Somewhere over the rainbow, there is a magical and colorful land, filled with friendship, family and an appreciation of home. When The Wizard of Oz hit the silver screen, those idealizations became a reality for audiences who watched as Dorothy Gale, a simple farm girl from Kansas traveled to the land of Oz, meeting new friends, and finding a strength within herself that she never knew she had.
It has been 80 years since the film’s release, having debuted in August 1939, and it is the best-known and most commercially successful adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). People still hold tight to the iconic image of Dorothy, Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion skipping down the yellow brick road.
After Dorothy, her dog Toto and their farmhouse are swept away to Munchkinland in the magical land of Oz by a tornado in Kansas, the house falls on and kills the Wicked Witch of the East, freeing the Munchkins from her tyranny. When her sister, The Wicked Witch of the West, comes to claim the ruby red slippers, Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Billie Burke), magically transfers them to Dorothy’s feet. Stressing their importance and the power they possess, Glinda, tells Dorothy to never take them off. Along the way, Dorothy (Judy Garland) and Toto meet the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), who is in need of brains, the Tin Man (Jack Haley) in need of a heart and the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), in need of courage.
Together they travel to the magical land of Oz to meet the Wizard (Frank Morgan), in hopes of obtaining what they seek and to find a way to get Dorothy back home to Kansas. But when the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton), captures Dorothy, she is splashed with a bucket of water and she melts away, freeing Dorothy and everyone in the land of Oz. At the end of the film, Dorothy realizes there is no place like home, upon which time it is revealed that she can return home by simply closing her eyes, clicking the heels of the slippers together three times and repeating the phrase, “There’s no place like home.”
The year 1939 was a big year for film. Gone With the Wind was one of the first films that included foul language and that same year, The Wizard of Oz took advantage of the new Technicolor color process, which changed film forever. The movie, which entered production thanks to the enormous success of Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs, became known for its fantasy story, musical score, beloved characters and appeal to all ages, solidifying its place in Hollywood as an American pop culture icon. The Wizard of Oz was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but lost to Gone with the Wind, which was also directed by Victor Fleming. It did, however, win Best Original Song for “Over the Rainbow” and Best Original Score by Herbert Stothart. Although the film was considered a critical success upon release in August 1939, it failed to make a profit for MGM until 10 years later during a rerelease. Regardless, The Wizard of Oz catapulted Judy Garland, born Frances Ethel Gumm from Grand Rapids, MN, into stardom, as the young Garland was a mere 17 years old when the film was produced.
The Wizard of Oz was rereleased several times throughout its major anniversary milestones and collectible video and DVD collection. The film returned to many theaters around the country in 2019 for its 80th anniversary.