The Wizard of Oz remains one of the most captivating and enchanting films ever to come out of Hollywood. It was a marvel of technical advancement and creative storytelling at the time, and it’s still regarded as one of the best movies ever made. But that level of spectacle always comes at a price, and in many ways, the classic feature was a nightmare to make. If you don’t want to break the spell, best look away now – but for everyone else, here are 40 secrets about the journey down the yellow brick road.
40. A Fire Was Created Using Apple Juice
The Wizard of Oz may have boasted some of the most groundbreaking special effects of its time. But some of the tricks the film’s producers used to create its magic were very simple. Take Dorothy's flame-inducing slippers, for example. Cast your mind back to the scene where we see fire suddenly erupt when Dorothy’s sparkling shoes are yanked by the Wicked Witch. Did you notice anything odd about the explosion?
Despite looking like genuine fire, the shot was actually created with apple juice! They didn't burn it, though. Simply speeding up the shot made it look just like real flames.
39. The Wicked Witch of the West Was Too Scary
The Wicked Witch of the West was played by Margaret Hamilton, who by all accounts was a lovely woman in real life. On screen, though, she apparently played the role a little bit too well. Studio execs were concerned over whether her appearances in the movie would prove just a bit too terrifying for children. And as a result, her screen time ended up getting cut down.
So much, in fact, that her screen time amounted to just 12 minutes in total. Despite only appearing briefly throughout, Hamilton remained a hit with fans long after she hung up her cape and crystal ball.
38. Toto Got Paid More Than the Munchkins
Adorable little Toto is undoubtedly one of the most iconic dogs in cinematic history, but did that part warrant a higher wage than some of the actual human actors working alongside him? Well, the people behind The Wizard of Oz certainly thought so. That’s because Terry, the brindle cairn spaniel who played Toto, earned $125 per week; by contrast, the actors who played the Munchkins were paid between $50 and $100 a week.
There were a total of 124 little people hired to play Oz's munchkins, and even though their wages may have been small, many of them made appearances on floats and talk shows well after the film's initial buzz died down.
37. Frank Morgan Played Several Parts
Frank Morgan could never be accused of slacking on The Wizard of Oz’s set. Not only did the actor take on the important role of the Wizard himself, but he also portrayed several other characters, including the Emerald City gatekeeper, Professor Marvel, the horse carriage coachman, and the guard who originally doesn’t allow Dorothy and co. access to the Wizard. There are theories, however, that all of those characters were merely a ruse.
Some fans have hypothesised that in actual fact, Morgan's five different roles were all the Wizard in disguise. The theory suggests that the desperate wizard, trying to make Oz seem better than it really was, popped up as different characters to make the city seem as thought it were brimming with life. Seems that all that glitters really isn't green.
36. The Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow Were Banned
Dorothy’s three companions were certainly endearing on film — but according to those on set, their presence in real life was far from wanted. Rumor has it that during the shoot, actors Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, and Ray Bolger were denied entry into the studio canteen. Apparently, their makeup was just too unsettling for them to be around other people while they were having lunch. So instead of joining their co-stars for lunch breaks, they were relegated to their dressing rooms.
In fact, Haley, who played the Tin Man, spent the rest of his career making it clear how tough the shoot was. He once said, "People question me, like you're questioning me now, say 'Must've been fun making 'The Wizard of Oz?'" "It was not fun. Like hell it was fun. It was a lot of hard work. It was not fun at all."
35. “Over the Rainbow” Almost Didn’t Make It Into the Movie
“Over the Rainbow” is undoubtedly the most well-remembered and beloved song from The Wizard of Oz. But, believe it or not, it nearly ended up on the cutting room floor. According to Ernie Harburg, son of the song’s co-writer Yip Harburg, Victor Fleming wanted the tune gone from the final edit because it made the film too long. But after Harburg and his colleague Harold Arlen talked to MGM kingpin Louis B. Mayer, it was saved.
And what a turn of luck that was! The song has gone on to take home the Oscar for Best Original Song and was also voted the 20th century’s number-one track by the Recording Industry Association of America.
34. Judy Garland Wanted to Keep Toto
Dorothy’s relationship with her furry friend Toto is one of The Wizard of Oz’s most heartwarming. And Judy Garland established such a bond with the lovable canine — whose name in real life was Terry — that she actually wanted to take him home with her for good. Unfortunately for the actress, Terry's owners weren’t on board with the idea and the pair were separated when filming wrapped.
As for the name Toto, apparently, it's an acronym. Scriptwriters shortened Totable Tornado Observatory to Toto because Dorothy's canine sidekick is always there to support her. Just like a real tornado observatory would do during a rough storm. N'aww!
33. The Munchkins Didn’t See Much of Their Earnings
As if being paid less than a dog wasn’t bad enough, the actors playing the Munchkins also had half of their pay taken from them. Hiring agent Leo Singer was the individual responsible for this nefarious practice. After some of the stars he brought on board turned out to not be short enough, his fee was reduced. As a consequence, he took 50 percent of their wages and kept it for himself to make up for the loss.
Things were different back in the early twentieth century, but still, Singer's actions were indefensible. One small saving grace from the whole sorry business was that The Munchkins collectively won a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame years later in 2007.
32. The Tin Man’s Tears Were Edible
Ever wondered just what the Tin Man’s tears were really made of? Well, The Wizard of Oz’s producers initially — and appropriately — had drops of oil streaming down the character’s famous grey face. But the substance wasn’t photogenic and didn't film particularly well, so it was replaced by something far tastier. Yep, when Jack Haley is seen turning on the waterworks, he’s actually crying chocolate sauce. Talk about the magic of cinema!
According to Haley, life behind the scenes was ''pure chaos. By the time it started shooting, 14 writers and five directors had come and gone.'' So perhaps they needn't have bothered with chocolate tears after all, the poor actors involved probably could've brought the waterworks all by themselves!
31. The Fake Snow Had Asbestos in It
After having a sleeping spell cast upon them by the Wicked Witch of the West, Dorothy and company rest up in a poppy field while being lightly sprinkled with snow. In actuality, that snow was made from chrysotile asbestos fibers — a substance that we now know can be seriously detrimental to people’s health. At that time, though, asbestos was seen as a cost-effective substance for making fake snow, and nobody really knew about the health risks.
It wasn't just movie sets that used the dangerous substance for faux snow, though. Back in the '30s, asbestos 'snow' would be wheeled out come the holidays to get that festive freshly-fallen look. It's even rumored that What A Wonderful Life used it too.
30. Dorothy’s Slippers Were Stolen
In 2005 a pair of Dorothy’s iconic ruby red slippers were pinched from the Judy Garland Museum in Minnesota. The same museum later hired its own P.I. to track down the shoes. The fancy footwear were actually insured for a whopping $1 million, but that didn't mean the specially hired P.I. had any more luck finding them. In fact, it was an undercover FBI operation in 2018 that finally helped to recover the cherished piece of Hollywood memorabilia.
If you want to catch a glimpse of the glittering slippers now, you'll have to take a trip to Washington D.C., and head over to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.
29. The Cowardly Lion’s Costume Was Made From Real Lions
Rumor has it that MGM initially considered using Jackie, the lion in their logo, to play the role of the Cowardly Lion. And while that didn’t end up happening in the finished product, Bert Lahr’s costume for the film was actually partially made from real lion pelts. For this reason, it was also extremely heavy: it weighed in excess of 48 pounds, in fact. There was also another type of hair used in the humongous suit.
As well as lion fur, human hair was used to make the costume. Reportedly, the mane and hair came from a human, while the body was constructed from big cats' fur.
28. The Winged Monkeys Had Trouble Staying Airborne
Thankfully, the flying monkeys weren’t portrayed by actual monkeys but by people. Less thankfully, a number of them were hurt when the piano wires that held them aloft gave way. Yep, producers chose piano wire because it wouldn’t show up on camera. But as we’re beginning to see, health and safety often took a backseat to spectacle on The Wizard of Oz. There were even rumors circulating that the set was cursed.
More likely than a supernatural intervention, was the fact that at the time of filming, there was little known about stunts and how to achieve them safely. According to Aljean Harmetz, a former correspondent for New York Times Hollywood, “Some of these special effects had never been done before.” So now we know — piano wire will unlikely hold a human's weight.
27. It Took Four Different Directors to Finish the Film
While Victor Fleming is regarded as the film’s main director, he wasn’t the only one to sit in the chair. Richard Thorpe came first, but he was fired. Then George Cukor took the job for a week before Fleming came on board. Fleming eventually left to work on Gone with the Wind, though, leaving King Vidor to finish off the shoot. As a result, that meant different parts of the movie were shot by different directors.
Vidor, the final director, for example, ended up directing all of the sepia Kansas scenes. And, of course, that included the song that has become the most well-known of Garland's renditions, Over The Rainbow.
26. Shirley Temple Nearly Played Dorothy
The Wizard of Oz’s leading lady could have looked completely different had studio executives gone ahead with their initial choice. While it’s hard to imagine anyone other than the legendary Judy Garland playing Dorothy, child star Shirley Temple was actually the first name considered for the role of the Kansas farm girl. And it seems as though Temple would have been a more popular casting decision. “Judy Garland was not the popular choice among book fans,” claimed historian Jay Scarfone.
In an interview with Fox News Scarfone continued, “She was 15 years old, which was considered too old for the role. She was vivacious and over the top. The Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ has a very different personality from what is seen in the film. But there was never a serious contender except for Judy Garland.”
25. Ray Bolger Was Transformed
Poor Ray Bolger certainly suffered for his art while playing the character of the Scarecrow in the classic movie. Given the nature of the role, the actor had to wear uncomfortable prosthetics every time he showed up on set. But apparently, they were placed on his face so tightly that he was left with visible indentations for nearly twelve months after shooting on the film concluded. Initially, though, MGM was adamant that Bolger would play the Tin Man.
Bolger, on the other hand, had other ideas. “So strong was the feeling within me, however, that I should play the Scarecrow that I couldn’t give up. I fought the hardest fight in my life. Eventually, Buddy Ebsen said he’d just as soon play the Tin Woodman. Later that part was taken by Jack Haley. And I became the Scarecrow,” he shared in a 1982 article.
24. More Than 3000 Costumes Were Made for the Film
Gilbert Adrian certainly had a challenge getting all of The Wizard of Oz’s outfits ready in time. With the assistance of 178 staff members, the costume designer ended up creating an incredible 3,120 different fashion items. Luckily, Adrian had been a lifelong fan of Frank L. Baum’s original story and so had already filled numerous notebooks with design ideas by the time he was appointed. Upwards of a thousand designs may seem a lot, but apparently, Adrian would often complete between 50 and 75 new sketches.
Adrian's career was an illustrious one, and it saw him dressing stars such as Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, and Joan Crawford for glamorous film shoots as well as creating playful costumes. Over the course of his time with MGM, in fact, Adrian designed and produced costumes for over 250 films.
23. Dorothy's Ruby Slippers Weren't What They Seemed
Dorothy's striking ruby-red slippers are one of the most iconic props in Hollywood history, so it's hard to believe that they were initially meant to be a different color! In the original book, Dorothy's magical shoes are actually silver, so naturally, a real-life pair was created for the film. But MGM head Louis B. Mayer was determined to put the new Technicolor technology to good use, so he demanded ruby slippers instead.
As you might expect, cleaning the special slippers is not an easy task. The sequins are made of gelatin, which is a material that doesn't mix well with cleaning products. It takes dedicated restoration technicians who clean each individual sequin with a q-tip and iced water.
22. The Munchkins May Have Been Rather Badly Behaved
Producer Meryvn LeRoy claimed that the adult actors who played the Munchkins were so rowdy that the police were often called out to their hotel. Garland herself said that they would drink a lot, and a memoir written by her husband Sid Luft even went as far as to allege that some of them harassed the young star. Still, Margaret Williams, who played one of the Munchkins, asserted that many of these claims were exaggerated. So how did the scandalous rumors begin?
Well, it seems things may have started with that one comment from LeRoy. “We had to have police on just about every floor,” he said. Garland's comments about their drinking habits and Lahr's claims of debauchery in the Culver City hotel caused public imagination to run wild.
21. Judy Garland Was on a Diet of Chicken Soup and Black Coffee
MGM studios carefully monitored Judy Garland's diet while the film was being shot. Crew members spied on her before reporting back to MGM, and some sources claim that Louis B. Mayer himself made sure that she was only given chicken soup and black coffee to consume. That was in addition to four packs of cigarettes a day, just to make things even more dangerous for the teen. That's not all, either.
As well as her strict diet, Garland's mother reportedly encouraged the young star to take diet pills. And later in life, a grown-up Garland even referred to her mother as “the real Wicked Witch of the West.”
20. Dorothy’s Daughter Married the Tin Man’s Son
Talk about a small world — In 1974, Liza Minnelli walked down the aisle with Jack Haley Jr. If the name doesn't sound familiar, let us explain the coincidental connection. The former was, of course, the daughter of The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy, a.k.a. Judy Garland. And the latter was the son of the Tin Man, a.k.a. Jack Haley. The wedding was a modest affair, with only eight guests at the El Montecito Presbyterian Church in California.
Minnelli's yellow pantsuit was the talk of the town, too! Whether the color was a nod to the famous brick road in Oz, we may never know. Sadly the pair didn’t get a happily ever after, and they went their separate ways just five years later.
19. Dorothy's Secret Dress
If you look at old production photos of Judy Garland in costume for The Wizard of Oz, you may notice something peculiar: her iconic blue-and-white gingham dress wasn't blue and white at all, but blue and light pink! The reasoning behind this goes back to good ol' Technicolor, which at that time was actually brand new technology. Apparently, it was easier to use the technology on pink and blue hues.
The Technicolor Corporation were the business responsible for shifting films from black and white. They were actually making multi-colored magic as early as 1917, but high costs and poor economic conditions stopped it becoming the norm for decades.
18. The Wicked Witch’s Stand-In Was Also Injured
After experiencing a scary incident on set — we'll elaborate on this later — Margaret Hamilton refused to do any scenes that involved fire or flames. Sadly, however, her stand-in Betty Danko failed to escape harm. While shooting a scene involving the Witch riding a broomstick that spewed smoke, the pipe supplying the smoke blew up, scarring Danko’s legs as a result. And that wasn't Danko's only injury on set, either.
In another scene, the Wicked Witch Of The West appears in a burst of red smoke. To make the stunt work, a hole beneath the smoke plume would hold Danko in place until she was instructed to burst out. Unluckily, though, a crew member fell into the hole and landed right on top of Danko. Her shoulder was damaged so badly that she struggled to drive or raise her arm.
17. The Significance of May 15th
As it happens, the Wicked Witch has a death certificate, and the dates are steeped in symbolism. Fans will already know that the document reads May 15th, but they might not know quite how significant of a day it is in the wonderful world of The Wizard of Oz. That’s because this is also the same date that the writer of the original children’s novel, L. Frank Baum, was born in 1856.
After never recovering from surgery on his gall bladder, Baum died aged 62 just six days before this date back in 1919. Thankfully, a handful of other authors picked up where he left off and continued to write and imagine the Oz series.
16. The Horses Were Dyed Using Jell-O Crystals
One of the most memorable aspects of The Wizard of Oz is its vibrant use of color. But producers took unusual steps to make sure that the Emerald City horses fit in with the whole aesthetic. The animals were dyed purple using none other than Jell-O crystals. Unsurprisingly, the horses spent much of their time on set attempting to lick their makeup off. But this was essential to the success of the horse scenes.
There were four separate animals used to create the effect of a color-changing horse, each being coated in different flavored Jell-O's. It was essential for these scenes to be filmed in a flash so that the horses didn't slurp of their technicolor!
15. An Alarming Urban Legend
Since 1989, a tragic tale has circulated about a fatality that supposedly occurred on set. After the 50th anniversary of the film's release, word began to spread that one of the little people who played a Munchkin had taken their own life. And some fans of The Wizard of Oz believe that a suspicious-looking background shadow in one of the film’s scenes is eerily linked. Despite how far and wide the rumor has spread, though, it seems there's a simpler explanation.
The theory that an actor took his own life on set has become the stuff of Hollywood folklore. In reality, it’s nothing more than an urban legend. The shadow in question actually belongs to what is most probably a big bird spreading its wings.
14. The Yellow Brick Road Initially Showed up as Green
One of The Wizard of Oz’s most famous musical numbers, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” could perhaps have done with a lyric change for its original screen test. The paint that producers first used for the film’s pathway initially showed up green on camera. The behind-the-scenes team then had to repaint it using a standard industrial yellow. MGM also had a sneaky trick that helped fill the gap of advanced special effects.
They used cardboard cutouts that were painstakingly attached where the real road ended. The finished result that you see in the film is a seemingly endless winding road that rolls off into the distance.
13. The Scarecrow Gets the Pythagorean Theorem Wrong
As it turns out, even the Scarecrow's new brain can’t do math. The character reels off the Pythagorean Theorem after receiving his upgrade, but incorrectly claims it can be applied to a triangle of the isosceles variety. That’s because actor Ray Bolger, who had a lot of trouble remembering the theorem, failed to get the equation right on the day of filming. And so the producers simply had to make do and use his incorrect utterances.
Even with his Doctorate of Thinkology in place, according to some, the poor Scarecrow never had any hope of acing his Pythagoras. Some sources state that Bolger claims those were the lines provided to him.
12. The Original Tin Man Was Poisoned on Set
The Tin Man you see in the film was played by Jack Haley, but Haley was actually brought in as a last-minute replacement for another actor: Buddy Ebsen. After only nine days of filming, in fact, Ebsen was hospitalized after his lungs failed — and as a direct result of his Tin Man outfit. The white makeup he had been wearing was coated with noxious aluminum dust, which the unfortunate actor had inhaled to his detriment.
When Ebsen wasn't getting better in hospital, directors called on Haley to take his place. The make-up team still used the aluminium dust but mixed it into a paste instead. And although he never fell as ill as his predecessor Ebsen, Haley did still suffer from an eye infection.
11. You Can See Wrinkles in the Tin Man’s Pants
The Tin Man is, of course, supposed to be made of nothing more than metal. The clue is in the name. And yet some eagle-eyed The Wizard of Oz viewers have spotted that his grey outfit sometimes appears to defy the laws of chemistry. In one particular scene, the character’s grey outfit can be seen quite clearly creasing. Sadly, according to Dwight Blocker Bowers, curator of entertainment history at the National Museum of American History, the creased-or-not-creased outfit may be lost to history forever.
Back in the 1970s, MGM auctioned off a number of the costumes from the original film. If you're happy with a replica, though, the internet is chock-full of Tin Man fancy dress costumes.
10. There Are Approximately 40 Differences Between the Book and the Film
There are approximately 40 notable differences between L. Frank Baum’s original novel and MGM’s big-screen adaptation. Notable examples include the film’s omissions of the backstories of the Witch of the North and the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and the Lion. Also, the fact that Dorothy’s adventure turned out to be a dream is not insinuated within the novel. Baum’s words lead the reader to believe that the whole thing is 100% real.
Another big difference in the film adaptation is that of the Wicked Witch. Given that MGM were already worried that she'd be too scary, it's probably no surprise that they left out Baum's one-eyed character in favour of a two-balled witch instead.
9. The Shabby Coat Belonged to L. Frank Baum
In an incredible coincidence, the coat that Professor Marvel can be seen sporting was actually the very one that belonged to The Wizard of Oz’s creator. The costume department was in search of a very specific look for the professor, and so naturally, they went thrifting in search of the perfect prop. As it happened, the fashion item was picked out at random for Frank Morgan at a second-hand store.
But when the actor turned one of its pockets inside out he discovered that it had been inscribed with L. Frank Baum’s name. The author’s widow later assured people that the coat did, in fact, belong to her husband.
8. The Crystal Ball Was Used in Several Other Films
The crystal ball owned by the Wicked Witch had the kind of filmography that many actors at the time would have envied. As well as appearing in The Wizard of Oz, the 25-inch diameter ball was also used in two 1932 releases, the action movie The Mask of Fu Manchu and fantasy Chandu the Magician. In 2011 the object went for over $126,000 at an auction.
Before it could rack up a hefty price tag, though, the mystic ball was believed to be lost for good. "It was assumed that it was owned by MGM," said librarian Lance Heidig, but as it turned out, "it was the private property of this special effects artist and it was apparently in one of his storage rooms for years and years and years and discovered there."
7. The Tin Man Was Turned Into a Beehive
The Wizard of Oz’s running time stands at 101 minutes, but its original cut reached up towards the two-hour mark. Wary of a film that dragged on and bored audiences, several scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. One of the most intriguing is when the Tin Man is transformed into a human beehive by the Wicked Witch. Luckily, the bees flee in defeat after their attempts to sting him result in bent stingers.
The other scene that didn't make the cut was one of Scarecrow Bolger's musical scenes. His song, "If I only had a brain" lost around two minutes. The song itself only lasted 60 seconds in the end.
6. Victor Fleming Was Hard on Judy Garland
Director Victor Fleming was reportedly very tough on the cast and crew — to the point of actual violence. This was perhaps most evident during the shooting of the scene where Dorothy attacks the Cowardly Lion. According to producer Pandro S. Berman, Judy Garland couldn’t stop laughing at the time. In response, Fleming abruptly took Garland to one side, slapped her, and then told her to get back to work.
As quoted by film critic Michael Sragow in his book Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master, Fleming's daughter's take on the act of violence was perhaps even more shocking than the act itself. "That wasn't abuse! People in those days weren't afraid of slapping a child in public for misbehavior. But he could be a little crude sometimes."
5. The Wicked Witch of the West’s Makeup Was Toxic
Almost-Tin Man Buddy Ebsen wasn’t the only person to suffer from potentially lethal makeup on set. Margaret Hamilton’s green body paint, for example, was copper-based, meaning that it was dangerous if she swallowed any. Because of this, she had to have liquid lunches and drink through a straw as a precaution. Taking the stuff off wasn't easy either — the makeup also had to be removed using rubbing alcohol after each day.
Thankfully, the make-up didn't have any serious health impacts for Hamilton. It may have been a pain to remove, but the actress lived to the ripe old age of 82 and was not left with any permanent damage from the pesky green paint.
4. Judy Garland Wore a Corset to Make Her Look Younger
Judy Garland was 16 when she started working on The Wizard of Oz, but Dorothy was meant to be a little younger based on the details included in the book. So, in an attempt to stick true to the original text and make Garland appear less womanly, she was tied into a torso-covering corset. The corset made her look younger and thinner — yet another example of the producers obsessing over her weight.
According to sources, Garland was repeatedly harassed over her appearance. Take, for example, the head of MGM Louis Mayer, who would reportedly refer to the young actress as "my little hunchback," because of the shape of her spine and height.
3. Toto Went Through Mental and Physical Anguish, Too
Not even the dog was safe from the harsh environment that the shoot became. Apparently, Toto star Terry the Cairn terrier reportedly suffered “nervous breakdowns” while filming. And at one point, one of the Wicked Witch of the West’s guards reportedly jumped on her by accident. The unfortunate mishap resulted in a sprained foot which took her out of shooting for a few weeks. They had a canine double step in instead.
Although probably traumatic for the pooch, she still lived out a long and happy life. Three years after filming, in fact, Terry was officially renamed Toto in honor of her role in the hit film. She lived to 13 years — an impressive feat for such a small dog!
2. Judy Garland Was Given Drugs to Help Her Get Through Filming
Rather upsettingly, giving drugs to child actors wasn’t all that uncommon in the ’30s, and it was no different with Judy Garland. During Oz, for example, she was taking barbiturates and amphetamines to keep her slim and keep her awake. This was similar for the rest of the cast, who were running on empty apart from the substances they were encouraged to take to keep on their feet during long shoots.
Even more tragically, though, the pushing of narcotics during filming had a lasting effect on Garland. The actress was addicted to substances long after she finished working on the film.
1. Margaret Hamilton Was Burned
When the Wicked Witch of the West leaves Munchkinland early in the film, she exits in a plume of fire. But while that flame was only supposed to come out after Margaret Hamilton had safely dropped through a trap door, on take two, that door didn’t open fast enough. Hamilton’s hands and face were burned as a result, and the incident took her out of production for six whole weeks.
Aljean Harmetz’s book the Making of The Wizard of Oz details the extent of Hamilton's third-degree burns, “the flames caught on her broom and hat, ‘scalding her chin, the bridge of her nose, her right cheek, and the right side of her forehead. The eyelashes and eyebrow on her right eye had been burned off; her upper lip and eyelid were badly burned.'”