Burned limbs, an iron lung, and suicide: The secrets of Oz
The Wizard of Oz may be more than 76 years old, but almost all of us watched the movie growing up. While dancing characters and a whimsical plotline make for a fun childhood flick, the stuff that went on behind the scenes was much more “adult.”
Ever since it came out way back in 1939, the making of this classic movie has been awash with rumors. We’ve gotten to the bottom of the some of the juiciest tidbits — including working with a Nazi sympathizer and a possible munchkin suicide — to tell you what really went down on the The Wizard of Oz set:
1. Tin Man in an iron lung
It was the actor Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies) who was The Wizard of Oz producers’ original choice to play the slightly melancholy Tin Man. The silver makeup used to make his character appear metallic was made out of aluminum powder. After 10 days of shooting and breathing the aluminum into his lungs, Ebsen became horribly ill. He was rushed to the hospital where he had to recover in an iron lung that helped him breathe. Jack Haley replaced Ebsen, but the filmmakers wised up and ditched the powder for an aluminum paste that was applied over greasepaint.
2. L. Frank Baum’s coat
In what could be an amazing coincidence or wild stroke of luck, the jacket purchased for Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan), was acquired at a secondhand store. The story goes that while Morgan was wearing the jacket on set, he noticed an inscription on the pocket. It read, “L. Frank Baum,” who was the author of the Oz books. It may sound as fantastical as the movie, but apparently, the tailor who made the coat confirmed its authenticity. The jacket was given to Baum’s widow, Maud Gage, after the movie was completed.
3. Auntie Em actress sadly goes on her own “great adventure”
Dorothy’s Auntie Em, played by actress Clara Blandick, was perfectly cast as the tough, hardworking, farmer’s wife. As she aged, she developed arthritis, causing her to be in a lot of pain. In addition to arthritis, she was also going blind. In 1962, Blandick overdosed on pills. She was found with a bag on her head and a suicide note that read, “I am now about to make a great adventure. I cannot endure this agonizing pain any longer. It is all over my body. Neither can I face the impending blindness. I pray the Lord, my soul, to take. Amen.” She was 81.
4. The little person elevator
MGM needed to accommodate more than 100 little people to play Munchkins. This required hiring a man whose entire duty was to pick up the actors and place them on their marks. Presumably, this was necessary because things like chairs and set pieces were designed for people of average height. Though not considered politically correct today, the man was called the “midget elevator” on set.
5. Toto’s broken paw
Turns out, it wasn’t only humans getting injured. Toto, the Cairn Terrier, Dorothy’s basket-size dog, suffered a broken paw when one of the witch’s guards accidentally stepped on its foot. The dog, a female named Terry in real life, went on to make a total of 15 films.