All sorts of hazards slowed production of ‘Oz’

Published 7:46 pm Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a 1939 American musical fantasy, is one of my daughter’s favorite movies. Any time it appeared on television during her growing up years, you could be sure she watched it. I am not sure she passes it up when there is an opportunity to watch it even to this day.

The MGM movie was adapted from author Frank L. Baum’s first of 14 Land of Oz books, published in 1900. His second was The Marvelous Land of Oz. After completing those two, he followed through with an Oz book a year for the next twelve years. Before the film, a Broadway musical of the story ran for 37 years.

Even after Baum’s death, the Land of Oz lived on through the work of Ruth Plumly Thompson, a prolific writer for a children’s page in The Philadelphia Public Ledger. She produced one Oz book yearly from 1921 to 1939.

Baum created the fabulous characters of the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Wicked Witch of the East among many others. I imagine most of us are familiar with these characters from the Technicolor musical with which my daughter became so enchanted. Unfortunately, I am unfamiliar with the characters the writer Thompson introduced. It is said that among her most famous were Kabumpo the Elegant Elephant and Jinnicky the Red Jinn.

I recall reading years ago that there were some unexpected hazards during the filming of the movie. One incident that upset the original casting was when Buddy Ebson, as the Tin Man, almost died from the aluminum powder in the make-up which had coated his lungs. The role was passed to another actor who was also affected by the makeup. It resulted in a severe eye infection for the actor Jack Haley. Things again turned out wrong for the Tin Man when the studio realized they had to reshoot already completed scenes because it had been forgotten that his costume must look spotted with rust over it. It caused a costly delay.

An explosion of the Wicked Witch’s broom during a flying stunt resulted in the hospitalization of the stand-in for the Wicked Witch of the East. There was more to come. A bird, the sarus crane, which the studio had rented from a zoo, attacked the Scarecrow’s costume stuffed with straw.

I don’t know whether Baum’s subsequent Land of Oz books would attract the attention of youngsters today or if they are even still available. However, upon hearing of their existence, like me, you might enjoy learning the dates they were published and the titles of his later ones: 1907, Ozma of Oz; 1908, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz; 1909, The road to Oz; 1910, The Emerald City of Oz; 1913, The Patchwork Girl of Oz; 1914, Tik-Tok of Oz; 1915, The Scarecrow of Oz; 1916, Rinkitink in Oz; 1917, The Lost Princess of Oz; 1918, The Tin Woodsman of Oz; 1919, The Magic of Oz and 1920, Glinda of Oz.


Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper industry.