Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Almost Wasn't Wednesday #3: The Wizard Of Oz With Shirley Temple

For a dearly-beloved four-star classic, The Wizard of Oz was a troubled production, from start to finish.

The studio wanted Shirley Temple to star, couldn't get her, considered Deanna Durbin and Bonita Granville, then reluctantly settled for Judy Garland. W.C. Fields almost signed on to play the Wizard, but wanted a little too much money. Gale Sondergaard agreed to play a sexy Wicked Witch of the West then dropped out when the role changed, first in favor of Edna Mae Oliver then finally Margaret Hamilton. Buddy Ebsen, of course, began as the Tin Man before falling ill. Eddie Cantor was once upon a time considered for the Scarecrow. Fanny Brice and Beatrice Lillie were first choices for the Good Witch. And Leo, the MGM lion, was initially discussed as a possibility to play the Cowardly Lion before somebody came to their senses and cast Bert Lahr.

Even then, director Richard Thorpe was fired twelve days into filming—with good reason, it sounds like. He'd slapped a blonde wig and garish adult makeup on Judy Garland, and instead of an iconic yellow brick road, imagined round stepping stones instead. Jeepers! It took Victor Fleming to set the project right, and even then King Vidor filmed all the black-and-white scenes when Fleming left to rescue Gone With The Wind.

I've re-imagined the movie poster with maximum crapitude in mind (as always, click on the picture to see it full size). In the short run, The Wizard of Oz with Shirley Temple might have grossed more at the box office, but in the long run, I'm certain it would have been largely forgotten—when was the last time you watched her in The Blue Bird? Shirley, as great as she was, didn't have the musical chops to pull off "Over The Rainbow" or the range as an actress to capture the teenage angst Judy Garland brought to the role.

Neither does the notion of a sexy Witch work for me—Margaret Hamilton scared the bejabbers out of me as a kid and I think that's a very necessary element of this particular fairy tale, maybe of all fairy tales. Besides, Gale Sondergaard wasn't all that sexy to begin with.

And finally, though it was a brain his Scarecrow was seeking, Ray Bolger provided the film's heart. Can't imagine the movie without him.

Postscript: By the way, yesterday was Shirley Temple's birthday. And all I got her was this lousy poster.


Beveridge D. Spenser said...

Take that back about Gale!

Mythical Monkey said...

Yeah, that was kind of mean, wasn't it ...

mister muleboy said...

Poor Buddy Ebsen:

to fall victim to the makeup for the Tin Man, lie waylaid by its poison, only to watch that insufferable, tootyfruity Jack Haley, decked out in a new type of "tin" makeup.

Buddy must have spent a lot of time crying into the bundles and bundles of cash he got for playing an Ozarks buffoon. But those tears don't get him the joy of being part of a movie beloved by generations.

And that Buddy could hoof it, yo. . . .

PS My word verification? member sissier

They know about it!

Uncle Tom said...

Flying monkeys and wicked witches didn't scare me as a kid. Being forced to spend time with a bi-polar aunt trying to give up smoking and the genetically altered lab rats she called 'children' did.


Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Would be a promising beginning to an alternate reality story if the first clue the reader has that it IS an alternate reality story is when our protagonist examines your reimagined poster. I could dig WC Fields. He might ruin the movie, but I could dig it :-)