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What color was Dorothy’s dress?
In honor of the 75th anniversary of the release of The Wizard of Oz, we offer three thoughts about a movie whose plot was once humorously summarized as: “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.”
1. Predicting technological trends is not for the weak at heart – and that’s before one tries to protect the IP and find a way to profit from it. The road to failure is paved with innovations that couldn’t quite achieve a sustainable business model. The evolution of color film is an excellent example.
The Wizard of Oz is often erroneously thought to be the first color film. Not so. The first true color still image was produced in 1861 (based on the same RGB principle in use today), and the first instance of color recorded in film was in 1910. Technicolor was invented in 1917 but it wasn’t until the introduction of their three-color camera in 1934 that the first viable full-color system came to the movies.
Instead of using a single piece of film, the three-color camera used bulky optics to split the image so that it could be recorded simultaneously on three strips of film. This meant that Technicolor had to be shot with a special camera that weighed several hundred pounds. It also required much more light than black and white cameras.
The lights on the set of Oz were so bright that Dorothy’s blue and pink (!) dress appears blue and white.
2. Success often depends on external dependencies within the business ecosystem. Despite good reviews and 6 Academy Award nominations, the film took roughly a decade to turn a profit due to the astronomical budget ($2.7million) and the low ticket price ($0.25). It was re-released in 1949 & 1955, but it was a new technology – broadcast television – that took a marginally profitable film and turned it into an institution and source of countless pop culture references. The initial broadcast in 1956 drew 45 million viewers.
3. The Dark Side of the Rainbow (Aka The Dark Side of Oz or The Wizard of Floyd) might be the most entertaining example of
chemically-enhanced BS confirmation bias we’ve come across.
At some point in the ’90s, word went around that Pink Floyd’s 1973 album “Dark Side of the Moon” synced up with the movie in eerie ways, producing moments where the film and the album appear to correspond with each other. E.g.,
- “The Great Gig in the Sky” meshes well with the tornado.
- The scarecrow dances during the track “Brain Damage.”
- The heartbeat at the album’s close coincides with Dorothy listening to the Tin Man’s torso.
- The old Side 1 of the album ends just as the sepia-colored portion of the movie does. Some also believe the iconic dispersive prism of the album’s cover purportedly reflects the movie’s transition from black-and-white Kansas to Technicolor Oz.
~ ~ ~
N.B. – Our research for this piece turned up a few additional charming bits of film history:
- Although it lost the Best Picture Oscar to Gone With the Wind, it won for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (Over the Rainbow). The studio had come within an eyelash of cutting that song from the movie because the scene “dragged.”
- The 1939 film was the 4th time L. Frank Baum’s story was adapted to the screen:
- The first was a 13-minute silent version entitled The Wonderful Wizard of Oz released in 1910.
- In 1925, a young Andy Hardy – later of the Laurel & Hardy comedy duo – played the Tin Woodsman in another silent version.
- A nine-minute animated version was released in 1933. Though produced in color, the short was released in black-and-white because the production did not have the proper license from Technicolor.
- Casting notes:
- 20th Century Fox had wanted Shirley Temple to play Dorothy, but her singing chops posed a problem. Fox ended up losing the film rights to rival MGM and a young contract player at the studio named Judy Garland got the role.
- Actor Buddy Ebsen was initially cast as the Tin Woodsman and completed some scenes, but had to bow out due to an allergic reaction to the silver makeup.
- Margaret Hamilton, who portrayed the (old) Wicked Witch of the West, was only 36 at the time.
- Burt Lahr’s Cowardly Lion costume was knitted from actual lion fur and weighed nearly 100 pounds.
- Dorothy’s dog Toto was paid $125 per week while the actors playing the residents of Munchkinland only received a reported $50 a week.
- The movie had two directors: Victor Fleming handling the Technicolor scenes set in Oz, and King Vidor overseeing the bookend black-and-white sequences set in Kansas.