This NETworks production is based on the stage version that was first developed by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company. It closely follows the treasured 1939 Judy Garland-led film rendition, utilizing the wonderful Harold Arlen-E.Y. Harburg musical score that includes “If I Only Had a Brain,” We’re Off to See the Wizard” and, of course, “Over the Rainbow.” It also adds some new touches and restores a “Jitterbug” number that was cut from the film.
The Wizard of Oz evokes and pays homage to the iconic special effects of the film. The stage hosts a raging tornado, a woman’s transformation into a witch and flying monkeys.
L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz
L. Frank Baum was born to a wealthy New York oil family in 1856. He endured many financial failures, including a chain of theaters, a small variety store and a newspaper.
In 1900, Baum wrote the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz simply to please children. But Baum’s works predicted such century-later familiarities like color television, laptop computers (The Master Key), wireless telephones (Tik-Tok of Oz), and the ubiquity of advertising on clothing (Aunt Jane's Nieces at Work).
Baum added to his tales of the enchanted land of Oz. Prior to his death in 1914, Baum had written 14 more Oz books. Several authors contributed stories to Oz saga, which now comprise a 40-volume series. It is estimated that Baum’s best-loved tale of a girl named Dorothy who travels by tornado to the world of Oz has entertained audiences totaling more than one billion people worldwide.
The Wizard Around the World
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been translated into over 40 languages. In some cases, the story proved so popular in other countries that it was adapted to suit the local culture. For instance, in some countries where the Hindu religion is practiced, abridged versions of the book were published in which, for religious reasons, the Tin Woodman was replaced with a snake.
The same year that MGM released The Wizard of Oz film, Russian author Alexander M. Volkov wrote a book called The Wizard of Emerald City. In this version, a Kansas girl named Ellie ventures to Magic Land. She meets an Iron Woodsman, a scarecrow called Strasheela (derived from the Russian word “to scare”), and a wizard named James Goodwin. Nowhere in Volkov’s works—including 5 sequel stories—is Baum’s work credited. All of Volkov’s works have also been translated into English; most Russians consider the two versions to be entirely different series.
Oz on Stage
Baum and Oz illustrator W.W. Denslow wrote the first stage adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a 1901 musical intended for adult audiences. Baum even added political references to the script, and the play mentioned President Theodore Roosevelt, Senator Mark Hanna, and John D. Rockefeller by name. It opened in Chicago in 1902 and moved to New York the following year, where it had a successful Broadway run.
Baum also wrote several other Oz-related stage plays: The Wizard of Oz (1902); The Woggle-Bug (1905); and The Rainbow's Daughter, or The Magnet of Love (1909). This last play was revised as Ozma of Oz in April 1909. Baum also wrote an unproduced stage version of The Patchwork Girl of Oz in November 1913, which was later shot as a silent film.
Harold Arlen (Composer) and E.Y. Harburg (Lyricist)
With The Wizard of Oz, this duo created a score and treasure trove of songs that remain as fresh and meaningful today as they were when this film fable was first produced in 1939. From the poignant Academy Award-winning melody “Over the Rainbow” to the jaunty bell-ringer “Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead!,” Harburg and Arlen take the music-lover and the fairy-tale-fancier down the yellow brick road to adventure, enchantment, laughter and some whimsical comments on the human condition.
The Lion and the Wizard: MGM’s The Wizard of Oz
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio began development for The Wizard of Oz after the success of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The animated feature showed that there was a market for adaptations of children’s stories and fantasy films. Though the Oz screenplay is credited to Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf, there were 14 other uncredited writers who worked on the adaptation, including poet Ogden Nash.
Filming was a marathon. The main actors worked 6 days a week—often with 4am call times to get into makeup and costume—for over 6 months. Cumbersome makeup and costumes were compounded by the fact that the early Technicolor process required a significant amount of lighting to be used, which would usually heat the set to over 100 degrees.
The studio initially made Judy Garland, who played Dorothy, wear a blond wig and heavy “baby-doll” style makeup. When director George Cukor—who was already the project’s third director—briefly signed on, he re-shot these scenes without the heavy costuming and instructed Garland to be herself. Victor Fleming later assumed the bulk of directing, but even he left the film to direct Gone with the Wind. His replacement, King Vidor, shot Garland singing “Over the Rainbow” and other sepia Kansas scenes. When the film became firmly established as a classic, Vidor opted not to take public credit for the film until after the death of his friend Fleming.
The original cut of the film was 112 minutes, and MGM felt the Kansas scene was too long and over the heads of the children for whom the movie was intended. One of the near-casualties in getting The Wizard of Oz to a 90-minute running time was the song “Over the Rainbow.” Fortunately Fleming, along with producers Mervyn LeRoy and Arthur Freed, fought for its inclusion and won. The song went on to win an Academy Award for Best Song of the Year. In 2004, the American Film Institute voted Judy Garland’s performance of “Over the Rainbow” as No. 1 on the 100 Greatest Songs in American Films list.
One of the many legends of the making of The Wizard of Oz surrounds the wardrobe department’s quest for the Wizard’s outfit. Costumers decided that they wanted a once-elegant coat that had “gone to seed.” They went to a second-hand shop and purchased a rack of coats, from which the head of the wardrobe department, director Victor Fleming and Frank Morgan, who played the Wizard, chose one they thought gave off the perfect appearance of shabby gentility. One day, while on set wearing the coat, Morgan turned out one of the pockets and discovered a label indicating that the coat had once belonged to Oz author L. Frank Baum. Mary Mayer, a unit publicist for the film, contacted the tailor and Baum's widow, who both verified that the coat had once belonged to the creator of Oz. After filming was completed, the coat was presented to Mrs. Baum. Baum biographer Michael Patrick Hearn disbelieves the story, which has been refuted by members of the Baum family, who never saw the coat or knew of the story. Actress Margaret Hamilton, better known as the Wicked Witch of the West, also considered it a concocted studio rumor.