The Wizard of Oz may be more than 75 years old, but almost all of us watched the movie growing up. While dancing characters and a whimsical plotline make for a fun childhood flick, the stuff that went on behind the scenes was much more "adult."
Ever since it came out way back in 1939, the making of this classic movie has been awash with rumors. We've gotten to the bottom of the some of the juiciest tidbits -- including working with a Nazi sympathizer and a possible munchkin suicide -- to tell you what really went down on the The Wizard of Oz set:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Originally published Aug. 2014. Updated July 2016.