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Film

The dark secrets surrounding ‘The Wizard of Oz’

@Russellisation

On the list of the most revolutionary films of all time, Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz is often featured toward the very top of the list, with its innovative use of technicolour welcoming in a new era of cinema for Hollywood. Though colour films had existed long before the release of the film in 1939, with A Visit to the Seaside, an eight-minute colour short film predating Oz by 31 years, it was the commercial success of Fleming’s film that would confirm its place in the history books. 

Evolving from the rigid, monochrome of the past and into the colourful promise of cinema’s future, The Wizard of Oz enjoyed significant success through the 1940s, with MGM celebrating the musical fantasy as one of its crowning achievements. As one of the most major milestones in filmmaking history, however, the making of the film behind the scenes is full of its own dark secrets that somewhat overshadow the magic of the movie itself. 

From shocking special effects stories to discriminatory wages and much more, we thought we’d take a look into five of the most significant shady secrets behind the making of the early Hollywood classic, The Wizard of Oz. 

The top five dark secrets surrounding The Wizard of Oz:

The torture of the iconic costumes

Whilst the costumes of the likes of the Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow and Wicked Witch make for some of the most iconic aspects of the original film, wearing and performing in such costumes proved challenging for each of the actor’s involved. 

Addressing the Lion for starters, Bert Lahr’s costume was made from an actual lion hide that weighed in at around 90 lbs, allowing little to no ventilation for the struggling actor. Constantly sweating during filming, the issue got so bad that his costume had to be dried at the end of each day as it was so drenched with sweat. If this wasn’t bad enough, the actor’s makeup was so difficult to apply that he wasn’t allowed to eat on set, living off milkshakes and soup for a number of production years before he requested for his makeup to be simply redone after lunch.

Such issues were not restricted to Lahr either, with Buddy Ebsen’s Tin Man suit made of actual metal, so he couldn’t even sit down on set, having to lean on a board when he was in need of a rest. After a violent reaction to the silver makeup of the character, Ebsen was taken to hospital and his part was recast to Jack Haley. Brutal. 

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The mistreatment of Judy Garland

Struggling with her mental health even before the production of the film had begun, the treatment of Judy Garland on the set of The Wizard of Oz would no doubt result in a lawsuit if such had taken place in the contemporary industry. 

Having been given amphetamines to boost her energy on the set of previous films, Garland was hooked on the drugs by the time The Wizard of Oz came around despite the actress being only aged 16 during the time of filming. Forced to diet during her time on set, eating nothing but cottage cheese and chicken soup, the production team did little to support her struggles with director Victor Fleming even slapping the actor on set for giggling. 

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The real-life horrors of the Wicked Witch

Of all the things The Wizard of Oz gave popular culture, the Wicked Witch of the West is one of its greatest gifts, with the character having since become an icon of cinema as well as the theatre stage.

The reality of playing the character for actor Margaret Hamilton was far from luxurious, however, as she received second and third-degree burns all over her body due to the green copper makeup that became too hot during the filming of the fire scene. Unfortunately for Hamilton, makeup and prosthetics at the dawn of the 20th century were nowhere near as advanced as they are today, with Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow also suffering from deeply embedded marks in his skin thanks to his intricate costume and makeup. 

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got paid more than most munchkins

Perhaps the most iconic dog in all of cinema, Toto the cairn terrier became a star in and of herself as the best friend of Judy Garland’s Dorothy Gale in the influential movie. 

Named Terry in real life, the dog was remarkably paid more for his role in the movie than the cast of human Munchkins. Making about $125 per week working in the movie which was more than many of the other cast members, this shocking disparity shows just how prejudiced early Hollywood (and indeed society) was toward little people. Assumably the money for Toto went to his owner and not the canine’s own back pocket. 

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Judy Garland was paid significantly less than her co-stars 

Amid her own personal struggles behind the scenes of the film that included mistreatment from the director and the production team that kept her on a regimented diet, despite being the star of the film, Garland wasn’t paid anywhere near enough for her role. 

Earning only around $500 per week (only $375 more than her canine co-star), Garland was grossly underpaid for her starring role in the film that has since gone on to become one of the most influential performances of all time. Whilst Garland was on a menial wage, Ray Bolger who played the Scarecrow and Jack Haley who played the Tin Man earned far more at about $3000 per week.