[Above: Once the Wicked Witch of the West was melted, all her Winkie Guards turned out to be jolly good fellows – as described in L. Frank Baum’s original text for THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, as well as seen in their extended friendship (and broomstick!) to Dorothy/Judy Garland in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer WIZARD OF OZ film. Two years ago, a recreated Winkie took one of many places-of-pride in the OZ Museum in Wamego, KS . . . but what he’s holding up is far from a recreation!]
The Winkies are never mentioned by name in MGM’s film version of THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), but this was merely the result of oversight. The descriptive “cutting continuity” of the movie’s first rough assemblage (annotated by editor Blanche Swell) actually refers to them as such several times. Unfortunately, the nomenclature ascribed to citizens of the western-most country in the Land of Oz just never made it into film dialogue -- or wasn’t included in the final edit.
L. Frank Baum, however, correctly identified them in his first Oz history, THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ (1900). Thus, all Oz book fans are well-acquainted with these peaceful, friendly people – even though the Winkies in the Oz novel and movie also prove threatening and evil while under the control of the Wicked Witch of the West. Especially in the motion picture, they provide terror for Dorothy, her friends, and film audiences with their green visages, towering figures, furry helmets . . . and, of course, their frighteningly long and sharp spears. To create such a reign of terror (second only to that of the WWW herself and the Winged Monkeys) is quite an achievement, as the Winkies’ onscreen time is limited to a march in front of the Witch’s Castle (“O-Ee-Yah! Eoh-Ah!”), the capture scene in her foyer, the chase through the hallways and on the battlements, and their presence before, during, and after the melting of the Witch.
[Above: Footage in the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West was among the first film to be taken for THE WIZARD OF OZ in October 1938. At that point, the Tin Woodman was being played by the laid-back, charming Buddy Ebsen, and he, Bert Lahr, and Ray Bolger are shown here in their Winkie cloak-and-headdress disguises in their attempt to rescue Dorothy. After two weeks of inhaling the aluminum dust then-intrinsic to his make-up, Ebsen fell seriously ill and had to be replaced in the movie by Jack Haley; all of the early Ebsen footage was subsequently junked. You’ll note, though, that even early on, their spears were an integral part of the Winkie outfitting.]
Brilliant MGM costumier Gilbert Adrian was responsible for designing all the OZ garb, including that for the Winkies. Inspired by W. W. Denslow’s artwork for Baum’s book, Adrian made certain that the Guards carried spears as shown in Denslow’s pictures, although those in the film were far more ornate and “deco.” According to OZ Museum curator, Chris Glasgow, the MGM spears were comprised of a ninety-seven-and-one-half-inch red wooden shaft, topped by a thirty-inch spearhead of cast metal. Approximately twenty men, all over six-feet-tall, were cast as movie Winkies; their combined cloaks, armor, and helmets totaled fifty pounds of wardrobe for each of them. This was – in plain language – murderous for the actors, in that the lights required to film in Technicolor in 1938-1939 had to be increasingly bright and thus increasingly hot. One can only imagine the additional discomfort felt by Scarecrow Ray Bolger, Tin Man Jack Haley, and Cowardly Lion Bert Lahr: They had to wear the Winkie coats and etc. on TOP of their own costumes for the sequences outside and inside the Witch’s Castle (as seen here):
As fans (and especially collectors) know, MGM’s enormous auction and sale of its props and apparel in 1970 meant that countless items from THE WIZARD OF OZ left reasonably safe storage in Culver City, CA, and went off, out into the world. They were occasionally cherished but oft-times and instead played with until they fell apart; no one knows how many Winkie costumes and spears survived their purchase or disbursal at that time – or across its aftermath ever since. (Purportedly, a number of the spears were lost in a suspicious late-1970s fire at The Land of Oz Park in Banner Elk, NC.) In more recent years, however, several Winkie weapons have turned up to fetch increasingly astounding prices at public auction.
And THAT brings us, this month, to another of the Treasures from the OZ Museum! 😊
[Above: The life-sized statue of a Winkie Guard that graces the OZ Museum in Wamego, KS, is an astounding recreation: face, body, and costume. With it here is a test film frame of veteran actor Mitchell Lewis, standing as commander at the lead of the movie Winkies. (For those seeking him in the actual motion picture, Lewis is the guy who declaims, “She’s dead. You’ve killed her!”) Note the fact that he and all these gentlemen possess lookalike coloring and proboscises -- to match their Evil Mistress. Lewis himself was a much-respected, much-employed Hollywood thespian who appeared in more than 170 films between 1914-1956. Off-screen, he was active in diverse care and welfare issues of behalf of his coworkers, as evidenced by his participation as one of the original board members of the Motion Picture Relief Fund (still in existence today as the Motion Picture & Television Fund). Judy Garland fans may also happily “discover” Mitchell Lewis as one of the bartenders in the rambunctious Alhambra saloon -- “Lady, your meat’s in there!” – in the classic musical film, THE HARVEY GIRLS (1945).]
The OZ Museum in Wamego, KS, added an original MGM Winkie spear to their holdings approximately three years ago. It was purchased from Profiles in History in Calabasas, CA, at their Hollywood Auction 96 (December 11-14, 2018); the Museum then decided to display it with a recreation of its “warrior.” This meant that a new case – nearly eleven feet tall – was commissioned to be built and installed, so that Wamego visitors (in the words of Chris Glasgow) “could have a full 360° view of Adrian’s marvelous” spear craftsmanship. The spear and Winkie were unveiled at Wamego’s October 2019 OZtoberFest!
As a reminder of the seemingly ceaseless (and, indeed, ever-increasing) collector demand for Oz memorabilia, it should be noted here that the purchase price for the spear topped $70,000.00. OZ Museum and Columbian Theatre Executive Director Clint Stueve today clearly offers that such an acquisition was made possible by those with pride and faith in the venue; with knowledge of the spear’s historical and popular culture importance; and with comprehension of its worth to the Wamego community and area: “We are extremely fortunate to have strong supporters, a visionary board of directors, and others who believe in such an investment on behalf of the Museum and town. The fact that the OZ Museum draws an average annual attendance of forty-thousand people substantiates their confidence – and we conclusively and once again validated the expectations of our supporters in that the OZtoberFest! earlier this month attracted our largest crowd since 2010!” (The investment seems additionally sound when one remembers that the $15,000.00 paid by a private collector at the 1970 MGM auction for a pair of ruby slippers was the highest dollar amount put forward at that time. Yet less than a decade ago, the latest purchase price for another pair of those shoes -- also worn in THE WIZARD OF OZ movie -- was two million dollars.)
[Above: The spears of the Winkie Guards in THE WIZARD OF OZ movie were more than just props; they were – for lack of a better word – “illusionists” as well! The next time you view the scene in which Margaret Hamilton melts away, notice the fact that all of the Guards carefully position and then lower their spears to add to the “diminutization” and slow disappearance of their despised mistress!)
In any event, fans everywhere can continue to take heart in the fact that – among its “Treasures” – the OZ Museum maintains a legit Winkie WIZARD OF OZ spear. Beyond that, and just three weeks ago, enthusiasts also enjoyed the unveiling of the Prince Denis sergeant-at-arms Munchkin coat from the MGM film, along with one of the keys displayed so tellingly in Disney’s 1985 RETURN TO OZ by Dorothy/Fairuza Balk. These latter two items were discussed and then presented to a rapturous public for the first time at the 2021 OZtoberFest.
All of this – plus the tens of thousands of other items amongst the Museum’s holdings – is indication that Oz is like love, and (to commandeer Ira Gershwin’s lyric) such “love is here to stay.” Just imagine what next year’s OZtoberFest might reveal to its partisans and attendees!
[Above: Adrian’s classic screen wardrobe for Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and other MGM celestials of the 1930s, beautifully carried over to his ornate Oz designs -- as amply demonstrated here in the elaborate spearhead of Wamego’s much-valued and admired movie prop.]
My thanks to Clint and Chris – as referenced above – and to Emma Hays and Katlyn Stubbeman for their energy and cooperation in assembling this month’s blog. Further gratitude goes to all of the OZtoberFest! volunteers and participants, to the Wamego Chamber of Commerce, and to all Oz and pop culture fans everywhere who continue to embrace and carry forward the magic of Frank Baum’s characters and countries.
Here’s to next year’s celebration -- to meeting many new Ozzy friends along the way – and to seeing each other THERE. 😊
Thanks for reading!
Article by John Fricke