The Wizard of Oz is one of the 30 or so movies that just missed the last cut when I made my 50 Favorite Movies list some time ago on Facebook. It is one of those movies I can watch over and over, which makes sense considering how I was introduced to it. Like many baby boomers, I first saw The Wizard of Oz on television.
Lest you think I am letting childhood memories take over from actual fact, I’ll note that there is an entire, fairly lengthy Wikipedia page titled The Wizard of Oz on television. Briefly, the movie was first shown on CBS in 1956. But beginning in 1959, The Wizard of Oz was shown on commercial network television, usually as a special (often with a guest host). Even now, it turns up often on television, on cable networks. The details are interesting, if you’d like to check out that Wikipedia link.
The key for me is that it was shown every year, not as part of a movie package, but as its own special telecast. Thus, it was “Event TV”, something we looked forward to every year. I was 6 years old in 1959 … I don’t know if I watched it that year, but I do know I watched it many times.
One thing we missed in those days was the transition from Kansas/B&W to Oz/Color. We had a black-and-white television, after all. We were not the first of our friends to get a color TV, and … here, memory may be playing tricks … I believe the first time The Wizard of Oz was telecast when one of our friends had a color TV, we watched it at their house. In those days, the Kansas scenes were shown in black-and-white, although in the original they are sepia.
Like Dorothy, I have a particular fondness for The Scarecrow, since I played that character in one of my first acting jobs, when I was in 7th grade.
There isn’t much to say about The Wizard of Oz at this point. I can recall watching it once during my hippie days and thinking it was quite cosmic and psychedelic. Other than that, and my memories of watching as a child, nothing stands out. This time through, I noticed more than ever the vaudeville aspects of the movie. Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion has always been an obvious vaudeville turn, but many of the cast members had a background in vaudeville. Judy Garland herself had been on the stage since before she turned three. Ray Bolger and Jack Haley also worked in vaudeville … maybe that’s what gives the movie such a vaudevillian feel, the four friends who dominate the story all came from there. Not everyone had a vaudeville background … Margaret Hamilton and Frank Morgan most notably were actors from the start. But Billie Burke, who was in her mid-50s when she took on the role of Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, had a father who worked as a singer and clown for Barnum & Bailey, and she was married for many years to Flo Ziegfeld, who didn’t exactly put on vaudeville shows but whose “Follies” were singular.
But I’m just looking for trivia. Nothing I say here is likely to convey the pleasure The Wizard of Oz still brings. Perhaps one sign of how the movie has long been a part of American culture can be found on the “Memorable Quotes” page for the film on the IMDB. There are 105 entries, and in most cases, I’ve either said them or heard them on a fairly regular basis in ordinary conversation. “I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!” comes to mind. 10/10.