The Making of ‘Wizard of Oz’

The film “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” provides a prime example of the hero’s journey of each of the four survival archetypes: the Child, the Victim, the Prostitute, and the Saboteur.  This film is an archetypal treasure trove, but for brevity’s sake I will concentrate mainly on these four.

The first character that we meet in the film is Dorothy – the Child.  She looks for attention and is struggling to be heard and recognized by the adults (the Child seeking self-authority, responsibility).  She longs for a place “somewhere over the rainbow” where she can have both authority and innocence – that is to say, a home of her own.  The Child is the guardian of innocence and is the part of us that both wants and shuns responsibility and protection.   Her hero’s journey begins when she is whisked out of Kansas by a tornado (chaos) and is taken to Oz where she finds new friends who will aid her on her journey back home.

After being recognized as a Hero by the Munchkins for doing away with the Wicked Witch of the East, she asks how to get home and is told that she needs to go ask the Wizard in the Emerald City for help.  And so with a gift of ruby slippers on her feet, she starts out on the yellow brick road and happens upon the Scarecrow, her first ally on the journey.

The Scarecrow – the Saboteur, points in one direction and then another because he can’t make up his mind. He is stuck on a pole and announces that he is a failure because he hasn’t got a brain.  The Scarecrow sings about all the things he would do ‘if only’ he had a brain.   This is the Saboteur in the shadow aspect.  The Saboteur is the guardian of self-esteem and choice.  It represents both the voice in ourselves that sees things as confusion, lack or ‘if only’ as well as the voice that sees the attributes,  resources and abilities available to transcend difficulties.  In this sense the Saboteur is both our best ally and worst critic depending on what aspect we choose to imbue (shadow or light).   You’ll see throughout the film the Scarecrow claiming he isn’t smart (shadow) and then using his intelligence (light) to help Dorothy and the others succeed in their quest.

Next our heroes meet the Tin Man – the Prostitute.  He is standing alone, frozen and unable to speak in the forest.  With the aid of Dorothy and the Scarecrow his joints are oiled (is given attention and love) and he can once again move and speak.  The Tin Man’s complaint is that he hasn’t got a heart and sings about how loving he would be if he had one.  He could then love freely without becoming frozen in fear.  The heart here is symbolic of his faith in himself. The Prostitute archetype represents our internal negotiator, our guardian of faith and integrity.  Like the Tin Man we can become frozen in fear when we feel our survival is threatened and will negotiate a price for ourselves to feel safe again.   When Dorothy asks the Tin Man to join them he asks “Suppose I got there and he wouldn’t give me a heart?” – another question of faith.

The Cowardly Lion comes on as the Bully/Coward archetype but quickly transitions to the fourth and final Survival Archetype – The Victim.  He claims that he has no courage and is therefore always the Victim (shadow).  He is tormented by his fears and even scares himself.  He complains about how unbearable life has been (seeking pity – shadow) and wants the Wizard to give him courage so he could be victorious (light). Later in the film he sings about how he would be transformed into a gracious and compassionate King (light) once he gets some courage.

Each of these characters is on a quest to get what they perceive as lacking from someone outside of themselves.

They have given the Wizard of Oz the authority to grant them what they need and have to face their fears and obstacles on their way to meet him.  Each of these fears and obstacles are conquered using the exact thing that each of them believes they are missing.  Only when they discover the Wizard to be a fraud do they begin to realize that they had what they were seeking all along.  Being gracious though, they accept the blessing of the Wizard along with the symbols of their quest; a medal for courage (empowerment and self-esteem), a scroll for intelligence (choice and esteem), and a heart shaped pin for love (faith and integrity).  Dorothy was carrying her symbol, the ruby slippers,  the whole time and so too was her ability to get home (self authority).

As yet another spinoff of “The Wizard of Oz” arrives in theaters, it’s almost hard to believe that the original film, which premiered 74 years ago, was, in many ways, a near disaster.

The 1939 classic took more than a dozen screenwriters, three directors, six soundstages, 23 weeks to shoot and cost nearly $3 million — MGM’s most expensive film that year. Though released to much fanfare, it lost money until 1956, when MGM leased it to CBS, which began showing it on television every year and turned it into a cultural phenomenon.

Even more surprising: Judy Garland, who played Dorothy and went on to become a huge star, was not the studio’s first choice. And “Over the Rainbow,” which became the film’s iconic song, almost didn’t make it in.

“There were problems all along, but mostly because this was uncharted ground,” said Aljean Harmetz, author of “The Making of the Wizard of Oz,” the definitive book on the film. “They were creating new techniques to do the special effects. They were creating characters that had never been on the screen before. They were doing fresh things. It was the early days of Technicolor, which had only been around three years.”

For two of the three surviving diminutive actors who played Munchkins, it was one of the best experiences of their life.

“It was wonderful,” Jerry Maren, the Munchkin in the middle who famously welcomes Dorothy to Munchkinland by handing her a lollipop, told Now 93, he even sang a few bars of the “Lollipop Song.”

Maren, who was 16 at the time, said Garland was “an angel. She was so thoughtful and considerate. She was so nice to us. She was lovely to everybody.”

“The reason that scene is so good is because we really did enjoy it,” Ruth Robinson Duccini, now 95, told “That was a lot of fun. And that comes through in the scene.”

“I know they can never make another movie like that,” said Duccini, who played one of the Munchkin villagers when she was 20. “What amazes me is the interest in it. There’s still so much interest in it. People love that movie.”

“It has stood the test of time,” said Harmetz, whose book will be released in a new edition this fall — in time for the movie’s 75th anniversary. “There were a number of compromises all the way through, and yet the compromises sometimes made the film better. I take it just as it is.”

Before heading off to see the latest Wizard in “Oz The Great and Powerful,” which opens today, keep reading to learn more about the original “Oz” and the film that almost wasn’t.

The Book

After several failed careers, including actor and salesman, and declaring bankruptcy, author L. Frank Baum hit a goldmine when he published “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900. The book became the bestselling children’s book for two years and led to stage shows and a series of Oz books. MGM acquired the screen rights to the book in 1937.

The Screenplay

It would take more than a dozen screenwriters — many of them uncredited, including the Cowardly Lion’s Bert Lahr and poet Ogden Nash — to come up with the finished screenplay for “Wizard of Oz.” The first to have a crack at it, former newspaper reporter Herman Mankiewicz, knocked out a treatment in four days. Though he would win an Oscar for “Citizen Kane” a year later, his “Oz” was a mess. “It was a strange treatment — all about Kansas — and discarded immediately,” Harmetz said.

The Directors

The film went through three directors. The first lasted a week and half before he was fired. Though he didn’t direct the film, George Cukor did set the stage for Victor Fleming, who would helm most of the movie. Though Cukor told Harmetz that “this wasn’t his type of thing,” he did do costume tests for Garland, who had been fitted with a blonde wig and heavy makeup. “Cukor said, ‘Take that blonde hair off her and scrub her face clean. This is a little girl.'”

Fleming followed that course and stayed on as director up until the Kansas sequences, when he got called over to replace, ironically enough, Cukor as director of “Gone with the Wind.” King Vidor completed the filming of “Oz.”

The Star

Garland was not MGM’s first choice for Dorothy. Shirley Temple, then a big star, was. But she was under contract for a competing studio, which refused to loan her out. So MGM turned to their “little hunchback,” the nickname the studio had given to Garland, whom they’d been grooming. At 16, she was believed to be too big and too old. Though she was already on a chicken-broth-only diet, the studio insisted she wear a corset and tied down her breasts to hide her figure, Harmetz said. Garland earned about $500 a week for the role, but it made her a huge star.


W.C. Fields was the first choice to play the Wizard, but Harmetz said, “the studio wouldn’t meet his price.” Instead, MGM turned to contract player Frank Morgan. “It would have been a much different wizard with W.C. Fields,” she said. “I’m not sure you would have believed him as a frightened little man.”

The Munchkins

To create Munchkin Land, MGM ended up hiring 124 little people. “They said give me every f***ing midget you can find,” recalled Maren, the first to welcome Dorothy to Munchkinland. “They went and got em.”

“I was 20 years old at the time, raised in a small town in Minnesota. I didn’t even know there were other little people,” said Duccini, who played a Munchkin villager. “That was the biggest thing for me — was meeting all of these other little people.”

These days, Duccini said, it’s hard to watch the classic film “because everyone’s going — all my friends are no longer here.”

Garland helped spread the rumors of wild Munchkin parties off the set, but Harmetz said they were part of a PR machine that made up most of the behind-the-scenes stories.

The Wicked Witch

Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, nearly went up in flames. After delivering her line, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too,” Hamilton was supposed to disappear into a hidden elevator below the stage just as flames shot up. But the flames erupted too soon, catching her hat and broom on fire. “Her face was terribly burned and she was out for six weeks,” Harmetz said. “Luckily she was not replaced, but only because they didn’t need her during those six weeks.”

When she returned, her stunt double took over the fire scenes. But even the double spent a week in the hospital after she was blown off the witch’s broomstick when it exploded.

The Tin Man

Buddy Ebsen, who later became famous as Jed Clampett in TV’s “The Beverly Hillbillies,” was originally cast as the Tin Man. But he developed a near-fatal reaction to the aluminum powder in his silver makeup. While Ebsen was hospitalized, actor Jack Haley was quickly hired to replace him.

“When Haley took over, they used an aluminum paste instead,” Harmetz said. “But a little got in his eye, and he got an infection.”

The Dog

Even Toto did not escape injury. Once, a wind machine blew the small Cairn Terrier across the floor. Another time, one of the Wicked Witch’s guards accidentally stepped on the dog’s paw and broke it. So Toto got a stand-in while her paw healed.

The star canine whose real name was Terry but was later changed to Toto because of the film’s popularity earned $150 a week, less than his human co-stars but more than the little people who played Munchkins.

The Song

“Over The Rainbow,” the movie’s most iconic song, almost didn’t make it in. Studio chief Louis B. Mayer nearly took it out because he believed “you can’t have one of your actors singing in a barnyard,” Harmetz said. But lyricist Yip Harburg lobbied heavily for it and was able to convince Mayer to leave it in.

The Film

When it came out, “Oz” was neither a commercial or critical success. The New Yorker said it had “no trace of imagination, good taste or integrity” and the New Republic said it was full of “freak characters.” Nonetheless, it was nominated for six Oscars, and won for best original score and best song for “Over the Rainbow.”

Garland also received a special “juvenile” Oscar, to which she joked that she wasn’t good enough for an “adult” award.


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