It’s unlikely anyone needs a synopsis of The Wizard of Oz—my favorite is Rick Polito’s of the Marin Independent Journal, who wrote, “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.”— but just in case you haven’t read a book or magazine or gone on-line or snapped on your TV in the last seventy years, here goes: Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) and her dog Toto are swept away from black and white Kansas by a tornado that lands them in a Technicolor world of wonder called Oz. Realizing that there is no place like home Dot sets off on the Yellow Brick Road in search of the powerful Wizard of Oz who can help her return home. Along the path she hooks up with some unusual new friends—a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), a Tin Woodman (Jack Haley) and Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr)—and makes one enemy, the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) who badly wants Dorothy’s bedazzled Ruby Slippers. Hope I didn’t spoil it for you.
Since 1939 The Wizard of Oz’s most famous line has been used a thousand different ways. From Avatar to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, variations of “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” have dotted scripts, often used as a punch line in violent situations. For instance it draws a laugh in the wild video game Crash Nitro Kart but in 1939 it wasn’t the joke but a set up for a joke.
“The line ‘Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore’ is the line that became classic but it is basically there as a setup for Judy Garland’s next line, when Billie Burke comes into view, and Garland says, ‘Now I KNOW I’m not in Kansas,’” says Wizard of Oz expert John Fricke. “It really is an adult humor kind of line. What’s impressive about it is that this 16 year old girl would have the Elaine Stritch kind of take on what has just happened to her and to not read it with an adult tone but read it with that great sincerity that Garland had yet with the dryness the line requires.”
Who, exactly, wrote what on The Wizard of Oz is a bit of a mystery. Three writers are credited in the titles—Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf—but a long list of Hollywood who’s who worked on the script. It’s likely that most of what appears on screen came from the pens of those three—they came up with the idea to have Frank Morgan appear as not only The Wizard of Oz but Professor Marvel, The Gatekeeper, The Carriage Driver and The Doorman and they created the “There’s no place like Home” ending motif—but at one time or another Herman J. Mankiewicz (who went on to win an Oscar three years later for his Citizen Kane script) and Ogden Nash were among the fourteen screenwriters who also contributed material. (In fact, the surviving versions of the film’s multiple scripts makes a pile five feet high.) Who wrote the movie’s “Kansas” line—it doesn’t appear in the original Frank L. Baum books—is up for debate. Regardless of who wrote the line, however, it has gone on to become one of the most quoted in movie history.
“It sort of sums up the whole plot in one line: ‘Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,’ says Fricke. “Plus by the time she gets to ‘Now I KNOW we’re not in Kansas’ you’ve had Munchkins peaking up from behind the bushes; you’ve had this pink bubble coming into view; you’ve had Judy backing off camera and Billie Burke turning up so you are kind of emotionally removed from the first line. The second line is the payoff and the button but I don’t think people usually put them together. There’s too much going on at any moment on the Wizard of Oz, especially if you see it on the big screen and are so over whelmed by it or if you are seeing it for the first time.”