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Dark secrets from filming The Wizard Of Oz on Judy Garland's 100th birthday

Bruno Cooke June 10, 2022
judy garland wizard of oz behind the scenes
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

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We’re not in Kansas any more, Dorothy.

Judy Garland would have turned 100 years old today. She attained international stardom as an actress, recording artist and on the concert stage, but many will remember her most fondly for portraying Dorothy Gale as she followed the Yellow Brick Road.

But not everyone will know about what happened behind the camera lens – here are some of the darker behind-the-scenes moments from The Wizard Of Oz.

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The Wizard Of Oz is said to have marked the beginning of the end of Judy Garland’s career

Born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, on 10 June 1922, Garland was on stage at the age of two and a half.

But, by many accounts, the misfortunes that plagued her during her short life overshadowed her wickedly successful career. 

According to biographer Gerald Clarke, who wrote Get Happy: The Life Of Judy Garland, she was given pills to control her energy and weight from as young as nine years old.

Studio executives apparently called her a “fat little pig with pigtails”; she described herself as a “walking advertisement for sleeping pills”.

And the circumstances surrounding her performance as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard Of Oz may have been the tipping point. Read on to find out how.

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Too little food and too little pay, plus allegations of an indecent nature

To prep her for shooting The Wizard Of Oz, per Biography, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executives strapped her breasts down, fed her a “steady diet of drugs” and “very little food”. 

On top of that, co-stars Ray Bolger (Scarecrow) and Jack Haley (Tin Man) earned six times her weekly salary

And, according to her third husband Sidney Luft’s memoir Judy And I: My Life With Judy Garland, the actors who played the Munchkins allegedly “made Judy’s life miserable on set by putting their hands under her dress”.

“The men were 40 or more years old.”

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She died in June 1969, shortly after her 47th birthday. A coroner ruled her cause of death was “an incautious self-overdosage” of barbiturates, according to Clarke’s biography. 

It’s in light of this that some say the pressure placed on her by the movie “killed Judy Garland”.

At least she didn’t have to wear a torturous costume or make-up that made her physically ill

Buddy Ebsen, the original Tin Man actor, had to leave the production due to pure aluminium dust poisoning. His face make-up hospitalised him and, when he didn’t recover fast enough, the studio recast the part.

During a take of the scene in which the Wicked Witch Of The West, played by Margaret Hamilton, disappears in a plume of smoke, “the pyrotechnics and smoke were released too early”. That’s according to HubPages.

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Her broomstick and hat caught fire, and her highly conductive copper make-up scorched her face. To avoid severe toxic burns, assistants removed the remaining make-up using alcohol. It was apparently “one of the most painful things Hamilton ever experienced”, HubPages adds.

She took six weeks to recover. On returning to work she was offered a “fireproof costume” to shoot another similar scene. She refused out of sensible fear. Her stunt double Betty Danko took over, and was hospitalised that very same day.

If you have been affected by this story, you can contact the RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, National Sexual Hotline. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1 (800) 656-4673. You can also contact the Department of Defense Safe Helpline for Sexual Assault on 1 (877) 955-5247.

Contact American Addiction Centers on (877) 686-7688 or Talk To Frank on 0300 123 6600 in the UK.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.