With technology comes better ways of doing things! The 1939 film provided “lots of experimentation’s” because of the new “technicolor” being used in this very important film. As with life, learning through mistakes!
Many of the main actors suffered serious medical consequences because of techniques used at the time in make-up, costuming and mechanics. Buddy Epsen, who lost the role of Scarecrow to Ray Bolger, was cast as the Tin Man instead. It almost cost him his life because the make-up used to dust his face was aluminum based. He inhaled it over a two week period which coated his lungs like paint and he couldn’t get oxygen to his blood. In excruciating pain he was rushed to the hospital and spent six weeks in an oxygen tent. The studio simply replaced him, with Jack Haley, much to Mr. Epsen’s dismay (although Epsen’s singing voice can be heard in the final film)!
Margaret Hamilton had a brush with disaster on set as well. Another serious injury occurred while filming the Wicked Witch’s flashy exit from Munchkinland. After delivering the line, “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too,” the actress was supposed to disappear through a trap door in a burst of flames. On the second take, Hamilton’s copper-based makeup caught fire along with her broom and hat. In the scene the fire was turned on too soon. Her green make-up had toxic copper in it and with heat, it began to eat at her skin and people on set literally were clawing at her face to get the make-up off. It caused second-degree burns to her face and third-degree burns to her hands. She missed six weeks of work! Upon her return she was tasked with jumping right back into the scene and onto a motorized broom to fly across the sky. However, this time she insisted her double, Betty Danko, do the shot. Margaret was next door when she heard an explosion. The motorized broom blew up and her double went to the hospital for 11 days with terrible permanent scaring to her thighs.
It was said that Ms. Hamilton considered suing the makers of the film, but decided against it, probably on the advice of attorney’s who said she would never work in the industry again. She did say, however, she would never work with fire again.
On other occasions, several actors portraying the flying monkeys were injure
when the piano wires suspending them snapped.
Wow! Experiments back then could have been deadly!
Even Toto didn’t escape unscathed. In a scene at the witch’s castle, one of the guards stepped on and broke Toto’s paw.
Despite its legacy, shooting “The Wizard of Oz” was anything but a magical experience. The actors were forced to deal with miserable working conditions. For roles requiring heavy makeup like the Cowardly Lion and the Wicked Witch, they had to be on set as early as 4 or 5 a.m., and filming would drag on until 7 or 8 p.m.
What’s more, due to the special lighting requirements of three-strip Technicolor, arc lights would heat the set to more than 100 degrees. For Lahr, whose Cowardly Lion costume was made of real lion skin and weighed around 90 pounds, the heat was unbearable, causing him to sweat profusely. During production, two people had the job of staying up all night to dry the sweat-soaked costume so they could film the next day.
Wow! Today, no “real lion skins” would be used. Can you imagine?
Production also ended up lasting a lot longer than expected. Originally contracted for six weeks, Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch) ended up working for 23. During that time, she was forced to adopt a liquid-only diet to avoid ingesting the witch’s green makeup. Most of her dialogue, however, ended up getting cut because her character was deemed too scary.
This was the beginning of Judy’s long battle with prescription drugs and the obsession with her “looks” by studio execs. Back then they referred to them as “vitamin’s” that “kept her energy up” between school and “takes” on set. The gross negligence was everywhere, out in the open and well hidden. The price of fame then and now!
There was also a huge disparate of pay. For instance, Toto was paid $125 a week. While the munchkin’s received $50 a week plus room and board, the children munchkins made $8.09 a day. Judy was paid $9,649.98 total; only Toto and the Munchkins made less. And Ray Bolger’s pay was $72,000.
No one received a single penny in royalties. But as Ray once said, ‘we didn’t get residuals, just immortality.’”