Tuesday, October 8, 2013


By James Colt Harrison

Lots of excitement has been generated by the new 3D version of the classic MGM musical The Wizard of Oz. Now, the wizardry that was used to make the film in 1939 has been conjured up by today’s computer geniuses by converting all the color, glory and dazzling sets into a three dimensional reality.

It wasn’t easy getting The Wizard of Oz onto the screen. MGM had bought the screen rights from Samuel Goldwyn in 1938. Goldwyn had planned on filming it with comic Eddie Cantor and 40 year-old Mary Pickford as Dorothy! Metro mogul Louis B. Mayer brought Mervyn LeRoy over from Warner Bros. to produce the film. Arthur Freed, who would later become MGM’s pre-eminent producer of musical films, was LeRoy’s assistant.

Both men wanted to cast Judy Garland, but Mayer wanted insurance by using top moppet favorite Shirley Temple, a 20th Century Fox star.  Mayer didn’t want to take a chance with the relatively unknown Garland. Fox refused to give Temple to Mayer, so he was stuck for a star. LeRoy and Freed again pressured Mayer to use Garland because they felt it would be a showcase for the young star.

Old-time vaudeville comic Ed Wynn was wanted by LeRoy to play the Wizard, but MGM contract star Frank Morgan won out over Wynn and a host of other character actors such as W.C. Fields, Robert Benchley and Wallace Beery. (Interestingly, Wynn was the father of MGM contract comic Keenan Wynn). Vaudeville comic Bert Lahr ended up as The Cowardly Lion. Stage and radio comedienne Fanny Brice was considered as Glynda the Good Witch as was British actress Beatrice Lillie. Famed stage impresario Florenz Ziegfeld’s widow Billie Burke was selected as Glynda. Margaret Hamilton was not the first choice as the Wicked Witch, but she turned out to be the best. Character actress Edna Mae Oliver was tested as was the glamorous seductress Gale Sondergard while wearing a black sequined dress!

Freed wanted to sign composers E.Y. “Yip” Harburg and Harold Arlen back in February 1938, but the studio didn’t give them a contract until later when they reported to work on May 9, 1938 for a fourteen week gig at $25,00. Ironically, the first song they penned was The Jitterbug, the number that was cut from the film and lost for decades. They next tackled the If I Only Had A Brain/Heart/Nerve for Dorothy’s three companions.

Naturally, the most famous song from the film is Over The Rainbow. Apparently Freed wanted to have a song that carried the emotional motivation of the film. Composer Harold Arlen found this to be the most difficult song of all to realize. It was only when he had an idea while driving his car along Sunset Boulevard that he came up with the melody. When Harburg tried a title, he came up first with Over The Rainbow Is Where I Want To Be, followed by on The Other Side Of The Rainbow and I’ll Go Over The Rainbow!  Needless to say, none of those titles worked.

Filming began on the picture with scenes being shot in the cornfield on October 13, 1938. Richard Thorpe directed for two weeks, but producer LeRoy was dissatisfied and replaced him with George Cukor for a couple of days until he was taken off to go direct Gone With The Wind. Cukor did contribute to Garland’s new look of being more natural without her having to wear pounds of Technicolor makeup. Victor Fleming took over direction of the film and returned to Stage 26 and directed the picture from November 1938 until February 1939 when he, too, was whisked to the set of Gone With The Wind to replace George Cukor! King Vidor was called in to finish the picture, which included the Over The Rainbow sequence.

Visit our website for a free subscription of the ArtsNFashion Magazine. ArtsNFashion Magazine


Post a Comment

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Grants For Single Moms