The Wizard of Oz, written by Victor Fleming and published 80 years ago, is remembered—and loved (in Baum’s book, Dorothy’s shoes are silver, not ruby red; they have been modified to reflect the colour treatment of the new demo film). And composer Herbert Stothart’s Oscar-winning score.
Of course, the film was notorious for exacerbating Judy Garland’s use of amphetamines and barbiturates, which she prescribed at Louis B. Meyer’s request to improve the young star’s performance on set. Mayer would later refer to the 16-year-old as his “little hunchback,” and Garland attempted suicide for the first time in 1947, less than a decade after her breakthrough role.
The Wizard of Oz is filled with gloom. Buddy Ebsen, the original Tin Woodman, was turned into an iron lung after silver aluminium powder makeup got into his lungs. Margaret Hamilton, a wicked witch, was also hospitalised with second-degree burns to her face and third-degree burns to her hands. She returned to work after recovering on the condition that she no longer work with fire. She was hospitalised for 11 days after the “broom handle,” which was essentially a painted whistle, on which her double, Betty Danko, sat exploded. Her legs’ burns never healed.
When delving into the film’s bleak backstory, an urban legend emerges: In a scene later known as the Tin Woodman sequence, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman jump over the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, an actor playing Munchkin hangs himself.
The studio’s official line has long been that what appears to be a small human swinging from a tree is actually a shadow cast by a massive crane used by Fleming and other animals from the Los Angeles Zoo hired to make the forest come to life. As the trio began jumping in the street, the crane is said to have spread its wings defensively, casting a strange shadow in the background.
This alleged myth is exacerbated by the film’s numerous versions. The sloppy footage had been cleaned up by the time The Wizard of Oz was reissued for its 50th anniversary in 1989. The bird reappeared in a different location than it did the first time it appeared. This is now considered the final version that will most likely be seen on television. When you watch the original film, however, something still feels off.