Since the release of The Wizard of Oz in 1939, audiences have been entertained by the film and the bizarre behind-the-scenes circumstances surrounding its production. Once CBS' annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz began in 1959, an entire generation of Americans looked forward to this yearly event, with commercial television the only available venue for viewers to see this remarkable film.
Its characters and the actors and actresses who portrayed them achieved global success that defined their careers. Over time, the fascination with the film has only increased. Everyone has heard wild rumors about the movie, especially the one that purports you can see the body of someone who hung themselves on the set (you cannot, and no one killed themselves during production). But despite all the sensationalist stories, many true, little-known facts about The Wizard of Oz still exist. Read to find out why making The Wizard of Oz was a difficult task - and what color Dorothy's iconic slippers originally were.
Toto's Final Resting Place Is Beneath a Major Los Angeles Freeway
At his Hollywood Dog Training School, Carl Spitz trained many animals who appeared in Hollywood films. His most famous was Terry, a female cairn terrier who would eventually be cast as Toto. The Wizard of Oz made Terry so popular she was renamed Toto in real life and appeared in several other films until her death in 1944. Spitz buried her on the school property near Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Studio City, CA. In 1958, Caltrans acquired the ten-acre parcel which stood directly in the path of the proposed Ventura Freeway. Toto's grave was consumed by the subsequent construction. As you pass by the Laurel Canyon exit on the 101 Freeway, you are literally passing over the former school and Toto's final resting place.
L. Frank Baum Died Only Blocks Away from the Film's Premiere Site
In 1910, to explore business opportunities related to his books, The Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum moved to Los Angeles. He quickly built a four-bedroom mansion called "Ozcot" at the corner of Yucca and Cherokee streets in Hollywood. He died there on May 6, 1919. The Wizard of Oz's Hollywood premiere was held on August 15, 1939 at Grauman's Chinese Theater, only three blocks away from Ozcot. The house was demolished in the late '50s and replaced with a drab apartment building that still stands today.
The Movie Went Through Four Directors, Two Of Whom Also Worked On 'Gone With The Wind' And Slapped Famous Women
When The Wizard of Oz went into production, Richard Thorpe was its director. Thorpe was quickly dismissed by producer Mervyn LeRoy for his inability to create the right fairy tale atmosphere. While Thorpe was director, Dorothy had blonde hair and was heavily made up, as is pictured above.
George Cukor, director of The Philadelphia Story, My Fair Lady, and Gaslight, who famously slapped Katherine Hepburn for spilling ice cream on an expensive costume, was brought in as a temporary replacement for Thorpe. Later that year, Cukor would be fired as director of Gone with the Wind, allegedly because he was gay and knew all about Clark Gable's secret past as a call boy. Cukor made an immediate impact on Wizard by getting rid of Dorothy's heavy make up and blonde hair. He also suggested Garland play the role as innocent and wide-eyed, not coy and knowing.
A week after he arrived, Cukor was out and off to direct Gone with the Wind. Victor Fleming took charge of production and got straight to work, slapping Judy Garland in the face for giggling during a take. After finishing about 80 percent of the movie, Fleming was called away to direct Gone with the Wind, from which Cukor was fired, marking the second time in a year Fleming took over for Cukor on one of the most famous movies ever made.
When Fleming left, King Vidor was brought in to finish Oz. Vidor had a tremendous career but remains largely unknown outside cinephile circles. He directed his first film in 1913 and his last in 1980; in 1979, he won an honorary Oscar for "his incomparable achievements as a cinematic creator and innovator." All that was left for Vidor to shoot were the Kansas scenes.
When Fleming came back to edit Oz after finishing Gone with the Wind, he found much of Vidor's work boring, and cut "Over the Rainbow," worried it destroyed the pacing at the beginning of the film. The song was restored when Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, who wrote it, argued vehemently to studio head Louis B. Mayer that it was the most important song in the movie.
The Munchkins Led Depraved Lives Offscreen
MGM insisted that it wanted adult dwarfs to play the inhabitants of Munchkinland. They contracted with a man named Leo Singer who ran a vaudeville troupe known as Singer's Midgets. Singer put up most of this contingent in the Culver Hotel in Culver City, right down the street from MGM, and pocketed most of the dwarves' wages.
Angry and bored, they reportedly engaged in sex orgies at the hotel, routinely pulled knives on and propositioned studio employees and starlets, and got so intoxicated that the police would sometimes have to scoop them up with butterfly nets. The Munchkins were paid $50 a week for a six-day work week, while the dog playing Toto received $125.
Jerry Maren (Lollipop Guild), aged 95, is the only surviving Munchkin.