The Wizard of Oz occupies a unique place in cinematic history. In the same way that the film united black and white with color, it also united generations young and old. The movie is one of the few that appealed to both children (who were somewhat terrified of it) and adults (who loved the songs and comedy).
Of course, behind any large studio production, there are seedy stories. There were hundreds of people relying on the film for their payday, so some corners were cut, and less-than-virtuous deeds were done. Here are three stories you may not have heard.
Buddy Ebsen almost died playing the Tin Man.
Ebsen, who is now most famous for his role of Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies, was cast as the original Tin Man. He recorded his songs and performed his rehearsals as the costume designers tried to figure out what kind of makeup to use.
After trying silver paper, actual tin, and cloth-covered cardboard, they settled on white clown cream with aluminum dust on top. Unfortunately, breathing the aluminum particles seriously sickened Ebsen.
The actor later described the terrifying events in his autobiography. He wrote, “One night in bed I woke up screaming. My arms were cramping from my fingers upward and curling simultaneously so that I could not use one arm to uncurl the other. My wife tried to pull my arm straight with some success, just as my toes began to curl… I was sure I was dying.”
Ironically, the scene is eerily similar to when the Tin Man was rusted and unable to move. Fortunately, the actor made a full recovery after a two-week stint in the hospital.
Although Jack Haley replaced Ebsen as the Tin Man, Ebsen’s voice made it into the film on the song We’re off to to See the Wizard, which was recorded before Ebsen left.
Director Victor Fleming slapped Judy Garland so she would stop giggling.
Judy Garland was just 16 years old and relatively unknown when she starred in the film. According to a 2007 biography, MGM execs sent spies to Garland’s home to ensure she stuck to a diet of coffee, chicken soup, and cigarettes to remain trim for the role.
She also suffered direct physical abuse. Victor Fleming, the film’s director, slapped Garland when she couldn’t stop giggling during a scene between her and the cowardly lion. He was deeply embarrassed about the event afterward, and Garland forgave him by kissing him on the nose.
Margaret Hamilton suffered major burns during a scene.
MGM’s first choice for the Wicked Witch of the West was Gale Sondergaard, but the famous actress declined the role when she realized that the costume was not that of a beautiful ice queen but a haggard old witch. The part was then offered to Hamilton through her agent.
Hamilton had always loved the book The Wizard of Oz, so she was excited when she learned she had nabbed a role. She reportedly asked her agent which role she was offered, and her agent said, “The witch, who else?”
During the filming of the Wicked Witch of the West’s abrupt departure from Munchkinland, a trap door didn’t open properly, which caused a fire to burn Hamilton. She suffered second- and third-degree burns and had to take six weeks off of filming. She agreed not to sue but insisted on doing no more scenes with fire.
Hamilton always worried that children would confuse her famous role with her true personality. The actress loved children and would frequently visit schools to speak to kids. She even appeared as herself on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood to explain that witches are just make believe.