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The dark and secret history of making The Wizard of Oz

Shanee is a screenwriter and educator living in Los Angeles. She created the web series She Blinded Me w Science to encourage young girls to explore science and technology. You can also read her blog where she chronicles her filmmaking ...

Nazis, burned limbs, an iron lung and suicide: The secrets of Oz

We're excited that The Wizard of Oz is 75 years old! But we were shocked to find out how many terrible tales are associated with the making of this film, which was way back in 1939. Read on to find out who was a Nazi sympathizer, who had to recover in an iron lung and if a Munchkin really committed suicide on film.

The Tin Man

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1) Tin Man in an iron lung

It was the actor Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies) who was The Wizard of Oz producers' original choice to play the slightly melancholy Tin Man. The silver makeup used to make his character appear metallic was made out of aluminum powder. After 10 days of shooting and breathing the aluminum into his lungs, Ebsen became horribly ill. He was rushed to the hospital where he had to recover in an iron lung that helped him breathe. Jack Haley replaced Ebsen, but the filmmakers wised up and ditched the powder for an aluminum paste that was applied over greasepaint.

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Victor Fleming with Oz cast

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2) Victor Fleming accused of being pro-Nazi

Oz's director Victor Fleming, also known for directing Gone With the Wind, was rumored to be a Nazi sympathizer. Actress Anne Revere, who worked with Fleming in The Yearling, was quoted as saying Fleming was "violently pro-Nazi" and that he also loathed the British.

The Wicked Witch, Wizard of Oz

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3) Wicked Witch was burned, for real

From the giant mole on her chin to her creepy green skin, Margaret Hamilton made a frightening Wicked Witch of the West. While shooting a scene where the Witch disappeared in a puff of smoke, the special effects went haywire, and the oil-based green makeup caught fire, burning her hands and arms. She recuperated but refused to work with fire again.

Ruby Slippers

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4) Toto's broken paw

Turns out, it wasn't only humans getting injured. Toto, the Cairn Terrier, Dorothy's basket-size dog, suffered a broken paw when one of the witch's guards accidentally stepped on its foot. The dog, a female named Terry in real life, went on to make a total of 15 films.

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The Wizard of Oz

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5) The little person elevator

MGM needed to accommodate more than 100 little people to play Munchkins. This required hiring a man whose entire duty was to pick up the actors and place them on their marks. Presumably, this was necessary because things like chairs and set pieces were designed for people of average height. Though not considered politically correct today, the man was called the "midget elevator" on set.

The Wizard of Oz

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6) Auntie Em actress sadly goes on her own "great adventure"

Dorothy's Auntie Em, played by actress Clara Blandick, was perfectly cast as the tough, hardworking, farmer's wife. As she aged, she developed arthritis, causing her to be in a lot of pain. In addition to the arthritis, she was also going blind. In 1962, Blandick overdosed on pills. She was found with a bag on her head and a suicide note that read, "I am now about to make the great adventure. I cannot endure this agonizing pain any longer. It is all over my body. Neither can I face the impending blindness. I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen." She was 81.

Judy GarlandPhoto credit:

7) Judy Garland's untimely death

Just seven years after Blandick went on her "great adventure," the lovely Judy Garland overdosed on barbiturates. The coroner ruled the death accidental. Garland, whose birth name was Frances Ethel Gumm, was only 47 years old at the time of her death.

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L. Frank Baum

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8) L. Frank Baum's coat

In what could be an amazing coincidence or wild stroke of luck, the jacket purchased for Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan), was acquired at a secondhand store. The story goes that while Morgan was wearing the jacket on set, he noticed an inscription on the pocket. It read, "L. Frank Baum," who was the author of the Oz books. It may sound as fantastical as the movie, but apparently, the tailor who made the coat confirmed its authenticity. The jacket was given to Baum's widow, Maud Gage, after the movie was completed.

The Wizard of Oz

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9) Munchkin hanged himself on film?

There's an urban legend that one of the Munchkins can be seen hanging from a tree in the forest just as Dorothy takes off on the Yellow Brick Road. Fortunately, it is just a legend. What appears to be a small figure hanging from a tree is actually a live bird that was on loan from the LA Zoo. The filmmakers thought having live birds flying around the set would make the forest appear real.

If you suspect someone might be considering suicide, or you have struggled with those thoughts yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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