On the August 30, 2020 edition of the Richard Crouse Show we have a look at the making of one of the most loved movies of all time, “The Wizard of Oz,” with interviews with some of the actors who were actually on set! Here’s how that happened: “Today I spent a chunk of my day going through closets, finding discs of unlabelled photographs and other bits and pieces that have piled up in the nooks and crannies of my house. I came across a set of interviews I did at a rather loud party at the Tavern on the Green in New York City in 2009 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the release of The Wizard of Oz.
“That day I mixed and mingled with some of the original Munchkins like Karl Slover, who was just two feet tall when he played the first trumpeter, Villager Munchkin Ruth Duccini, member of the Lollipop Guild Jerry Maren and Judy Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft, while enjoying Wizard of Oz themed drinks like the Gin Tornado. But mostly I soaked up the stories from some of the folks who were there when Judy Garland was swept away to a technicolour OZ.
“Today I banged the interviews together in a podcast, the first project from the newly dubbed Isolation Studios. I enjoyed doing it and somehow the movie makes perfect sense for right now. ‘Someplace where there isn’t any trouble? Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It’s not a place you can get to by a boat or train. It’s far, far away… behind the moon… beyond the rain.'”
Then we check in with “Downton Abbey” star Kevin Doyle, who played the Abbey’s second footman, Joseph Molesley for six seasons on television and in the big screen movie. Doyle is also known for other roles, including DS John Wadsworth in Happy Valley and in the TV series The Lakes, Coronation Street and The Crimson Field. Doyle played valet/footman Joseph Molesley in the TV series Downton Abbey. He is the winner of two Screen Actors Guild awards and a Royal Television Society award for best actor for Happy Valley.
Listen to the whole thing HERE! (Link coming soon)
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Like everybody else I’m self-isolating in this very odd time. With no movies to review and my television show “Pop Life” on hiatus I’m finding things to keep myself busy. Today I spent a chunk of my day going through closets, finding discs of unlabelled photographs and other bits and pieces that have piled up in the nooks and crannies of my house. I came across a set of interviews I did at a rather loud party at the Tavern on the Green in New York City in 2009 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the release of The Wizard of Oz.
That day I mixed and mingled with some of the original Munchkins like Karl Slover, who was just two feet tall when he played the first trumpeter, Villager Munchkin Ruth Duccini, member of the Lollipop Guild Jerry Maren and Judy Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft, while enjoying Wizard of Oz themed drinks like the Gin Tornado. But mostly I soaked up the stories from some of the folks who were there when Judy Garland was swept away to a technicolour OZ.
Today I banged the interviews together in a podcast, the first project from the newly dubbed Isolation Studios. I enjoyed doing it and somehow the movie makes perfect sense for right now. “Someplace where there isn’t any trouble? Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It’s not a place you can get to by a boat or train. It’s far, far away… behind the moon… beyond the rain.”
An exercise in “found footage” handheld camera technique, “Into the Storm’s” story is almost as shaky as its visuals.
Playing like a cross between “Twister,” “Wizard of Oz” and “The Blair Witch Project,” the story is set in Silverton, a small Midwestern American town besieged by tornadoes. In just one twenty-four hour span deadly twisters rip through the town, sending sensible citizens rushing for cover while a storm chasing documentary crew led by director Pete (“Veep’s” Matt Walsh) and meteorologist Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies of “The Walking Dead”) rush headlong into the cyclone to get some up-close-and-personal footage. Meanwhile Gary (Richard Armitage) and son (Nathan Kress) are on the hunt for their son/brother Donnie (Max Deacon) who went missing when the storm started.
Director Steven Quale was the visual effects supervisor on “The Abyss,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “True Lies,” “Titanic” and “Avatar,” so the guy knows how to stage an action scene. It’s the other stuff he has trouble with. When the wind isn’t tearing the town apart it’s as if Quale doesn’t know what to do with the characters or the story.
To kill time between the wild wind storms the characters tell you what is about to happen—“Oh [crap],” says Allison, “it’s headed for the school!”—and talk about shooting anything that movies. “I can’t stop filming or I’ll be fired!” says cameraman Jacob.
Everyone seems to have a camera crazy-glued to their hands, and those who don’t seem to spend their time yelling, “Make sure you keep filming,” to the people who do. In fact, this movie should have been called “Keep Filming,” because it is the film’s mantra.
Mix that with a wooden performance from Richard Armitage that would make Woody Pecker’s mouth water, a series of tornadoes and a Firenado—an idea so silly I imagine the makers of “Sharknado” rejected it as too over the top—and you get a disaster movie that is a disaster of a film.
Synopsis: After enjoying big Easter and Passover meals, the Reel Guys like to treat the family to a good movie. Because there are as many different kinds of family movies as there are colours on the most psychedelic Ukrainian Easter egg, this week the guys have a look at their favourites. From the big screen to rentals for the small screen they choose movies that will put an extra hop in your step this weekend.
Richard: Mark, if you’re planning to take the kids out to the movies this weekend, there are two recent family flicks that deserve to be seen on the big screen. The Lego Movie is possibly the weirdest, most psychedelic kid’s entertainment since H.R. Pufnstuf, but it is also one of the best films of the year so far, kid’s movie or not. Then there is Mr. Peabody & Sherman, a big animated film inspired by a time travelling segment from the TV show Rocky and His Friends. It’s the only kid’s movie with an Oedipal joke and the kind of children’s movie that I think parents and kids will enjoy, but probably for completely different reasons.
Mark: Richard, so far The Lego Movie is the most exciting movie of the year, family or otherwise, but it should be noted that it, too, has a strong Oedipal theme in it. As a father of a three-year-old, I’m never quite sure what family entertainment means; what’s appropriate for my little boy is different than what might entertain an eight-year-old. Pretty much anything animated works for all ages, but then it gets complicated. And gender plays a role in choosing the right flick, too. Young girls love The Wizard of Oz, but young boys, not so much. But you never know. My little one loves Frozen, just out on DVD, even though it might seem “girly” to some.
RC: People love Frozen. I’m not one of them, but there is no arguing with the success of that movie. I’m more on side with Despicable Me II, which I thought was great fun despite its predictable plot. The story of chrome-domed former bad guy Gru’s (Steve Carell) working with the Anti-Villain League could have written itself, but the inventive gags contained within are the reason the whole family will enjoy the movie. There are lots of fun characters, but it’s really all about the Minions — Gru’s yellow, jelly-bean-shaped helpers — who spice things up with their own special kind of anarchy. Speaking in gibberish, they’re fun and more than worth the rental.
MB: Despicable Me II is a treat but my little guy deemed it “too scawy”. But I look forward to a family viewing of E.T. — the greatest family movie ever. Young or old, boys or girls, who doesn’t love the tale of that lovable little alien? Also on my eventual DVD queue would be Gremlins and even Home Alone. Kids love movies with kid heroes.
RC: Speaking of kid heroes, the adaptation of the classic Maurice Sendak children’s book Where the Wild Things Are isn’t a movie for kids as much as it is a movie about being a kid. Max is the hero, a lonely kid who goes to where the wild things are. It’s a slow moving, simple film about deep feelings. It’s not a slick, brightly coloured kid’s film with a connect-the-dots plot and an easily digested moral, but it is a magical movie.
MB: I never got the appeal of the movie or the book, but maybe I’ve been missing something. But here’s an idea: Sit down with the family and watch A Hard Day’s Night. Everyone loves The Beatles, and this is the pop group in full cheeky-cute mode. Their rock songs from 1964 sound a lot like kids music today, with their melodic hooks and innocent lyrics.
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.”
“We always say the age range for The Wizard of Oz is from fetal to fatal,” jokes Oz expert John Fricke. It’s a funny line, but there is a ring of truth to it.
The movie, whose birthday is being commemorated by the lovingly restored Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu Ray, is beloved by old and young. For the surviving cast members the appeal is easy to define.
“Everybody can enjoy it,” says Karl Slover, age 91, who was just two feet tall when he played the first trumpeter. “There’s no filthy language in it. I don’t see no bikinis! No nudist colonies! Kids can watch it and parents don’t have to worry because there’s nothing bad in there.”
Slover is one of just six actors left of the 124 “little people” assembled to play the Munchkins in the film. He had some previous film experience but not all the actors were Hollywood regulars.
“I was in the movie because I was the right size and that’s all they wanted,” says Villager Munchkin Ruth Duccini, age 91, who adds that she can’t sing or dance very well.
“I grew up in a small town in Minnesota and I didn’t know there were other little people.” But once she got on set she found she wasn’t alone. “I remember all the little people and that was so great; 123 people that you could stand and talk to without talking to a bellybutton.”
Ruth adds that star Judy Garland was just as excited about having all little people in one place as she was and Munchkin Flowerpot Hat dancer Margaret Pellegrini (age 86) says Garland treated all the Munchkins to candy and a keepsake at Christmas.
“On Christmas Eve morning when she came to work she opened the door to her (dressing room) and there she had a whole stack of black and white pictures and she invited each and every one of us in and gave each a picture. Mine says ‘To Margaret from your pal Judy.’ I still have it.”
Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft says her mom loved working on The Wizard of Oz. “This movie was special for her. She told me the hardest thing about the film was being afraid of (Wicked Witch) Margaret Hamilton because she was very sweet. She also told me that unfortunately the dog had the worst breath.”
There’s a scene late in THE WIZARD OF OZ that any of the film’s many fans will readily recall where the Wizard is handing out the much longed for rewards to each of Dorothy’s merry band of heroic misfits. What has always struck me about it is not just the visible excitement and anticipation plastered all over the faces of each character in line awaiting their turn for the Wizard to bestow his magic upon them. It’s also the tiniest hint of fear hidden in their faces, as if they are dreading the possibility that they might be the one exception where the Wizard’s magic won’t work, that for them his promises might just too good to be true.
I suppose the reason that’s always stood out to me is because it’s a feeling I can acutely relate to as someone upon whom – unlike in the end for the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion – THE WIZARD OF OZ’s magic never worked. Even as a child, while those around me found themselves pulled into and charmed by the wonderful world of Oz, I was always left untouched and sheepishly wondering “Why isn’t it working on me?” I’ve always distinctly felt as if I were Dorothy just after she arrived in Oz and is looking out into its colorful word from within her still sepia drenched house. However, unlike Dorothy who ultimately stepped out and immersed herself in it, I never did, and simply found myself thinking “Yeah, that’s nice” but always unable to feel how nice it actually is since I never entered that world. In all the times I’ve seen the movie sine I was kid, that’s never changed. I’ve remained repeatedly unaffected, resigning myself to the fact that OZ’s magic – as much as I wanted it to – would never cast its spell on me.
Still, that hasn’t kept me from continually trying. Which is why when I recently received a special invitation to take advantage of a unique opportunity to catch a very special projected screening of the brand new 70th Anniversary restoration of THE WIZARD OF OZ (to coincide with a DVD and Blu-Ray release), it seemed as good a time as any to revisit OZ and give THE WIZARD’s magic another shot after about almost a decade of not seeing the film.
Hosted and organized by the always charming and esteemed Toronto film critic, Richard Crouse (former host of “Reel to Real” and author of “The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen”) in conjunction with Warner Brothers at chique Hazleton Hotel in downtown Toronto, the movie was shown in the sort of private and fully equipped screening room that would fulfill more than one movie and home theatre buff’s fantasy.
As I waited for the lights to dim and nestled myself into the luscious leather couch, Crouse’s emphasis in his introduction that this is how the film should be seen echoed hopefully in my head. I knew if there was any way to see and finally appreciate THE WIZARD OF OZ, it would be this way.
Sure enough (and finally) this time the magic worked.
A large part of what I think helped me finally cross that threshold from indifference to wonder this time was initially – and perhaps superficially -the restoration. It is so gorgeously clean and vibrant, that it can’t help but add a certain magical sheen to the film and make it hard to resist such a beautifully rendered world full of dazzling and rich colors restored to their most pristine original condition.
What’s more, any movie buff will tell you the often astronomical differences between seeing a movie on the small screen (yes, even if your “small screen” is a 80 inch LCD) and seeing it projected above you. Despite the advancements in home theatre technology, a theatre screen will always provide a more immersive experience than a television screen. When you’re sitting in a chair, looking up at images that consume your entire field of vision, you feel so much more part of the world you’re watching. That has all the more impact when you’re watching a world of wonder, music, color and magic, which is why THE WIZARD OF OZ had all the more impact on me this time around.
With those elements acting as facilitators, this time I finally clued into the film’s enveloping charm and its magical innocence. In fact, I was surprised by just how swept away I was by it all. The movie’s simple and sweet story and events had me perpetually smiling, its music had my fingers tapping, and its vaudeville style humor had me laughing. It’s like somehow seeing it projected onto a big screen, sitting there watching it in the dark, THE WIZARD OF OZ suddenly turned me into a kid again. The kid who should have loved this film and grown up to cherish it for all these years.
In that sense maybe in the end the Wizard did work his magic on me after all in more ways than one. The Cowardly Lion got his courage, the Tin Man got his heart, the Scarecrow got his brain, Dorothy got to go home, and me? Well, I think for the period of the movie he gave me back the child in me that somehow missed out on the joy of THE WIZARD OF OZ.
When New Girl star Zooey Deschanel was two years old she watched The Wizard of Oz every day. “I had a hard time understanding that I couldn’t go into the film,” she said, “because it felt so real to me.”
She’s not alone. It is one of the most watched and universally adored Hollywood films ever and the L. Frank Baum book it’s based on has been called “America’s greatest and best-loved home grown fairytale.”
“We always say the age range for The Wizard of Oz is from fetal to fatal,” jokes Oz expert John Fricke.
This weekend Disney hopes to add to the legacy of the original film with Oz the Great and Powerful, a Sam Raimi directed prequel starring James Franco and Mila Kunis. Ever wondered why the wicked witch was so wicked? Or how the wizard became the wizard? With a click of its ruby slippers this movie fills in the blanks.
It’s not the first movie to try and woo an audience based on the goodwill of Oz and its citizens.
According to the Wonderful Wiki of Oz there are dozens of movies featuring Dorothy, Toto and friends, dating back to almost the turn of the last century.
1910’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the first Baum book to hit the screen. The film was made after the author’s stage show, Fairylogue and Radio-Plays, had failed, leaving him in the hole. To settle his debt with the Selig Polyscope Company he gave them the rights to his best-known work. The result is a thirteen-minute short that sees Dorothy and Toto (played by a child in a dog suit) ride a haystack to the magical world of Oz.
Almost seven decades later two very different musicals were inspired by the Oz folks.
20th Century Oz is a 1976 Australian rock musical that reimagines the classic story set in 1970s Australia.
Two years later director Sidney Lumet adapted the Broadway hit The Wiz for the screen, casting Motown superstars Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as The Scarecrow. Although it was, at the time, the most expensive film musical ever made, it wasn’t a hit in theatres.
Oz may be the most American of stories, but that hasn’t prevented foreign adaptations. Ayşecik ve Sihirli Cüceler Rüyalar Ülkesinde is a Turkish retelling of the tale, starring a girl named Ayşa who has adventures with Korkuluk the Scarecrow.