MGM Studio’s film about a girl from Kansas who gets swept off to a magical world may be a timeless classic now, but it wasn’t always that way.
The Wizard of Oz was far from an instant hit when it debuted in 1939, in fact, it barely broke even when pitted against box office topper Gone With The Wind.
But, despite its hesitant start, the film went on to win awards and become an integral part of the TV schedule 80 years on.
It feels like the classic film is always on TV so you’d be forgiven for thinking you know everything about it. But we’ve dug out some lesser-known facts, wonderful and not so wonderful, that may just surprise you.
1. The slippers weren’t red
Dorothy’s famous ruby red slippers weren’t originally red, but silver in L. Frank Baum’s 1900 fantasy, The Wonderful World of Oz. Film producers favoured a glittering bright red, however, for that Technicolor wow. Another fun fact? They were a size 5.
2. Everyone wants to see the slippers
The real shoes are in the Smithsonian, they were anonymously donated in 1979. They proved so popular as an attraction that the carpet in front of them has had to be replaced several times.
3. They were stolen
Of course, Garland wore several pairs during filming. Another set were in the Grand Rapids, Minnesota at a museum celebrating the actress, but they were stolen in 2005. Don’t worry though, the FBI recovered them during an undercover op in Minneapolis.
4. The fire was apple juice
The fire that blazes out from Dorothy’s shoes when the Witch tries to touch them was actually spraying apple juice sped up on film.
5. Garland had to look younger
Judy Garland was 16 years old when she filmed The Wizard of Oz, but she was made to wear a corset and asked to lose 12 pounds so she looked more childlike.
6. …and she nearly didn’t play Dorothy
Garland very nearly didn’t get the role. Deanna Durbin, Bonita Granville, and a young Shirley Temple were also considered.
7. Dorothy looked very different at the start
Dorothy’s original look involved a blonde wig and makeup, this soon changed and they opted for Garland’s natural look.
8. Frank Morgan played six roles
Frank Morgan played not one, not two, but six characters in The Wizard of Oz. He portrayed the shady Professor Marvel in the Kansas scenes (and was only billed for that role in the credits) and the Wizard in Oz, the uppity Doorman to the Emerald City, the Horse-of-a-Different-Color-owning Cabbie, and the snappy (later, sobbing) Wizard’s Guard. Plus he dubbed the voice of The Giant Head of the Great Oz.
9. They recycled the Good Witch dress
The Good Witch’s dress was already famous. Glinda the Good Witch of the South’s pink ball gown was recycled. The dress was also worn by Jeannette McDonald, who played Mary Blake in the 1936 film San Francisco, was the first to wear the tulle garment.
10. Garland is related to the Tin Man (sort of)
Judy Garland is related to the Tin Man, or rather the actor who played him. Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli was married to Jack Haley Jr., who’s the son of Jack Haley, the vaudeville actor in the pseudo-metal suit in the beloved film.
11. It’s the most-watched movie ever
The Wizard of Oz is the most-watched movie of all time. The Library of Congress backs this up. And now, thanks to the film being regularly broadcast on network television—usually each year around Easter and Christmas—and its digitally restored version, the classic is available for generations to come.
12. Tin Man’s oil was chocolate
That wasn’t oil in the Tin Man’s squirt can. We now know it was really chocolate sauce! In The Wizardry of Oz, Jack Haley said: “The oil Ray Bolger squirted at me, to loosen up my joints, was not oil but chocolate syrup. They squirted chocolate in my face, because the oil wouldn’t photograph right, but chocolate will.”
13. The Tin Man wasn’t made of tin
The Tin Man wasn’t actually made of tin. This one probably comes as a no-brainer, because how can the Tin Man dance and frolic about if he’s actually made of one of nature’s most unwieldy substances? But as the film treads along, one can plainly see that the Tin Man’s trousers continue to wrinkle and crease. His costume was actually silver-painted leather.
14. …and the paint caused allergic reactions
The Tin Man’s makeup was aluminum-based and gave actor Jack Haley a severe eye infection. Originally Buddy Ebsen from The Beverly Hillbillies was cast as the Tin Man, but he developed a severe allergic reaction to the paint. He had originally been offered the Scarecrow role.
15. The lion costume was real
The cowardly lion’s costume was made of real lion skin and torn up brown paper bag for his face. It all weighed 100 pounds.
16. …and it sounds like it was horrible to wear
It was the job of two crew members to dry out the costume every night as Bert Luhr would sweat so much while wearing it.
17. MGM wanted the real lion to play the role
Originally the team wanted the real MGM lion to play the cowardly lion, we think it’s safe to say that wouldn’t have been a good move…
18. Ray Bolger was left with Scarecrow marks
The prosthetics used for the Scarecrow left deep grooves in Ray Bolger’s face. It reportedly took more than a year for them to heal.
19. The horses were covered in Jell-o
The horses odd colour came from jell-o crystals, the team had a hard time stopping the horses from licking it off.
20. The set was boiling – literally
The snow in the poppy scene was made of asbestos and if you think that’s bad, temperatures on set often soared about 100 degrees due to the lighting needed to shoot in early Technicolor.
21. The yellow brick road wasn’t yellow
Technicolor causes issues in other ways. Dorothy’s blue-and-white gingham dress was actually blue and light pink so it’d show up properly and the yellow brick road had to be re-painted as it looked green on camera.
22. A stocking helped create the tornado
The tornado was a 35-foot-long muslin stocking spun around with dust and dirt.
23. A man nearly played Toto
Mervyn LeRoy considered having a man play Toto, in the end, he was played by a female dog – Terry.
24. Garland wanted Toto
Judy Garland fell in love with the little dog, so much so she wanted to adopt her, but her owner’s wouldn’t give her up.
25. The dog was paid more than the Munchkins
Toto apparently earned $125 a week – compared to each Munchkin actor who earned just $50. Terry’s owners have said they should’ve asked for more as the producers were desperate to cast the dog.
26. Snow White made a cameo
The actress who voiced Disney’s Snow White, Adriana Caselotti, made a cameo during the Tin Man’s song, If I Only Had a Heart. She was paid $1,000 to say the line: “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”
27. Disney wanted to make the film
Speaking of Disney, the House of Mouse actually wanted to make The Wizard of Oz, but MGM already owned the rights to the book – the studio had paid $75,000, which was a large sum at the time.
28. The Wicked Witch’s death was poignant
The Wicked Witch’s death certificate is dated 6th May 1938 – the 20th anniversary of L. Frank Baum’s death.
29. The book got a reference
There’s a little nod to the book in the movie but you may have missed it. The Good Witch gives Dorothy a kiss on the forehead – in the book there’s the line “none dare harm someone who bears the kiss of the Good Witch.”
30. Why was it called Oz?
Baum apparently invented the name ‘Oz’ when looking at an alphabetical filing cabinet label ‘O-Z.’
31. Dorothy was a sweet tribute
Dorothy was named after Dorothy Louise Gage, L. Frank Baum’s niece who had died as a baby.
32. The real L.Frank Baum’s coat may have been in the film
Professor Marvel claimed to have worn L. Frank Baum’s coat. The legend goes the wardrobe department bought a tattered jacket from a second hand store and found a tag in with his name on. While it sounds far fetched several crew members backed up the story.
33. The Wicked Witch was really burnt
Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch, suffered severe burns after her dress, hat and broom all went up in flames as she vanished in a cloud of smoke. Her makeup ignited during the scene, burning her face and hands. It took her six weeks to recover and she refused to work with fire afterwards.
34. …she also had to have a liquid diet
Hamilton didn’t have an easy ride of it at all, her makeup also couldn’t be ingested which meant she couldn’t eat while filming. She reportedly lived off a liquid diet. The green paint was copper based and lingered on her skin for weeks after filming.
35. She was also younger than the Good Witch
Hamilton was 36, Billie Burke, who played Glinda the Good Witch, was 54 during filming.
36. Why the Crystal Ball looks familiar
If the Wicked Witch’s crystal ball looks familiar it was used also used as a prop in Boris Karloff’s The Mask of Fu Manchu.
37. The Wicked Witch was cut quite a bit
Producers ended up cutting a lot of the Wicked Witch’s scenes because they were deemed “too scary” for children.
38. We all get the Wicked Witch’s line wrong
The famous line “Fly, my pretties, fly!” uttered by the Wicked Witch may be what we all imitate, but it’s not actually what she says. She really says: “Fly, Fly, Fly!”
39. We nearly didn’t get Over the Rainbow
Over the Rainbow was almost cut from the film as it was thought to be too long, luckily it was left in.
40. Record-breaking Munchkins
The Coroner of Munchkinland actor was once the shortest licensed pilot during World War II.
41. The Munchkins share their fame
The Munchkins have one star on the Walk of Fame between them.
42. …though Garland gave them an award’s nod
Garland won an Oscar Juvenile Award which she later called the Munchkin Award.
43. The Wizard of Oz conspiracy theory
There’s an odd conspiracy theory that the film just can’t shake. People point to a dark shadow in one shot with the munchkins as proof one of them hung themselves while filming – the shadow was really a bird. MGM brought in exotic birds to make the background look more interesting.
44. It was originally a flop
The film may have gone on to win awards but it was originally a flop. Released at the tail end of The Great Depression and competing with Gone With The Wind it barely made back its $2.8million budget.
45. …but it won Oscars
It did win two Oscars: Best Original Score and Best Original Song.
46.It’s had a long TV run
The film was first shown on TV in 1956 and it feels like it’s never been off it.
The Wizard Of Oz Limited Edition Anniversary collection and The Wizard of Oz 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray are available to buy on Amazon and the WB Shop. The Limited Edition Anniversary Collection and Exclusive Steelbook will be available in select retailers.