First published on May 17, 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by W.W. Denslow, began a journey that would soon make it one of the most adored children’s tales of all time.
Filming of the original movie began on October 13, 1938. And, while this date is considered by many to be a pivotal turning point for The Wizard of Oz, the magical date when the story actually started to come to life is August 12, 1939, when at the Strand Theatre in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, the finished film first premiered before a public audience. Three days later, on August 15th, it made its official Hollywood debut at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The rest, as they say, is cinematic history.
The film was directed by Victor Fleming (who that same year directed Gone With the Wind), produced by Mervyn LeRoy, and scored by Herbert Stothart, with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg.
At the time, the cast members of The Wizard of Oz had no idea that they would be making their marks as cinematic legends. Ray Bolger appeared as the Scarecrow; Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion and Jack Haley as the Tin Man. The versatile Frank Morgan was seen in six different roles, including that of the "wonderful Wizard" himself. But, it was Dorothy who quickly captured the hearts of the U.S. and the world, portrayed by a 4'11" sixteen-year-old girl who quickly earned her reputation as “the World’s Greatest Entertainer.” The incomparable Judy Garland would, indeed, go down in entertainment history for her role as Dorothy.
The Wizard of Oz received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and captured two Oscars®—Best Song (“Over the Rainbow”) and Best Original Score—plus a special award for Outstanding Juvenile Performance by Judy Garland. The film was an overwhelming popular and critical success upon its initial release and repeated its ability to captivate audiences when MGM reissued the film in 1949 and 1955. The film made a new kind of history with its network television premiere in 1956 on CBS. Nearly 45 million people tuned in for this initial telecast, marking the beginning of an annual tradition for millions of American families. Ever since, The Wizard of Oz has been shown virtually every year on network (and then cable) television, its magical story and heartfelt performances enabling it to grow from a perennial classic to its current status as a treasured icon of popular culture.
In 1980, The Wizard of Oz was among the first videocassettes released by MGM/CBS Home Video and, in 2008, the movie was recognized by the American Film Institute as the best film in the fantasy genre.
For decades, this timeless classic featuring Dorothy, with her magical Ruby Slippers and beloved dog, Toto, has resonated with children and adults around the world, and is sure to do so for decades to come.
In 2014, the original The Wizard of Oz movie will celebrate its 75th anniversary.