“The Wizard of Oz has great music and amazing chemistry among its cast. It’s a perfect storm, no pun intended,” William Stillman, co-author of the new book The Road to Oz exclusively told Closer Weekly — in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now — of the cinematic masterpiece. What fans might not know, he hinted, are behind-the-scenes trials and tribulations that went on during the making of the 1939 classic.
Stillman and his writing partner, Jay Scarfone, cover all the backstage drama, starting with the fact that Judy Garland almost lost the part of Dorothy to Shirley Temple, who much more closely resembled the character L. Frank Baum described in his 1900 kids’ novel. When Shirley’s studio refused to let her out of her contract to star in the MGM vehicle, Judy secured the role, despite being older than Dorothy was originally written to be.
Then the 16-year-old had to have her breasts bound to appear younger, and a small piece of foam rubber was used to cover an imperfect gap on the bridge of her nose. Judy was then encouraged to binge diet because the camera made her 4’11” frame look pudgy, but Baum’s daughter Florence helped the young actress cheat. “We had become friends,” Florence once recalled, “and Judy would have me — her hopeless slave — go to the commissary at noon and order a double portion of mashed potatoes and gravy and sneak it to her on set.”
As this was going on, the young actress’ energy level had to be kept up to maximize the limited time she was legally allowed to film scenes. Barbiturates were the studio’s answer. “We’re not talking about street drugs,” Stillman noted, “but prescription medications that were, at that time, like vitamins. There was gross negligence,” he added, alluding to Judy’s lifelong pill abuse and deadly overdose in 1969.
Other dangers plagued the set, including a fire in one scene that scorched the hands and face of Wicked Witch of the West actress Margaret Hamilton. Falling sparks from a light during a different scene nearly burned young Judy, but Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow, shielded her. The straw in his costume caught fire, however, and he needed to be hosed down with a fire extinguisher.
Still, nothing can dampen the joy the film has brought to millions. In 1958, Judy even happily sang along to the soundtrack while in the hospital as she watched the film’s second airing on TV. Her husband Sid Luft is quoted in the book, recalling how she phoned home to their young children, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft, to reassure them that “Mommy was OK and the witch didn’t really get her.”
The musical’s charms, it seems, were irresistible to Judy in spite of the woes it once caused her. As the Road to Oz‘s authors write, “Above all, it has heart — and that’s something about which even the Tin Man wouldn’t quibble.”
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