'Wizard of Oz' may top 'Snow White'

By Frederick C. Othman   |   August 12, 1939
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HOLLYWOOD (UP) -- Best movie that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has manufactured in many a moon is "The Wizard of Oz." It is comparable only to Disney's "Snow White" -- and many people are going to think it's better.

Odds are that you'll see it. The following facts may help you enjoy it:

Last winter when "The Wizard" was in production, minority stockholders kicked about the fact that Producer Mervyn Leroy was earning $6,000 a week. That's $312,000 a year, or a tremendous salary for a hired hand in a picture studio. The stockholders claimed it was way too much.

They may decide Leroy's wage was one of the best investments the company ever made, because the picture seems destined to make net profits into the millions, as did "Snow White." Now that "The Wizard" is finished and about to be given its world premiere at $5.50 per seat, Leroy has taken a salary cut.

He gets only $4,000 a week.

The picture, as you may have gathered from the advertisements, is merely the retelling in color on the screen of L. Frank Baum's famous book for children, about Dorothy's adventures with the Tin Woodsman, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion in the Land of Oz. The book has sold 8,000,000 copies so far. Sam Goldwyn held onto the picture rights for years, but finally sold them to Leroy after the latter had wangled $3,500,000 of Metro money to make the film.

It took him five months to shoot the film, after a couple of surprising false starts, and four more months to dub in the sound. The result, as unwound today in a studio projection room, is an adventure into pure fantasy, as gay and as exciting perhaps as any movie Hollywood ever made.

One scene you'll see is that of Dorothy plucking an apple from a tree. This makes the tree angry. It snatches the apple away from her and slaps her on the wrist. How do you think Metro wangled that?

Well sir, the experts built a flexible rubber tree, put a man inside of it, and zipped the bark up the back. He did the apple snatching.

Then there was the little matter of the good fairy doing all her traveling in a gigantic and colorful bubble. The boys couldn't make this work with double exposure, because the colors blurred. So they put a white spot on each frame of the film, making thousands of white spots in all, and then tinted each one by hand.

One hundred and twenty midgets, composing Singer's entire group, played the munchkins. They spoke with a strange and amusing lilt, which Metro intends to patent. The engineers used algebra in figuring the process.

Richard Thorpe was the director, but he worked only three weeks before he came down with pneumonia. So did Buddy Ebsen, the original Tin Woodsman. Victor Fleming replaced Thorpe, while Jack Haley stepped into Ebsen's tin pants.

He worked in them for four days, during which production costs were running at $24,000 every 24 hours. Then somebody happened to notice how shiny Haley's clothes seemed to be. The script called for rusty tin. The whole footage, costing probably $80,000 had to be junked and the scenes reshot with the woodsman properly rusted.

Bert Lahr, the comic, played the Cowardly Lion. The studio sent to a taxidermist for his suit, which was delivered a couple of days later, furry and resplendent. It soon developed a peculiar odor, which eventually became so potent Lahr could stand it no longer. The taxidermist confessed he made the suit from the skin of a circus lion, recently deceased. He had to produce another odorless lion suit made from a rug.

Ray Bolger was the straw man. He wore so much straw stuffed in his clothes that the fire department considered him a menace. A fireman followed him wherever he went, with an extinguisher primed.

An important character was the "Horse of Another Color." It started out white and in rapid succession became lavender, red and yellow. The studio dyed the beast with raspberry, strawberry and lemon flavors, successively, of the food product advertised by Jack Benny. It was the only kind of horse coloring the humane society would allow, because it washed out easily.

Judy Garland was Dorothy and as pretty as Baum ever imagined her. Frank Morgan was the Wizard, Billie Burke the Good Witch, and green-nosed Margaret Hamilton the Bad. They all gave excellent performances. We're going to see "The Wizard" again. We liked it that much.

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