The Big Picture
- The Wizard of Oz remains a beloved film that enchants viewers of all ages, despite being released over eight decades ago.
- Despite the popularity of conspiracy theories surrounding the film, many are unfounded, like the infamous “dead munchkin” theory.
- The dark side of filming The Wizard of Oz includes on-set injuries, Judy Garland’s traumatic experience, and the controversial connection to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album.
1939’s The Wizard of Oz remains one of the most enchanting films of all-time; while some works of classic cinema don’t quite hold up in a modern context, The Wizard of Oz is one of those rare films that still has the same power to enchant viewers of all-ages more than eight decades after its initial release. While initially perceived as a box office disappointment, The Wizard of Oz has been showered with accolades and acclaimed as one of the best films of all-time; the American Film Institute ranked it #10 on their list in 2007. With a cultural impact unrivaled by any work of cinematic media ever since (with the possible exception of Star Wars), The Wizard of Oz has also inspired some notorious urban legends. While one of the most popular conspiracy theories isn’t at all true, there are some other secrets from inside the rainbow that are slightly unnerving.
A conspiracy theory emerged that during the first act of the film during the “We’re Off To See The Wizard” musical number, the body of a dead munchkin can be seen as Dorothy (Judy Garland), the Tin Man (Jack Haley), and the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) make their way down the Yellow Brick Road. The theory suggests that one of the extras who had been cast as a munchkin had died by suicide, casting a shadow over the edge of the frame. In reality, the shadow belongs to a bird that had flown into the set; given the exhaustive process of setting up the set for the Technicolor production, it was difficult to mask errors in the final cut. While this dark reading of The Wizard Of Oz is nothing more than an urban legend, other theories are founded in reality.
The Wizard of Oz
Young Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto are swept away by a tornado from their Kansas farm to the magical Land of Oz, and embark on a quest with three new friends to see the Wizard, who can return her to her home and fulfill the others’ wishes.
- Release Date
- August 15, 1939
- Victor Fleming, Mervyn LeRoy, Richard Thorpe, King Vidor
- Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke
- Main Genre
On-Set Injuries While Filming ‘The Wizard of Oz’
While accidents still sadly happen in the industry today, looser production standards during the Golden Age of Hollywood allowed many preventable injuries to occur. Initially, Buddy Ebsen was cast in the role of the Tin Man, but later quit the production after the egregious behavior by the studio. The initial makeup applied to his face had serious side effects that made it hard for Ebsen to breathe, move, and speak during filming; Ebsen stated in a 2005 DVD interview that MGM had ignored his reports of being sick. MGM reportedly did not believe his reports until a medical staffer made a complaint when Ebsen was told to film amidst his worsening conditions.
When the role was recast with Jack Haley, the makeup crew mixed paste into the aluminum powder so that it would not lead to infection; while he did end up getting an infected right eye, Haley was able to recover. However, Margaret Hamilton (who co-starred as the Wicked Witch of the West) suffered a facial second degree burn during her iconic first appearance in Munchkinland. She was also injured during a scene where the Wicked Witch flies away due to an exploding prop broom that caught on fire.
Judy Garland Had a Traumatic Experience With ‘The Wizard of Oz’
The tragedy surrounding Judy Garland’s life is one of the darker stories in Hollywood history; Peter Quilter penned a biographical musical about Garland’s life titled End of the Rainbow that was adapted into the 2019 film Judy, which won Renée Zellweger an Academy Award for Best Actress. While Garland’s abuse at the hands of her managers, family, and collaborators within the studio began before her production of The Wizard of Oz, she was severely underpaid in comparison to her male co-stars. While Haley, Bolger, Bert Lahr, and Frank Morgan made approximately $3,000 a week, Garland received $500.
Garland was also under heavy medication from sleeping pills at the time to meet the rigorous shooting schedule. Director Victor Fleming also slapped Garland during the sequence in which she terrifies the Cowardly Lion in order to get her to cry; Fleming also frequently insulted Garland and subjected her to emotional abuse. Garland also made statements later in life that she had been sexually harassed and assaulted by various co-stars cast as munchkins, whose abuses on set were frequent. Garland died by accidental barbiturate overdose at the age of 47.
Pink Floyd’s Connection With ‘The Wizard of Oz’
Darker interpretations of The Wizard of Oz were also inspired by an unusual phenomena that first became popular in 1995. The Fort Worth Journal Gazette writer Charles Savage penned an article that suggested pairing a viewing of The Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd’s iconic 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon. In the early Internet era, fan websites and videos extensively cataloged the coincidences and created synchronized edits. The trend spiked in popularity in 2000 when Turner Classic Movies aired The Wizard of Oz that allowed for audio synchronization, giving Dark Side of the Rainbow adherents to sync up the album.
Noted coincidences within the synchronized version include Dorothy balancing on a fence in her Kansas yard as the line “balancing on both waves” plays in the song “Breathe.” This transitions to the foreboding music during “Great Gig in the Sky” that begins once Dorothy’s house is swept up by the tornado; ironically, “Money” begins to play during the introduction to Oz, which was among the most expensive sets in MGM’s history. Character cues also line up with the album; the line “lunatic on the grass” plays during the introduction to the Scarecrow, and “lunatic on the grass” begins during the beginning of “If I Only Had A Brain.”
Despite the popularity of the claims, Pink Floyd has denied all connections between them. Guitarist David Gilmour suggested that the theory was simply a result of Internet obsession, and drummer Nick Mason reported that the album was inspired by The Sound of Music, and had no connection to The Wizard of Oz. Bassist Roger Walters also stated that the connection is entirely fabricated and “has nothing to do with us.”
As with any film that has stood the test of time, The Wizard of Oz has inspired many cult theories, interpretations, and remakes. It continues to be a popular commodity; Walter Murch’s 1985 film Return to Oz explored a darker story of Dorothy returning to the fantasy world as an older woman, Sam Raimi directed the 2013 live-action origin story Oz the Great and Powerful, and Kenya Barris is set to direct a modern remake for Warner Brothers.
The Wizard of Oz is available to stream on Max in the U.S.
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