On this Day in Movie History, February 24, 1938: MGM Buys Rights to Wizard of Oz

On this day in 1938, Variety reported that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) had bought the rights to adapt L. Frank Baum’s children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for the screen. The studio had cast 16-year-old Judy Garland in the film’s central role, Dorothy Gale.

From the beginning of its production of The Wizard of Oz had its challenges. The script went through numerous rewrites. By filming’s end no fewer than four directors (Richard Thorpe, George Cukor, Victor Fleming and King Vidor) had worked on the movie.

Casting the movie produced its own problems. By the time it was announced that Garland had been cast, Ray Bolger had been assigned the role of the Tin Man, and Buddy Ebsen had been picked to play the Scarecrow. At Bolger’s insistence, he and Ebsen soon swapped parts. Nine days after filming began, however, Ebsen dropped out of the production after he suffered a near-fatal allergic reaction to the aluminum dust used in his Tinman makeup. Jack Haley replaced him.

The role of the Wicked Witch of the West was also recast. The original actress, Gale Sondergaard, objected to playing such an ugly, evil character; Margaret Hamilton replaced her.

In the end, The Wizard of Oz emerged from these challenges as one of history’s most enduring and best-loved films, ranking sixth on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest films of all time (compiled in 1999).

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