I think every kid has THAT MOVIE growing up. You know, the one you watched every day & had memorized. The Wizard of Oz was my movie. It was my life. There’s home movies of me singing songs from the movie, playing with Wizard of Oz related toys, or explaining the plot in details to my mother. I also used to create elaborate stories about how me and my “husband” the Tin Man would go on double dates with my best friend Dorothy and her husband the Scarecrow (rewatch that movie, they totally had a thing). I may have been a strange child.
This movie is one of those classics that could not be improved upon by modern film wizardry. If made today, the Cowardly Lion would most likely be CGI but he wouldn’t have the personality Bert Lahr gave the character. One of the most depressing things that has happened to the filmmaking process, in my opinion, is how many movies are just people standing in front of a green screen with all the magic added later by computers. The fact that the land of Oz was made by real hands and that Dorothy actually walked down the yellow brick road, makes everything a little more special to me.
The road to Oz was fraught with many setbacks. The film had five separate directors and countless rewrites. There were many subplots added to “punch up” the script, that were later discarded. It’s amazing how wrong this film could have gone. They almost cut “Over the Rainbow” for Christ’s sake! Ray Bolger who played the Scarecrow was originally cast as the Tin Man and forced Buddy Ebsen to switch parts with him. Ebsen agreed and then was almost killed by the Tin Man make-up and was taken off the film. This was also one of countless classic movies that wasn’t as well received when it was first released. It was panned by critics and barely made its money back. When it was rereleased ten years later, critics raved about it and it became event viewing.
Watching this film as an adult, I was surprised to see how effeminate the Cowardly Lion is. While Lahr said he modeled his performance after Curly Howard from The Three Stooges and the character himself was inspired by William Jennings Bryan, many have come to believe the Lion was gay. He calls himself as a “sissy” and sprinkles many other gay euphemisms into his very campy performance. Some believe Dorothy immediately accepting the gay lion is one of the reasons why Garland became the gay icon she is today. The Lion even refers to himself as a “friend of Dorothy”, which was a popular code for homosexuals to identify each other.
The film is somewhat bittersweet for me to watch now, knowing what I know about Garland’s post Oz life. Failed marriages, rumored abortions, drug addiction forced on her by the studio demanding she take pills to lose weight. She was one of the most beloved screen icons of all time and she died almost penniless at 47 of a drug overdose. To see her sweet face, the ultimate symbol of purity and know how much pain she would later experience is almost a perfect analogy for growing up.
Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minelli was briefly married to Jack Haley Jr, the son of the Tin Man