With its 75th anniversary on Saturday, The Wizard of Oz is still many people’s favorite film of all time and the beloved classic tops the AFI’s fantasy movie list.
Multiple generations grew up watching Dorothy skip down the Yellow Brick Road in her ruby red slippers, singing along with the Tin Man to “If I Only Had a Brain,” and having nightmares about evil flying monkeys and wicked witches.
But did you know that following its premiere on August 16, 1939, the film that molded our childhoods was initially a massive dud for MGM and barely recouped the $2.8 million budget?
Check out Popdust’s secrets behind the Wonderful Wizard of Oz’s curtain.
Toto was paid more than the Munchkins.
We’d argue that Toto was the real star of the film, with that cute little face and great acting chops, but it’s still outrageous that a dog got a better salary than human actors. The female brindle Cairn Terrier (whose real name was Terry) was paid $125 a week, while The Singer Midgets who played the Munchkins got a measly $50-100 per week.
Despite getting her paw broken during filming when a Winkie guard stood on it — possibly in an act of revenge over their own poor salaries? — and having to get a stand in, Terry became a canine celebrity and appeared in 13 different films. Her owner even officially changed her name to Toto and there is a permanent memorial for the pooch in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow Was Almost Cut Completely
Even if you hate musicals, we defy anyone not to sing along to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” when Judy Garland belts it out. However, the song almost didn’t make the cut, according to the Huffington Post, as director Victor Fleming thought it should be trashed “because it’s too long and it’s too difficult.” Even the critics initially thought it dragged on too much — but Academy voters disagreed and “Rainbow” won the Oscar for best song.
The Tin Man Cried Chocolate Syrup — Not Oil
If PopDust had been on set, we would have been licking the Tin Man all over his face with the chocolate syrup that was gushing out of his eyes. The dark liquid was meant to be machine oil but it didn’t photograph well, so the filmmakers doused actor John Haley with sweet chocolate tears instead.
The Cowardly Lion’s Costume Was Made From … Real Lion Fur!
PETA would not be happy with the creators of the Wizard of Oz if they knew what was happening in the wardrobe department. If you ever wondered how the Cowardly Lion’s suit looked so convincing, it’s because it was made from real lion pelts. Weighing in at 60 pounds and with a heavy tail dragging behind, actor Bert Lahr melted under the hot lights of the studio while filming and had to drink his lunch through a straw because he couldn’t take his mask off. Oh, the glamorous world of show business!
The Ageless Good Witch
With her flowing red hair and angelic smile, Glinda the Good Witch of the North captured the hearts of many young boys who fell under her spell, but we’re sure they never guessed that she was old enough to be their mom, or even grandmother! Beautiful Billie Burke was 54 when she waved her magic wand in the film, 18 years old than her nemesis, the Wicked Witch of the West, played by Margaret Hamilton.
Tin Man Poisoning
Actor Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Scarecrow but then swapped roles to play the Tin Man — bad move. Within days of filming, he began to experience cramps and shortness of breath, which landed him in hospital with aluminum poisoning from the dust used in the character’s makeup. Ebsen was forced to give up the part, which then went to Jack Haley, who was granted a safer form of aluminum paste. Hamilton also got sick when she swallowed some of the Wicked Witch's makeup, causing her face to stay green for weeks. Meanwhile the horses at the Emerald City loved their jelly flavor body paint so much that they tried to lick it off!
Drunken Dwarf Orgies at the Culver Hotel
They may have been small in stature, but the Munchkins could party like rock stars! The little people have sparked legends of drunken dwarf love-ins at the now-historic Culver Hotel in Los Angeles, where producer Mervyn LeRoy said, “They had orgies in the hotel and we had to have police on about every floor,” adding, “to make a picture like The Wizard of Oz, everybody had to be a little drunk with imagination,” … or tequila. 124 Munchkins stayed at the Culver Hotel near the MGM studios lot, and the staff there still tell tales of their antics, along with the legends of secret passageways and illegal poker games.