Strange Things You Definitely Didn't Know About 'The Wizard of Oz'

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's annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz began in 1956, 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 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 took their life 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.

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  • The Ruby Slippers Were Originally Silver

    In the book version of The Wizard of Oz, the magical slippers that transport Dorothy back home are known as The Silver Shoes. Silver shoes were used in stage productions of Oz, but for the 1939 version of the film, silver was deemed too nondescript for Technicolor.

    When it was discovered that red leather shoes showed up orange on film, costume designer Adrian decided to sew thousands of red sequins on the shoes. The result was the iconic footwear that has delighted and fascinated Oz fans ever since.  

  • Toto's Final Resting Place Is Beneath A Major Los Angeles Freeway

    Toto's Final Resting Place Is Beneath A Major Los Angeles Freeway
    Photo: NBC Television Network / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    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 that she was renamed Toto in real life and appeared in several other films until she passed in 1944. Spitz buried her on the school property near Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Studio City, CA.

    In 1958, Caltrans acquired the 10-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 Lived Only Blocks Away From The Film's Premiere Site

    L. Frank Baum Lived Only Blocks Away From The Film's Premiere Site
    Photo: George Steckel / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    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 lived there until his end 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 Different Directors

    The Movie Went Through Four Different Directors
    Photo: Universal Pictures / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    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. 

    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 was fired as director of Gone with the Wind, allegedly because he was gay and knew all about Clark Gable's secret gay past. Cukor made an immediate impact on Wizard by getting rid of Dorothy's heavy makeup 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% 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 ruined the pacing at the beginning of the film. The song was restored when Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, who wrote it, argued vehemently that it was the most important song in the movie. 

  • The Set Was A Workplace Injury Nightmare

    The Set Was A Workplace Injury Nightmare
    Video: YouTube

    Buddy Ebsen, AKA Jed Clampett of The Beverly Hillbillies, was originally cast as the Tin Man but had to leave the film when aluminum dust from his makeup put him in an iron lung. During the Munchkinland sequence, a faulty trap door was responsible for inflicting serious burns upon Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West. She missed six weeks of filming and subsequently insisted her stand-in handle any scenes involving fire.

    The stand-in, Betty Danko, was then asked to sit on a makeshift pipe that spewed smoke during the "Surrender Dorothy" scene. The pipe, fitted to look like a broomstick, exploded during filming, sending Danko to the hospital for 11 days and scarring her legs permanently. Additionally, Margaret Hamilton's copper-based makeup was so toxic and her green complexion took months to fade.  

  • Judy Garland Sassed The Queen Mother About 'Over The Rainbow'

    The many awful things Judy Garland went through on the set of Wizard of Oz, and in her career in Hollywood, are extensively documented. From forced abortions to breast binding, forced anorexia, and a substance abuse problem, Garland endured hell to live the dream. In her mind, Oz was to blame for all of this because it rocketed her to super stardom. 

    Years after Wizard of Oz came out, Garland met the Queen Mother, who told her "Over the Rainbow" made her teary whenever she heard it. Garland allegedly responded ,"Ma’am, that song has plagued me all my life."