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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  • This Week in Pop Culture Roundup (Nov. 20, 2011)
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    Is That a Munchkin? — Top 10 Most Paused Movie Moments

    There are various legends about things going on in movies that go by too fast at normal speed to verify, like the legend that there is a hanging munchkin in the background of a scene of The Wizard of Oz (1939). And what about that Stormtrooper banging his head in Star Wars (1977)? The advent of VCRs and DVDs helped add to the myths, as people paused the scenes to see them in more detail. Sometimes the pausing confirms the legends, sometimes it rebuts the legends, and sometimes the pausing just gives us more to argue about. WatchMojo recently compiled some of the most famous paused movie moments and put them together in this interesting video. Check it out.

    What is your favorite paused movie moment? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Kansas’s Controversial Attempt to Make Toto the State Dog

    The Kansas Legislature is currently considering whether to honor Toto from The Wizard of Oz (1939) by making the cairn terrier the official state dog. But what initially appeared as a harmless piece of state legislation has stirred up controversy in the state.

    Although Rep. Ed Trimmer explained he proposed the bill to get kids interested in the legislative process, some have complained that the bill wastes the valuable time of the legislators. Still, eleven other states have passed similar bills recognizing various breeds of dogs.

    The real controversy has come from an issue raised by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who fear that the legislation will increase demand for cairn terriers and an increase in puppy mills that mistreat the small dogs. The debate has highlighted some other criticisms of Kansas laws that do not adequately protect animals. PETA also notes that there are a large number of dogs waiting to be adopted in animal shelters and suggests that if an official state dog is named, it should be “the humble, healthy, and 100 percent lovable all-American mutt.”

    Yes, a few states have official state cats. For example, Maryland has the calico cat and Massachusetts has the tabby cat, with both states recognizing a color of cat instead of a breed. Maybe Kansas could avoid the PETA concerns by choosing a dog color.

    Speaking of The Wizard of Oz, check out this funny clip from Sunday’s Academy Awards show that features a focus group evaluating the film. The clip includes members of the cast of Best in Show (2000) and A Mighty Wind (2003): Bob Balaban, Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Jennifer Coolidge, and Fred Willard.

    [March 2012 State Dog Update: The bill to make Toto the State Dog of Kansas died in committee. The representative who introduced the bill noted that he will probably try again next year.]

    Photo Courtesy of Mollie.

    What do you think about the proposed bill to recognize Toto? Who is the Wicked Witch in this debate? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    This Week in Pop Culture Roundup (Nov. 20, 2011)

    In case you were overwhelmed last week worrying about the NBA lockout or who is the sexiest man alive or the latest on Ashton Kutcher’s problems, below are some of the pop culture stories you might have missed.

    ———-Music———-

    The heart-stopping, earth-shaking,…legendary E Street Band will tour with Bruce Springsteen in 2012 supporting a new album.

    In a new interview, Michael Stipe explained why REM called it a day.
    “The horror was if somebody Twittered or leaked it.”

    Listen to Kate Bush’s new CD 50 Words for Snow on NPR First Listen.

    Also on NPR, you may listen to Michael Jackson: Immortal, the new CD of Jackson songs for a Cirque du Soleil production.

    The Los Angeles Times reported that Drake’s “Marvin’s Room,” on his new CD Take Care, was inspired by a visit from Stevie Wonder.

    The New York Times reviewed the new album by Florence and the Machine.

    The Chicago Tribune reviewed a performance by Fall Out Boy frontman Patrick Stump, who played “shiny funkified soulful pop” in promotion of new solo CD.

    I like music critic Greil Marcus, so will have to check out his new book on The Doors that was reviewed in The New York Times at the link.

    “I’ll be watching you.” Sting released a free app for the iPad that documents his career.

    ———-Movies———-

    Brad Pitt plans to quit acting in three years. I guess they need to hurry up and film Oceans Fourteen.

    Officials are investigating actress Natalie Wood’s drowning death from 30 years ago. Although initial reports claimed a yacht captain was blaming Woods’ then-husband actor Robert Wagner for the death, recent reports note that Wagner is not a suspect. But Christopher Walken, who was on the boat with the couple the night Woods died, has hired a lawyer.

    Karl Slover, one of the last living actors who played one of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz, passed away Tuesday.

    The new film The Great Flood features archival footage from the 1927 flood and music from Bill Frisell.

    The screenwriter for “The Departed” picked his top 5 British crime and suspense films from the 1960s and 1970s.

    Illumination Entertainment is planning a Woody Woodpecker film. (Thanks @VeryAw.) I grew up with the cartoons, so I’m excited that this overlooked character may be revived.

    The Atlas Shrugged DVD was released with a back cover mistakenly saying the movie was from a novel of “self-sacrifice” instead of author Ayn Rand’s contrary philosophy of self-interest. Oops!

    Andy Buckle’s Film Emporium blog wrote an interesting comparison between two epic World War II films, The Thin Red Line vs. Saving Private Ryan. (Thanks @buckle22.)

    Johnny B. Goode! Last weekend, Michael J. Fox reenacted his guitar playing from Back to the Future at a charity event.

    ———-Television———-

    Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton was hired by NBC News.

    Charlie Rose is going from PBS to CBS, which is pairing him with Gayle King.

    A new mid-season comedy on CBS, “iROB,” will feature Rob Schneider and Cheech Marin.

    Ricky Gervais will be back as host of the Golden Globes.

    ———-History and Other Pop Culture News———-

    The new CBS On the Road reported the sad and touching ending to the story of the friendship between Bella the dog and Tara the elephant: Have tissues handy. If you have not heard of Bella and Tara, you might first want to check out an earlier story about the animals.

    “Sticks Like Magic!” CNN reports on the interesting background of the toy Colorforms, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this month. I had forgot about Colorforms, which I had as a kid.

    Long-lost Air Force One tapes made the day JFK was killed were just discovered and put up for sale.

    Nice to have some good sports-related news with Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos rescued safe from kidnappers.

    The Houston Astros are moving to the American League. I’m still confused from the Brewers league switch in 1998.

    Shout! Factory released a new 11-DVD set of Mr. Magoo cartoons, featuring the voice of Jim Backus.

    Check out some New Guinness World Records for 2012.

    What was your favorite pop culture story this week? Leave your two cents in the comments.