TEMPLE & EBSEN & OZ? NO, SIR!

 

Oct 23, 2015

IT WOULD BE A WHOLE DIFFERENT MOVIE

(OR: I DON’T THINK WE’D BE HAVING THIS CONVERSATION TODAY….)

OZZY TRIVIA # 3:   TEMPLE & EBSEN & OZ? NO, SIR! :) 

[Above: The all-time Fab Four, as definitively limned by Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Judy Garland, and Bert Lahr in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 motion picture, THE WIZARD OF OZ.]

This month's trivia question is a two-partner, and it was submitted to The OZ Museum Facebook page by Marty Hill. Our thanks to Marty, and here’s hoping the answer gives you satisfaction -- or, at least, thoughts to ponder. (That’s the effect it had here!)

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Do you think THE WIZARD OF OZ would have been just as successful if Shirley Temple had starred in the film? And do you think Buddy Ebsen could have made the Tin Man character as iconic as did Jack Haley in the way he portrayed the part?

Well, just to assuage (and align myself with) any and all “Temple-rs” in the crowd, may I say that I venerate Shirley Temple in most of the movies she made from 1933/1934 up to 1938 or so – especially her musicals. (I also have a happy weakness for 1940’s YOUNG PEOPLE.) But I don’t think her own special and singular charm, capability, and vocal talents were of the sort to bring the essential qualities of Dorothy Gale to the screen at the age she would have been when she made the film – or, really, at any age.

At this juncture in the arc of history, I think it’s also obvious and fair to state that no other actress in recorded history could have played Dorothy as effectively or as timelessly as did Judy Garland. Her sincerity, her charisma, her appeal, her astounding multi-talents – and the very “real-ness” she brought to every performance in her career – are the foundation of THE WIZARD OF OZ film. She’s the emotional touchstone of the story, and her ability to DEEPLY involve any cross-generational audience across the last 76 years is pretty much an “untoppable” accomplishment: She IS the movie. There’s no denying that the lavish production; expert effects, make-up, and costumes; exemplary writing, musical composition, and other performances might well have made OZ an entertaining success “back in the day.” But it never would have attained the “hold” it has manifested on billions of people without Judy Garland instantaneously pulling them into the story and the compassions of her character.

(By the way, and just for the historical record, the concept of Temple-as-Dorothy seems to have been a very, very brief, intra-corporate, behind-closed-doors discussion between MGM and Twentieth Century Fox. It probably spanned no more than a couple of days; it was never publicized or referenced in contemporary press columns; and there never was any even preliminary legal paperwork assembled to suggest or access her for the role. In brief, the OZ property was purchased -- and all its script drafts and songs were written -- FOR Judy Garland.)

[Above: No, it’s not Professor Marvel – but it IS Frank Morgan, here playing Professor Appleby, grandfather to Shirley Temple’s character in the 1936 Twentieth Century Fox feature, DIMPLES.]

As far as Buddy Ebsen is concerned, I delighted in him as Davy Crockett’s sidekick in the Walt Disney TV episodes of the mid-1950s -- and loved him even more as the sane mainstay around which revolved much of the craziness of THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES in the 1960s…and beyond! He would have been an effective song-and-dance Tin Man in OZ. But I think Jack Haley’s underplayed-but-open emotion – which was a hallmark of his wide-eyed, semi-meek performing persona – served as a much better contrast to Ray Bolger’s cantering and carrying-on, and to Bert Lahr’s bravura and cowardly clowning. It’s almost a cliché to say it, but Haley had the requisite and up-front heart to bring L. Frank Baum’s Ozian to vivid screen life. Ebsen’s approach would have worked, but it would have been a far different, less involved, and less involving Tin Man.

[Above: With Toto/Terry in tow, the blonde-bewigged Judy Garland (momentarily) escapes The Wicked Witch of the West, companioned by Tin Man Buddy Ebsen at left and Scarecrow Ray Bolger, center. The two men still are disguised as Winkie Guards in this sequence, filmed under Richard Thorpe in October 1938. The footage was scrapped when Ebsen took ill from the aluminum particles used in his facial makeup, and when Bolger and Garland’s physical appearances for the movie were actively altered.]

Thanks for reading – and thanks again, very much, to Marty Hill for  the questions! Please keep ‘em comin’, folks!

 
 

Article by John Fricke

 

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