10 Lesser-Known Facts about The Wizard of Oz

A trivial look at a classic on its 75th birthday...

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Arguably one of the most beloved and iconic movies of all time, The Wizard of Oz is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. In the decades since it first captured the hearts of viewers everywhere, much has been revealed about the film based on L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s book, and many more urban legends have somehow weaved their way into its story (“hanging Munchkin” trope, anyone?).

In fact, Oz trivia abounds. You may know that Buddy Ebsen (best known for his role as Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies) had to drop out of his role as the Tin Man because of an allergy to face paint, or that Dorothy and the Tin Man were briefly in-laws when Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli married Jack Haley Jr. But here are 10 lesser-known Oz facts to keep in mind the next time you take a trip down the yellow brick road with Dorothy and company.

1. Auntie Em Killed Herself.


In a death befitting her theatrical life, Clara Blandick, who played Dorothy’s stoic Auntie Em, decided that instead of succumbing to a plethora of health problems ailing her in the 1950s, she would commit suicide. After staging her room with mementos, she dolled herself up in a royal blue dressing gown, gulped an overdose of sleeping pills, laid down on her bed, and tied a plastic bag over her head. She left a note, later recovered by her landlady, that said, “I am now about to make the great adventure. I cannot endure this agonizing pain any longer. It is all over my body. Neither can I face the impending blindness. I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.”

2. The Real Dorothy Died as a Baby

Often reported and shown in L. Frank Baum biopics as young girl, the actual Dorothy was Baum’s 5-month-old niece. Baum was already working on Oz when Dorothy Gage (his wife Maud’s maiden name—note the similarity to “Dorothy Gale”) was born. When she died in infancy, Maud was so distraught that, to cheer her up and create a memorial to his niece, he changed the name of Oz’s protagonist to Dorothy.

3. Margaret Hamilton was Severely Burnt Onset—and the Cameras Kept Rolling.


During the Wicked Witch of the West’s exit from Munchkinland in the first color sequence of the film, the fireball of smoke that ascends from the ground concealed a secret elevator that took Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch, below set. After she made her exit, however, she was trapped below the stage and suffered severe burns as a result of a special effects misfire. Meanwhile, Judy Garland and Billie Burke (Glinda) finished the scene above her. Note that Hamilton was injured during the second take of the scene; the first take was used for the film and was essentially a rehearsal. After the mishap, however, no further takes were shot (obviously).

4. The Emerald City was White.


With Chicago’s “White City” at the 1893 World’s Fair in mind, L. Frank Baum originally wrote the Emerald City as “no more green than any other city.” It achieved its green look only because its residents were required (by the Wizard, of course) to wear green spectacles to protect their eyes from the “brightness and glory” of its green glow, hence tricking them into believing their city was made of emeralds.

5. The “Horse of a Different Color” was Covered in Jell-O.


To achieve a color that would appear vibrant on camera, the horse that draws Dorothy and her friends through the Emerald City was coated in orange, yellow, red, green, blue and purple gelatin powder. The only problem was keeping the horse from licking it off!

6. The Ruby Slippers were Originally Silver.


In Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s magical shoes were silver. For the movie, however, the color was changed to take advantage of the majority of film taking place in technicolor. The design that’s seen onscreen was actually the second style of slipper; the original model was Arabian-influenced with curled toes—much like the shoes worn by many of the Munchkins.

7. There were Originally Five Witches in Oz.


The eastern and western witches were evil, and the northern and southern witches were good. Glinda the Good, portrayed in the movie as being from the North, was originally from the South. In the North, there was both a good witch and Mombi, an evil witch who first appeared in The Land of Oz, Baum’s sequel to Wonderful Wizard. Also, although in the movie the Wicked Witch of the West called the Witch of the East her sister, the two were never related in the books; in fact, the Witch of the West doesn’t even really care that the Witch of the East is killed by Dorothy’s house.

8. The Tin Man was, at One Time, a Real Man.

Illustration by Robert Ingpen

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum writes that the Tin Man was once an average guy named Nick Chopper, and was, essentially a lumberjack. He fell in love with a servant Munchkin girl. The girl’s employer, in order to keep the girl in her employ, asked the Wicked Witch of the East to cast a spell to keep Chopper away, so the witch enchanted his ax, which then chopped off all of his limbs one by one. He kept replacing them with tin until he was completely metal and, once completely a “tin man,” could no longer love the Munchkin girl (hence no heart). Caught in the rain, he rusted while chopping wood, which is where Dorothy finds him.

9. Several Inconsistencies Refer to a Big Dance Number That was Cut.


In the film, the Wicked Witch commands Nikko, the head flying monkey to take his troops and find Dorothy and her friends in the Haunted Forest. Included in her instructions is the line “I’ve sent a little insect ahead to take the fight out of them.” That insect is the jitterbug, the titular character of a song-and-dance sequence that was cut. Another reference to the scene is the weapons that each of the four main characters carriers through the woods: they’re all exterminating or bug-catching tools. Ultimately, the number was abandoned because the filmmakers believed that a reference to a current popular dance craze would date the movie. Good call.

10. Toto was Paid More than the Munchkins.


Terry, the Cairn Terrior who played Toto was paid $125 a week; the Munchkins were each paid $50 (of which their manager, Leo Singer, took half).

A New York City-based music writer, Allison Johnelle Boron is the founder and editor of REBEAT magazine and has contributed to xoJane, Goldmine, and Popdose. Follow her on Twitter @AllisonJBoron.