By now, the characters in The Wizard of Oz and the actors who played them are iconic. What you might not know is many people came close to working on the film, including actors and other filmmakers. Here’s why the film you know was almost very different.
The example that most people might be familiar with is that Shirley Temple was originally considered for the role of Dorothy. Temple was 10 when the film started production, as opposed to Judy Garland’s 16. This would have put Temple closer to Dorothy’s unspecified—but decidedly younger—age in the book. However, it was thought that Shirley Temple didn’t have quite the right singing voice for the role. Filmmakers also considered operatic singer Deanna Durbin for the role.
Ray Bolger is well known as the Scarecrow but was originally cast as the Tin Man. Bolger had loved the hay-brained character since childhood and ultimately switched roles with the original Scarecrow actor, Buddy Ebsen. However, Buddy Ebsen did not last long as the Tin Man—he developed a negative reaction to the silver makeup and had to be replaced by Jack Haley.
While Margaret Hamilton played the Wicked Witch perfectly, Gale Sondergaard was originally cast in the part. At first, Sondergaard was excited to play a character who was both beautiful and conniving. However, when she learned that the witch would be portrayed as purely evil and hideous, Sondergaard quit.
Finally, the film’s only credited director is Victor Fleming, who oversaw most of the film. However, the film actually had four or five directors in total! Richard Thorpe was the first person to direct the film, but he was removed from the production due to creative differences. George Cukor was brought on to replace him; while Cukor did not end up directing any of the actual movie, his creative input was responsible for much of the film’s trademark elements. In addition to updating some musical numbers, Cukor changed Dorothy from a cartoonish character to someone who reflected Judy Garland’s natural charisma. After George Cukor left to honor another directing commitment on Gone with the Wind, Victor Fleming directed most of The Wizard of Oz. When Fleming himself left to also direct Gone with the Wind, King Vidor oversaw finishing shots of the Kansas farm, and producer Mervyn LeRoy even directed some reshoots. Whew!
Those are just a few of the people who crossed paths with this iconic film. Did one of these stories surprise you? Are there any stories of the almost-were who aren’t mentioned above?