It was a modest box officer winner when it was released on this day back in 1939, but MGM’s grand Technicolor fantasy film, The Wizard of Oz, won the hearts of millions more when it debuted on TV for the first time in 1956. It became an annual tradition for many families to huddle around the telly and watch the tale of a girl and her dog traveling the Yellow Brick Road. We’re honoring the film’s theatrical release with an epic list of facts, many strange but true, that shed light on one of cinema’s most beloved movies.
1. Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion costume weighed almost 100 pounds and was made with real lion pelts.
2. Judy Garland had to wear a corset in order to appear more childlike for her role as Dorothy. She was 16 years old when she made the movie.
3. The early Technicolor process required more light than a normal film production, so the set temperatures often exceeded 100 degrees.
4. In L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s slippers were silver. They were changed to “ruby” in order to take advantage of the Technicolor wow factor. Multiple sets were created for the film. A pair of the ruby slippers were stolen in 2005, but several others remain under lock and key.
5. The special effects crew used flavored Jell-O powder to color the horses for the Emerald City scenes. It was a snappy shoot since the horses attempted to lick themselves clean.
6. Actress Margaret Hamilton played the Wicked Witch of the West and was depicted as an old hag. In reality, Hamilton was only 36 years old at the time, while her on-screen nemesis, the younger-looking and prettier Glinda the Good Witch of the North (played by Billie Burke), was 54.
7. Shirley Temple, then 11-years-olds, was a frontrunner for the part of Dorothy, but it’s said that producers didn’t think she had the vocal chops to cut it. There was also a contract quibble.
8. Buddy Ebsen (aka Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies) was the first choice for the Tin Man, but the actor suffered from an extreme allergic reaction to the aluminum dust in his makeup. Jack Haley took over the role, and makeup artists switched to an aluminum paste. It gave him an eye infection, but he avoided Ebsen’s near-death experience.
9. Toto was a female Cairn Terrier named Terry. She was injured during filming (one of the witch’s guards accidentally stepped on her). She was paid a $125 a week, which was more than many of the Munchkin actors received. Toto had a happy career in movies until she died in 1945.
10. It’s rumored that one of the Munchkins committed suicide by hanging, and the body can be seen swinging in the background during one scene in the movie. Many dismiss it, blaming the odd shadow on a bird, since there were several wild animals on loan from the Los Angeles Zoo to create a realistic woodland setting.
11. Judy Garland was outfitted with a blonde wig and heavy baby-doll makeup when filming started, but intermediate director George Cukor ditched the look in favor of a natural appearance.
12. Clara Blandick, who played Auntie Em, committed suicide in 1962 when her failing health became too much to bear. The first line of the note she left read: “I am now about to make the great adventure.”
13. The Wicked Witch’s makeup was toxic, so actress Margaret Hamilton lived on a liquid diet to avoid accidental ingestion. Her face stayed green for weeks after shooting finished due to the copper-based ingredients.
14. The tornado in the film was created with a 35-foot-long muslin stocking that was spun while dirt, dust, and wind blew against it. The Kansas farm was a miniature.
15. Judy Garland had a major giggle fit during the scene where she slaps the Cowardly Lion. In order to snap her out of it, Victor Fleming took her aside and surprised the actress by slapping her right before they filmed another take.
16. Wicked Witch actress Margaret Hamilton was severely burned in the scene where she disappears into a cloud of smoke. Her stand-in and stunt double, Betty Danko, was also injured during the skywriting sequence.
17. It took five directors and 14 writers to bring The Wizard of Oz to the big screen.
18. The paint used to color the Yellow Brick Road showed up green on a screen test. The crew replaced it with standard yellow industrial paint.
19. The Wizard of Oz hit VHS in 1980.
20. Producer Louis B. Mayer wanted to create a movie that would beat the success of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Disney wanted to film the Baum adaptation, but MGM owned the rights to the book.
21. Ray Bolger (The Scarecrow), Bert Lahr (The Cowardly Lion), and Jack Haley (The Tin Man) ate in their dressing rooms during breaks since their costumes frightened diners in the MGM cafeteria.
22. The now famous song “Over the Rainbow” was almost cut from the movie, because execs thought it made the movie too long.
23. The Tin Man’s oil was really chocolate sauce. Real oil didn’t show up sufficiently on film.
24. After the Scarecrow gets his brain, he states the isosceles Pythagorean Theorem incorrectly.
25. There were 3,210 costumes created for the movie.
26. The shabby coat that Frank Morgan’s Professor Marvel/The Wiz wore was a thrift store find. It was discovered later that it used to belong to Oz author, L. Frank Baum (his name was sewn into the garment). Baum’s widow and tailor confirmed the find.
27. The girl’s voice heard in the Tin Man’s “If I Only Had a Heart” belongs to Adriana Caselotti, who voiced Walt Disney’s Snow White.
28. Chrysotile asbestos fibers (yes, the carcinogenic stuff) were used to create the snow in the “poppy field” scene.
29. The Wicked Witch’s crystal ball was previously used as a prop in The Mask of Fu Manchu, starring Boris Karloff.
30. Many of the scenes featuring the Wicked Witch had to be cut or edited, because she was considered too frightening for children.
31. Dorothy’s blue and white gingham dress was actually blue and pink. True white looked underwhelming on the big screen due to the Technicolor process.
32. The 1939 New York Times review of the movie stated: “It is all so well-intentioned, so genial and so gay that any reviewer who would look down his nose at the fun-making should be spanked and sent off, supperless, to bed.”
33. The original cut ran 120 minutes long, but several scenes were deleted, including one in which the Tin man was turned into a human beehive.
34. Dorothy’s hair changes length in the movie, most visible in the Scarecrow’s cornfield scene. This was due to reshoots, and changes in her costume and overall look.
35. The Wicked Witch’s death certificate is dated May, 6 1938, which marked the 20th anniversary of L. Frank Baum’s death.
36. The Wizard of Oz was shot on a studio set. The only location footage featured in the movie is the shot of clouds during the opening credits.
37. There were 124 little people cast as Munchkins. Only two are alive today.
38. Dorothy’s jumper dress was fit for a 27-inch waist. Her name was sewn on the inside hem.
39. Part of the Cowardly Lion’s facial prosthetic consisted of a brown paper bag.
40. When The Witch tries to yank off the Ruby Slippers, a fire erupts. The effect was created with apple juice, but sped up on film to make it look like fire.
41. Poor Toto was frightened of the steam that shot out of the Tin Man’s hat.
42. Ray Bolger’s facial prosthetic created an intense impression of lines on his face. It took about a year for them to disappear.
43. You can see wrinkles in the Tin Man’s pants, which betrays the fantasy that he’s made of metal.
44. The scenes of Dorothy’s house falling from the sky were captured by dropping a miniature prop onto a painting of a sky. The film was reversed to create the effect.
45. The original 120-minute cut of the film was viewed by a theatrical audience only one time.
46. There are about 44 major differences between Baum’s book and the film.
47. Only two of the Munchkins actually had speaking parts. Professional singers and voice actors dubbed the others.
48. In the original 120-minute cut of the movie, the Wicked Witch’s skywriting read: “Surrender Dorothy or Die! — WWW.”
49. MGM paid L. Frank Baum a whopping $75,000 for the film rights to his book, which was big money in those days.
50. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, but lost Best Picture to Gone with the Wind.