56 Weird and Wonderful Facts about ‘The Wizard of Oz’

Since its release in 1939, the 'Wizard of Oz' is thought to be the most viewed film ever—and certainly one of the most beloved. Test yourself: How many of these Oz facts do you know?

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1. There actually exist two Wizard of Oz movies. The first was a 1925 silent film, which, puzzlingly, had no magic. You might recognize one of its actors: the Tin Man was played by Oliver Hardy of Laurel and Hardy fame.

2. Shirley Temple, then America’s most popular child star, and Deanna Durbin were initially considered to play the role of Dorothy in the MGM version.

3. Comedian W.C. Fields, the studio’s original choice to play the Wizard, wanted $100,000 for the role. MGM counter-offered with $75,000, which Fields turned down.

4. Ray Bolger was originally cast as the Tin Man, but because he preferred to be the Scarecrow—he felt the character’s style would showcase his physicality and dancing ability—he was allowed to switch.

5. Buddy Ebsen (later, a costar in TV’s Beverly Hillbillies) was the original Tin Man but after a few weeks of filming, he suffered an allergic reaction to the aluminum powder makeup. He was replaced by Jack Haley.

6. Since Dorothy was originally envisioned by studio execs to be a blonde, Judy Garland wore a wig for the first two weeks of filming until they changed their minds. Then, she was given a henna rinse and wore a partial wig to lengthen her hair.

7. Judy Garland was 16 during the making of Oz. In the book, author L. Frank Baum did not provide an age for Dorothy, but in the illustrations, she is clearly a child. As a result, Garland had to wear a corset for the film so she’d appear as young and flat-chested as possible.

8. There are many, many differences between the book and the film. The Wicked Witch has a much smaller role in the book, and she wears an eye patch. The most visible difference of all? In the book, the coveted slippers were silver. They became ruby for the movie, because it was thought that hue would look better in glorious Technicolor.

9. Bert Lahr (Cowardly Lion) was paid $2,500 per week, and he had his contract written to guarantee a minimum of five weeks of work. Turns out there was no need for that clause—the shoot ended up lasting 26 weeks.

10. His makeup took two hours to apply.

11. His tail was able to move thanks to a fishing line controlled by a stagehand sitting on a catwalk above the soundstage.

12. His costume was made from real lion pelts, and it weighed 60 pounds.

13. Lahr was a Broadway and vaudeville star before The Wizard of Oz. In Oz, he had two musical numbers: “If I Were King of the Forest” and “If I Only Had The Nerve.” They were written for him by Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, a team who’d previously created songs for two Broadway shows starring Lahr so they were very familiar with his delivery and mannerisms.

14. MYTH CHECK! It’s long been rumored that the older actors disliked young whippersnapper Judy Garland and tried to push her off the yellow brick road. That was not true, reports John Lahr, Bert’s son.

15. The close relationships among the cast extended off screen. Jack Haley (Tin Man) was the godfather of Bert Lahr’s son, John. Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli married Jack Haley Jr, the Tin Man’s son. And, at the memorial service for Margaret Hamilton (Wicked Witch), Ray Bolger (Scarecrow) gave the eulogy.

16. The Munchkins were played by 124 little people, who ranged in height from 2’3 to 4’8. They were each paid $100 a week. Since filming lasted 26 weeks, that added up to $322,400 spent on Munchkins alone.

17. The pre-Oz Kansas scenes were shot in sepia, not in black and white. However, they were shown on black and white in the TV version until 1989 when a sepia tint was restored to the film.

18. MGM spent roughly $2.78 million on the movie, making it the studio’s most expensive production at that point.

19. While The Wizard of Oz was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1940, the award went to Gone with the Wind. It did take home an award for Best Original Song (“Over the Rainbow”). In an interesting Wind/Oz overlap, four directors worked on Oz, although the one who got the final credit was Victor Fleming, who left the helming of Oz to take over directing duties for Gone with the Wind.

19. The role of Toto was played by a five-year-old female Cairn terrier named Terry. She was owned by Carl Spitz, who trained military and police dogs in Germany in WWI before he emigrated to America in 1926 and opened Carl Spitz’s Hollywood Dog Training School. He helped innovate the use of silent hand signals to command dogs, and among his cinematic trainees was Buck, the St. Bernard in the film Call of the Wild, starring Clark Gable.

20. Terry was originally intended to be a house pet for Spitz and his family, but when Clark Gable and studio executives went to Spitz’s kennel to meet Buck, they were charmed by Terry so Spitz decided to train her for the movies.

21. As many as 100 dogs tested for the role of Toto. After The Wizard of Oz, Terry’s name was permanently changed to Toto.

22. She was injured during filming when one of the Winkies, or castle guards, stepped on the dog’s foot and broke it, putting her on the disabled list for two weeks.

23. It took up to 12 takes for the director to get Terry/Toto to run alongside the human actors on the yellow brick road.

24. Terry earned $125 per week. Over her lifetime, she appeared in 17 movies.

25. MYTH CHECK! It’s been widely rumored that Terry’s salary was greater than Garland’s. That’s not true. Garland earned $500 a week.

26. Ray Bolger and Tin Man were the top earners on Oz, getting paid roughly $3,000/week.

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27. Some of the oft-repeated lines from the movie include “I’m melting! I’m melting!”, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” “Lions and tigers and bears oh my!”,”I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too,” and, of course, “There’s no place like home.” Field of Dreams, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Nightmare on Elm Street, Spaceballs, The Matrix, Avatar, Swingers, and Twister are among the many movies that have quoted from Oz.

28. There were thought to be four or five pairs of ruby slippers made for the movie. Each shoe was made of red satin covered by 2,300 sequins.

29. One pair is on display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. (along with Bolger’s Scarecrow costume); another pair sold for $666,000 at auction in 2000; and one pair was stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in 2005. A $1 million reward has been offered for their return.

30. One final pair of ruby slippers is waiting in the wings to be shown at the future Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angles. A group of deep-pocketed donors, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Stephen Spielberg, pooled together their funds to buy a pair. The price they paid was not revealed, but it’s thought to have been in the $2-$3 million range.

31. The Wicked Witch’s crystal ball sold for $129,000 at auction in 2011.

32. The Cowardly Lion’s costume hauled in $3.1 million at auction in 2014. (Fun fact: at the same auction, the piano from Casablanca was sold for $3.4 million).

33. One of Dorothy’s dresses will be sold at auction in November 2015. Ten dresses were made for use in the film; one went for $480,000 in 2012.

34. To create the winged monkeys, MGM initially tried using cartoons. Displeased with how they looked, the movie designers opted for miniature rubber monkeys of different sizes (some were only a few inches tall) to create the effect of depth, and they were “flown” by wires. Small human stuntmen were mixed in.

35. MYTH CHECK! The “horse of a different color” in Emerald City has been said to be achieved by dyeing two horses’ coats with Jell-O, which the horses kept licking it off. That is not correct—vegetable dye was used.

36. Before she became an actress, Margaret Hamilton (Wicked Witch) once worked as a kindergarten teacher.

37. Perhaps Hamilton should have emulated her character’s fear of fire—the actress was seriously burned on her face and right hand during her Munchkinland scene and was sidelined for six weeks.

38. Hamilton was known to quip that she hoped newspapers would someday print the words “Ding, dong, the witch is dead!” above her death notice. After she passed away in 1985, some newspapers followed through on her request and used that as the headline of her obituary.

39. To create the sonorous voices of the Winkies, the Witch’s castle guards, the actors’ voices were recorded and then slowed down.

40. The Munchkins’ distinctive voices were also achieved by pre-recording; in their case, the actors’ voices were sped up to what moviegoers heard.

41. MGM spent the immense sum of $250,000—$4.19 million, in today’s dollars—to promote and publicize the film.

42. It took 22 men one week to make the 40,000 fake flowers that made up the film’s poppy field.

43. The snowflakes in that scene were flakes of asbestos!

44. North Carolina is home to an abandoned Land of Oz theme park (complete with yellow brick road). It was open to the public from 1970 to 1980 and now re-opens once a year in the fall.

45. Novelist Salman Rushdie has said that seeing The Wizard of Oz as a child “made a writer out of me.”

46. Only two shots—the clouds in the opening and end credits—in the movie were filmed outside. The rest was filmed on 65 sets constructed over six sound stages in Culver City.

47. In 1998, TV writer Rick Polito achieved renown when he wrote the unforgettable one-sentence summary about The Wizard of Oz for TCM:  “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.”

48.  MYTH CHECK! The biggest myth about The Wizard of Oz is that in the background of one scene, viewers can see a hanged person—a Munchkin—dangling from a tree. Relax, there was no hanging. It’s a bird wing.

49. When the movie was first released in 1939, it was a box-office disappointment, grossing $3 million. However, it more than made up for that poor showing by the profits made in subsequent showings (when it was re-released in theaters in 1949, it grossed $1.5 million) and in TV broadcast rights.

50. The movie was first shown on TV in 1956, but since most sets were black-and-white, home viewers did not get to see the wonderful Technicolor of Oz. Still, an estimated 45 million watched. The next TV showing occurred in 1959 when it aired as a Christmas special. CBS paid MGM $225,000 for each broadcast.

51. The last surviving principal actor from the film is Jerry Maren, who is 95. In the movie, he was a Munchkin and a member of the Lollipop Guild—Maren was the one to hand Dorothy a lollipop.

52. The songs for Oz were composed by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, who collaborated on many other shows. Among their better-known songs are “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady,” and “Cabin in the Sky.”

53. After Harburg saw a stage version of The Wiz in the 1970s, he responded with the following witty rhyme: “From FDR to Nixon/From The Wizard to The Wiz/It doesn’t quite seem possible/But oh my country, ’tis.

54. The song “Over the Rainbow” was cut from the film three times, because it was thought not to be appealing to children, the movie’s intended audience.

55. In the film, the Witch wrote “Surrender Dorothy” with her broom in the sky. In real life, it was written by a production designer with a hypodermic needle filled with dye in a tank of cloudy water with cloudy water. He had to write the words backwards in order to be filmed.

56. In the original trailers for Oz, none of the Kansas scenes were shown because MGM execs wanted moviegoers to think the entire movie was in Technicolor.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest