On August 25, 1939, moviegoers travelled over the rainbow for the very first time when MGM’s lavish musical production of L. Frank Baum’s seminal fantasy The Wizard of Oz sang and danced its way into theaters. 75 years later, it remains a Technicolor trip that generations of parents and children still regularly take via theatrical re-releases, TV airings and lavish DVD box sets.
That movie’s status as a perennial classic is particularly impressive considering its wild and wooly behind-the-scenes history, which saw five directors and fourteen screenwriters come and go from the project, as well as numerous pre-production and on-set revisions. Frankly, The Wizard of Oz that everyone knows and loves could have looked very, very different, as the Yahoo Movie Show reports in this exclusive video piece celebrating the film’s 75th anniversary. For example, the actress originally tapped to croon Dorothy Gale’s signature song, “Over the Rainbow,” was several years younger — and a whole lot blonder— than Judy Garland.
Photo credit: Scarfone/Stillman Collection from The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion (HarperCollins, 2013). You can buy the book here.
If that change-up isn't enough, just wait until you see which famous feline method actor almost edged out Bert Lahr for the Cowardly Lion role. If you’ve still got a hankering for more “might-have-beens,” pick up David J. Hogan’s recently published book <em><a href=">The Wizard of Oz FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Life According to Oz, a comprehensive chronicle of the movie’s production, as well as practically everything else Oz-related. According to Hogan’s reporting, some of the other things we (thankfully) didn’t see in the finished film include:
En route to the Wicked Witch’s castle, Dorothy and her three pals are waylaid in the Haunted Forest by a colorful insect — who would have been an animated co-star —that forces them into an era-appropriate jitterbug dance number. The six-minute sequence was actually shot, but snipped from the film after mixed-to-negative test audience response. That snipped footage has long since vanished, but silent home-movie clips shot by composer Harold Arlen survive, and can be glimpsed in our video.
Decades before Mario Kart and Thor made it cool, Oz screenwriters Edgar Allan Woolf and Florence Ryerson — who were hired to take a pass at an early draft penned by Noel Langley — dreamed up the idea of a grand Rainbow Bridge connecting Earth to magical lands beyond. This bridge would provide Dorothy and Toto with another way into Munchkinland, one that wouldn’t necessarily involve an errant tornado. But the cost proved prohibitive, so the girl and her dog had a rougher trip to Oz after all.
Instead of the cackling crone who haunts childrens’ nightmares, the Wicked Witch was initially conceived as a looker whose striking beauty would easily intimidate a simple farm girl from Kansas. (The Evil Queen from Walt Disney’s then-newly-released Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was a clear reference point in the early designs.) But producer Mervyn LeRoy wanted to take the character in an uglier direction, which proved to a dealbreaker for the actress originally cast in the role, Gale Sondergaard. So Margaret Hamilton, who had no problems being uglified, assumed the witch’s hat instead and became one of the all-time great movie villains.