August 25, 1939: The Wizard of Oz Debuts
On this day in 1939, The Wizard of Oz, which will become one of the best-loved movies in history, opens in theaters around the United States.
Based on the 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum (1856-1919), the film starred Judy Garland as the young Kansas farm girl Dorothy, who, after being knocked unconscious in a tornado, dreams about following a yellow brick road, alongside her dog Toto, to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard of Oz. Along the way, Dorothy encounters a cast of characters, including the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Wicked Witch of the West. Though the scenes in Kansas were shot in traditional black and white, Oz appears in vivid Technicolor, a relatively new film process at the time. Nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Picture category, The Wizard of Oz lost to the Civil War-era epic Gone With the Wind. The Wizard of Oz won a Best Song Oscar for “Over the Rainbow,” which became one of Garland’s signature hits. Garland won a special award at that year’s Oscar ceremony, for Best Juvenile Performer.
Filmed at MGM Studios in Culver City, California, The Wizard of Oz was a modest box-office success when it was first released, but its popularity continued to grow after it was televised for the first time in 1956. An estimated 45 million people watched that inaugural broadcast, and since then The Wizard of Oz has aired on TV countless times. Today, some of the film’s famous lines, including “There’s no place like home” and “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” are well-known to several generations of moviegoers.
The Wizard of Oz spawned two sequels, Journey Back to Oz (1974), an animated film featuring the voice of Judy Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, and Return to Oz (1985). A remake with an African American cast, The Wiz, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, was released in 1978 with music arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones. The Wizard of Oz was one of the first 25 films to be put on the National Film Registry, which is reserved for culturally or historically significant movies.