5 Incredibly Depressing Realities You Never Knew About 'The Wizard of Oz'

RealClear Staff


Oz wasn't such a happy place after all.

What goes into the making of one of the most celebrated movies of all time? Authoritarian dictators, second-degree burns, and a surprising amount of asbestos.

1. Judy Garland's diet was literally insane.

Hollywood stars do a lot of different, sometimes bizarre things to stay skinny. Zac Efron hasn't touched a carb in years, Taylor Swift has been hitting the gym like crazy to fit in with her model friends, and Kate Upton "eats for her blood type," whatever that means. That being said, nothing says "certifiably crazy" quite like the diet that Judy Garland, who played Dorothy, was put on while filming The Wizard of Oz.

How do you achieve the "girl next door" image that allowed Garland to rise to fame? Eat nothing but chicken soup, black coffee, and smoke 80 cigarettes a day. Louis Mayer, the head of MGM studios who forced this diet upon her, would go so far as to periodically send spies to check that Garland was adhering to her "special diet". If she was found cheating, she would be immediately sent to a doctor to receive diet pills.

2. The dog playing Toto earned more money than any of the actors who played the Munchkins.

Dorothy's best friend, Toto the dog, was played by an all-star Cairn Terrier named "Terry". She (yes, Terry was a female dog playing a male dog) had quite the set of acting chops, and would end up appearing in 15 films, in addition to The Wizard of Oz, before her death in 1945. 

Though she was clearly a talented dog, her weekly salary for starring in The Wizard was quite high for a pup! Terry was earning $125/week, which may seem low at first, until you realize that Judy Garland was only bringing in $350. The actors and actresses who played the Munchkins had an even worse deal - they were making about $50/week. Rumor has it that the studio was so desperate to have Terry play Toto that they would have gone as high as paying her $500/week, which is the equivalent of $8,500/week today!

3. The Scarecrow was packing heat throughout the entire movie.

The Wizard of Oz is about rainbows and acceptance and bright colors! And it's for kids! So why exactly does the Scarecrow randomly whip out a pistol right before they're about to confront the Wicked Witch?

Well...it's not entirely clear. A deleted scene shows that he is going to use it to protect himself from an insect-like creature called the "Jitter Bug," but it's never explained just why exactly a bumbling fool like the Scarecrow has a gun in the first place. Nor is it explained why he didn't shoot the flying monkeys. And just why are firearms in Dorothy's "dream" anyway? Also, if there's one thing that history should have taught us by now, it's to never give a gun to someone who doesn't have a brain. 

4. The fake snow used for the movie was actually asbestos.

Fake snow technology hadn't come very far in 1939. Prior to The Wizard of Oz, it was actually fairly standard to use cotton, but that was quickly found to be quite the disastrous fire hazard. The next best, safest thing, you ask? Well, asbestos of course! 

That's right - the snow that rains down on Dorothy and friends in the field of poppies is really just straight up asbestos! Mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer that attacks the lungs and chest, wouldn't be associated with prolonged exposure to white chrysotile, better known as asbestos, until the mid-40's. Miraculously, nobody who worked on the film  is known to have developed this type of cancer.

5. Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, suffered second and third degree burns while filming.

It goes without saying that Hollywood didn't have access to CGI in 1939, so all of the special effects had to be relatively, well, authentic. Making fake snow is easy - you just throw some asbestos on the nation's most beloved 17-year-old. Fake fire? Not so easy.

Naturally, the producers decided to just use real fire when filming the Wicked Witch of the West's escape from Munchkinland after she meets Dorothy for the first time. A trap door failed to activate on time while filming the scene, and Hamilton suffered third-degree burns on her face and second-degree burns on her hand as a result. She ended up spending six weeks at the hospital, and agreed not to sue MGM so long as she never had to work with fire for the rest of her career.



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