[Above: Fans of the famous film of THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) can pretty much sing-by-heart its entire six-minute “Munchkinland” sequence. Originally, however, there was a completely different routine composed and written for that segment of the film; you can read about it below.]
Today’s blog launches Year Seven of this series, and I hope the preceding 120 entries have reflected the all-encompassing and ever-expanding love I’ve felt for (almost!) Everything Oz since I was five. Anyway, that’s been the goal across these seventy-two months of writing: historical facts and/or personal thoughts about the diversity of Ozian topics, projects, and products -- from 1900 to the present. In case you haven’t noticed, however, there’s also been a recurring theme that I’m happy to acknowledge: Every fourth or fifth blog (on average) has focused on some aspect of the development, production, presentation, reception, or legend of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 film of THE WIZARD OF OZ.
This is both just and “common-sensible.” MGM’s motion picture has been -- via theater, television, and home video – the primary introduction to L. Frank Baum’s characters and concepts for the majority of the world for the last sixty or more years. As a result, it’s no exaggeration to state that the images of Oz that resonate most strongly with the general public are those of Judy Garland & Company. In turn, more people are liable to be attracted by (and interested in) the back story of what Metro wrought, more than eight decades ago, than by any other individual Oz subject matter.
So . . . after all the past MGM OZ-related histories -- whether in book, documentary, lecture (or blog!) format -- what is there that might be fun (and hopefully somewhat “new”) to discuss? Of course, many people already know about the musical moments that were prerecorded and filmed for THE WIZARD OF OZ and then dropped from the movie before it premiered: Ray Bolger’s extended and special-effects Scarecrow dance to “If I Only Had a Brain”; the production number just prior to the arrival of the Winged Monkeys, when Dorothy and her friends were stung by “The Jitterbug” and sent into madcap singing and staging (the latter also incorporating the trees of The Haunted Forest); Dorothy’s heartbreaking reprise of “Over the Rainbow” while imprisoned in The Witch’s Castle; the triumphant mini-medley of “Ding-Dong! the Witch is Dead”/The Merry Old Land of Oz”/”We’re Off to See the Wizard” that commenced with the presentation of the broomstick to Dorothy by the Winkie Guards in the Witch’s battlement tower and then quickly segued to a triumphant parade through the streets of Emerald City (wherein three hundred green-clad Emerald Citizian extras escorted the Famous Five to the palace for their second audience with the Wizard); and brief portions of the Tin Man’s “If I Only Had a Heart” dance and the Cowardly Lion’s “If I Were King of the Forest” aria.
But if many Oz fans already know about all of that . . . what about the four songs that didn't get heard -- or maybe even written at all?!
[Above: The Wonderful Wizard himself – ultimately played by Frank Morgan – got to sing forty-two bars of “The Merry Old Land of Oz” when disguised as an Emerald City cabbie. But early on in the song-writing process, he was also scheduled for a much more impressive musical soliloquy.]
1) Harold Arlen wrote the melodies and E. Y. “Yip” Harburg wrote the lyrics for THE WIZARD OF OZ musical numbers, and when MGM signed them for the film in May 1938, the script was still and most definitely a work-in-progress. As a result, Harold and Yip – and producer Mervyn LeRoy, his associate Arthur Freed, and their primary musical adjunct Roger Edens – had numerous potential “song spots” under consideration. One major solo was penciled in for the Wizard himself, in which (though revealed as a humbug) he would grant the requests of Dorothy’s companions. At that point, the role of the Wizard was still up for grabs; between January and September 1938, those under consideration (or at least rumored) for the part were W. C. Fields, Ed Wynn, Robert Benchley, Hugh Herbert, Charles Winninger, Wallace Beery, Victor Moore, and Frank Morgan. All of these men had some degree of musical comedy experience, but none was really a vocalist, and by the time Frank Morgan was announced for the part on September 22, the “Wizard’s Song” had been dropped from the shooting script. Fortunately, the “presentation scene” benefitted instead from magnificent dialogue, supposedly penned (at least in part) by lyricist Harburg himself, in lieu of the musical treatment.
2) It’s an amazing indication of their inspiration and creativity to note that Arlen and Harburg pretty much completed their entire OZ assignment between May and August 1938. This enabled Freed to begin to slot late summer rehearsals of the material for the principal cast; by September 22nd, he’d also compiled a tentative list of numbers to be prerecorded for the film between September 30th and October 20th by Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Buddy Ebsen (then playing the Tin Man), and a vocal chorus. The songs and musical moments on Freed’s roster would ultimately become familiar to the world, yet there was one title thereon that would never be heard.
[Above: The Dorothy/Scarecrow/Tin Woodman “chant” offered in The Lion’s Forest in THE WIZARD OF OZ – by Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, and Jack Haley – is now familiar to all. But what repeated rhythmic phrase was intended to lead up to it?]
Everyone remembers the moment in the film when Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and Tin Man repeatedly (and ever-more hurriedly) chant, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” as they push deep into The Lion’s Forest. According to the final shooting script, it was intended that the trio would first enter that set singing “We’re Off to See the Wizard” – a transition from the rendition being delivered as they left the Tin Man’s cottage and orchard. The script describes the scene in this manner: “[T]hey walk along, keeping in step to their song. Suddenly, sinister, invisible voices – about fifteen or twenty – begin whispering in rhythm, ‘Watch out for the Witch of the West! Watch out for the Witch of the West!’ The gay Marching Song wavers – the voices of Dorothy, Scarecrow, and Tin Man die away -- while the invisible voices grow louder in their warning, ‘Watch out for the Witch of the West! Watch out for the Witch of the West!’” The mysterious off-screen musical chant then led directly into Dorothy’s on-screen line, “I don’t like this forest – it’s creepy and dark.” (Garland would reverse the adjectives when delivering the statement on camera). The elimination of the introductory chant must have been a last-minute decision; its title is prominent on Freed’s musical memo of September 22nd, but it doesn’t turn up on any of the final MGM Music Department paperwork for the prerecordings made for the movie across the next months – or among the recordings themselves.
[Above: A much-feted and fondly-remembered steed is almost completely out of camera-range here. Perhaps he’d have been more centrally imaged but for one of the OZ songs that got away.]
3) “The Merry Old Land of Oz” number was referenced above – inaugurated by Frank Morgan as the Emerald City cabbie and then eventually taken up by other townspeople and the employees of The Wash & Brush-Up Company. As late as June 29, 1938, however, there was no such song for that sequence; Arlen & Harburg were mulling instead more specific – yet equally appropriate – words and music, to go by the title, “The Horse of a Different Color.” (Had it not been abandoned, “his” refrain might be even more famous to some today than the “Mister Ed” TV theme.)
4) One of the major story-lines dropped from MGM’S THE WIZARD OF OZ concerned the Wicked Witch of the West, her plan to conquer the Emerald City, and her determination to put her dimwitted son, Bulbo, on the throne. She would have been aided in this pursuit by her look-alike Winkie Guards, and in the process, they would yowl their own highly declarative musical march: “Death to the Wizard of Oz.” Given such a title, there’s no need to think that OZ or film fans were deprived of a possible gem; at any rate, script rewrites ultimately eliminated the subplot, the son, and the song. It’s also difficult to imagine that such a macabre musical moment would have been anywhere near as memorable as the more succinct nonsense chant that the Winkies DO get to offer in the finished film: “O-Ee-Yah! Eoh-Ah!” (By the way, those five syllables are precisely all there is to the Winkie “mantra”; that’s how it’s spelled out on the conductor’s score for the film. This is referenced here as, to this day, the Guards’ phrase is alternately misinterpreted by some Oz aficionados as, “Oh, we owe the Old One,” “All we are, we owe her,” or as a blatant paean to -- and advertising plug for – “O-re-o” cookies!)
[Above: They weren’t hired for their singing talent – but they almost got a song, too.]
There were at least two other song sequences crafted for THE WIZARD OF OZ that fell by the wayside, primarily because they weren’t written by Arlen and Harburg. In the months before that duo was signed, MGM musical genius Roger Edens crafted not only a ballad for Judy Garland as Dorothy but also conceptualized and completely musicalized (melody and lyrics) a multi-part production number in which scores of Munchkins would greet the Kansas girl on her arrival and welcome her to Oz.
Edens’s entire idea was much in keeping with Arthur Freed’s determination that THE WIZARD OF OZ be an integrated musical, with its numbers either advancing the story-line or defining the characters. There’s no space here to reproduce all of Roger’s lyrics (which cover most of six single-spaced typewritten pages), but this is his summary outline of the intended “Munchkins” sequence:
Arlen and Harburg ran with that idea once they got situated at Metro and, in turn, came up with their own extended Munchkinland mini-musical. Despite Harburg’s later insistence that the concept for the routine was his own, however, Edens had (obviously) gotten there first!
And Roger’s other cast-off number?
Letter [I] above references Dorothy’s “Kansas” song. This was drafted by Edens as a tribute to her home state and titled “Mid Pleasures and Palaces” – a phrase drawn from the lyric to “Home, Sweet Home” (music by Sir Henry Bishop, words by John Howard Payne), which debuted in Payne’s opera, CLARI, OR THE MAID OF MILAN in 1823. The song had long since risen out of its forgotten source to become a cherished and standard American popular tune, so Roger’s suggested title would have certainly rung true with the general public in 1939. Meanwhile, he already written and arranged film, recording, and radio songs for Judy, and he knew how to craft material to showcase her astounding sound and vulnerability.
It was determined, though, that a song about Kansas was perhaps too specific and (no pun intended) grounded a topic to best showcase Dorothy and to express her combined emotional longings and eventual journey. By April 25, 1938, Arthur Freed was aggressively campaigning for Judy to have “a musical sequence on the farm,” and when Arlen and Harburg came on board a couple of weeks later, they – in good time and with the cheer-leading of Freed and Edens -- devised the all-time character-defining and classic “I want” song of film and stage musical history. It was called “Over the Rainbow”; Judy Garland prerecorded it at MGM on October 7, 1938, and began filming the role of Dorothy six days later.
Well . . . not quite.
When she started filming, she looked like THIS:
Fortunately, not only songs were “lost” along the road to THE WIZARD OF OZ; the blonde-ringleted, baby-doll-visaged “Lolita Gale of Kansas” look went along with them! The end result: Pretty much the whole world has long since come to embrace, treasure, and carry in their hearts the OZ music and lyrics that endured. They have, as well, an indelible mind-image of how the “real” Judy/Dorothy looked like when she filmed “Over the Rainbow” in late February or early March 1939. 😊
Article by John Fricke