The Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale
Sections: To Please a Child | To See the Wizard | To Own the Wizard
Tin Man poster

Although the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film is the best-known dramatization of the Wizard of Oz, it was not the first production. In June 1902, an extravagantly mounted stage version opened in Chicago to great critical acclaim. The 1903 New York production became one of the greatest successes in Broadway history at that time and continued as a road-show for another decade.

The first commercial films were four one-reel silent films produced in 1910 by the Selig Polyscope Company and based on the Wizard and some other Oz books. In 1914, Baum founded a Hollywood film company. Its five silent features and a few short subjects based on Baum's stories were not successful, and the studio closed in 1915. In 1925, Chadwick Pictures released a silent version of the Wizard, which took great liberties with the book's plot and was a also a box-office failure.

Next came the 1939 version, a rare instance in which a great book became a great film. Because of its many television showings between 1956 and 1974, it has been seen by more viewers than any other movie. In a recent People Magazine poll, it was chosen as the favorite movie of the twentieth century. Later Oz-related dramatizations include The Wiz (1975 and 1978), the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1987 stage production, an animated Japanese version (1982), Disney's Return to Oz (1985), and David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990).

Copyright Deposit Copy for The Wizard of Oz Play

After the great success of his first Oz book, Baum adapted it into a musical comedy that introduced a number of new characters and different episodes into the plot. Composer Paul Tietjens worked with Baum to mount an extravagant stage production, and W. W. Denslow, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz book illustrator, designed the costumes. The play opened on June 16, 1902, at Chicago's Grand Opera House to critical acclaim. Handwritten interlineations appear on a number of pages in this rare manuscript of the play, deposited by Baum for registration in the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library.

L. Frank Baum. The Wizard of Oz, 1903. Typed manuscript, with hand-written emendations. Page 2. Rare Book & Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (27)

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Posters for Stage Version

These colorful posters were published in 1903 to promote Fred R. Hamlin's musical extravaganza, The Wizard of Oz. Although the Tin Man is immediately recognizable, costume designs featured in the “Scarecrow” poster are in sharp contrast to the illustrations in the children's book published a few years earlier. That poster shows some of the new characters, including a chorus line of poppies, whom Baum added to the play. Comedian Fred A. Stone, who played the Scarecrow, autographed both posters; he signed the Tin Man poster on behalf of his costar, David C. Montgomery.

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  • “The Tin Man.” Poster for Fred R. Hamlin's Musical Extravaganza, The Wizard of Oz. Cincinnati and New York: U.S. Lithograph Company, Russell Morgan Print, 1903. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (28)

  • “The Scarecrow and Company.” Poster for Fred R. Hamlin's Musical Extravaganza, The Wizard of Oz. Cincinnati and New York: U.S. Lithograph Company, Russell Morgan Print, 1903. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress (29)

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Music from the Wizard of Oz Stage Show

A number of the songs from the stage version of The Wizard of Oz became very popular. “Sammy” was the hit song of the show. The music became widely known through sheet music with colorful covers, the fastest way to circulate new songs at the turn of the twentieth century.

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  • Will D. Cobb and Gus Edwards. “Tale of a Cassowary.” New Musical Gems from the Wizard of Oz. New York: Shapiro, Remick, 1904. Sheet music cover. Music Division, Library of Congress (32)

  • James O'Dea and Edward Hutchison. “Sammy.” The Wizard of Oz. New York: Sol Bloom, 1902. Sheet music cover. Music Division, Library of Congress (33)

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Music from The Tik-Tok Man of Oz

On March 31, 1913, Baum opened a new theatrical production in Los Angeles entitled The Tik-Tok Man of Oz. The vaudeville-like formula he devised for his 1902 stage version of The Wizard of Oz also worked well with this venture, which played for five weeks in Los Angeles and later went to San Francisco and Chicago. Although well received on the road and described by one critic as “pure fun,” the production never played in New York, as Baum had hoped. The producer felt that the production costs would be too high.

L. Frank Baum and Louis F. Gottschalk. “The Clockwork Man.” The Tik-Tok Man of Oz. New York and Detroit: Jerome H. Remick, 1913. Sheet music cover. Music Division, Library of Congress (34)

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Registration Application for the Musical Version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Shortly over a year after L. Frank Baum registered the copyright claim for his famous children's book of the same title, he filed another application for copyright “on all musical numbers and lyrics under the title given.” The claim was made in the names of L. Frank Baum as author and Paul Tietjens as composer. The envelope was designed by W. W. Denslow, who illustrated the first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book. The colorful lettering of Baum's name and address are flanked by the Mother Goose and Father Goose characters made famous in his earlier children's books.

Copyright registration application for Baum and Tietjen's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1901. Envelope. U. S. Copyright Office Archives, Library of Congress (35a,b)

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Cast of 1939 Wizard of Oz Film

The appearance of the main characters from the 1939 MGM film version differs greatly from those in the 1925 version. Because W. W. Denslow's illustrations were used in creating their costumes, they look more like the characters in the first edition of the book. The great popularity of the film has fixed these images in the minds of millions of people as the way the Oz characters should look. Although the five main stars each made a number of films, they are best remembered for their roles in the Wizard: (l-r): Jack Haley (1899–1979), the Tin Man; Bert Lahr (1904–1967), the Cowardly Lion; Frank Morgan (1890–1949), the Wizard; Judy Garland (1922–1969), Dorothy; and Ray Bolger (1904–1987), the Scarecrow.

Publicity still showing main characters from 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz. Hollywood: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939. Copyprint. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (37)

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Shooting the Wizard of Oz

Like most films of the 1930s, the Wizard of Oz was shot on sets constructed in the MGM studio in Hollywood. Because the set was so large, as many as nine cameras hidden in bushes or potted plants would be used to film one scene. The hidden cameras took close-ups, while the main camera, used to capture the whole scene, was on the end of a boom and was constantly moving. The extensive lighting equipment necessary for Technicolor photography in 1939 is very apparent in these behind-the-scenes shots. Banks of lights lined the floor of the stages and the catwalks above the actors and made the set uncomfortably hot, especially for the actors wearing heavy costumes.

Publicity stills showing The Wizard of Oz film in production. Image 2. Hollywood: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939. Copyprint. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (38)

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The Wizard of Oz Being Filmed

In this November 1938 production shot, Dorothy and the Scarecrow are seen inviting the Tin Man to join their journey to see the Wizard while the Wicked Witch of the West eavesdrops on their conversation. In the foreground, producer Mervyn Le Roy leans over to discuss the scene with Victor Fleming, seated in the director's chair.

Publicity still showing The Wizard of Oz film in production. Hollywood: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1938. Copyprint. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (40)

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Recording the Oz Music

In this publicity still, Herbert Stothart, house composer for MGM, conducts the studio orchestra in music for a scene later cut from the film, the return of Dorothy and her friends to the Emerald City with the Wicked Witch's broomstick. Stothart composed the background music for the film, as well as leading the orchestra in synchronizing the music with the on-screen action.

Publicity still showing music for The Wizard of Oz being recorded. Hollywood: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939. Copyprint. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (41)

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Emerald City Townsman's Jacket from Wizard of Oz Film

The wardrobe department at MGM made almost 1,000 costumes for the 600 actors in the Wizard of Oz. The ones for the main characters were highly elaborate, but even the costumes of the extras display fine workmanship and attention to detail. One of several in this design, this heavy felt jacket was worn by an Emerald City townsman. Other jackets were nearly identical, with the exception of the loop pattern on the yoke. In the film, the extras wearing this type of jacket were most prominently featured in crowd scenes in the Emerald City.

Scene from film showing actors wearing Emerald City townsman's jackets. Hollywood: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939. Copyprint. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (45)

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Ruby Slippers from MGM Film

There are five known pairs of the magical ruby slippers connected with the 1939 MGM film. Several designs of the footwear were developed, including one reminiscent of the silver shoes in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book, before designers settled on hand-sequined pumps with flat jeweled bows applied to the toes. Originally silver in Baum's book, the slippers were purportedly changed to ruby to take full advantage of color photography. Each shoe is covered with red satin, to which 2,300 sequins are applied. This pair is in exquisite condition, and it is widely believed that they were used primarily for close-ups and possibly the climactic scene where Dorothy taps her heels together.

Ruby slippers. Original costume from The Wizard of Oz, 1939. Silk, leather, sequins, and rhinestones. Courtesy of Philip Samuels, St. Louis, Missouri (46)

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Judy Garland as Dorothy

At sixteen, Judy Garland won her only Academy Award, a special Oscar for the best performance by a juvenile, for her role in The Wizard of Oz. She later starred in a number of other films, winning Oscar nominations for A Star is Born (1954) and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), and had a successful singing career. Her portrayal of Dorothy is her best-known and best-loved film role.

Judy Garland as Dorothy, wearing the ruby slippers. Hollywood: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939. Copyprint. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (47)

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Cowardly Lion Mane from MGM Film

Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion mane originally consisted of a full-length wig with rubber ears sewn into the top, augmented with a separate beard under the actor's chin. A second version of the wig was needed after the Cowardly Lion receives his permanent wave in the Emerald City beauty salon. The is the only example of the Cowardly Lion's wig known to exist. It was restored by Lahr's make-up artist, Charles Schram.

Cowardly Lion wig and beard. Original costume from The Wizard of Oz film, 1939. Hair, tulle netting, and wax. Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (48)

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Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion

Although many of the Oz film costumes were uncomfortable for the actors, Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion suffered most of all. His costume was especially heavy and hot. After takes, Lahr would remove the costume, and both he and the costume were blasted with air from blow dryers to cool him down and make the costume bearable for the next shot.

Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Image 2. Hollywood: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939. Copyprint. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (49, 50)

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Munchkin Costume from MGM Film

One of the most complete costumes to have survived from MGM'S Wizard of Oz is this Munchkin costume, worn by Jerry Maren. As the central member of “The Lollipop Guild” trio, Maren presented Dorothy with the giant lollipop, welcoming her to Oz.

Dorothy meets “The Lollipop Guild” in The Wizard of Oz. Hollywood: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939. Copyprint. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (52)

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Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz

After weeks of tests a sponge-rubber mask was devised for Ray Bolger that covered his head but was thin enough to be pliable around the actor' facial features. This technique created the effect of a textured burlap sack, stuffed with straw and tied with a rope at his neck. Bolger's make-up man blended the edges of the mask with make-up around his eyes, nose, and mouth. If removed carefully, the mask could be reused. However, the masks seldom lasted more than a few days.

Scarecrow costume from The Wizard of Oz film, 1939. Courtesy of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution (53) Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. Hollywood: Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer,

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Music for the 1939 Film

MGM decided to create new music for the 1939 film instead of using music from the stage version, in which most of the songs had little to do with the Oz story. In the film, the songs were designed to develop the characters or advance the plot, a practice that became standard, but was unusual for films at that time. On the basis of their successful writing for Broadway shows and previous films, the team of E. Y. “Yip” Harburg (1896–1981) and Harold Arlen (1905–1986) was hired as lyricist and composer. Together and in collaboration with others, such as the Gershwin brothers, the two produced many of the most popular songs from the 1930s through the 1950s.

E. Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen. We're Off To See The Wizard (the Wonderful Wizard of Oz). New York: Leo Feist, Inc., 1939. Sheet music cover. Music Division, Library of Congress (56)

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Lobby Card for 1955 Re-Release of The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz has been re-released for showing in movie theaters several times since 1939, most recently in a restored version in 1998. In 1955, MGM decided to re-release the film to capitalize on the interest in Judy Garland surrounding her Academy Award nomination for A Star is Born. The studio publicized the re-release as strongly as it did a new film, and the run was successful enough to add $465,000 to the movie's overall box-office earnings.

Lobby card for the 1955 re-release of The Wizard of Oz. Hollywood: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1955. Courtesy of Michael Gessel (57)

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Lobby Card for the 1939 Release of The Wizard of Oz

For the initial release of The Wizard of Oz in 1939, MGM provided eight different lobby cards to theater managers. Intended for display in theater foyers and lobbies, these hand-tinted scenes provided a colorful preview to film patrons who were about to see the film. This scene shows (l-r) the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow disguised as Winkie guards, preparing to infiltrate the Wicked Witch's castle to rescue Dorothy.

Lobby Card for the initial release of The Wizard of Oz. Hollywood: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939. Courtesy of the family of Lawrence J. Gutter (58)

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Advertising Art for The Wizard of Oz

As part of its $250,000 promotional campaign, MGM ran full-page, color advertisements in the Sunday comic sections of newspapers to generate excitement in advance of the opening of The Wizard of Oz. These drawings are believed to be the preliminary artwork for the campaign. By placing the ads in an estimated twenty-nine newspapers in twenty-one large cities in August 1939, publicists reached an audience in the millions. In addition to the newspaper campaign, MGM placed advertisements in large-circulation national magazines.

Advertisement for The Wizard of Oz in Cosmopolitan magazine, September 1939, pp. 8-9. Page 2. General Collections, Library of Congress (59.1)

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Original cast recording for The Wizard of Oz

The lively musical numbers were a major factor in the success of The Wizard of Oz, recognized when the film won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. “Over the Rainbow,” a song that was almost cut from the film as being too sophisticated for the teenaged Judy Garland, won an Oscar for Best Song.

Original cast recording for The Wizard of Oz. New York: Decca, 1939. Record album cover. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (60)

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Sections: To Please a Child | To See the Wizard | To Own the Wizard