‘The Wizard of Oz’ 80th anniversary: A return to the big screen at a theater near you!

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Happy 80th anniversary to the unforgettable cast of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’

wizard of oz poster 89ece605221295053e6bcbfd60dfdf09Type “The Wizard of Oz” into YouTube and endless pages of information appear. Stories conspiracy theories, recreations, parodies, alternate versions and, just when the scrollbar has reached its limit, it continually reloads.  

In 2007 AFI ranked the “Wizard Of Oz” as the 10th greatest film of all time and in 2008 it was rated No. 1 on the American Film Institute’ 2008 list of the 10 greatest fantasy films. Translated in over 40 languages and known the world over as the most-watched film in history, its pop culture iconicism is far-reaching over several generations. Utter the words, “I think we are not in Kansas anymore” and its meaning is obvious.

This classic is returning to the big screen Jan. 27-Feb. 3 at area theaters across the country, and locally in Londonderry, Merrimack and Hooksett. [Details below.]

Very few movies have stood the test of time. However, only the MGM version has unerringly completed this task of creating a film that has seamlessly crossed multiple cultures and persists to do so, generation after generation. Perhaps, it is because of the true story of L. Frank Baum’s mystical blessing from the beyond. Frank Morgan, who plays five roles, including the Wizard, chose a coat originally from a  second-hand store as part of Professor Marvel’s costume that was, ironically, a perfect fit. Technicolor, at the time, required over-lighting, scorching the set temperature to over 100 degrees on a consistent basis. In removing the coat and turning the pocket out, Frank Morgan discovered, in fateful form, the name “L Frank Baum, the author of the Oz series. Frank Baum’s wife authenticated the coat as belonging to her husband.

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“Wizard of Oz” Behind the scenes.

The Wizard Of Oz was produced more than 80 years ago, during a time when radio was the main source of everyday entertainment.   Television was still over a decade away in its availability to the masses and to this day, its production values are ageless, propelling yet another MGM motion picture into the stratosphere of film history.

Originally, MGM requested Shirley Temple, who was a top box office draw with 20th Century Fox, to play the role of Dorothy, willing to trade their two top stars, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, for one picture in exchange. But fate overruled and Garland garnered the part, partially due to the unfortunate death of Harlow, her triple-threat status and, above all, for her unmatched powerhouse vocals that Roger Edens, MGM composer, knew the role would require.

To refer to Garland’s voice as powerful is a gross understatement.  If you are unfamiliar with her instinctive genius, listen to “The Man That Got Away” to experience her emotion-filled, soul-shuddering vocals, or better yet, her live Carnegie Hall performance, which can be found on YouTube. According to fellow entertainer Ann Miller, within her 4-foot-11-inch frame she held a force field that reached the back of any auditorium

Judy Garland

The world’s greatest entertainer, who did not receive formal vocal training, Francis Ethel Gumm aka Judy Garland, had a destined fate from birth. After a doctor refused to assist in her pregnant mother’s abortion, Garland’s mother drove over bumpy roads in the hope of inducing a miscarriage.  Garland first performed along with her sisters in vaudeville at the age of 2. Her family moved West, due to rumors of her father’s bisexuality. She was hired by Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM studios, on the spot after hearing her sing at age 12. Garland’s career at MGM began slowly as the studio was unsure of what to initially do with her.  Eventually, she was given the role of Dorothy and her stardom was sealed.

In my opinion, “The Wizard of Oz” did not begin on a farm in Kansas. It began with the authoritative orchestration of the unequaled MGM symphony and a sepia Leo the Lion introducing the indelible experience to come. Initially,  “Wizard of Oz” lost money upon its release. It was not until 1959, when television began to broadcast yearly showings, that the Wizard of Oz found its cult-like following. During the time before Betamax, VCRs and DVRs, I can recall the announcement, a week prior, to the annual viewing as it was woven throughout the tapestry of my childhood. Although the story was already thoroughly embedded, and as I patiently waited in anticipation of the shiny Technicolor splendor of Dorothy’s arrival to Munchkinland, attention was given in stillness and silence, with unblinking eyes, or so it seemed, until the commercial break.

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Cast of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’

The preeminence of the MGM rendition is indisputable. Consider the costumes, over 100 for the Munchkins alone, not to mention the Emerald city cast,  individually designed by the exceptional Adrian, the innovative special effects of A. Arnold Gillespie, and the make-up artistry that still looks credible to this day. In fact, Dorchester, Mass., native Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow, recalled a story where he, the Tin man and the Lion were requested to leave the commissary due to their convincing costumes, forcing them to remain on set during breaks.  The average person, who is not a fan of classic film, may not be able to name other movies where Judy Garland and the accompanying actors appear – although they exist – especially for Garland. Yet, due to their perfect casting and the omnipotence in this one film, Dorothy and her companions collectively become immortalized.  

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Costume designer “Adrian.”

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” has been sung by a multitude of artists in multiple languages. It has transcended musical genres the world over, yet many do not know the authors Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, or that this classic song almost ended up on the cutting-room floor.  It was felt the song slowed the picture and that an MGM star should not be singing in a barnyard. Had it not been for Arthur Freed, MGM film producer who challenged the decision with an ultimatum, wagering his employment, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” would have been a forgotten melody lost among the archives of past films. Instead, due to his stance, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” remained and, in 2001, over 60 years after its release, it is named “Song of the Century.” There is a convincing innocence in Garland’s eyes when she sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and the fact that it is sung with such incredible restraint, as opposed to her natural belting, is what makes it all the more beautiful. The average person knows Garland’s voice for this song alone.  Even to a child, the song is innately recognized as an undeniable masterpiece. Garland sang her rendition of the iconic song until her untimely death in 1969.

Eighty years later and the magic of Ruby Slippers, whether in the form of a ballet flat or vixen heels, have not been lost.

TCM and Fathom Events are bringing the Wizard of Oz to theaters once again this month for its 80th anniversary.  Unfortunately, in an age of instant Internet gratification, green screens and readily available movies at the push of a button, “The Wizard of Oz” is slowly threatened to become a forgotten relic, possibly due to its ease of accessibility. Disconnect from technological triggers and share an evening recalling the wonder of a timeless cinematic experience. Perhaps reconnecting with your inner child and immersing yourself in the Technicolor fantasy of “The Wizard Of Oz” in its original matchless, magnificent grandeur, on the big screen –  as it was rightfully meant to be seen – may remind you, that there really is no place like home.

Fathom Events presents “The Wizard of Oz” locally at the following theatres:

  • Jan. 27 – shows at 2 and 5 p.m. AMC Londonderry 10 16 Orchard View Drive, Londonderry, NH 03053
  • Jan.  29 – 7 p.m. shows at Cinemagic and IMAX Hooksett;  AMC Londonderry 10, and Cinemagic in Merrimack
  • Jan. 30 – 7 p.m. show at AMC Londonderry 10
  • JUST ADDED: Feb. 3 – Encore shows by popular demand – 7 p.m. at Cinemagic and IMAX Hooksett and Cinemagic in Merrimack.

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Constance Cherise is a classic film columnist, disco-era junkie, nostalgia aficionado, travel-ready foodie, free-spirited freelancer. Contact her at constance.cherise@gmail.com 

About this Author

Constance Cherise

Constance Cherise is a freelance writer and contributor for Turner Classic MoviesSee her work here.