question: Lynne Desotle wanted to know why they cut the film at all!

Answer: While many nostalgic Wizard of Oz lovers indeed wish that not a second of the film had been cut, practical film-making sense dictated otherwise. Most importantly, the movie’s lengthy running time needed to be trimmed, particularly to fit the average attention span of the youngsters who would make up the majority of the film’s viewing audience. In looking to condense the length of The Wizard of Oz, the M-G-M powers-that-be looked toward those elements that did the least to advance the story and/or to enhance character development.

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