Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz

Larry Holzwarth - October 14, 2019

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz first appeared in 1900, and was so successful that another 13 books by the original author relating the adventures of its characters followed. Scores of others by different authors have followed since. The original book sold over 1,000,000 copies by the end of the 1930s. It was produced as a musical play in 1902, and it was that version which served as the basis of the 1939 film which became and remains an American icon. The original book was a heavily illustrated volume which provided the basis for most of the costumes in the later film version of the story, though the film differs significantly from the book in many ways.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
A lobby card for the 1955 re-release of the MGM film The Wizard of Oz. Wikimedia

Over the years the book has been translated into many languages, including Hebrew in a version where Oz is Uz, the land in which dwelt the Biblical Job. Its author died in 1919, and following his death other writers were hired to continue publishing Oz books, which appeared each Christmas season until 1942. The Library of Congress calls the Oz stories America’s “best-loved homegrown fairy tale”. Here are some strange tales about the Oz books, The Wizard of Oz film of 1939, and the progenitor of the characters and wonderful land known as Oz.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
An illustration by W. W. Denslow for the original 1900 edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. University of Virginia Library

1. The book and film have been described as political allegory, though L. Frank Baum denied it

In 1964 a high school history teacher wrote of The Wizard of Oz that it was an allegory referring to the monetary debate of the late 19th century. The teacher, Henry Littlefield, claimed that the Yellow Brick Road represented the gold standard, the silver shoes (which were replaced with ruby slippers in the 1939 film) were indicative of the sixteen to one ratio of silver to gold. The very name Oz was a thinly disguised reference to the term ounce. Before and since Littlefield’s article was published the Oz stories have been dissected and analyzed for political meaning.

Baum never agreed with any of the assertions, which appeared from time to time in his lifetime. In 1901 he wrote a play based on the book which was eventually produced on Broadway. The play eliminated several elements of the book (including the Wicked Witch of the West as an appearing character) Whenever Baum was asked why he wrote the book, and the 13 sequels which eventually followed it, he responded by saying that they were written to “please children”.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
L. Frank Baum did not intend to create a series of Oz books, but yielded to the pressure from his audience. Wikimedia

2. Baum never intended to write a sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Lyman Frank Baum was a prolific writer. In addition to the 14 Oz books, Baum wrote another 41 novels, more than 200 poems, over 80 short stories, and over 40 scripts for stage plays and films. After the success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum turned to other children’s books, as well scripts. He created other fantasy worlds for children, including the land of Ix and the North Pole residence of Santa Claus, and The Master Key, an adventure/fantasy story targeted towards boys.

It was the thousands of letters sent to Baum and his publisher begging for more stories of Dorothy and her friends in Oz which motivated Baum to write the first sequel, The Marvelous Land of Oz, in 1904. Several times over the years he declared that he was finished with the land of Oz, only to acquiesce to the demands of children for more stories and write yet another sequel. He used the famous fairy tales from Europe’s Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen as the basis of his stories and deliberately avoided presenting them as fables teaching morals to his readers.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
The 1939 film drew from both Baum’s books and the 1902 stage musical, also written by Baum. Wikimedia

3. The Wizard of Oz was a box office flop in 1939

The Library of Congress has called the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz the most watched film in American history, but when it was released in theaters in 1939 its studio, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, failed to recoup the cost of its production and promotion. The film was nominated for six Academy awards but won only two, one of which was for Best Original Song. The Best Picture of the Year award that year went to Gone With the Wind. It was a banner year for films; Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Goodbye Mr. Chips, and many other classic films were released in 1939.

The film was the most expensive MGM had ever made up to 1939, and it was not until 1949, when it was re-released, that the studio saw a profit. It was television which made the film a legend, it first appeared on CBS in 1956, broadcast in color though most viewers saw it in black and white. It did not appear on television again until 1959. After that it was broadcast annually, becoming a highly anticipated showcase event as more and more children were exposed to the film for the first time. By the early 1960s, when most prime-time television was still broadcast in black and white, the film stood out – literally – for its lavish color while Dorothy was in the land of Oz.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
The part of the Wizard was written for W. C. Fields, but his salary demands and reputation left him out of the film. Wikimedia

4. The Wizard was supposed to have been portrayed by W. C. Fields

W. C. Fields was at the height of his powers as a radio star in 1939, and when Ed Wynn, a popular radio host, comedian, and actor of the day turned down the role of the Wizard/Professor Marvel, the producers turned to him. The comedian’s public persona as a charming charlatan and con man – one which Fields carefully cultivated throughout his career – was believed to be perfect for the two characters he was set to play. But Fields was also notorious throughout the film industry as being difficult to work with.

Fields argued with producers, directors, and writers (as well as fellow actors) over scripts, storylines, timing, and virtually all other aspects of film making. He frequently used ad libs while filming scenes and then refused to submit to a retake. Fields demanded a salary which MGM considered to be too high, especially when it was coupled with his penchant for being disruptive on the set. With Fields out, and shooting set to begin, MGM selected one of their stock players, Frank Morgan, for the title role in the film, and the script was once again rewritten.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
Buddy Ebsen (center) was cast as the Tin Man after losing the part of the Scarecrow to Ray Bolger. Wikimedia

5. Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Scarecrow, with Ray Bolger as the Tin Man

Buddy Ebsen, later to gain fame as Jed Clampett of The Beverly Hillbillies, was the first choice to play the Scarecrow. Ebsen was a dancer, famous for his loose-limbed moves on the dance floor. To play the Tin Man, Ray Bolger was selected, but after being awarded the part Bolger objected. He told producers that he was better suited to play the Scarecrow, and balked at wearing the proposed costume for the Tin Man, which he said would restrict his movements, making him appear stiff in his dancing sequences. Bolger had seen the 1902 play on Broadway, and the part of the Scarecrow was what inspired him to start his own career as a vaudeville performer.

The producers approached Ebsen about switching roles, and though the part of the Tin Man was somewhat smaller, Ebsen didn’t object. He went through script readings and rehearsals in the role of the Tin Man. He also taught Bolger the shambling walk he had already developed for the Scarecrow. Ebsen also recorded the songs for the Tin Man which were scheduled to be used in the final film. In the end they were not used, because by switching roles with Bolger he unwittingly entered into a chain of events which left him out of the production entirely and nearly cost him his life.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
Buddy Ebsen lost his second role in the film to Jack Haley after the makeup used made him gravely ill. Wikimedia

6. The Wizard of Oz nearly killed Buddy Ebsen

When shooting began for The Wizard of Oz, Buddy Ebsen and the other actors involved in the production spent long hours in makeup. Ebsen’s face and hands were treated to appear to be made of tin, using a mixture of creams and aluminum dust. By the end of the first day of shooting Ebsen suffered cramps in his extremities, and the following day he arose aching and sore. Within a few more days he was experiencing difficulty breathing. He went to a doctor, to discover that the makeup was toxic when he inhaled the dust.

MGM staff did not believe the performer’s claim of being ill, and demanded he return to the set. When it became apparent that he was going to be ill for some time, Ebsen was removed from the cast and replaced with Jack Haley. Ebsen said later in life that the studio did not admit that it was the makeup which led to his lengthy hospital stay (though it changed the formula), and that MGM did not pay for his treatment. For the rest of his life he experienced occasional difficulty breathing, which he blamed on his brief association with the project, which he often referred to as “that damned movie”.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
Margaret Hamilton briefly reprised her role as a witch for ABC Television in 1964. Wikimedia

7. Margaret Hamilton almost missed the role of the Wicked Witch of the West

Margaret Hamilton’s portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West created one of America’s truly iconic characters. From her maniacal laugh, to her commands to her Winged Monkeys, to her final melting sequence in the haunted castle, Hamilton was the classic witch, all in black, on her flying broomstick. But she wasn’t the first pick to play the role. The role went initially to Gale Sondergaard. The witch was to have been an attractive counterpart to Glinda the Good Witch, slinky and sexy in clinging black costume, similar to the Evil Queen in Disney’s animated Snow White.

Sondergaard was costumed both as the slinky witch and in costume similar to what Hamilton eventually wore in the film, and the decision was made to use the ugly and evil costume and makeup. When Sondergaard saw how she looked in the makeup she withdrew from the film, and MGM once again turned to its stock of character actors and pulled up Margaret Hamilton, who readily agreed to the role. Hamilton played the character along the lines of the witch described in the novel, becoming truly frightening to some young children.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
Victor Fleming left the production of The Wizard of Oz to rescue Gone With the Wind. Wikimedia

8. The film had several directors over the course of its production

The first director on the film was Richard Thorpe, followed by George Cukor, who worked on the production throughout some of its planning, rehearsal, and scriptwriting phases. But he did not shoot any of the film, and when he left it in November 1938 (to begin work on Gone With the Wind) the production was badly behind schedule. He was replaced by Victor Fleming, whose name remains on the credits of the final film. But he did not finish the film, including the final editing process, and the filming and recording of Over the Rainbow.

Fleming was called to rescue the troubled production of Gone With the Wind in February, 1939 (he eventually collapsed from exhaustion while finishing that film) and MGM replaced him on the Oz set with King Vidor. Vidor filmed nearly all of the Kansas sequences of the film, including the tornado and the scenes Dorothy viewed from the window of her house as it was carried by the twister to the land of Oz. He was not credited for his work on the film. Victor Fleming won the 1939 Academy Award for Best Director, but it was for Gone With the Wind.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
Toto, despite her absence from this 1939 poster, became one of the biggest stars of the film. Wikimedia

9. Terry (Toto) was paid more than many of the human actors in the film

Terry was the Cairn terrier who played Toto, though in the film credits she was credited as Toto. She was an established film veteran when she was hired to appear in the film. Such was the demand for her services that in the fall of 1939 there were three feature length films in theaters in which Terry played a significant role. For her work in Oz, in which she performed all of her own stunts, she was paid $125 per week (about $2,200 in 2019). By contrast most of the Munchkins who acted as the residents of Munchkin Land were paid $50 per week for their services.

Like many of the others who performed in the film, Terry was injured on the set, which nearly led to the animal being euthanized. During filming of scenes within the Witch’s Castle, another actor – most sources claim it was a Winkie, though some claim it was Bert Lahr – stepped on Terry’s foot, breaking it, and temporarily halting filming. The dog recovered at Judy Garland’s home. Terry, in character as Toto, attended the premiere of The Wizard of Oz at the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and such was her popularity that her name was changed to Toto in 1942.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
Judy Garland was always the choice of the producers Mervyn LeRoy and Arthur Freed, though Louis B. Mayer had his doubts about using her. Wikimedia

10. Judy Garland was the first choice by the producers for the part of Dorothy

It is often reported in various venues that Judy Garland was not the first choice to play Dorothy, (who in the books is a twelve-year old Kansas farmgirl) and that the producers preferred Shirley Temple. The opposite is true; producers Mervyn LeRoy and Arthur Freed made clear that their first choice was Garland, who was sixteen when production began. Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, suggested that Garland was too old and too developed physically for the part, and offered to check on the availability of Temple, who was under contract with 20th Century Fox.

Garland had by then made several films for Mayer and MGM, often alongside Mickey Rooney, and the success of their partnership led Mayer to do what he could to ensure that she retained her youthful appearance. He applied the same rules to the set of The Wizard of Oz, restricting her diet (she lost 17 pounds during the production), having her wear corsets designed to hide her figure, and even having her famous gingham dress designed to keep her looking younger. At one point she was encouraged to take up smoking to help curb her appetite, and in later life she claimed that Mayer had provided amphetamines for the same reason.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
An early Denslow illustration of Dorothy Gale holding the silver shoes. Wikimedia

11. Silver shoes and ruby slippers

The iconic ruby slippers given to Dorothy by Glinda, from the feet of the dead Wicked Witch of the East, almost never existed. In the Oz books the magical footwear were silver shoes. When silver did not contrast sufficiently with the shade of yellow selected for the road, Louis B. Mayer suggested changing the color of the shoes to red (at least seven different colors of yellow had already been tested for the road). MGM costume designer Gilbert Adrian designed two different styles of shoes, one of which was in an Arabian style, with toes curled upward.

How many pairs of the final design were made is disputed; five pairs are known to remain in existence (including one in the Arabian design). They were made in several sizes, as Garland found that her feet swelled during a day’s shooting. Some pairs sole’s were covered in felt to pad the sound of her feet on the set while dancing or skipping, others, such as the pair seen on the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East, were not. Several conflicting claims over who made the slippers exist, and it is likely that several manufacturers were contracted to make the shoes as the need for additional pairs arose.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
Margaret Hamilton created a Wicked Witch far more frightening than the illustrations in the book. Wikimedia

12. Margaret Hamilton had several problems on the set and in the editing room

Margaret Hamilton’s performance as the Wicked Witch was so successful that many of her scenes were edited out of the film, with the producers and Louis B. Mayer concerned that she was too frightening for children. She paid a price for the scenes which remained. While filming the Witch’s exit from Munchkin Land, a delayed elevator drop led to her suffering severe burns on her hands and face. Because her green makeup had to be removed with alcohol, she was forced to stop work during her six-week recovery.

When she returned, it was with the proviso that she no longer be exposed to flame and fireworks through the remainder of the production. Her stunt double, Betty Danko, was used to film the entrance of the Wicked Witch in Munchkin Land in February, 1939. She also filmed the scene when the Witch was skywriting, astride a pipe filled with combustibles and which resembled the witch’s broom. When the pipe burst due to overpressure, Danko suffered severe burns on her legs, leading to a hospital stay of almost two weeks and permanent scars on both legs.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
An illustration of the Munchkins as Dorothy encountered them in the book version of the story. Wikimedia

13. The Munchkins were changed considerably for the movie version in 1939

In the Oz books the Munchkins, “seemed about as tall as Dorothy, who was a well grown child for her age…” The literary Munchkins are presented as being older than Dorothy, and dressed in varying shades of blue, the color of the Land of Oz’s eastern regions. Obviously for the film’s producers, creating the Munchkins created problems. To help solve them they contacted an entrepreneur named Leo Singer, the manager of a traveling vaudeville troupe known as Singer’s Midgets.

Singer provided both members of his troupe (for which he kept a portion of their salaries) and recruited others from his contacts across the industry. One, Jerry Maren (he handed Dorothy the lollipop as a member of the Lollipop Guild) later claimed that the actors who portrayed Munchkins in singing or speaking roles were paid $125 per week. Those who were just extras were paid far less. The fact that little people were hired to portray the Munchkins is well known, but several children were also hired to serve as set extras to ensure that Munchkin City was well-populated when Dorothy dropped in.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
The voices for several of the Munchkins were provided by Mickey Carroll, who also portrayed one of the Lollipop Guild. Wikimedia

14. The uncredited Mickey Carroll performed many of the voiceovers for the film

Mickey Carroll was one of the actors hired to portray a Munchkin, after which his talents were utilized for many other sequences in the film. He first appears, in the final version of the film, voicing the screams of Auntie Em as she vainly calls for Dorothy with the twister bearing down on the farm. When Dorothy arrives at Munchkin Land he appears as the Town Crier. When the Lollipop Guild saunters up to Dorothy singing it is Carroll providing the voiceover for the song welcoming her to Munchkin Land. He provided several other voice overs, since most actors portraying Munchkins could not speak English.

It was he who provided one of the film’s most famous lines, in several different voices. It was the Mayor of Munchkin City, in Carroll’s voice, inviting her to, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”. He appeared yet again as one of the Fiddlers who, along with the other Munchkins, escorted Dorothy to the edge of Munchkin Land. Carroll lived to see the 21st century before he died in 2009, one of the last actors whose voice is heard in the film to die.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
A lobby card from the 1939 release of the film, at a time when many of the special effects used were dangerous to the cast and crew. Wikimedia

15. The snow falling over the poppy field was potentially lethal

Making snow in films was often a problem on early film sets. Charlie Chaplin used a mixture of salt and flour for his 1925 silent film The Gold Rush. Other directors found ways to use corn flakes, usually spray painted white, in other silent films. The advent of talking movies rendered the use of corn flakes problematic; actors moving through the “snow” made excessive crunching sounds. The Wizard of Oz was made in technicolor, and the snow had to be pure white when falling over the poppy field.

The scene, in which “snow” can be seen covering the actor’s hair, faces, and bodies, as well as being layered onto the poppies and blowing through the air, was manufactured by shredding 100% chrysotile asbestos. The film was not alone in selecting the product to use as snow, during the 1920s and 1930s it could be purchased by consumers in packages for use in decorations, under brand names such as White Magic and Pure White.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
The tale that L. Frank Baum’s coat was worn in the film The Wizard of Oz by Frank Morgan is almost certainly an urban myth. Wikimedia

16. The myth of L. Frank Baum’s frock coat being seen in the film

The story goes, its originator unknown, that either Frank Morgan, who played the Wizard and several other roles, or a costume artist from MGM, visited a local clothing consignment shop and purchased an old frock coat for Morgan to wear in his roles as the Wizard and Professor Marvel. After the filming was completed the coat was delivered to be cleaned, at which time a tag was discovered, some say in the lining, some in a pocket, which identified a prior owner as being L. Frank Baum.

Neither the Baum family nor that of actor Frank Morgan ever confirmed the story, and in fact the Baum family flatly denied it in writing on more that one occasion. It is repeated often, with different sources, and with different versions, mostly because it is one of those stories which is just too good to go away. It was most likely started as the sort of on-set rumor which is often generated in Hollywood as a form of cheap, pre-release publicity for a film.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
Judy Garland as Kansas farm girl Dorothy Gale in a promotional shot from 1939. Wikimedia

17. The audience knows exactly when the events of the film take place, if it cares to look

The Wizard of Oz was set in the depression, with Dorothy Gale coming home from school one afternoon (presumably, since she is carrying books) when her dog damages Almira Gulch’s flowers. But there is nothing in the early scenes in Kansas to indicate what year it is, or what time of year. Once the twister lifts the farmhouse from its foundations and carries it to Oz, there is no indication of which direction it travelled, nor whether the journey is to another time, in the past or in the future.

Upon arrival in Oz and Dorothy’s encountering Glinda, followed by her meeting the tittering Munchkins, the date is revealed. The Coroner steps forward to examine the late Wicked Witch of the East and declares her dead. He has a Death Certificate for the Witch, including a date, which reads May 6, 1939, from which it can be assumed that the residents of Oz used the same calendar as those of Kansas. The date is not a coincidence, it was chosen deliberately because it was the 20th anniversary of the death of L. Frank Baum.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
The myth of an actor committing suicide on the set began in the 1980s, almost fifty years after the original release of the film. Wikimedia

18. The myth of the Munchkin suicide is another which won’t go away

In the scene in which Scarecrow and Dorothy encounter the apple throwing trees, discover the Tin Man, and are threatened by the Wicked Witch, they close by heading further along the Yellow Brick Road. In the background, among the trees in the distance, there is a motion near the center of the screen. Sometime in the late 20th century a story emerged that the motion is an actor who played a Munchkin, who committed suicide by hanging.

No such suicide took place during the production. The scene cited as the suicide was filmed at a time when the actors portraying the Munchkins were not required on the set, well before the scenes in Munchkin Land were committed to film. Despite the existence of doctored film clips online, a careful examination of the released version of the film clearly demonstrates that the motion is from one of the large artificial birds which were scattered about the backgrounds.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
Had director Richard Thorpe had his way, all of the major characters would have looked far different. Wikimedia

19. Richard Thorpe wanted to mimic the scenery of the Oz books’ illustrations

Richard Thorpe wanted the Wicked Witch to resemble the Evil Queen as seen in Snow White, rather than the ugly (and green) hag in the final film. Thorpe also wanted a more mature Dorothy, and it was he who worked with Buddy Ebsen as the Tin Man, shooting scenes of Ebsen in the role, which were recently rediscovered. Thorpe also envisioned Oz as being less garish, with colors more muted, as they had been in the original illustrations in the books.

Thorpe’s Dorothy was a blonde, requiring Judy Garland to wear a wig. She was also heavily made up, and in Thorpe’s vision was closer to her own real age. MGM’s producers and Louis B. Mayer found themselves at odds with his approach to the film, and he was fired after just two weeks of shooting. Although the scenes he shot with Ebsen were necessarily never used, part of the soundtrack recorded by Ebsen can be heard in the released film, when singing “We’re off to see the Wizard”.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
Judy Garland in 1940, when Over the Rainbow had already become inextricably linked to her and her career. Wikimedia

20. Over the Rainbow was almost cut from the film before its release

The Wizard of Oz was made to attract children, and the first edit of the film was a movie of about two hours. Mayer demanded that it be edited down to roughly 100 minutes. Louis B. Mayer wanted the song Over the Rainbow cut from the film, believing that young children wouldn’t understand its message and the song was too sad. Producers LeRoy and Freed saw a preview of the film with and without the song, and argued forcefully for its return in the final release.

It took LeRoy’s threat to withdraw from the entire project to sway Mayer and order the song be included in the final version of the film. Ironically, catering the film to small children was one of the reasons it failed to make money during its first release in 1939. Children at the time were admitted to films at steeply discounted prices, reducing the take by theaters even when the film was shown in sold-out houses.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
The difficulties of the production were lost once the film was in general release in 1939. Wikimedia

21. The use of technicolor made filming a learning process for cast and crew

Technicolor was a technology which was less than 5 years old at the time of the filming of The Wizard of Oz, and the decision to use it for the color portions of the film created numerous difficulties. Heavy and hot, bright lights were required on the set and temperatures often exceeded 100 degrees. The heavy costumes worn by the actors made them hot and uncomfortable, especially those of the Scarecrow, Lion, and the Munchkins.

Blue did not show up particularly well in technicolor at the time, which is why the Munchkins of the film eschewed the favorite color of their counterparts of the printed page. Dorothy’s famed blue and white checked gingham dress was actually blue and pink, with the pink fading to white under the process. The oil used on the Tin Man too did not photograph well. Chocolate syrup was substituted for the oil, which Jack Haley found more pleasant when his comrades oiled him about his mouth.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
Frank Morgan played more roles than any other actor appearing in the 1939 film. Wikimedia

22. Frank Morgan, who replaced W.C. Fields, eventually played five separate roles

The parts of Professor Marvel, the doorman at Emerald City, the cab driver in, the guard at the Wizard’s door and the Wizard, were played by Frank Morgan. In part because of Field’s financial demands. Another factor considered was his well-deserved reputation for keeping himself lubricated with alcohol on the set. It was quickly learned by all involved that Morgan shared the latter attribute with the famed comedian.

When Morgan reported for his first day of shooting he brought with him a suitcase, which he resorted to frequently throughout the day when his presence wasn’t required before the cameras. the suitcase contained champagne. According to Ray Bolger it never had a detrimental effect on either his performance or his demeanor, other than when access to his drink was denied he became morose and uncooperative. According to Bolger, on at least one occasion, director Victor Fleming stopped shooting and told a disgruntled Morgan to go get himself a drink.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
Legends of misbehaving Munchkins during the production are based on comments from many who participated in the film, including producer LeRoy. Pinterest

23. The legends of Munchkin misbehavior began while still filming in 1939

Urban legends and myths about the actors portraying the Munchkins began before the film wrapped in 1939. Most of the actors were booked into a hotel in Culver City. According to Mervyn LeRoy, the police were in the hotel on an almost nightly basis. Judy Garland told Jack Paar in a 1967 interview “They were drunks”. Bert Lahr also added to the tales of miscreant Munchkins, complaining they weren’t professional performers, but made their living, “panhandling, pimping, and whoring”.

As the end of the 20th century loomed and more and more of the participants in the filming of The Wizard of Oz passed away, surviving actors who portrayed Munchkins in the film took steps to alter their salacious reputation. The sheer number of stories from contemporaries indicates the revisionism of this view, and all indications are that the legends of the Munchkin’s misbehavior have some basis at least in truth.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
Despite its reputation today, contemporary critics were not always kind to the film or its performers. Wikimedia

24. The Wizard of Oz was roundly panned by some critics

When it was released some critics loved the film and gave it positive reviews, others panned it. The New Republic wrote that though the film presented characters sure to be attractive to its audience, including a Wizard who was by his own admission not a very good one, “… the picture doesn’t know what to do with them, except to be painfully literal and elaborate about everything”. The review stated the film, “weighs like a pound of fruitcake, soaking wet”.

The review referred to the Winged Monkeys as “Things with Wings”, praised Judy Garland but panned nearly all of the rest of the cast (except Morgan) and was generally dismissive of the entire project. The New York Times review said that, “…any reviewer who would look down his nose at the fun-making should be spanked and sent off, supperless, to bed”. The review in the New Republic was proven wrong over time as the film became an American icon.

Strange Tales and Forgotten Stories About The Wizard of Oz
Nikko, King of the Winged Monkeys, earned a credit for Pat Walshe, the only bit player in the film to be credited. Pinterest

25. The Flying Monkeys is a name which Baum’s Winged Monkeys acquired over time

In the Oz books, starting with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900, the Winged Monkeys are free creatures until eventually enslaved by the Wicked Witch of the West, who used them to conquer the Winkies, through the use of a talisman called the Golden Cap. In the film the winged monkeys are led by Nikko, the only one addressed by name (by the Witch when she orders him to take his army to the Haunted Forest and capture Dorothy and Toto).

Baum only mentioned the Winged Monkeys in one of the subsequent Oz books, The Marvelous Land of Oz. In neither the books nor the 1939 film are they referred to as Flying Monkeys, though that is the name by which they are most commonly referred to today. Patrick Walshe, an American circus performer and animal impersonator portrayed Nikko in the movie. Viewers of the film who saw the credit to Patrick Walsh as Nikko often believed it referred to the Winkie who cried, “Hail to Dorothy” once the Wicked Witch of the West was dead.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Secrets of The Wizard of Oz”. Rumeana Jahangir, BBC News Magazine. March 17, 2009

“How did ‘Wizard of Oz’ fare on its 1939 release?” Susan King, Los Angeles Times. March 11, 2013

“The Wizard of Oz: 71 facts for the films 71st birthday”. Catherine Shoard, The Guardian. August 12, 2010

“Buddy Ebsen, 95, Actor-Dancer was Jed Clampett of ‘Beverly Hillbillies'”. Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times. July 8, 2003

“Ray Bolger, Scarecrow in ‘Oz” Dies”. Glenn Fowler, The New York Times. January 16, 1987

“The Making of The Wizard of Oz: Movie Magic and Studio Power in the Prime of MGM”. Aljean Harmetz. 1998

“Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master”. Michael Sragow. 2013

“George Cukor: Master of Elegance”. Emanuel Levy. 1994

“Hollywood Dogs”. Ann Lloyd. 2004

“Judy Garland Was Put on a Strict Diet and Encouraged to Take ‘Pep Pills” While Filming ‘The Wizard of Oz'”. Colin Bertram, Biography.com. May 24, 2019

“Inside the Search for Dorothy’s Slippers”. Monte Burke, Forbes. December 3, 2008

“Special Effects: An Introduction to Movie Magic”. Ron Miller. 2006

“The Munchkins of Oz”. Stephen Cox. 2002

“The Munchkins Remember: The Wizard of Oz and beyond”. Stephen Cox. 1989

“The Crazy Tricks Early Filmmakers Used to Fake Snow”. Kat Eschner, Smithsonian.com. December 21, 2016

“Frank Baum, the Man Behind the Curtain”. Chloe Schama, Smithsonian.com. June 25, 2009

“10 Things You Never Noticed About ‘The Wizard of Oz'”. Jay Scarfone & William Stillman, Huffington Post. December 1, 2013

“What’s the Myth of the Hanging Munchkin?” BBC News Magazine. August 9, 2006. Online

“Looking Back at Making of ‘Wizard of Oz”. Luchina Fisher, ABC News. March 8, 2013. Online

“‘Over the Rainbow’s” Enduring Appeal”. BBC News Magazine. March 15, 2006

“Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland”. Gerald Clarke. 2001

“The Wicked Witch Got Hers”. Nora Ephron, The New York Times. November 13, 1977

“Judy Garland interview with Jack Paar, May 15th, 1967. YouTube video. Online

“The Wizard of OZ FAQ: All That’s Left To Know About Life, According to Oz”. David J. Hogan. 2014

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