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Development and Pre-Production

In January 1938, MGM bought the rights to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The final draft of the script was completed on October 8, 1938 (following numerous rewrites).

The film's script was adapted by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf. Several people assisted with the adaptation without official credit: Irving Brecher, William H. Cannon, Herbert Fields, Arthur Freed, Jack Haley, E.Y. Harburg, Samuel Hoffenstein, Bert Lahr, John Lee Mahin, Herman J. Mankiewicz, Jack Mintz, Ogden Nash and Sid Silvers. Victor Fleming signed on to direct, and Richard Thorpe (uncredited), George Cukor and King Vidor have uncredited writing credits. Costume design was by Adrian Greenburg, and make-up was by Jack Dawn.

The script went through a number of revisions before the final shooting. The original producers thought that a 1939 audience was too sophisticated to accept Oz as a straight-ahead fantasy; therefore, it was reconceived as a lengthy, elaborate dream. Because of a perceived need to attract a youthful audience through appealing to modern fads and styles, the script originally featured a scene with a series of musical contests. A spoiled, selfish princess in Oz had outlawed all forms of music except classical and operetta, and went up against Dorothy in a singing contest in which Dorothy's swing style enchanted listeners and won the grand prize. This part was initially written for Betty Jaynes. The plan was later dropped.

In addition, the song "The Jitterbug", written in a swing style, was intended for the sequence in which the four are journeying to the castle of the Wicked Witch. It was supposed to have taken place just before the flying monkeys attacked the group. “The Jitterbug” was cut from the final theatrical version. The film footage for the song has been lost, although silent home movie footage of rehearsals for the number survives. The sound recording for the song, however, has survived, and it is included in the 2-CD Rhino Record deluxe edition of the film soundtrack, as well as on the VHS and DVD editions of the film. An attempt has been made on both the videocassette and the DVD to synchronize the silent home movie footage with the soundtrack. A reference to "The Jitterbug" remains in the film; the Witch remarks to her flying monkeys that they should have no trouble apprehending Dorothy and her friends because "I sent a little insect ahead to take the fight out of them."

Another scene, which was removed before final script approval and never filmed, was a concluding scene back in Kansas after Dorothy's return. Hunk (the Kansan counterpart to the Scarecrow) is leaving for agricultural college, and extracts a promise from Dorothy to write to him. The implication of the scene is that romance will eventually develop between the two, which also may have been intended as an explanation for Dorothy's partiality for the Scarecrow over her other two companions.


Casting The Wizard of Oz was problematic, with actors shifting roles repeatedly at the beginning of filming. One of the primary changes was in the role of the Tin man. The Tin Man was originally to have been portrayed by Ray Bolger, and Buddy Ebsen (later famous for his role as Jed Clampett on the 1960s TV show The Beverly Hillbillies) was to play the Scarecrow.[4] Bolger,unhappy with being assigned the role of the Tin Man, convinced producer Mervyn LeRoy to recast him in the role of the Scarecrow. Ebsen did not object to the change, he recorded all of his songs, went through all the rehearsals as the Tin Man and started filming with the rest of the cast. However, nine days after filming began, Ebsen suffered a reaction to the aluminum powder makeup he wore as the Tin Man; the powder had coated his lungs from his breathing it in as it was applied daily. By that point in critical condition, Ebsen had to be hospitalized and left the project. MGM did not publicize the reasons for Ebsen's departure and even his replacement, Jack Haley, did not initially know the reason.

The makeup used for Jack Haley was quietly changed to an aluminum paste makeup; although it did not have the same dire effect on Haley, he did at one point suffer from an unpleasant reaction to it. Despite his near-death experience with the makeup, Ebsen outlived all the principal players, although his film career was damaged by the incident. His career did not fully recover until the 1950s, when he began a string of popular film and TV series appearances that would continue into the 1980s. Although his lungs had presumably recovered from the effects of the powder makeup, he eventually died from complications from pneumonia on July 6, 2003 at the age of ninety-five.

The book The World of Entertainment (1975) by Hugh Fordin, created with the full cooperation of uncredited associate producer Arthur Freed before his death, is said to suggest that Victor Fleming fired the actor when he took over as director. In a later interview (included on the 2005 DVD release of Wizard of Oz), Ebsen recalled that the studio heads initially did not believe he was ill. No footage of Ebsen as the Tin Man has ever been released — only photographs taken during filming and test photos of different makeup styles remain.

Gale Sondergaard was originally cast as the Wicked Witch. She became unhappy with the role when the witch's persona shifted from sly and glamorous (thought to emulate the wicked queen in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) into the familiar "ugly hag." She turned down the role and was replaced on October 10, 1938 by Margaret Hamilton. Hamilton was severely burned in the Munchkinland scene when she was to disappear in a puff of fiery smoke. When she returned from the hospital, Hamilton refused to do the scene where she flies a broomstick billowing smoke, so the directors chose to have a stand-in perform the scene instead. The stand-in was also severely injured doing the scene after a malfunction occurred during filming. On July 25, 1938, Bert Lahr was signed and cast as the Cowardly Lion. Frank Morgan was cast as the Wizard on September 22, 1938. On August 12, 1938, Charley Grapewin was cast as Uncle Henry.


Filming commenced on October 13, 1938, with Richard Thorpe directing. After an unknown number of scenes were shot, Thorpe was fired and George Cukor, who was on his way to direct Gone with the Wind, took over until he had to leave to shoot the famous Civil War epic. Initially, the studio made Garland wear a blond wig and heavy, "baby-doll" makeup, and she played Dorothy in an exaggerated fashion. Cukor changed Judy Garland and Margaret Hamilton's makeup and costumes and told Garland to "be herself." This meant that all scenes Garland and Hamilton had already completed were discarded and refilmed. Cukor, who never actually shot any scenes for the film, had a prior commitment to direct Gone with the Wind, and left on November 3, 1938, when Victor Fleming took over the direction of Oz.

Coincidentally, on February 12, 1939, Victor Fleming replaced George Cukor in directing Gone with the Wind. The next day King Vidor would be assigned as director to finish the filming of The Wizard of Oz (mainly the sepia Kansas sequences, including Judy Garland's singing of "Over the Rainbow"). In later years, when the film became firmly established as a classic, King Vidor chose not to take public credit for his contribution until after the death of his friend Fleming. Filming concluded on March 16, 1939; with subsequent test screenings on June 5, 1939.