The Wizard of Oz Opens: August 25, 1939

One of the most beloved movies of all time, The Wizard of Oz, opened in theaters on August 25, 1939.  Looking back, the film was not as big of a hit as you might expect.  The movie, which cost $2.8 million to make, at first made only around $3 million at the box office.

The movie’s popularity started to soar after its initial television broadcast in November 1956 when around 45 million people tuned in to watch it.  Subsequently, from 1959 until 1991, TV showed the movie once a year.

So, of course many of us of a certain age know the movie from television and annual viewings.  I still remember when we bought our first color television set.  My most lasting memory of that TV is when we watched The Wizard of Oz, a movie we’d already seen numerous times in black and white.  But the first year when we watched it on our color TV, we were shocked when the movie changed from black and white in the Kansas scenes to glorious Technicolor in the Oz scenes.

Back in 1939, The Wizard of Oz was already on its way to becoming a classic.  The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, losing to another classic, Gone With the Wind.  Still, the movie with the munchkins won the Best Song Oscar for “Over the Rainbow.”  And Judy Garland won a special award at the Oscars for Best Juvenile Performer.

Yet, back in 1939, viewers could not have foreseen how pervasive the movie would become in our lives, or the different ways we would be able to view it.  Other generations first saw The Wizard of Oz on videotape, on DVD, on Blu-ray, and streaming on the Internet.  The film has stood the test of time even as the technology has repeatedly changed.

The movie works on a number of levels too.  On the one hand, it is a delightful musical fantasy for children.  But adults enjoy it too, both for nostalgia about their youths and to think about underlying meanings behind the story.

Symbolism in The Wizard of Oz

Of the many theories about the meaning of The Wizard of Oz, the most well-known is that L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a symbolic political story about the fall of the Populist Movement in the United States.  Under this reading, Dorothy represents the common folk, the Scarecrow represents the farmers, the Tin Man represents the industrial worker, and the Cowardly Lion represents politician William Jennings Bryan.  The Yellow Brick Road symbolizes the gold standard and the green of Oz represents the dollar.

There are competing theories too.  These include theories about religious or atheist allegories.

Additionally, author Salman Rushdie has surmised that the story is really about the inadequacies of adults.  In this delightful audio from a 2008 BBC Radio 4 program, Rushdie discusses the movie. Historian David Powell and The New Yorker theater critic John Lahr (the son of Burt Lahr who played the Cowardly Lion) join him.

No matter theory you subscribe too, there is one certainty about The Wizard of Oz.  We will continue to watch the movie no matter how movie-viewing technology changes in the future.

Leave your two cents in the comments.

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