The Wizard of Oz – 75th Anniversary
by Elizabeth Eckhart
Almost everyone in the US, or really the world at this point, has at least heard of The Wizard of Oz. Since its release it has become not only a favorite movie of children and adults alike across the globe, but a classic piece of the American cinema culture. Think of how many references you might make to it in any given day: calling a child a munchkin, saying “there’s no place like home,” or – my personal favorite phrase from the film – “that’s a horse of a different color!”
Now, on the 75th anniversary of the classic film version, millions are sharing the impactful movie once again. I personally had the film first shown to me when I was a child by my mother, who saw the film with her mother, and I in turn, showed it to my goddaughter. It’s a rare film that can simultaneously be enjoyed by my 80 year old grandmother and 5 year old goddaughter at the same time. So, to celebrate the greatest family film of all time, let’s take a look at some of the other fantastic films, plays, books, and series that have spun off of this classic American story.
This massively popular Broadway musical is based on the 1995 book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. The musical (and book) features the untold story of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, and Glinda the Good. The tale begins when Glinda and Elphaba first meet at a university where Glinda is the typical popular and beautiful pupil and Elphaba is widely misunderstood and disliked due to her strange green skin. The two witches become unlikely friends while discovering their own powers in school. Of course, as we all know, the friendship fell apart, but to discover just how that happened according to Wicked, read the novel!
The play was a massive success when it debuted in 2003 with Frozen’s Idina Menzel playing Elphaba and Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda. It won three Tonys and the cast album even won a Grammy. On top of all that, its nearly 4,500 performances on Broadway make it the 11th longest running show in Broadway history. The musical has also spawned international productions in locales like London, Sydney, Seoul, Copenhagen, and Mexico City. There are currently rumors of a film adaptation of the play being discussed (particularly after the success of Les Miserablés) but no solid details have been released.
Long before Wicked there was The Wiz, the all black Broadway production created by Charlie Smalls and William F. Brown. Following its 1974 debut in Baltimore the play made its way to Broadway in 1975, where it drew in such negative reviews that its producer Ken Harper contemplated cancelling the show after the opening night. However, after television commercials featuring the song “Ease On Down the Road” made the tune a hit the airwaves, the song took on a life of its own, and was finally released as a disco anthem by Consumer Rapport – all of which increased interest in the musical.
In 1977 Motown Productions CEO Berry Gordy purchased the film rights to the musical for his girlfriend and Motown superstar Diana Ross. In The Wiz, Ross plays Dorothy with a young Michael Jackson as Scarecrow, Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man, Richard Pryor as the Wizard, Thelma Carpenter as Miss One, and the legendary Lena Horne as Glinda. The film was a flop both critically and commercially, but has gone on to become something of a cult classic.
The most recent telling of that magical land of Oz came in the form of the 2013 film by director Sam Raimi. This Disney production featured an all-star cast including Mila Kunis as Theodora, James Franco as Oz, Michelle Williams as Glinda, and Rachel Weisz as Evanora. The film served as a prequel to the original 1939 film, and offered an insight as to who Oz was and how he got to the land of Oz, as well as finding out the origins of the Wicked Witch of the West. It was a saccharine yet visually dazzling film on a scale that only Disney can do (both technically and financially). Despite some lackluster reviews from critics, the film was a commercial success and earned nearly $500 million in worldwide box-office revenue. There has been talk of a sequel since Mila Kunis revealed that all the cast members had signed on for another film, but so far no further information has been released.
These are only three of the dozens of spin-offs and adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s classic story and it’s most popular film adaptation. In honor of the beloved film’s 75th anniversary take a little bit of time to revisit the original movie (it’s available on demand on through many streaming services), the book, or one of the many other films, book, plays, or television series the story has spawned in the 75 years since it first hit the silver screen.
Follow Elizabeth Eckhart at @elizeckhart