[Above: Pat Walshe – as Nikko – carries the basket of The Wicked Witch of the West and poses with her hourglass on the set of THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). The former survived to appear in other Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films; the hourglass exists today in a private collection.]

Dec 25, 2015


This month’s interesting query was posed by Jeff Brown, and he referenced Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 motion picture adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ to ask: “What happened to all the set props and the set itself? Was any [of the film] shot outside of the set?”


Rabid fans and collectors have pondered and researched both of those questions for decades, Jeff. ln terms of the second of the two, all of M-G-M’s OZ was filmed on interior soundstages at the studio in Culver City, California…EXCEPT for two sequences: the skyscape and clouds that appear underneath the opening “Main Title” credits and the closing cast list. Those brief backgrounds were shot outdoors in “the real world.”


As far as surviving “pieces” of the film’s architecture, props, wardrobe, and etc., an entire book could (and probably one day will) be written about the whereabouts of such Ozian artifacts. These days, it seems that some such of that material appears in auction catalogs on almost an annual basis. Only a percentage of the detritus has survived the decades, however. While Metro initially and carefully preserved its heritage -- at least for the thirty years after OZ was made -- the studio’s history then was tossed or cavalierly abandoned (often without its OZ connection being heralded or known) at the infamous sale of M-G-M holdings back in 1970.


The late Rob Roy MacVeigh – a brilliant animator, scribe, theatrical craftsman, and all-around good guy – was the first to publicly discuss both the before-and-after life of Oz props and sets when he wrote a fortieth anniversary examination of the film for The lnternational Wizard of Oz Club publication, THE BAUM BUGLE, back in 1979. l can do no better here than turn the topic to Rob’s original reportage:


“There is a small, cameo-like portrait hanging on the wall of Dorothy’s room to the left of the open window. This seems to be the same portrait hanging in Nelson Eddy’s apartment in MAYTlME, one of M-G-M’s 1937 successes…. The screen door to the front of the house (which flies off in Dorothy’s hand during the tornado) reappears on the justice of the peace [residence] in WOMAN OF THE YEAR, the first Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn vehicle (1942). Miss Gulch’s famous basket is seen briefly on the counter of the general store n YOUNG TOM EDlSON (1940), with Mickey Rooney. Professor Marvel’s ravine was given a new backdrop and became the backyard of Tara – where Ashley (Leslie Howard) is seen splitting logs in Victor Fleming’s other 1939 hit, GONE WlTH THE WlND. And that wonderful effects footage of the tornado (including some shot for, but unused in, OZ) resurfaced not only in CABlN lN THE SKY (1943) but also in HlGH BARBAREE (1947), with June Allyson and Van Johnson.” Elsewhere, Rob noted that a number of the oversize lily pads of Munchkinland soon reappeared in TARZAN FlNDS A SON (also 1939).


Subsequent research has revealed on-screen life-after-OZ for other elements of its production. Dorothy’s basket was carried by Margaret O’Brien in the remake of LlTTLE WOMEN (1949), and The Wicked Witch’s basket used for a picnic by Robert Walker in TlLL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (1946). Several Munchkin village huts appear as background stage setting in at least one other MGM feature; variations of the Munchkin costumes turned up in 1962 in BILLY ROSE’S JUMBO.


[Above: Dorothy’s ubiquitous basket – here front and center of Ray Bolger and Judy Garland -- would surface a decade later in another Mervyn LeRoy M-G-M feature film.]


The sets themselves would have been dismantled upon completion of OZ filming: the backdrops painted over, the wooden frameworks of buildings and fences either junked or adapted for other use. Costumes were, as noted, preserved, and their durability can be shown by their reappearance at various sales across the last forty years. Two of the original Munchkin costumes were unveiled in September as glorious additions to the displays at Wamego’s superlative OZ Museum in Kansas. Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow costume – which M-G-M presented to the actor back in 1939 -- was in turn presented by the actor to The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where it is proudly on exhibit. The Cowardly Lion costume was auctioned in New York City some thirteen months ago, and one of several Judy Garland Dorothy dresses was sold last month from the same Bonhams location.


[A Metro technician tags a tree for use in THE WlZARD OF OZ. Munchkin Jerry Maren – of The Lollipop Guild – later would recall that he never saw as many “greensmen” on any other film as he saw while working on OZ. “Greensmen” were in charge of the plants, shrubs, bushes, vines, etc., on a film set.]


lt’s also possible to trace to the present day a number of specific OZ prop items. The carriage pulled by The Horse of a Different Color is proudly shown at The Judy Garland Children’s Museum in her hometown, Grand Rapids, Minnesota. (That vehicle tracks its history back to Abraham Lincoln and bears an autograph of that United States President.) The oversize Witch Remover spray gun was auctioned last year; Winkie spears and an occasional cloak have turned up for sale, as well. A pitchfork (said to be) carried by Ray Bolger in the Kansas sequence of the movie can be seen at the Museum of World Treasures in Wichita -- and many thanks to Bob Potemski of The OZ Museum for this information; we’re still questioning it! A glass orb represented as the crystal belonging to The Wicked Witch of the West was sold several years back, as was the frame for one of her hourglasses; the latter is among the one hundred thousand items in the celebrated Willard Carroll/Tom Wilhite Oz collection. One of the quilts from Dorothy’s bed is also held by a private collector. Finally, OZ trading cards that claim to provide slivers of the film’s Yellow Brick Road or surviving straw from The Scarecrow’s costume have been commercially marketed across the last decade…and I’ll let that statement pass sans editorial comment!


[Above: Decades after the fact, Dorothy’s quilt was presented as a secret gift to a young actor and OZ fan, working on the M-G-M soundstages in his own TV series. Shown here with Judy Garland, “back in the day”: Frank Morgan as Professor Marvel, Charley Grapewin as Uncle Henry, Bert Lahr as Zeke (all standing]. Also Ray Bolger as Hunk, Jack Haley as Hickory, and Clara Blandick as Aunt Em.]]


Anyway, that’s a taste, a trace, and a touch of the back-story of OZ props and settings. It’s a vast and far-reaching topic…and it’s another element of the ongoing power and timelessness of L. Frank Baum’s story and characters that such far-and-wide dissemination of the material has only increased – rather than diminished or diluted -- its value and magic!


What better way to swing into 2016 than by asking AND answering the always-rhetorical question:


“To Oz?”

“To OZ!”


Article by John Fricke


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