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The History of the Wizard of Oz

From L. Frank Baum to the Big Screen

wonderfulwizardofozbookThe first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a children's novel written by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by W.W. Denslow. It was originally published by the George M. Hill Company in Chicago in 1900, and has since been reprinted countless times, sometimes under the name The Wizard of Oz. Its initial success led to Baum's writing and having published thirteen more Oz books.

The earliest musical version of the book was produced by Baum and Denslow (with music by composer Paul Tietjens) in Chicago in 1902, and moved to New York in 1903. It used the same characters, and was aimed more at adult audiences. It had a long, successful run on Broadway. Baum added numerous additional political references to the script. For example, his actors specifically mention President Theodore Roosevelt, Senator Mark Hanna, and John D. Rockefeller by name. (Swartz, Before the Rainbow, pp 34, 47, 56) He wrote a version more faithful to the book in 1901, but it has never been produced. Although it included many of the same songs, it featured far fewer interpolations of other songs, which had nothing to do with the story than the 1902 version did.

scenefromwizardofoz1925A scene from the 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz

The earliest "Oz" film series were produced by Baum in 1908 and 1914 and twice featured the young silent film actress Mildred Harris. Another series that Baum had nothing to do with, aside from a contractual agreement, appeared in 1910, which may have featured Bebe Daniels as Dorothy. Larry Semon, in collaboration with Frank Joslyn Baum, created a rather well known but unsuccessful version in 1925. The most famous adaptation is the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, featuring Judy Garland as Dorothy. This, in turn, has been adapted into two separate stage productions, first by Frank Gabrielson, (who wrote the 1960 teleplay of The Land of Oz for Shirley Temple), and more recently by the Royal Shakespeare Company's John Kane), but the first stage production, in 1902, used a score that is now forgotten, and not the one heard in the 1939 film, though there have been attempts, mostly in Florida by Constantine Grame, to revive it. Early film versions of the book include a 1914 film produced by Baum himself entitled His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz, which incorporates several incidents from the book—the Scarecrow is first seen hanging on a pole, from which Dorothy rescues him, and the Tin Man is discovered standing rusted in the forest—and a 1925 film, Wizard of Oz, featuring Oliver Hardy as the Tin Woodsman [sic]. The Wiz was a hit musical with an all-black cast produced in the 1970s on Broadway; it was later made into a 1978 movie directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow. The most recent adaptation of the novel is "Tin Man" aired on the Scifi Channel on December 2nd - 4th 2007 in a 3 part miniseries.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) premiered at the Strand Theatre in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on August 12, 1939 and Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood on August 15, 1939. The New York City premiere at Loew's Capitol Theater on August 17, 1939 was followed by a live performance with Judy Garland and her frequent film co-star Mickey Rooney. They would continue to perform there after each screening for a week, extended in Rooney's case for a second week and in Garland's to three. The movie opened nationally on August 25, 1939.

wizardofozposter1939A poster for the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz

The film grossed approximately $3 million against production/distribution costs of $2.8 million in its initial release. It did not show what MGM considered a large profit until a 1949 re-release earned an additional $1.5 million.

Beginning with the 1949 re-issue, and continuing until the film's 50th Anniversary videocassette release in 1989, the Kansas sequences were printed and shown in ordinary black-and-white, not sepia, and so TV viewers saw them in black-and-white for more than thirty years. However, with the film's fiftieth anniversary restoration, the sepia tone was brought back to the Kansas scenes, and beginning in 1990, the film was shown on television as originally released in 1939.

The film was again re-released in 1955 in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio version, with portions of the top and the bottom of the film removed to produce the effect. The re-release trailer falsely claimed "every scene" from Baum's novel was in the film, including "the rescue of Dorothy", though there is no such incident in the novel. The film was first shown on television November 3, 1956 on CBS, as the last installment of the Ford Star Jubilee. It was shown in color (posters still exist advertising the broadcast, and they specifically say in color and black-and-white), but because most television sets then were not color sets, few members of the TV audience saw it that way. An estimated 45 million people watched the broadcast. However, it was not rerun until three years later. On December 13, 1959 the film was shown (again on CBS) as a two-hour Christmas season special, and at an earlier time, to an even larger audience.

Encouraged by the response, CBS decided to make it an annual tradition, showing it every December from 1959 through 1962. The film was not shown in December of 1963 as might have been expected, perhaps due to the proximity of the John F. Kennedy assassination November 22, 1963. Others say that there was no room on the schedule, due to the fact that by then there were other Christmas specials on television, though not nearly as many as in later years (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Baryshnikov's Nutcracker and Frosty the Snowman, among others, had yet to premiere, and the animation team of Rankin-Bass had not made their mark on Christmas TV specials yet. The only animated Christmas special shown in 1963 was Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol).

Still, the film was shown very early in 1964, and the showings were therefore still only roughly a year apart. The January 1964 broadcast marked the end of the Christmas season showings, but The Wixard of Oz was nevertheless still televised only once a year for more than two decades. In the late 1960s, the film was bought for annual TV showings by NBC, but by 1976, it had reverted to CBS. It is now shown several times a year, on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel, Turner Network Television, and the TBS Superstation, often several times during the same week "in rotation" on these three channels.[10](See the article The Wizard of Oz on television.)

The Wizard of Oz became the first videocassette released by MGM/CBS Home Video in 1980; all current home video releases are by Warner Home Video (via current rights holder Turner Entertainment). The first laserdisc release of The Wizard of Oz was in 1989, with a second in 1993, and a final laserdisc release on September 11, 1996. The first DVD release of the film was on March 26, 1997, and contained no special features or supplements. It was re-released for its 60th Anniversary on October 19, 1999, with its soundtrack presented in a new 5.1 surround sound mix. The DVD also contained an extensive behind-the-scenes documentary: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, produced in 1990 and hosted by Angela Lansbury. Despite being a one-disc release, outtakes, the deleted "Jitterbug" musical number, clips of pre-1939 Oz adaptations, trailers, newsreels and a portrait gallery were also included, as well as two radio programs of the era publicizing the film. In 2005, two new DVD editions were released, both featuring a newly restored version of the film with audio commentary and an isolated music and effects track. One of the two DVD releases was a 2-disc "deluxe edition", featuring production documentaries, trailers, various outtakes, newsreels, radio shows, and still galleries. The other set, a 3-disc edition, included these features as well as complete copies of the 1925 silent film versio nof The Wizard of Oz and a 1933 animated short version.

In 1999, the film had a theatrical re-release in Australia, in honor of the 60th Anniversary. The film was also scheduled for theatrical re-release in the United Kingdom on December 15, 2006.