Over the last half century or so, the story of Dorothy and her friends on the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City has stamped itself indelibly on the national psyche, thanks to the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz. It is, perhaps, the closest thing we have today to a universal fairy tale. Stand outside when a strong wind kicks up and someone is likely to yell out, "Auntie Em! Auntie Em!" The theme music for Miss Gulch's demonic bicycle ride or the march of the Wicked Witch's palace guards come easily to everyone's lips. A scary situation will often be faced with someone saying, "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" And the phrase "I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore," has become part of everyday parlance and even literary reference as an expression of the strange and wonderful encounters in life. It has been remade, sequeled, prequeled, spoofed, and referenced in dozens of movies, television shows, books (Wicked by Gregory Maguire [Harper Collins, 1996] tells the story from the witch's point of view), and music (notably Elton John's 1973 release Goodbye Yellow Brick Road), but none have had the imaginative power or lasting imprint of the original. The film's producer, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, probably had no clue to its eventual impact, either, although no expense was spared in bringing the story to the screen. Two early silent versions were made in 1910 and 1924, neither of which were particularly successful, and the 1939 version initially lost money, roughly a million dollars on its first release; it was expensive to make, there was not a huge market for children's movies, and the onset of World War II dried up foreign markets for Hollywood product. It took more than a decade for the movie to go into the black, thanks largely to repeated showings on television beginning in the 1950s and video sales years later.
> L. Frank Baum wrote the novel of the same name from which the film The Wizard of Oz was adapted. He was born in New York, in 1856, and grew up on the family estate of Rose Lawn. Baum spent much of his time on farmlands as a child, and the scarecrows he saw there both frightened and fascinated him. Baum's father was a wealthy oil magnate who sent him to military academy when he was twelve years old. Young Baum's experience there was too traumatic for him to continue, and his parents allowed him to return home. The future author's memories of his time at military academy would later influence his writings, especially The Wizard of Oz, which was first published in 1900 as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
> As a young man, L. Frank Baum received the enthusiastic support of his family throughout his many pursuits including acting, writing, theatre management, music composition, and newspaper publishing, but his greatest passion was acting. Baum had also worked at a hardware store where he used various materials, cans, and pipes to make tin men window displays to attract customers. In 1882, Baum married independent-minded suffragette Maud Gage who later encouraged Baum to create a story featuring a brave young heroine as the lead character.
> During his first years of married life, L. Frank Baum worked at his father's company while writing works of non-fiction. Later in 1887, Baum published his first children's book Mother Goose in Prose followed by Father Goose in 1899. L. Frank and Maud Baum had four sons, but no daughter. They did, however, have a niece named Dorothy, and Baum said that if he were to have a baby girl, he would name her Dorothy.
> In the Baum household, a favorite pastime was gathering around and listening to father Baum tell stories that amazed and intrigued. One night, Baum began a most unusual story that impelled him to write it down. That fantastical tale would grow to become The Wizard of Oz. According to Baum, he thought of the name "Oz" after gazing upon a file cabinet drawer labeled O-Z in his study. Others theorized that Percy Shelley's sonnet Ozymandias might also have inspired the name.
> The making of The Wizard of Oz wasn't exactly smooth sailing. Although the characters of Dorothy and her friends have become forever linked with the actors who created
the roles, particularly Judy Garland, the film might have looked very different if original casting plans had been followed. W.C. Fields was the first choice to play the Wizard, but a disagreement between the studio and the notoriously difficult comic actor squelched that deal. Character actress Gale Sondergaard, memorable that same year as the Empress Eugenie in Juarez, was tested for the Wicked Witch. Sondergaard was an accomplished actress (whose career was halted for 20 years thanks to the Hollywood Blacklist), but her exotic beauty was bypassed in favor of Margaret Hamilton's more traditionally "witchy" look. Buddy Ebsen, best known today as Jed Clampett from TV's The Beverly Hillbillies began shooting as the Tin Man, but he was hospitalized with a near-fatal reaction to the silver paint used for the character's make-up and was replaced by Jack Haley (father of producer Jack Haley, Jr., who was once married to Garland's daughter Liza Minnelli). And, of course, there was the central character herself, a part some sources say MGM head Louis B. Mayer was desperate to give reigning child star Shirley Temple, then under contract to Fox. With Temple unavailable, MGM contract player Judy Garland was brought in to the role that made her a star, won her a special juvenile-performer Oscar®, and became an integral part of her legend.
> Casting was not the only problem. The script was labored over by 16 writers, 13 of whom went uncredited - including cast members Jack Haley and Bert Lahr, poet Ogden Nash, and screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who authored Citizen Kane (1941). The picture went through three directors, weathered legendary mayhem created by its 116 Munchkin extras (a story chronicled in the 1981 Chevy Chase-Carrie Fisher comedy Under the Rainbow), and almost fried Margaret Hamilton in the effects created for the Wicked Witch's fiery exit.
> The beloved ballad "Over the Rainbow" was at the time constantly being cut and reinstated in the film, as the studio could not decide whether a barnyard would be an effective setting for a pivotal music scene.br>
> Piano wires were used to levitate the "flying" monkeys.
> Yet despite the difficulties, and the initial lackluster box office, The Wizard of Oz was Oscar®-nominated for Best Picture, Color Cinematography, Interior Decoration, and Special Effects and won awards for Best Song ("Over the Rainbow") and Original Score.
A tornado whisks Kansas farm girl Dorothy and her dog, Toto, to a magical land populated by odd characters.
Two banker's children lose their old nanny due to her frustrations and then appears an assertive nanny who matches the qualifications of the children and not the father.
Musical biography of the backwoods girl who struck it rich in Colorado and survived the Titanic.
An apprentice witch and three war orphans try to prevent the Nazi invasion of England.
A boy wins a tour of a famous, and deadly, chocolate factory.