The Wizard of Oz: The Dark Myths and True History

When The Wizard of Oz was originally released in 1939, it blew audiences away with its visual effects that were revolutionary at the time. As the film was enjoyed by subsequent generations, it increased in popularity until it became a timeless and beloved part of countless childhoods. Strangely, there have also been a large number of decidedly dark stories regarding the cast and production of the movie. While most of these a merely pop culture myths, there were a number of details about the filming that were undeniably dark.

First of all, the most notorious stories from The Wizard of Oz involves one of the actors who played the munchkins taking his own life on the set, which can reportedly be seen in the final version of the film. This is a complete myth; it didn’t happen. There is a weird burst of motion in the background of one prominent scene, but it was one of the many live birds that were used to make the scene feel more real.

Another popular story claims that the actor who played the Tin Man, Jack Daley, ultimately died because his makeup was toxic. This is not a fact either, but it does contain a shred of the truth. Originally, actor Buddy Ebsen was supposed to play the Tin Man, but he fell ill when he inhaled fine aluminum dust that was powdered on his face for the role. While he was recovering an in iron lung, Daley was brought on to replace him so filming could continue with a safer form of the aluminum makeup.

The darkest part of The Wizard of Oz’s real history has to do with how the actors were treated on set. In 1930’s Hollywood, actors signed draconian contracts that had them completely beholden to the power of the movie studios. Actors worked long hours in uncomfortable suits in makeup. The actors who played the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion could not even sit down in their costumes, forcing them to stand for 12 or more hours at a time. Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, was badly burned during a special effects sequence and then hounded to return to filming as quickly as possible. Finally, Judy Garland, who was only 16 at the time of filming, was treated horribly by director Victor Fleming, once being smacked in the face in front of the entire cast and crew for laughing.