Wamego #70 April 22, 2016
SCARCELY A HAPPY NEW YEAR (AND ARE WE PAVING A PATIO IN POMONA?)
[Above left: “That’s all that’s left of The Wicked Witch of the East!” Within moments, there’ll be even less, as her ruby slippers disappear, her stockings curl up and retreat -- and Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West is ever-after bereft of the footwear that some would say (as next-of-kin) is her rightful inheritance. This is a frame enlargement of 35mm test film; the actual moment, at this camera angle, didn’t appear in the completed 1939 release print of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s THE WIZARD OF OZ. Right: The Apple Orchard/Tin Man Cottage set, with the non-brick Yellow Brick Road as it is seen in the movie.]
It’s once again trivia time, and we have a good question from Matt Handy, along with a request/query from William Dogan.
Matt asks, “In the M-G-M film, how did they go about doing the scene where the legs of The Wicked Witch of the East disappear underneath Dorothy’s house in Munchkinland?” Apparently, this was a combination of a simple mechanical trick and a simple photographic trick, Matt, as there’s nothing in the surviving special effects worksheets for OZ to indicate that their department was called in to devise anything extraordinary. The photography contribution involved a simple, age-old dissolve that made the shoes seem to fade away and leave just the Witch’s stockinged feet. The mechanical contribution, as far as I can tell, came about by incorporating within those remaining stockings a larger variation of the basic, uncomplicated apparatus that is used in those “New Year’s Eve” party favors. I’m referencing the ones where you blow into a little mouthpiece at one end, and the air propels a wound-up tube of paper to unfurl, full-length. It very much appears as if this sort of thing was employed – in reverse -- with the Witch’s feet and legs: the interior mechanism is completely extended and then allowed to release and reverse. The stockings curl up and are then drawn under the house by an unseen operator behind the set.
But I doubt if the Wicked Witch of the East was muttering “Happy New Year!” during the process.
[Above left: Behind-the-scenes during a lull in the filming of Munchkinland. As no feet or footwear are visible, this may well be the moment of prep when (or a moment of relaxation after) the Wicked Witch of the West exclaims, “They’re gone. The ruby slippers! What have you done with them?” Right: The cornfield was the first set on which filming was done for THE WIZARD OF OZ, but all that early footage then was junked. Notice the oval bricks and lack of curbing on the Yellow Brick Road.]
William Dogan requests that this blog “Please dispel the notion that the Yellow Brick Road in the film was made of bricks. Some ‘scammers’ are selling ‘pieces’ of it [which they claim are] from the film.” Well, first things first: As you can see by the above-right photo – and both photos below – there were two different designs for M-G-M’s Yellow Brick Road. When filming begin in mid-October 1938, director Richard Thorpe first shot the cornfield scenes in which Dorothy meets The Scarecrow, and the crossroads consisted of a stenciled brick “pattern” in ovals, painted on the stage flooring. In other words: no bricks were utilized. Two weeks later, Thorpe was fired, and all his footage was trashed. (It showed, among other variations, Judy Garland as the heavily-blonde-bewigged Dorothy in a fancier dress.) Over the next few days, director George Cukor came in to consult and manifest major changes in wardrobe and make-up for at least three of the principal cast; it may well have been he who also encouraged a more natural and “real” look for the Yellow Brick Road. When Victor Fleming (OZ director of note and credit) began the film again the first week of November, he – too – started with the cornfield sequence. But whether it was Cukor or Fleming who was responsible, the road by then was neatly curbed, and the bricks consisted of Masonite tiles that LOOKED like bricks.
Again, however, they were NOT brick.
As a sideline, 1939 Metro promotion for OZ made note of the difficulties caused by the temperamental early Technicolor cameras; evidently, it often was a challenge for the designers and set decorators to find the correct hues for costumes and scenery, so that they would photograph as the color that was desired to be seen on-screen. One bit of journalism at that time – whether factual or fabricated for publicity – stated that there was difficulty in achieving a good, bright, true yellow for Dorothy’s pathway to The Great & Powerful Oz…until someone suggested that plain yellow house paint be applied to the Masonite. (It worked!)
[Above left: A set reference still of one angle of The Lion’s Forest set, with an ongoing, prominent, and Masonite Yellow Brick Road. Right: A reference still of a set never seen in the finished WIZARD OF OZ. It’s thought that this was to be part of the scenery and sequence wherein the Fabulous Foursome (and Toto, too…) leave the Poppy Field and begin their final approach to the Emerald City.]
However, whether as the Yellow Brick Road of our dreams – or as a pavement that looks suspiciously like the flooring of a pluperfect patio in Pomona or Pasadena – let the record show:
No bricks were harmed in the making of this motion picture!
Article by John Fricke