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WIZARD OF OZ TRIVIA (article first published : 2008-09-7)

The Wizard of Oz is a much-loved musical, as is confirmed by the box office success of KickstArt’s production currently running at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until September 7.

Robert Cross, former CEO of the Natal Performing Arts Council (now the Playhouse Company) offered some delightful items of trivia pulled from research for programme notes of NAPAC’s first "Wizard of Oz".

The screenplay of the MGM version of The Wizard of Oz is by Noel Langley, born and educated in Durban in 1911. “I'm almost sure he was the son of that legendary headmaster of DHS,” indicates Robert. “He wrote the screenplay for quite a number of movies in the late thirties, forties and fifties - including such MGM spectaculars as Ivanhoe, Prisoner of Zenda and Knights of the Round Table after he had moved to Britain and settled there. He was also well known for his stage plays (including Edward My Son) and novels.

“Frank Baum, the author of the first book, agonised over finding a name for the place over the rainbow,” adds Robert. “Everything he tried ‘didn't feel right’. Then he chanced to look at the two New York telephone books on his desk: Volume 1 is A - N; Volume 2 is O-Z … and voila! And so the land of Oz was created!”

“Did you know that poor Margaret Hamilton (Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch etc.) was very nearly killed by the explosion with which she is supposed to disappear and melt?” is Robert’s next offering. “She was so badly burned that she was hospitalized for a month and, when she came out, she refused to do the scene again - so the "agony, screams, etc". are all for real! When she did come back from hospital, she refused to do any more stunts - and so her stand-in, Betty Danko, did the broomstick ride for her. There was another explosion and Betty was burnt, hospitalised and her legs scarred for life.”

On the day that Judy Garland died - June 23, 1969 - Kansas had a mega-twister - its first in years. For those unfamiliar with The Wizard of Oz it is a “twister” (tornado) that is the cause of Dorothy’s voyage to the land of the Munchins and from there on, into Oz.

The only featured artist (i.e. one getting a proper, on-screen credit) who earned less than Judy Garland who was on a mere $500 a week, was Terry - the Yorkie who played Toto. She got $125 a week.

The "horse-of-another colour" joke (when the quartet finally reach Emerald City), was to be achieved by painting the same horse different colours. When the American SPCA heard of this, they made such a stink that they eventually covered the horses in a coloured gelatine paste - but the horses loved the goo and kept licking it off, causing delays as they had to be "re-smeared".

“And, finally....,” says Robert Cross in his parting shot, “ when you next watch the movie, check on the length of Dorothy's hair: it ranges from resting on her shoulders to reaching to her waist - and various permutations in between!”




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