[At left: Judy Garland was given her special miniature Oscar – “the Munchkin Award,” she jokingly called it – exactly seventy-five years ago this month. Frequent costar Mickey Rooney did the presentational honors. At right: The jacket cover of the first soundtrack record of “musical and dramatic selections” from MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ, released in conjunction with the film’s television debut in November 1956. A long-time best-seller, the album since has been historically recognized by its induction and inclusion in The Grammy Hall of Fame.]

Two weeks ago -- in the blog for January 23rd -- we shared a report from the United Kingdom publication, THE GUARDIAN, in which Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) was trumpeted as “the most influential film in Hollywood history.” That rarified designation was bestowed after extensive research by three authors; their findings were made public in a treatise issued by Northwestern University.

Since that announcement, a number of people have inquired about some of the other honors won by Metro’s OZ across the seventy-five (plus) years since its release. I’ve also been asked about the overall, “greater” Oz legend – and if and how it’s sustained itself in the nearly one-hundred-and-fifteen years since L. Frank Baum’s book, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, first burst upon the public.


To even attempt adequate (never mind complete) answers to such queries would fill a volume/volumes of its/their own. But to perhaps open these topics for discussion, communication, and correspondence, here are a few “ferinstances”: some OZ factoids that help to define the past and present status of both the motion picture and the Baum (et al) impact on pop culture and popular consciousness.


Seventy-five years ago this month -- on Thursday, February 29, 1940 -- MGM’s THE WIZARD OF OZ won the Academy Award "Oscar" for Best Original Song in a Motion Picture (1939), “Over the Rainbow,” with its lyric by E. Y. "Yip" Harburg and its music by Harold Arlen. [Please note -- and start spreadin’ the news to the ever-more-ill-informed-public: THAT is the title of the song. It is NOT "Somewhere Over the Rainbow”!]  OZ also won an Academy Award that evening for "Best Original Score” for Herbert Stothart, while a special miniature Oscar was presented to Judy Garland, star of OZ, for her "Outstanding Performance as a Screen Juvenile." (THE WIZARD OF OZ was nominated in three other categories as well: Best Picture, Best Special Effects, and Best Art Direction.)


In July 2014, the trade publication THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER took a poll of hundreds of professionals in the motion picture industry, asking them to name "Hollywood's Favorite Films." THE WIZARD OF OZ ranked at # 2, surpassed solely by THE GODFATHER:    Only four other films produced prior to 1950 made the list:  CITIZEN KANE (# 3), CASABLANCA (# 6), GONE WITH THE WIND (#15), and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (# 20).


Film scholars invariably tout 1939 as “Hollywood's Greatest Year” – the twelve-month period in which the most impressive array of historically “classic films” was released. Yet, during the Academy Awards Oscar telecast in 2014, THE WIZARD OF OZ was the only seventy-fifth anniversary film singled out for a special tribute, built around the song, "Over the Rainbow” and the presence of Judy Garland’s three children, Lorna and Joseph Luft and Liza Minnelli.


"Over the Rainbow" won the "Towering Song" Award during last year's Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony:

"Over the Rainbow" was voted the #1 Song of the [Twentieth] Century in a 2001 poll conducted by The National Endowment for the Arts and The Recording Industry Association of America.         

"Over the Rainbow" was voted the # 1 Film Song of All Time in a 2004 poll conducted by The American Film Institute.

In other AFI recognitions, THE WIZARD OF OZ placed at # 1 on their list of Best Fantasy Films, # 3 on their list of Best Musical Films, and # 10 in their 2007 survey of the greatest American motion pictures.

Judy Garland's original 1939 recording of "Over the Rainbow" has been inducted into The Grammy Hall of Fame, as has the 1956 "original soundtrack," long-playing vinyl recording of THE WIZARD OF OZ film.                  


Anticipating the seventy-fifth anniversary of THE WIZARD OF OZ in 2014, Warner Bros. -- which controls the MGM film library prior to 1986 -- re-premiered the film in September 2013 at the site of its original Hollywood launch, the (now-TCL) Chinese Theatre. It was reconfigured in 3D/IMAX for the occasion and subsequently enjoyed a successful national reissue in that format. Among other notable seventy-fifth anniversary events:

    * the final public appearance of original Munchkin Townswoman, actress Ruth Duccini, who helped introduce the film at the Chinese Theatre; Ms. Duccini died four months later.

    * the "cement event," also in September 2013, where "Lollipop Guild" Munchkin, actor Jerry Maren, put his hand and footprints in concrete for the Chinese Theatre courtyard; Maren is now the sole surviving "little person" of the approximately 124 who participated in the filming of OZ in 1938.

    * a new "making of..." OZ documentary, available only in the 3D/IMAX Warner Home Video DVD set of 2013.


As re: the ongoing magic and appeal of OZ:

In 2013, The Disney Studio's "prequel" motion picture, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams) achieved a world-wide gross of nearly one-half billion dollars.       

In October 2013, the stage musical "prequel," WICKED, celebrated its tenth anniversary on Broadway, where it continues to break box office and longevity records. Between its New York Company and ongoing national and international tours, the show has achieved a world-wide gross of more than three billion three hundred million dollars (and counting). The film of the show is rumored to be prepared for release in late 2016.  

In 2007, The SyFy Channel production of TIN MAN won that network its largest audience to date for a miniseries event.


Three national WIZARD OF OZ Festivals continue their annual celebrations in 2015. Some of these events originally were launched more than three decades ago:

OZ-STRAVAGANZA!, June 5th-7th in Chittenango, NY -- the birthplace of OZ author L. Frank Baum.

THE WIZARD OF OZ/JUDY GARLAND FESTIVAL, June 10th-13th in Grand Rapids, Minnesota (not Michigan) -- the birthplace of WIZARD OF OZ star Judy Garland.

OZ-TOBERFEST!, September 25th-26th, in Wamego, KS -- home of THE OZ MUSEUM!

[And watch for an announcement about the dates and locale of the new MIDWEST OZ FESTIVAL – to be posted SOON!]


Independent filmmakers continue to produce Oz-related fictional or fantasy motion pictures: 




YELLOW BRICK ROAD (in preproduction in 2015).

There’s also a non-fiction entry to anticipate:

THE SLIPPERS -- a new historical documentary about the ruby footwear worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 MGM film.


Finally….here are some of the OZ anniversaries we can celebrate in 2015:

The 30th anniversary of Disney's RETURN TO OZ, now a cult favorite fantasy/horror movie          

The 40th anniversary of Broadway's THE WIZ, winner of multiple Tony Awards, including Best Musical          

The 55th anniversary of NBC's THE LAND OF OZ color TV special, starring Shirley Temple 

The 90th anniversary of 1925 WIZARD OF OZ silent seven-reel film, featuring Oliver Hardy (pre-Stan Laurel)     

The 100th anniversary of THE NEW WIZARD OF OZ silent five-reel film  

The 105th anniversary of the first THE WIZARD OF OZ silent one-reel film

And, as noted above:

The 115th anniversary of the publication of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ by L. Frank Baum -- the book that started it all.


Not bad for a story that – according to legend – no publisher would touch back in 1899. Per one executive’s estimation, “There’s no market for an American fairy tale. If there were, someone would have already written it.”

Bravo! Congratulations! and Prosit!, Mr. Baum…Miss Garland…and all your compatriots!


Article by John Fricke


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