Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to announce how pleased we are that many of you enjoyed our recent The Wizard of Oz quiz published on May 10 with answers following on May 15.
But not everyone was totally thrilled.
Your “Wizard of Oz” quiz was fun but there are errors, wrote reader Robert Waters, who went on to make several points in an insightful email to us that we feel deserves further airing.
First, Robert maintains that the property (L. Frank Baum’s children’s story) was purchased with Garland in mind for the role of Dorothy.
We researched both author Aljean Harmetz’ 1977 book The Making of the Wizard of Oz as well as producer Mervyn LeRoy’s 1974 memoir Take One, and came up with differing accounts of who bought what for whom.
The Baum book was acquired on June 3, 1938 by MGM on the order of studio boss Louis B. Mayer, who paid Samuel Goldwyn $75,000 (providing a $35,000 profit to Goldwyn) for the movie rights. LeRoy was assigned producer. Mayer insisted that his close associate and loyal underling, Arthur Freed, be named LeRoy’s assistant.
Harmetz reports that it was Freed who early on envisioned a 15-year-old Judy Garland for the role of Dorothy. LeRoy contradicts that.
For the leading role, Dorothy, the MGM brass was unanimous — they wanted Shirley Temple. I was the only one who didn’t. I had seen my Dorothy… when I caught a low-budget Fox musical ‘Pigskin Parade’ (with Garland participating as an MGM loan out). Garland…had the quality I wanted for Dorothy. LeRoy adds that it took him some time to finally convince Mayer to go along with me.
In his email to us, Robert adds: The studio was hesitant and wanted insurance for such an expensive film. They briefly considered Shirley Temple (as Dorothy) but realized that the role’s demands were beyond Temple’s abilities. We are not sure who the ‘they’ is but LeRoy insists that he was responsible for Garland’s casting.
Also, Harmetz’ book points out that when Mayer tried to borrow Temple from home studio 20th Century Fox, studio boss Daryl Zanuck refused to loan her out. So despite its best efforts and whatever doubts it may have had about Temple’s suitability as Dorothy, MGM was unable to land Temple.
Next, Robert makes this point: Filming of “Oz” began in October, 1938. Judy Garland turned 16 years old on June 10, 1938. She was 17 by the time the film premiered in August/September 1939.
Harmetz reports that Garland was 15 when she was cast as Dorothy, with six movies behind her in her two-and-a-half years at the studio (beginning Sept. 27, 1935, three months after her 13th birthday). She was indeed 16 when The Wizard of Oz started production Oct. 12, 1938, and was 17 when the movie classic opened in Los Angeles (Aug. 15, 1939 at Grauman’s Chinese Theater) and two days later at New York’s Capitol Theater.
Next, Robert asserts that signature song “Over The Rainbow” was briefly cut from “Oz” because the studio thought the song slowed down the film. Producer Mervyn LeRoy fought to have the song restored.
LeRoy writes in his memoir that after Oz’s San Bernadino, California preview, some of the MGM executives said, ‘that song has to go.’… L.B. (Mayer) didn’t say anything, but he listened to me, (lyricist E.Y.) Harburg, (composer Harold) Arlen and Freed on the one side, and to the anti-’Rainbow’ faction on the other. Finally, after he had heard about ten minutes of discussion, Mayer spoke. ‘Okay, Mervyn,’ he said. ‘You win. ‘Over the Rainbow’ stays in the picture.’…I hate to think of what would have happened if those other men had won out that night in San Bernadino.
Finally, Robert points out that there were actually FOUR directors who influenced “The Wizard of Oz”. Richard Thorpe began the production, George Cukor took over and revamped the costumes and approach of the film, Victor Fleming filmed most of the movie but was called away to rescue troubled “Gone With The Wind” and finally King Vidor directed the Kansas sequences which were filmed last.
He’s right, but Harmetz puts some perspective on this when she reports that Thorpe directed Oz for two weeks, Cukor for three days, Fleming for four months and King Vidor for 10 days.
Thanks, Richard, for emailing and keeping us on our toes. Keep reading and keep writing in.