A Brief History
On May 17,1900, the L. Frank Baum fantasy story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was published. In 1902, the story was adapted as a Broadway musical, titled The Wizard of Oz, and in 1939, the famous movie adaptation again titled the story The Wizard of Oz. Of these 3 ways to tell the story, it is the iconic moving picture that has been an integral part of Americana and is the vehicle by which most Americans are familiar with the story. Today we look at this marvelous tale and tell you about 10 things you may not know about the story or the film.
Questions for Students (and others): Have you seen the movie? How many times have you seen the film? Who is your favorite character in the story/movie? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
1. Sequel Film made in 1985.
Starring Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale (her first big screen role), Return to Oz was a box office dud, although in the years since the quirky film has found a devoted fan base. The plot has Dorothy driving her Auntie Em crazy with her stories about Oz, Em sure that Dorothy is fantasizing the whole tale. Dorothy makes her way back to Oz to find the Emerald City in ruins. Did we mention Dorothy is being sent to an insane asylum for treatment when she transports to Oz via a a chicken coop floating in a river? See what we mean when we call the movie quirky? Dorothy finds the Tin Man and the Lion turned to stone, and we stop here so we do not spoil the movie for you, now that we are sure you are going to find it and watch it! The movie made a miserable $11 million at the box office after spending a budget of $28 million. (Note: We have seen the film and thought it was ok, but not a classic like the original.) Various other adaptations and cultural references to the story have been made over the years. There was also a prequel film produced in 2013, called Oz the Great and Powerful.
2. African American Adaptation of the Story made into a Broadway Musical (1975) and Movie (1978).
The stage version was spectacularly successful, earning 7 Tony Awards when it went to Broadway in 1975 (after first appearing in Baltimore in 1974). Most of the contemporary tunes (words and music) were written by Charlie Smalls, based on a book by William Brown. Known usually just as The Wiz, the entire title is actually The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical “Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Numerous revivals of the musical have been staged, and a 2015 made for television production called The Wiz Live! was also produced. The big screen movie production of 1978, The Wiz, starred Diana Ross as Dorothy when Ross was 41 years old, kind of a departure from the young (16 years old) Judy Garland that played Dorothy in the 1939 film. The Wiz movie, like Return to Oz, was also a flop, bringing in only $21 million at the box office against a budget of $24 million. And that was with big name stars, such as Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor, Lena Horne, Nipsey Russel and Ted Ross in the cast. (Ross had won the Tony Award for his role as the Lion in the 1975 Broadway stage production.)
3. Dorothy’s Dog was originally supposed to be a Dachshund named Otto in the movie.
Even though the pet dog in the book was indeed a small Terrier named Toto, the movie makers realized the superiority and charisma of a Dachshund would greatly enhance the character of the little dog. Alas, when the time came to film, Otto was not available, and a Cairn Terrier was substituted. The Dachshund in question is visible on early posters made for the film, and was actually the pet of actress Margaret Hamilton, the lady that played The Wicked Witch of the West. (Note: this information may well be an urban legend, perpetrated presumably by aficionados of the regal Badger Hounds, aka Dachshunds.)
4. What kind of dog was Toto?
The book calls “him” “a small black dog with silky hair,” while the movie version used a brindle coated Cairn Terrier named Terry. Terry’s foot was broken during the filming of the 1939 movie when a Winkie Guard stepped on the unfortunate canine! Terry recovered and died in 1945. The character Toto was a boy dog in the book and the film, but the real-life dog, Terry, was in reality a female dog. Her name was changed after the movie became a big hit (to Toto, of course). Terry appeared in 13 films.
5. The Toto Saga Continues.
In the 1985 sequel film, Return to Oz, Toto is played by Tansy, a female Border Terrier. In the 1978 film version of the story, The Wiz, Toto is played by a dark grey Schnauzer. Various other Wizard of Oz adaptations and cartoons have a variety of characters playing Toto, including a shape shifting man and in another a pig!
6. Toto to get his own movie!
In 2018, it was announced that the children’s book, Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of The Wizard of Oz, by Michael Morpurgo, is to be adapted as a feature film starring your favorite fictional canine. The film is supposed to be an animated feature by the Warner Animation Group.
7. Buddy Ebsen was supposed to play The Scarecrow.
Uncle Jed from television’s The Beverly Hillbillies, Buddy Ebsen was set to be cast as the Scarecrow in the 1939 movie, but switched roles with Ray Bolger to let Bolger be the Scarecrow and have Ebsen take the role as the Tin Man. Although Ebsen filmed many of the scenes for the movie and recorded the songs, he developed an allergic reaction to the aluminum dust used in the make up for the Tin Man role and had to leave the production for medical reasons. He was replaced by Jack Haley. (Note: Buddy Ebsen played the husband of the Holly Golightly character played by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.)
8. The Hanging Munchkin in the Forest.
9. The Last Munchkin Died Last Year.
On May 24, 2018, Jerry Maren died at the age of 98, the last surviving Munchkin from the 1939 film. Maren, born Gerard Marenghi in Boston in 1920, was 4 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 100 pounds. He was one of 100 little people signed up to play the Munchkin characters in the 1939 movie. Maren was the last cast member from that film to have a speaking or singing role. You may be surprised to find he also played the Hamburglar and Mayor McCheese in McDonald’s television commercials! Maren had many movie, television, and commercial ad roles, including a stint on the 1970’s television game show, The Gong Show. Another nifty bit of trivia about Maren, is that he was the last surviving cast member of any movie starring the Marx Brothers.
10. The 1939 film was not the first Wizard of Oz movie.
Other live action and animated film adaptations of the story were made prior to the famous 1939 film, as early as 1910. All sorts of scenes and songs were cut from the final version of the movie, including a remarkably depressing version of Dorothy singing “Over the Rainbow.” Some of the deleted scenes and songs are lost, but many remain available on special editions of the DVD/BluRay of the film. While the 1939 film was not the first movie to use the Technicolor filming process, it certainly was the first really big hit movie to have major portions in color, brilliant, spectacular color, although other portions of the film were still filmed in Black and White. The movie cost an incredible (for the time) $2.8 million, but paid off with a box office take of over $25 million, although prior to the 1949 re-release the film had only broken even! Nominated for 6 Academy Awards (including Best Picture), the film won 2 Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. The star of the 1939 film, Judy Garland, was born Frances Gumm in Minnesota in 1922, and died at the age of 47 in 1969, dead of an “accidental” overdose of drugs. The 1939 film has been called “The most watched film of all time” and has regularly appeared on television again and again.
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For more information, please see…
Baum, L Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz . Digireads.com, 2016.
Morpurgo, Michael. Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of the Wizard of Oz. HarperCollinsChildren’sBooks, 2017.
Woodhouse, Horace. The Essential Wizard of Oz: 101 Things You Didn’t Know About the Most-Watched Movie in Film History. CreateSpace, 2013.
The featured image in this article, The Wicked Witch melts, from the W.W. Denslow illustration of the first edition (1900), is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1924.