Several months ago, McDonalds released a Happy Meal celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Wizard of Oz. There were 6 figurines in all: Dorothy with a basket and Toto in it, Glinda with her scepter, Scarecrow with his diploma, Tin Man with his heart shaped clock, Lion with his metal of courage and the Wicked Witch of the West with her broom. Each figurine came with a piece of the Yellow Brick Road that they could attach through with the use of a peg on the road and a hole in one of their shoes and each piece connected with the others. On the bottom of each piece of Yellow Brick Road was stamped “75th Anniversary The Wizard of Oz” and had the ruby slippers in the logo.
I’ve wanted to write about these pieces for some time now, but, I wanted to include more than just pictures of them. So, with each character’s figurine will be information about the actor or actress who played the part and some interesting facts along the way. I hope you enjoy!
DOROTHY GALE – Though MGM had a certain actress in mind to play Dorothy, they planned on picking most of the cast from their pool of contracted players. MGM originally wanted Shirley Temple for the role of Dorothy but Temple was under contract with 20th Century Fox and Fox wouldn’t lend her out. So going with one of their own contracted actresses they chose Judy Garland. Garland, who was only 16 when they filmed the movie had that girl-next-door kind of look and would also be able to play the range of emotions that her character would soon find herself in when she lands in Oz. Also, with Garland’s amazing singing voice, this would add to her character. There was one scene, in which she is in the Witch’s tower as the hour-glass is quickly running out of sand, that Dorothy reprises the song “Over the Rainbow”. Her performance was so moving that not only her own eyes tear as she sang, but those of the crew on the set. Sadly, as wonderful as this scene was, it was cut to make the film shorter.
GLINDA THE GOOD WITCH – MGM went with another of their contracted players with this role and chose actress Billie Burke. Burke was 54 years old when she played the part (she was fond of saying, “Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.”). It’s that type of thinking that helped Burke bring a youthfulness to her character, protecting the Munchkins with her powers, having a laugh in her voice whenever she spoke whether it was to Dorothy or the Wicked Witch of the West, and seemed to deal with the Wicked Witch of the West as if she were more of a nuisance than an actual threat.
THE SCARECROW/HUNK THE FARMHAND – The casting of the Scarecrow and Tin Man is a story in itself. The part of the Scarecrow was originally cast with Buddy Ebsen and Ray Bolger as the Tin Man (both MGM contract players). While Ebsen began practicing his dance routine and went for costume fittings, Bolger constantly spoke with the producers to play Scarecrow. Finally, the producers let him have the part and to Ebsen, whether it was a Scarecrow or Tin Man, didn’t mind, all he wanted was to be a part of the movie. You can try and imagine what it would have been like to see Ebsen as the Scarecrow, but you have to admit that Bolger was the right choice for that role. Tall, thin and lanky, Bolger was the perfect choice to play a character that is essentially clothes stuffed with straw. He walked with a gait as if the man in the costume didn’t have a skeleton and WAS full of stray, and any second you thought a breeze would knock him down. Every move he made was graceful and his dancing was incredible, as was how when he would walk next to Dorothy he would begin to fall down and she would just easily pick him up because he was so light.
His make-up consisted of a burlap sack which was actually a rubber bag textured to look like burlap. His eyes, nose and mouth were left open. His nose and mouth was painted the color of darker burlap, while the bag itself was painted to look brown. The process took one hour just to apply the bag, and then another to blend the nose coloring and coloring of the bag.
THE TIN MAN/HICKORY THE FARMHAND – With Ebsen now cast as the Tin Man, that meant an entire new costume and make-up, which would unfortunately cost him his role. After playing the Tin Man for just nine days, Ebsen had an extreme allergic reaction to the aluminum dust that his face was covered in and he breathed in every day. He was in the hospital for two weeks, then a month at home to recuperate.
The role was recast with Jack Haley (a 20th century Fox contract player), the make-up switched from an aluminum dust to paste, and nine days of footage with Buddy Ebsen was scrapped (shots mostly consisting of scenes in the Witch’s castle when the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion disguise themselves as Winkie Soldiers to save Dorothy) and had to be re-shot with Haley.
Despite the switch from dust to paste, Haley would wind up missing four days of filming when he developed an eye infection from the paste. His suit was uncomfortable to wear, and in between shots he wasn’t able to sit down in it, so a leaning board was brought in for him to stand and lean against.
Haley’s make-up would take an hour and forty-five minutes to apply. They would start by slicking back his hair and gluing it under a primitive version of a bald cap. Cold cream was applied to his face, followed by it painted white with a chalk salve (to close his pores and keep them closed to protect his skin from the silver paste). His face was then painted with the new version of The Tin Man make-up, the aluminum paste. Pieces of rubber were glued to his nose and under his chin to appear like pieces of tin and he had his lips painted black as well as black rivets glued to his face.
THE COWARDLY LION/ZEKE THE FARM HAND – Bert Lahr was cast in the role (who at one time was contracted to Universal Studios and 20th Century Fox) and based his performance off of Curly from The Three Stooges. (One could only wonder what it would have been like if he based it off of Shemp, or even worse, Moe once he got his Badge of Courage. The Lion would be slapping The Scarecrow in the face and poking The Tin Man in the eyes!)
For the Cowardly Lion’s make-up Lahr wore a prosthetic glued to his nose and mouth, the piece starting just below his eyes and covering his top lip, which made it difficult for him to eat. This took one hour to apply. His costume was made out of real lion’s fur and he wore a fur wig on the top of his head, his chin had a fur beard and he wore mittens. Beneath the lion’s fur was padding to puff the size of him up. Inside the costume Lahr would be roasting inside from the heat his body generated but also from all the lights on set (dozens and dozens of lights above on the cat walks and even more on the ground ) needed for the Technicolor process to work.
THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST/MISS GULCH – Originally MGM wanted the Witch to be attractive and cast Gale Sondergaard (another MGM contract player) in the role. They worked on her wardrobe but soon, the producers felt that an ugly, hag-like witch would be more in tune with the picture, and Sondergaard, not wanting to play that kind of role, dropped out of the movie. With three days left before filming began Margaret Hamilton (an independent actress) was cast and wound up playing three roles in the film: Miss Gulch, the Wicked Witch of the East that we see in the tornado, and the Wicked Witch of the West.
To say Margaret Hamilton unintentionally stole every scene she appeared in as the Wicked Witch of the West is an understatement. The Witch character would only be in the movie for 12 entire minutes, but despite that short amount of time Hamilton, one of the nicest people on God’s green Earth, portrayed wickedness in an entire new light, and one that would go down in film history. With a menacing voice, cackle and glance of her eye, Hamilton’s performance was Oscar worthy though of course she did not get one. NO ONE could have played this part as well as she did and no one still can. Forever will any performance of the Wicked Witch of the West be compared to Margaret Hamilton’s.
Hamilton usually had small roles in films, playing characters that fade into the background while the “stars” were performing. But, despite that, she was an actress and happy with what she was doing. A very professional actress Hamilton never complained about anything, and gave complete respect to her cast and crew, though most of her scenes were performed just with Niko the flying monkey or with Judy Garland. She did have the scene in Munchikland with Billie Burke as Glinda when we first meet the Wicked Witch of the West and there was also the scene with Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin man and the Lion, in the Witch’s tower, though she was on top of the stair case and they were below.
Costume wise she wore a black dress and top with a black pointed hat. It was with the make-up that she was in the same ranks as Bolger, Haley and Lahr. The process took two hours to do, gluing on a fake nose, chin and even a wart with black hairs coming out of it. The green make-up she wore (which contained traces of copper in it) covered her entire face, arms and hands. While Bolger and Haley had no trouble eating lunch, and Lahr was forced to have soups for lunch do to his prosthetic, Hamilton had her troubles eating with her make-up as well. She would spend her lunch along in her dressing room (if that is what you would call a canvas tent, a floor made from dirty rugs, a card table and lamp), eating a peanut butter sand which that she had to hold in wax paper so none of the green make-up would get onto the bread and be swallowed.
Her make-up color, due to the trace of the copper in it, was one of the most dangerous to wear, and had to be thoroughly cleaned off each and every night. But the most dangerous part about the job was also the most horrific, and came at the expense of what could have been Margaret Hamilton’s life!
Betty Danko was Margaret Hamilton’s stand in and stunt double, which meant she made more money on the day she performed stunts. Being her stand in as well as stunt double meant she had to wear the same costume, green make-up and prosthetics just like Hamilton. When the Wicked Witch of the West arrives in Munchkinland she does so in a cloud of red smoke, but when she leaves it’s in a cloud of red smoke and a fireball. Danko handled the scene where she arrives being launched up an 8 foot ditch, the red smoke covering her coming up from the ground. Once she landed a piece of painted ground would be pulled by a wire to cover the hole.
For the Witch’s exit Hamilton had to perform the stunt with the fire herself because she is still delivering the Witch’s laugh when it happens. When the time came to film the Witch leaving, the launching mechanism was replaced with an elevator which would lower and raise Hamilton from the ditch. The moment she stepped onto the elevator platform, painted to look to look like the ground, the smoke and flame was released, Hamilton was lowered, and the aluminum floor was pulled with the string to hide the hole in the ground. The scene was shot in one perfect take and lunch was called.
Despite having a perfect take, director Victor Fleming wanted to shoot a few more, and this is where things started to take a turn for the worse. Every shot didn’t work for one reason or another. Fleming began to grow very impatient and yelled at the crew. When they went back to try the shot again, the flames were released too soon and jumped to the straw on the broomstick and onto Hamilton. All of the damage the fire caused was to the right side of her face. Hamilton’s chin (which must have melted away the fake prosthetic), bridge of her nose, cheek and side of her forehead had all been scalded. Her eyelashes and eyebrow had burnt off and her upper lip and eye lid were badly burned.
The broom was grabbed from her hand and after a few attempts; her hat was knocked off and put out. But despite all this, it happened so fast, that Hamilton didn’t know she had been injured, that is until she looked down at her right hand. From her fingernails to her wrist, the skin bad been completely burnt off. That’s when she knew she had been injured and that’s when the pain began.
The MGM doctor, Dr. Jones knew one thing, with Hamilton wearing green make-up, that meant copper, and things were serious due to the toxicity of that colored make-up. Make-up artist Jack Young, who was there that day, was always thorough in taking off the green make-up do to its contents. He normally used acetone to make sure it was all gone. But on that day, young had to use alcohol for antiseptic reasons.
Young had to scrub and scrub the make-up off of Hamilton’s burnt and exposed hand. One could only imagine the amount of pain she must have felt, but Hamilton, always the professional, never once screamed. When Young was sure that he had cleaned her hand well, Dr. Jones then layered and layered her burnt face with a salve of Butesin Picrate (essentially a topical ointment of the times that eliminated the pain of burns immediately, very tough to find today. It also helps prevent scarring from where the burns are). He then wrapped her in bandages leaving tiny holes for her to see, breath and speak out of.
The most horrible thing of all, MGM never called an ambulance or drove her home. She had to have a friend come pick her up from the studio. The appalling treatment of how the studio treated Hamilton in this situation is nothing short of disgusting. Even worse, when her own doctor came to see her the next day the studio called to see when she would be back to work. Margaret Hamilton’s doctor took the phone and screamed at them to not call her again and that she would not be back until HE said she was ready. Hamilton wouldn’t be back for six weeks.
By February Hamilton was back to work. Thanks to the Butesin Picrate her face had healed and not scarred, and the facial make-up could once more be applied. However had right hand had been slowly healing and only had an extremely light layer of skin grown back, not enough to protect the nerves that were still exposed, which meant for the rest of the filming she would wear green gloves.
Her next scene to film was another broomstick scene. When asked if she wanted her usual costume or a fireproof one this caused Hamilton to pause. The scene would be a close up of her flying on her broom (15 feet off the stage floor) cackling while smoke poured from the straw end of her broomstick. A steel saddle was attached to the broomstick and she would be suspended by four wires, her costume hiding the saddle and pipe that let out the smoke.
Margret Hamilton had had enough risks with her life. She told the producer she would not film the scene. Despite the fact that they told her the fireproof costume was just a precautionary measure, and director Victor Fleming and even special effects artist Buddy Gillespie tried to talk her into it, Hamilton refused. She wasn’t worried about being fired from the film, she was worried about being burnt from real fire, and getting home to her son.
Finally they agreed to her refusal of the smoke and just filmed the close ups smoke free. She was strapped to the side, raised the 15 feet into the air and performed, cackling and screaming as a wind machine was turned on for effect and the broom stick rocked back and forth. When she finished her scene, she was lowered, had her make-up removed and changed. Just as she was leaving she ran into her stand in and stunt double Betty Danko. Hamilton warned her of the dangers of the scene involved, but despite the warning, Danko went ahead with the filming, telling Margaret they were paying her more to do the stunt. One hour later at home Margaret Hamilton received a phone call that there had been an accident and Betty Danko was in the hospital.
The accident was in no way the fault of special effects artist Buddy Gillespie. In fact, he had filmed two perfect scenes of Danko suspended on the broom with smoke coming out and they were ready to call it day when Victor Fleming came on the set. The minute he saw the cape pinned down to hide the pipe he told them he wanted it unpinned so it could flow in the wind. After explaining how the cape hid the pipe from the cameras Flemings answer was simple. Find a way to hide the pipe underneath the stunt double.
The pipe was remounted, this time beneath the seat and covered with asbestos. When Danko was in the air, a button on the side of the broomstick not scene by the camera was pressed releasing the smoke. On this take, 15 feet in the air, when she pressed the button, the piped exploded throwing her from the broom. She was fast enough to grab onto the broom and hold on for dear life as she was lowered to the floor. Her left leg was bruised from thigh to knee and a two inch deep wound went around her leg with bits or her costume stuck in it. Danko was in the hospital for eleven days. Being the kind woman that she was, Margaret Hamilton went to visit her.
A third woman was hired to finish the scene named Eileen Goodwin, but when she learned about the explosion she told them she wouldn’t do it. They told her all the smoke scenes were finished and they wouldn’t be using any.
The disrespect of how Margaret Hamilton was treated in her accident, the need for another take from Betty Danko despite having two perfectly good ones already shot which would end up with an explosion seemed like it was nothing to the studio heads at MGM. The way Hamilton and Danko were treated was deplorable. Two ladies who were so seriously injured, who could have both lost their lives, for a studio to make so little out of it is just so sickening to read and think about.
ROUNDING OUT THE CAST –
TOTO – Was a female Cairn terrier named Terry.
PROFESSOR MARVEL/THE WIZARD OF OZ – MGM originally wanted comedian Ed Wynn but the comedian turned the part down. Some scenes were written with W.C. Fields in mind, but MGM and Fields could never agree on a salary so he passed as well. MGM cast contract player Frank Morgan to fill the role. Morgan would wind up playing five different roles in the film: Professor Marvel, The Gate Keeper, The Carriage Driver, The Guard, and of course The Wizard of Oz.
UNCLE HENRY – Retired MGM contract player Charlie Grapewin was cast to play the part.
AUNT EM – Played by Clara Blandick. (There was one point where the writers and studio was thinking that, since Professor Marvel, Miss Gulch and the three farmhands Hunk, Zeke and Hickory from Kansas appear as The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and the Tin man respectively, that Aunt Em would play Glinda the Good Witch, but the idea was soon turned down.)
THE MUNCHKINS – MGM cast 124 Little People to play the Munchkins. They wore make-up like prosthetic noses and cheeks, and it would take two and a half hours to apply all the make-up to them, as they moved from seat to seat, assembly line fashion, to get it done quicker. Their costumes were all made from scratch and were made from felt. They learned their dance numbers and lip-synched their songs since most of them didn’t speak English.
The Wizard of Oz premiered in August of 1939 in Wisconsin, then Los Angeles and New York. In 1998 the film was theatrically re-released in the theatre. I saw it with my future wife. Not many people can say they saw the actual movie The Wizard of Oz in the theatre. Sure, it wasn’t in 1939, but we still did get to see it!
Until next time,