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The Making of the Wizard of Oz: Movie Magic and Studio Power in the Prime of MGM

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Why was Buddy Ebsen replaced by Jack as the Tin Man? What lifelong effects did young stardom have on Judy Garland? How did they melt a witch, stir up a tornado, and get monkeys to fly?It was 1938, the heyday of Hollywood, when studios were discovering the use of color; the importance of star power, and how to make beautiful, sprawling movies. From this was born The Wizard Why was Buddy Ebsen replaced by Jack as the Tin Man? What lifelong effects did young stardom have on Judy Garland? How did they melt a witch, stir up a tornado, and get monkeys to fly?It was 1938, the heyday of Hollywood, when studios were discovering the use of color; the importance of star power, and how to make beautiful, sprawling movies. From this was born The Wizard of Oz, a film that, 60 years later, continues to captivate us. It seems we can never get enough of the dishy inside details, the amazing feats of production that made it such a spectacle, and the personalities both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Now, timed to coincide with the theatrical rerelease -- which will include never-before-seen footage -- this is the book Oz aficionados will turn to for more information on America's favorite movie. A bestselling classic since it was first published in 1977, The Making of The Wizard of Oz is as ageless as the film itself jam-packed with fascinating facts and telling asides.


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Why was Buddy Ebsen replaced by Jack as the Tin Man? What lifelong effects did young stardom have on Judy Garland? How did they melt a witch, stir up a tornado, and get monkeys to fly?It was 1938, the heyday of Hollywood, when studios were discovering the use of color; the importance of star power, and how to make beautiful, sprawling movies. From this was born The Wizard Why was Buddy Ebsen replaced by Jack as the Tin Man? What lifelong effects did young stardom have on Judy Garland? How did they melt a witch, stir up a tornado, and get monkeys to fly?It was 1938, the heyday of Hollywood, when studios were discovering the use of color; the importance of star power, and how to make beautiful, sprawling movies. From this was born The Wizard of Oz, a film that, 60 years later, continues to captivate us. It seems we can never get enough of the dishy inside details, the amazing feats of production that made it such a spectacle, and the personalities both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Now, timed to coincide with the theatrical rerelease -- which will include never-before-seen footage -- this is the book Oz aficionados will turn to for more information on America's favorite movie. A bestselling classic since it was first published in 1977, The Making of The Wizard of Oz is as ageless as the film itself jam-packed with fascinating facts and telling asides.

30 review for The Making of the Wizard of Oz: Movie Magic and Studio Power in the Prime of MGM

  1. 4 out of 5

    Zach Koenig

    After recently reading the Gregory Maguire novel "Wicked" and being thoroughly disappointed in its destruction of the Wizard of Oz "canon" material, I decided to give this book a read to get the REAL story behind the Wizard of Oz film. In this case, the old axiom "the truth is better than fiction" proved to be true in spades. Put in the simplest terms, this is really the only "Making of Oz" book that ever needs to be produced. Why? Because it discusses EVERY SINGLE aspect of the film in detail th After recently reading the Gregory Maguire novel "Wicked" and being thoroughly disappointed in its destruction of the Wizard of Oz "canon" material, I decided to give this book a read to get the REAL story behind the Wizard of Oz film. In this case, the old axiom "the truth is better than fiction" proved to be true in spades. Put in the simplest terms, this is really the only "Making of Oz" book that ever needs to be produced. Why? Because it discusses EVERY SINGLE aspect of the film in detail that will likely never be matched. The key areas that this book focuses on include: Scripts, Music, Casting, Directors, Filming, Special Effects, and Critical Reception. In each one of those areas, author Aljean Harmetz does a truly remarkable job of understanding the "why" behind everything. Every decision made had a reason behind it, and Harmetz was extraordinarily successful at deciphering those reasons (whether person, political, or other). In fact, about the only "knock" I have on this book is that, at times, it would go into too much detail for just the casual "Oz" fan. For example, not only do we learn about how the four directors who worked on the picture did things differently while on the set, we also learn about their backgrounds going right back to childhood. Hard-core movie buffs will revel in this information, while others (like myself) might gloss over it a bit and again become engaged when Harmetz takes us back to the "Oz" angle. Also, the book (as the title indicates) not only gives a history of the film, but also a sort of de facto history about MGM Studios as a whole. Having never really studied filmmaking at that time, I found it to be quite interesting how, back in those days, actors were contracted to studios and only loaned out if it was financially suited to their "lender". In fact, most of the "Oz" cast was taken right from the MGM lot, so to speak! This is in stark contrast to today's filmmaking, where actors are "free agents" of sorts, signing with whoever will give them a star vehicle and the most money. Thus, I would recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in how "The Wizard of Oz" was created, from mind to page to screen. History buffs will savor every fact about the directors/actors pasts, while the casual fan (because of the way that book is paragraphed) can skip over some of that to get to the "Oz parts". So, don't waste your time with "Wicked" and its tangled philosophical/political web...this is the true history of Oz.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    The best book I have ever read on the studio system, this takes you inside MGM to witness the creation of the now-beloved classic. Shows how movie studios of the day really were factories, turning out a movie a week like clockwork, 52 movies a year, sometimes mercilessly at the expense of the talented people who oiled the machine.

  3. 5 out of 5

    E

    Recently read the same author do the same thing for Casablanca. Lots of interesting background but seems to miss the soul of the picture (almost none of the book is concerned with what takes place in the studio once the camera starts rolling). It was fascinating to read about no-expense-barred MGM, especially in comparison to Warner Bros., who made Casablanca. If nothing else, reading this book will cause you to pay more attention to old movie credits. It allows you to visualize what those folks Recently read the same author do the same thing for Casablanca. Lots of interesting background but seems to miss the soul of the picture (almost none of the book is concerned with what takes place in the studio once the camera starts rolling). It was fascinating to read about no-expense-barred MGM, especially in comparison to Warner Bros., who made Casablanca. If nothing else, reading this book will cause you to pay more attention to old movie credits. It allows you to visualize what those folks were actually doing, as well as to note differences between the studios. Much like Casablanca, it took decades for the Wizard of Oz to become a hit. In this case, thank television, which started airing the film yearly in the 1960s. Part of the problem is that it was released in the greatest year of all time in Hollywood, 1939. And no, I am not exaggerating. Another issue was that the source material wasn't even all that popular when Metro optioned the novel. I could go on and on, because there are a ton of interesting tidbits in this book. You won't look at films in the same way if you read a book or two like this. Recommended, even if not jaw-dropping.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Scout Meyers

    Not my usual read, but I LOVED this book!! Great to get a non-biased perspective. Interesting to get a history lesson on the film industry & see the details on how the movie was filmed.

  5. 5 out of 5

    flannery

    Who am I, Erin Zona? Jk. I only read three chapters but they were great chapters: munchkins, special effects, and accidents. No mention of that munchkin suicide, must be a coverup.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Melody

    I remember so well the nights the Wizard of Oz would be scheduled to come on TV. We planned our week around it. It was so magical and year after year it retained it's spell. I enjoyed reading about the process and challenges encountered while making the film. Glad I took the time to read this book. I remember so well the nights the Wizard of Oz would be scheduled to come on TV. We planned our week around it. It was so magical and year after year it retained it's spell. I enjoyed reading about the process and challenges encountered while making the film. Glad I took the time to read this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Janet Licari

    Very comprehensive and well written.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Samuel Valentino

    After reading "Finding Dorothy" by Elizabeth Letts, I found this book listed in her sources at the end. Since Letts' book was so interesting as historical fiction, I thought I'd read this one for the actual history. I certainly got what I was looking for. This is a very thoroughly researched book, much more than I would have expected. Especially of interest to me is the chapter on special effects - currently, everything is done with CGI, but I'm always intrigued by how they could make effects pr After reading "Finding Dorothy" by Elizabeth Letts, I found this book listed in her sources at the end. Since Letts' book was so interesting as historical fiction, I thought I'd read this one for the actual history. I certainly got what I was looking for. This is a very thoroughly researched book, much more than I would have expected. Especially of interest to me is the chapter on special effects - currently, everything is done with CGI, but I'm always intrigued by how they could make effects pre-computer. As an artist myself, I'm fascinated by matte paintings, how accurate their perspective has to be, and how they integrate them with the live action. There were several good photos of the set and the matte painting that went around it. But that's just my interest because I'm an artist - the story of the rest of the production is just as engaging. From the actors to the stunt people (Betty Danko's story is incredible) to the writing of the script, it was great to see how it all came together. I also had no idea how wonky color movie technology was then - the process is incredibly convoluted. In "Finding Dorothy," the author mentioned that they spent a week deciding on the yellow color of the brick road. But instead of just being picky, the color was so difficult to film that it took them a week to find one that didn't film as green. If I had one wish, it would be that they would include a bajillion color pics to go with the text, because the book is awesome enough to deserve it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jameson

    I qualify my five stars with this speculation: because of its delayed entrée into the deepest recesses of the public’s imagination and pop culture firmament, MGM’s The Wizard of Oz will always hold those of us fascinated by its charms at arm’s length. Decades passed, from its 1939 theatrical release and its 1970s renaissance on television, before any of its principals were asked to even really recount their experiences in any detail; by then, history was at the mercy of fallible human memory as I qualify my five stars with this speculation: because of its delayed entrée into the deepest recesses of the public’s imagination and pop culture firmament, MGM’s The Wizard of Oz will always hold those of us fascinated by its charms at arm’s length. Decades passed, from its 1939 theatrical release and its 1970s renaissance on television, before any of its principals were asked to even really recount their experiences in any detail; by then, history was at the mercy of fallible human memory as well as raconteurs more concerned with telling a good yarn than serving accuracy. Most of the physical evidence was handled like most people might handle so much toner or paper from the office supply closet. This book does capture as much as is probably available for capture, but for better or worse what exactly transformed The Wizard of Oz from just another film into the cultural touchstone it has become remains a mystery unsolved this side of the rainbow. (The Making of the Wizard Of Oz deserves to be released as a searchable ebook with color photos or hyperlinks to video, even.)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Deb

    After reading Finding Dorothy, I read this well-researched book about the people who made the movie. Unless you are a die-hard fan of the movie and the era of movie-making in the 1930s and '40s, you may not enjoy this book. Since I grew up watching the film on television every year, I was not aware of the Oz stories that inspired the movie and that the movie only became a staple of American lore after it was televised. I learned a great deal about how movies were made (sets, costumes, lighting, After reading Finding Dorothy, I read this well-researched book about the people who made the movie. Unless you are a die-hard fan of the movie and the era of movie-making in the 1930s and '40s, you may not enjoy this book. Since I grew up watching the film on television every year, I was not aware of the Oz stories that inspired the movie and that the movie only became a staple of American lore after it was televised. I learned a great deal about how movies were made (sets, costumes, lighting, special effects, etc.) as well as how producers, directors, and actors were chosen, paid, and treated. The interviews with Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, and Jack Haley were interesting. The author related stories about Judy Garland and Bert Lahr and so many others tied to the film and MGM. I found the information in the appendix most interesting, especially the story of L. Frank Baum's life and the auctioning of memorabilia from The Wizard of Oz and other movies.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Linda Spear

    I'm a big fan of the movie but not "hardcore", so I glossed over a couple of chapters about directors and such. It's truly intriguing to discover some of the facts Harmetz uncovered in 1977...and she actually got to spend time with Margaret Hamilton! (As an aside, I really appreciated the "Mister Rogers" episode with Hamilton years ago...what a nice person she was, very unassuming, not unlike Fred himself). I myself have always been fascinated by Frank Morgan's various character appearances in t I'm a big fan of the movie but not "hardcore", so I glossed over a couple of chapters about directors and such. It's truly intriguing to discover some of the facts Harmetz uncovered in 1977...and she actually got to spend time with Margaret Hamilton! (As an aside, I really appreciated the "Mister Rogers" episode with Hamilton years ago...what a nice person she was, very unassuming, not unlike Fred himself). I myself have always been fascinated by Frank Morgan's various character appearances in the movie...thought I was the only one who noticed. I was lucky enough to see "The Wizard of Oz" on the big screen when I was a grad student at the University of Pittsburgh with a couple of friends who were also big fans. Needless to say, we were overcome. See it in a theatre if you ever get the opportunity...the sets and color are just exquisite, and that was 1983. It's probably be remastered or whatever by now.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Emma Larsson

    I saw the book, I bought it and I read it! It took an hour. I was charmed by this book! I love the Wizard of Oz; as a story, as a concept and as the movie. I also love the 30's Hollywood and stories, movies, music and actors from that time. Listening to (or well, reading) the interviews in this book were amazing! There were interesting note after interesting note and comments by the actors and working crew that made me both awe, laugh and slightly gasp. None of it felt overly dramatic just for the I saw the book, I bought it and I read it! It took an hour. I was charmed by this book! I love the Wizard of Oz; as a story, as a concept and as the movie. I also love the 30's Hollywood and stories, movies, music and actors from that time. Listening to (or well, reading) the interviews in this book were amazing! There were interesting note after interesting note and comments by the actors and working crew that made me both awe, laugh and slightly gasp. None of it felt overly dramatic just for the sake of making it dramatic, like many documentaries like to do. Out of all the stories I've read about the making of this movie, this is one of those that feels the most authentic. It was clear and it was easy to understand, and it was wonderful to read!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Peter Wright

    This is a seemingly concise look at the work that went behind a beloved, classic film. Yet, I felt like it was more about the backgrounds of the cast and crew behind The Wizard of Oz, more than the actual making of the film. A majority of the stories contained in the book are about the people and even more so MGM studios. Most of the book, especially at the beginning, is all about how the studio was run back then, and also as compared to other studios. A lot of detail is given about how the movi This is a seemingly concise look at the work that went behind a beloved, classic film. Yet, I felt like it was more about the backgrounds of the cast and crew behind The Wizard of Oz, more than the actual making of the film. A majority of the stories contained in the book are about the people and even more so MGM studios. Most of the book, especially at the beginning, is all about how the studio was run back then, and also as compared to other studios. A lot of detail is given about how the movie studio was run and the history behind it. When it came to details about the actual making of the story, it felt like the author was a little lighter on details there. The book was enjoyable, but felt rather lite when it came to actual stories about the making of the movie.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    I loved this book not only for the stories about the making of one of my favorite movies, but it also gave many insights into how the studio system worked in 1939. The author interviewed several people who worked on the film from actors, stunt people, writers and my favorite - the special effects artists. I loved how they had to invent the effects written in the script that had never been done before. The introduction by Margaret Hamilton is especially fascinating. You may think you've heard all I loved this book not only for the stories about the making of one of my favorite movies, but it also gave many insights into how the studio system worked in 1939. The author interviewed several people who worked on the film from actors, stunt people, writers and my favorite - the special effects artists. I loved how they had to invent the effects written in the script that had never been done before. The introduction by Margaret Hamilton is especially fascinating. You may think you've heard all the behind the scenes stories before if you've seen documentaries on the DVD and Blu-ray releases, but believe me, there's lots more here.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Marcea

    3.75 stars. Not quite what I expected. Plenty of interesting info about the movie including technical things like how they write the Surrender Dorothy writing in the sky. But it seemed to be missing something that I can’t put my finger on. I was a little annoyed I couldn’t find a book about the making of The Wizard of Oz that was more recent but as I read it, was happy it was originally written in the 1970’s because the author got a lot of interviews with people who died in the 70’s and 80’s. An 3.75 stars. Not quite what I expected. Plenty of interesting info about the movie including technical things like how they write the Surrender Dorothy writing in the sky. But it seemed to be missing something that I can’t put my finger on. I was a little annoyed I couldn’t find a book about the making of The Wizard of Oz that was more recent but as I read it, was happy it was originally written in the 1970’s because the author got a lot of interviews with people who died in the 70’s and 80’s. And it was updated around 2013 so wasn’t completely dated. I also feel bad I was scared of the Wicked Witch because the actress who played her sounds like a very nice person (sorry Margaret Hamilton!)

  16. 4 out of 5

    IrishFan

    I have had this book on my TBR list since I read Finding Dorothy last year. I found it through my library e-book and decided to go ahead and read it. Interested behind the scenes look at Wizard of Oz. It was interesting to see how MGM just played with the directors/producers/even actors on their movies. They didn't necessarily want the best, they just used who was available at the time and if it didn't work out, they were just replaced. It is the saddest to me that all of the movie sets, props, I have had this book on my TBR list since I read Finding Dorothy last year. I found it through my library e-book and decided to go ahead and read it. Interested behind the scenes look at Wizard of Oz. It was interesting to see how MGM just played with the directors/producers/even actors on their movies. They didn't necessarily want the best, they just used who was available at the time and if it didn't work out, they were just replaced. It is the saddest to me that all of the movie sets, props, costumes, scripts, etc. were just trashed when the studio closed and that only a few items survived. If you are a fan of movies I recommend this. Now I want to read a biography of Judy Garland...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Doyle Nathan

    The kind of book that tells you all you want to know without ruining what your original perception of the film. There’s some serious ups and downs and at times ( I am surprised how the film was ever even made). The Wizard of Oz has its own meaning to each of us, but I think the book teaches us an even bigger lesson..Movie buffs will love the intricacy, book worms will be through this in a few hours, and people who loved the film but wondered what went on behind the scenes and want a book that wi The kind of book that tells you all you want to know without ruining what your original perception of the film. There’s some serious ups and downs and at times ( I am surprised how the film was ever even made). The Wizard of Oz has its own meaning to each of us, but I think the book teaches us an even bigger lesson..Movie buffs will love the intricacy, book worms will be through this in a few hours, and people who loved the film but wondered what went on behind the scenes and want a book that will keep you interested, this is definitely for you.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    It's a technical book that doesn't delve into personalities too much. The book was quite interesting in so far as illuminating the sheer work that went into making this film - this masterpiece. I have to say I enjoyed the photographs contained within the book the most. There were great shots I've never seen before, most notably the photograph of Judy Garland recording the soundtrack of the movie and photographs of Margaret Hamilton in costume as the Wicked Witch as well as a publicity shot of he It's a technical book that doesn't delve into personalities too much. The book was quite interesting in so far as illuminating the sheer work that went into making this film - this masterpiece. I have to say I enjoyed the photographs contained within the book the most. There were great shots I've never seen before, most notably the photograph of Judy Garland recording the soundtrack of the movie and photographs of Margaret Hamilton in costume as the Wicked Witch as well as a publicity shot of her.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Clint

    Somewhat interesting, somewhat dry 1977 book (updated in 1989) about the making of the beloved MGM movie. Breaks down the making into sectors such as producers, directors, sets, costume designers, etc. Best fresh quotes and best stories involve Margaret Hamilton, who portrayed the wicked witch of the West. Appendices discuss a 1970 auction of MGM properties, including Dorothy’s Ruby slippers, which brought the most of any item ($15,000), and the Oz books’ author, L. Frank Baum, who was largest u Somewhat interesting, somewhat dry 1977 book (updated in 1989) about the making of the beloved MGM movie. Breaks down the making into sectors such as producers, directors, sets, costume designers, etc. Best fresh quotes and best stories involve Margaret Hamilton, who portrayed the wicked witch of the West. Appendices discuss a 1970 auction of MGM properties, including Dorothy’s Ruby slippers, which brought the most of any item ($15,000), and the Oz books’ author, L. Frank Baum, who was largest unsuccessful until publishing the Oz books.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

    As an avid fan of the movie, I've been wanting to read this book for a while. I was fortunate to be able to find a copy. For anyone who loves the movie, I highly recommend. It's amazing all the details the author has incorporated, including her interviews with the ever popular late Margaret Hamilton, whose 12 minutes on the screen in this production, has indelibly made her the most famous wicked witch of all time! I truly enjoyed her. May the story live on forever! As an avid fan of the movie, I've been wanting to read this book for a while. I was fortunate to be able to find a copy. For anyone who loves the movie, I highly recommend. It's amazing all the details the author has incorporated, including her interviews with the ever popular late Margaret Hamilton, whose 12 minutes on the screen in this production, has indelibly made her the most famous wicked witch of all time! I truly enjoyed her. May the story live on forever!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Duncan Wilson

    Really insightful look at all aspects of the production of this much loved classic. Theres some well known tales but a lot of much lesser lnown details. It is also interesting as the original text was written on 1977 it is almost as much about the changes in the film industry (And certainly MGMs fortunes) in the intervening years. Well worth a read if your interested not only in wizard of oz bit also film production on 1930s

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rob Nussbaum

    I loved this book! The history of the great movie studios of the 1930s and how they made movies then really comes across in such an interesting (and readable) manner by Aljean Harmetz. As someone who grew up watching The Wizard of Oz each year that it aired on television, I enjoyed learning about the cast, crew and everyone else who made that movie the wonder that it is. (And thanks to Katherine for loaning the book to me!!!)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Hyler

    Although interesting, the Making of the wizard of Oz did not live up to my expectations. I was aware of many stories like the stories of the ruby slippers or Margaret Hamilton’s fire accident. What was interesting was the song writers, the lyricists, and the script writers. They were changed like changing daily underwear. Some of it was interesting and some was just minutiae. The book is worth reading just to relive my child hood experiences of the magical ,wonderful world oz.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    I'm obsessed with this movie. If you are as well, this is a MUST READ. Great fin. Lots of great insights from the actual stars of the movie. It was written in 1977, so many of the stars were stil alive to provide stories, comments and inside details about the behind the scenes goings on. A fun, fun read. I'm obsessed with this movie. If you are as well, this is a MUST READ. Great fin. Lots of great insights from the actual stars of the movie. It was written in 1977, so many of the stars were stil alive to provide stories, comments and inside details about the behind the scenes goings on. A fun, fun read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kent Archie

    I learned a lot about the old studio system and the making of this movie in particular. When it was written, a number of the people that worked on it were still alive. If you are fond of the movie, you will discover a lot in here. If you are a Wizard Of Oz nerd, you may well already know this stuff. I recommend the book to all the fans.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kieran McAndrew

    Harmetz's excellent account of the history and creation of 'The Wizard of Oz' makes for a fascinating read and provides a background not only for this classic movie, but outlines the studio system and how they managed and controlled their stable of stars. Anyone who is interested in the film, or the early era of Hollywood, should read this book. Harmetz's excellent account of the history and creation of 'The Wizard of Oz' makes for a fascinating read and provides a background not only for this classic movie, but outlines the studio system and how they managed and controlled their stable of stars. Anyone who is interested in the film, or the early era of Hollywood, should read this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    James F. Tanner

    The classic look at what happened behind the scenes on the making of a legendary movie. The book has lots of great insights into the movie, filmmaking in 1939, the world of MGM, and how this film came together against all odds.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Johnathan Maloney

    A must read for fans of The Wizard of Oz or of the Golden Age of Hollywood. The research, the interviews, and pictures all fit nicely into this extensive history of how one an American Classic was made. I can’t recommend this book enough and I wish there was more.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Cate

    This was an awesome read! Such detail of the movie magic that went into this movie! It is a beloved movie for all!!!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    The intro interview with the Wicked Witch of the West was AMAZING! But the book was so detailed I found myself skimming.

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