Warner Bros. Entertainment

The Dark History Behind ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ That No One Talks About

Everyone knows about the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” with its fantasy storytelling and musical numbers, along with its very memorable characters, Dorothy, The Cowardly Lion, The Tin Man, and The Scarecrow. People normally think back and remember a young girl and her cute tiny dog Toto skipping down the yellow brick road, with encounters of funny munchkins and two witches, good and evil. No one could forget the clicking of the red sparkly slippers so Dorothy could find her way back home. But did anyone stop and think about how the movie was made? How were the actors treated all those years on set? Most people are left unaware of the horrible treatment the cast endured, and the movie’s dark history has been left tucked away in the dark. 


Dorothy, played by Judy Garland, was the main actress and star of the movie. However, her role in the movie caused herself a lot of suffering. Judy was originally competing with Shirley Temple for the Dorothy role (and her career comes with its own dark history), but Shirley ended up backing out of the running as she didn’t believe that she’d be able to play the role perfectly and didn’t want to possibly jeopardize her career. Therefore, Judy was given the role.

She was 16 when they started filming, and the directors weren’t happy with the way that she looked. Not only did they want her to look like a younger girl, they wanted to make her look like Shirley Temple. Judy was called fat and was forced to lose 12 pounds, and she was forced to wear a very tight corset to help hide her womanly figure. She was given a strict diet of just black coffee, chicken soup, and cottage cheese. Judy picked up smoking cigarettes and smoked up to 80 cigarettes daily to help keep her appetite down. She was also given caps to put onto her crooked teeth, and even put stuff inside of her nose to make it look more like Shirley’s. The director (there were four different ones by the time the movie was completed) didn’t even want to use Judy in the red slippers close up shots and had someone stand in for her. This isn’t even the worst thing that she had to go through during this production. She was also prescribed amphetamines to keep her weight down, and then was given barbiturates to help her sleep after extremely long work days. She became addicted to these drugs and continued to use them for the rest of her life, which ultimately was the cause of her death in 1969 when she died of an overdose, leaving her husband and children behind.

Judy was also sexually harassed by many of the munchkins, who would touch her without permission and put their hands underneath her dress. One of the directors also harassed her. Director Viktor Fleming also slapped her across the face when she kept giggling in one of the scenes, which ironically was the famous slap scene between her and the Cowardly Lion. Even though Judy was the star of the movie, she was paid much less for her hard work and dedication to the film, only earning $500 a week, while the Scarecrow and the Tin Man earned around $3,000 a week. She wasn’t the only one being paid unfairly, as Toto made more money than most of the munchkins, earning herself a whopping $125 per week. 


But if anyone in this movie earned themselves the title for worst costume ever, it’s the Tin Man. Buddy Ebsen was the original Tin Man actor until he landed himself in the hospital after contracting aluminum poisoning from the metallic makeup that was painted on his face every single day. Buddy was in the hospital for weeks while the director kept pushing him to come back to work, even though he was severely sick, and threatening to fire him if he didn’t. Whelp, he was fired, and due to contracts, the replacement actor, Jack Haley, was forced into the role. No one was informed on why the previous actor couldn’t come back, but the makeup was replaced with aluminum paste instead of powder, which ended up causing an eye infection. Not only was the makeup horrible, but the costume was made completely out of metal, so the actors couldn’t even sit down the entire day. If they needed to rest, they would lean themselves against a wall. 


This role was played by Bert Lahr, who had to put up with a lot of crap during his time in the costume. It was smelly, heavy, and HOT. The poor man was dying of heat exhaustion due to the hide being super heavy, as it was made of real lion hide. It weighed around 80-90 pounds! He sweated so much that it took two people every day to ring the sweat out of the costume and dry it. He was also not allowed to eat very much due to his makeup being very difficult and time consuming to put on. He tried surviving on liquids like chicken broth, milkshakes, and smoothies, but after years of production, he finally put his foot down and told them to just redo the makeup after he ate lunch. 


Ray Bolger played the role of the Scarecrow and also suffered with costume struggles. His makeup left him with scars on his face that took an entire year to finally disappear completely. The makeup quite literally burned his face! His costume was also made with real straw, and he was completely covered with it. The straw even went over his ears, which made it very hard to hear anything, and he felt like he was yelling out his lines instead of talking, since he couldn’t even hear himself speak. 


Speaking of being burned, the Wicked Witch, played by Margaret Hamilton, also landed herself in the hospital after a smoke scene. She was supposed to puff away in smoke during an escape in Munchkin Land, but the trapdoor that she was supposed to fall into didn’t open, which caused her broom and hat to go up in flames. This caused bad burns on her face and hands, and the paramedics had to use alcohol to take off her makeup, which was also toxic and caused her pain. It took her weeks for the green to fade off of her skin after the movie was completed. After she returned to work, she refused to do any more scenes that required smoke, and her stunt double stood in for her. Also, her dressing room was awful compared to the good witch, Glinda. Glinda’s room was big and beautiful, while her room was small, bland, and boring. She would often sneak into Glinda’s room on the days she wasn’t supposed to be on set. 


In one of the scenes, Dorothy, Toto, and the Cowardly Lion fall asleep in a poppy field, waking up to snowflakes falling onto them. These snowflakes were actually made of asbestos, which is toxic. They were originally unaware of the toxicity of this commonly used fake snow, but by the time they realized it, it was too late to help the cast who were exposed to it. 

Many of the Munchkins were very inappropriate. Not only for the sexual harassment of 16 year old Judy Garland, but the police were called multiple times due to their aggressive drunken behavior, gambling, and prostitution at the hotel that the cast were staying at. One of the Munchkins actually got stuck inside a toilet bowl while drunk on his lunch break and needed to be rescued. 

The original Wizard of Oz book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” is actually very dark and disturbing. Tiger-bear hybrids were killed in a crevasse, the Tin Man decapitated a wildcat and 40 wolves using an ax, and a giant swarm of bumble bees died while trying to sting Dorothy and her friends. 

The set was extremely hot due to very bright lighting. Temperatures would often be over 100 degrees, which caused an issue with carbon dioxide poisoning.