When you fall in love with a movie, like the world did with 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, there’s a tendency to lock the film and its performers in a little bubble inside your heart and imagination. Yes, logically you know the cast including Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton, and all the rest had private lives and careers that preceded and went on long after the film. But there’s also a part of us that thinks of them in their respective roles of Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and the Wicked Witch of the West. Given that the film will be turning 80 next year and our collective love for it is still so strong (just check out the iconic quotes from The Wizard of Oz) speaks volumes of its power.
Besides looking at how each of the main cast members were selected to play their most famous roles, we decided to dig a little deeper to see what went on with them after they had gotten off the Yellow Brick Road. Judy Garland, for instance, for all of her success, sadly did not have a happy life, being married numerous times, fighting back against depression and body issues instilled in her by the people she worked with in her youth, and struggling with addiction issues. Frank Morgan, who played the Wizard, had an incredibly fruitful career, starring in just over 100 films in his lifetime. And then there were the others, who experienced varying degrees of success, one of them actually dropping out of the business to look for greener pastures.
But whatever course their lives took, the child in all of us remains eternally grateful to each and every one of them. Obviously, they couldn’t have known it at the time, but in that journey down the Yellow Brick Road bringing The Wizard of Oz to life in just the way they did, they achieved a bit of immortality for themselves and gave us the perfect means of traveling somewhere over the rainbow again and again.
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Judy Garland, forever our Dorothy.
It is impossible to imagine The Wizard of Oz with anyone but Judy in the role of our heroine Dorothy Gale. In the beginning, though, MGM had been negotiating with 20th Century Fox to "loan" (this was the time of studio contracts) them young Shirley Temple to play the role, but that didn't happen. And a good thing it didn't — Shirley would have absolutely been too young (at only 10 years old) to pull it off effectively and would have changed the tenor of the entire film. Plus, as cute as she was, there's no way she would have nailed "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".
Well documented is the fact that Judy, who was born June 22, 1922, would spend much of her life worrying about her self-image, not helped by the fact that the studio kept trying to change her looks to fit their needs rather than accept her for who she was. This included dressing her in juvenile clothing to project a "girl next door" quality, while also using rubberized discs to reshape her nose and removable caps on her teeth. On top of that, was her addiction to alcohol and amphetamines, the latter actually prescribed by the studio to help their stars be able to keep up with the insane pace of filmmaking they insisted on. All of this, of course, was behind the scenes. In 1939, she appeared on camera in The Wizard of Oz (actually her eighth film), and America really fell in love with her.
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Judy's complex life after Oz.
Did you realize that between 1940 and 1963 Judy Garland made 28 movies? All of them were after she had done The Wizard of Oz. Very quickly, she did what a lot of young performers had been unable to do: she made the transition from kid to adult performer, co-starring with Gene Kelly in 1942's For Me and My Girl, and enjoying a massive hit two years later in Meet Me in St. Louis. Then, in 1945, she played a straight dramatic role (without any singing) in The Clock which co-starred Robert Walker.
Behind the scenes, things were not going so well for her. By 1947, at which time she's already been married twice, Judy suffered a nervous breakdown, yet somehow she pulled it all together and ended up co-starring with Fred Astaire the following year in Easter Parade, which became her biggest hit for MGM. Success, however, caused the studio to push harder, which impacted Judy in such a way that her addiction for sleeping pills, morphine, and alcohol was increasing, and resulted in her being briefly suspended by the studio and being replaced by Ginger Rogers on The Barkleys of Broadway.
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Judy's struggles continued on.
Judy was supposed to star in the film version of Ethel Merman's hit Broadway show Annie Get Your Gun, playing the part of Annie Oakley, which she was unenthusiastic about — particularly trying to step into Ethel's role. Ultimately, her behavior got her fired from the film. During all of this, the geniuses of the time prescribed electroshock therapy to help her deal with depression, which all came after a suicide attempt. Then, during an extensive hospital stay, she was able to get off of the different vices she had become dependent on. Sadly, this was short-lived as she went back into that pattern of drug use during the shooting of the Gene Kelly film Summer Stock, resulting in frequent delays and the film, despite being a hit, actually losing money for the studio, resulting in her and MGM going their separate ways in 1950. Years later, it was stated that following this, she, unfortunately, made another suicide attempt.
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Despite everything, Judy managed a massive comeback.
Where Judy found strength was in the thing she did best: singing. She made eight appearances on The Big Crosby — Chesterfield Show during the 1950-51 season. From there, she went on a four-month concert tour of Britain and Ireland, selling out everywhere she went. The same thing happened when she had performances in Manhattan later that year. Filled with renewed confidence, and no longer being controlled by a studio, she starred in the 1954 remake of A Star is Born that she and then-husband Sidney Luft produced. Although at its premiere the film was met with acclaim from critics and the public, Jack Warner (the head of the studio) felt it was too long and had 30 minutes removed. In the end, the film ended up losing money, though Judy was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance.
But in the early 1960s, she starred in some truly impressive films, including Stanley Kramer's courtroom drama Judgment at Nuremberg, Gay Purr-ee, A Child is Waiting, and I Could Go On Singing, which ended up being her last film.
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The Judy Garland Show
Although she made many TV appearances as a performer, Judy had been adamant that she wouldn't star in a series of her own. She did do some self-titled specials, but finally, she did agree to a series, largely because she had massive problems with the IRS dating back to the 1950s when she had failed to pay taxes. From 1963-64, CBS aired The Judy Garland Show, which largely only went one season because it was pitted against the massive hit Bonanza, which it couldn't beat.
There was behind-the-scenes turmoil throughout production, endless tinkering with different elements, but in the end, it was about Judy, her performances (both telling stories of her life and singing) and the guest stars. Among those appearing were Judy's daughter, Liza Minnelli; frequent co-star Mickey Rooney, Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Wizard of Oz co-star Ray Bolger, and, in one particularly memorable episode, Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand.
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It all ends here.
Judy was cast in one more film, 1967's Valley of the Dolls, but when she began missing rehearsals, she was fired and replaced by Susan Hayward. In response, she went back to more concert tours, including a 27-show run at New York's Palace Theatre. In 1969, she returned to London for a five-week run at the Talk of the Town nightclub. In March of that year she married her fifth husband, Mickey Deans.
Four months later, on June 22, 1969 (while still in London), Mickey Deans found her body in their rented home. Judy was gone, a victim of a reported "accidental" overdose of barbiturates. Whether intentional or not, the pain had come to an end.
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Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow
Ray Bolger, who was born Jan. 10, 1904, actually began his career in a tap dancing act on vaudeville. He signed with MGM in 1936, and pretty quickly starred in The Great Ziegfeld, the studio's first Technicolor film, and Sweethearts; and Rosalie, the latter two of which co-starred the Wizard himself, Frank Morgan. When it came time for The Wizard of Oz, he was originally cast by the studio (remember, they called all the shots at the time) as the Tin Woodman, with Buddy Ebsen being assigned the role of the Scarecrow. Eventually their roles were swapped, but then Buddy had an allergic reaction to the Tin Man makeup and needed to leave the production. But Ray's position in movie history was locked into place.
Ray Bolger Show
Ray gets a show of his own.
During World War II, Ray toured as part of the USO. Afterward, he starred in a number of Broadway shows between 1942 and 1952, but what few may remember at this point is that he had his own sitcom from 1953-55, which was originally called Where's Raymond? and was retitled The Ray Bolger Show in its second year. In it, he played song-and-dance man Ray Wallace who is usually this close to being late for his performances.
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Ray was a Partridge... sort of.
After his sitcom ended its run, things kind of slowed for Ray. He appeared in a few films in small roles, and on stage in 1962 productions of All-American and 1969's Come Summer. Much of the rest of his career was made up of guest starring appearances. Many people remember him as Shirley Jones' father, "Grandpa Renfrew," in The Partridge Family, although Shirley apparently wasn't a fan, writing of him in her biography, "He was a bit irritable and insisted that everything had to be his way."
Other shows he appeared on was Nanny and the Professor, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Little House on the Prairie, Battlestar Galactica, and, in what was his final appearance, a 1984 episode of Diff'rent Strokes. Sadly, Ray died three years later on Jan. 15 from bladder cancer. He was 83.
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Jack Haley as the Tin Woodman
Born on Aug. 10, 1897, Jack Haley, like many of his contemporaries, got his start as a singer/dancer/comedian on vaudeville and, prior to The Wizard of Oz he appeared in 13 short films, 22 films, five shows on Broadway, and hosted The Jack Haley Show on radio from 1937-39. Then, of course, Buddy Ebsen turned out to be allergic to the spray paint used to make him the Tin Man, and Jack replaced him, adjustments in the makeup being made in the interim. In coming up with the Tin Man's voice, Jack emulated the softly spoken tones he would use to read bedtime stories to his children.
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From Hollywood to real estate.
Following The Wizard of Oz, Jack Haley did 13 more films and four additional Broadway shows, most of them musical comedies. None, unfortunately, had the same sort of impact as his portrayal of the Tin Man had. Eventually, he decided to drop out of acting and got into real estate.
Jack Haley passed away of a heart attack on June 6, 1979, at the age of 81.
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Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion
If there is anyone who steals the show in The Wizard of Oz, it's Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion. Unlike his co-stars, he was allowed to ad-lib and by all reports he slowed production down, because everyone had to wait for all the others to stop laughing at his antics. His costume was made of actual lion fur, which actually made it incredibly hot and uncomfortable throughout production. When confronted with the question of whether or not he was afraid of typecasting, Bert quipped, "Yeah, but how many parts are there for lions?"
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Life before and after "cowardice."
Bert Lahr was actually born Irving Lahrheim on Aug. 13, 1895. At the age of 15, he joined a juvenile vaudeville act although he quickly worked his way to the lead in the Columbia Burlesque Circuit. His success brought him to Broadway in 1927 in the show Delmar's Revels and prior to Oz he appeared in nine short films, six features, and seven more stage productions.
Wizard Of Oz Bert Lahr Lays
He bet you couldn't eat just one.
Bert did do some television work, appearing on broadcast productions of Let's Face It, The Fantasticks, Anything Goes, and Barnaby. He also starred in commercials, including a series produced for Lays potato chips under their campaign of "Betcha can't eat just one" (a couple of which are below).
Bert died on Dec. 4, 1967 at the age of 72 while shooting the film The Night They Raided Minsky's. It was reported he had died of pneumonia, but it turned out that it was cancer, which he didn't know he had.
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Frank Morgan as The Wizard
The original casting choice for the Wizard of Oz had been comedian W.C. Fields (actually he was second — Ed Wynn rejected the role as being too small), but after negotiations dragged on, they dropped the idea and took on contract player Frank Morgan. Born June 1, 1890, he was the ideal choice and actually went on to play the additional Wizard of Oz characters Professor Marvel, the Gatekeeper, the Carriage Driver, and the Guard.
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A character actor in demand.
Between 1916 and 1939, Frank Morgan starred in an incredible 66 movies, with an additional 33 after (all by 1950). Along the way, he found himself nominated for a pair of Academy Awards, in the category of Best Actor for 1934's The Affairs of Cellini, and Best Supporting Actor for 1942's Tortilla Flat. As if all of that wasn't enough, Frank had a successful 1947 radio series The Fabulous Dr. Tweedy, and recorded numerous children's records.
He was a character actor very much in demand throughout his life, and his next-to-last role was in the James Stewart film The Stratton Story, released in 1949; followed by the posthumous release of 1950's Key to the City.
Frank died of a heart attack on Sept. 18, 1949, while starring in the film adaptation of Annie Get Your Gun (the same film that Judy Garland was signed for but released from).
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Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West
C'mon, back in the day do you know anyone who gave more kids nightmares than Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch of the West? And let's even talk about her army of winged monkeys! Which is ironic, considering that, by all accounts, the actress was actually a sweet lady.
On the film's DVD commentary, she reflected on being cast: "I was in need of money at the time, I had done about six pictures for MGM at the time and my agent called. I said, 'Yes?' and he said 'Maggie, they want you to play a part on the Wizard.' I said to myself, 'Oh, boy, The Wizard of Oz! That has been my favorite book since I was four.' And I asked him what part, and he said, 'The Witch,' and I said, 'The Witch?!', and he said, 'What else?'"
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There was so much more to Margaret Hamilton than the Witch.
Born Dec. 9, 1902, Margaret began scoring work as a character actress (her looks, even by her own admission, prevented her from getting anything glamorous). Her first film was 1933's Zoo in Budapest, followed by 25 more before her most famous role. After the film's release she appeared in 47 more, all in supporting roles.
She made some TV appearances on kid shows like The Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney Show (on which she was a cast member from 1953-54), Car 54, Where Are You?, The Addams Family (see the photo above), the TV movie The Night Strangler, and The Paul Lynde Halloween Special. Additionally she was a regular on the soap operas The Secret Storm and As the World Turns.
Margaret died on May 16, 1985 of a heart attack, though she had also been battling Alzheimer's disease.
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Good to the last drop.
No discussion of Margaret Hamilton can happen without remembering her Maxwell House coffee TV commercials. She played a shopkeeper (whose personality, we should point out, couldn't be any more opposite to that of the Wicked Witch of the West) named Cora. A sample can be found below.
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And let us celebrate with that Wizard of Oz reunion.
On March 4, 1976, the Center of Films for Children held the First Annual Children's Hall of Fame Awards, and the Ruby Slipper Salute that featured a Wizard of Oz reunion. Those attending were Jack Haley (Tin Man), his son, producer Jack Haley, Jr.; Liza Minnelli (Judy Garland's daughter), producer Mervyn LeRoy, Ray Bolger (Scarecrow), and Billy Curtis (one of the Munchkins).