Eighty years ago, Dorothy Gale, the Wicked Witch of the West, and the rest of the gang followed the Yellow Brick Road into Americans’ hearts and minds after the release of “The Wizard of Oz.” Filmed in brilliant Technicolor — and taking full advantage of it — the film also was groundbreaking for its memorable score, use of special effects, and sheer scale of production.
Based on the 1900 novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, the film was instantly woven into the American fabric. Blue gingham dresses and ruby red slippers became a perennial Halloween costume choice. “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” became every cross-country traveler’s punch line. And “Over the Rainbow” — almost cut from the film during editing — endures as a beloved American classic, taking the No. 1 spot in the Recording Industry Association of America’s “Songs of the Century” list in 2001.
But beyond the Technicolor was a darker side, with a revolving door of cast and crew, severe injuries, and even a fabled Munchkin hanging. Eighty years after its release, fewer than 10 cast members remain living, most of them children hired as munchkin stand-ins. Still, the film endures as an American classic. Here are 20 things you might not have known about the cast, inspiration, and legacy of the wonderful–and sometimes chilling–land of Oz.
The original cut was too scary
Many kids — and adults — are terrified by the Wicked Witch and her fleet of flying monkeys. Apparently, early viewers were so afraid of the winged terrors that much of their footage was cut from the final edit. The version of “The Wizard of Oz” we all know and love is 101 minutes long, down from just under two hours originally. Chief among the cut scenes are those featuring the monkeys, Wicked Witch, and tornado — all scenes ultimately considered too frightening for the intended audience. According to cinema lore, some of the original scenes frightened children so badly that they were taken from the theater crying. Other cuts were less about fear and more about length: a “Jitterbug” dance scene, an “Over the Rainbow” reprise, and a scene alluding to a future romance between Dorothy and the Scarecrow, in reality her family’s farmhand Hunk.
Dorothy’s shoes were originally silver
In L. Frank Baum’s 1900 book, Dorothy was whisked home by clicking the heels of her silver slippers. But one of the film’s claims to fame is its early use of Technicolor, and alongside a yellow brick road and Emerald City, silver shoes just don’t pop. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the idea for ruby red slippers is credited to screenwriter Noel Langley, and chief costume designer Gilbert Adrian created the sequin-laden heels. Dorothy’s ruby red slippers have become one of the film’s most iconic elements — so iconic, in fact, that a pair has resided at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History since 1979 and is among its most popular artifacts. Another pair was famously stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Minnesota, but was recovered in September 2018. The shoes worn by Judy Garland in the film, incidentally, are a size 5.