Saturday, September 13, 2014

Happy 75th Birthday, Wizard of Oz!: A Guest Post by Elizabeth Eckhart

I am very excited to welcome Elizabeth Eckhart back to A Bookish Affair. Today, she is talking about one of my childhood film favorites, The Wizard of Oz!

For tens of millions of children and adults around the world, The Wizard of Oz remains a mainstay in their film collections, and the seemingly timeless film is celebrating a big milestone this year – its 75th birthday! It’s hard to believe that what originally started as a simple book by L. Frank Baum spawned one of the most iconic films in history, as well as a slew of spinoffs and adaptations. So, in honor of the classic film’s 75th anniversary, let’s take a look at some of the later works it inspired.

    This largely forgotten animated film released in England 1972 serves as a sequel to the original film. From its inception in 1962 the film was plagued with financial problems and eventually had to cease production for eight years before the studio could afford to start the project again. The cast impressively features Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli as the voice of Dorothy, along with the original Wicked Witch of the West Margaret Hamilton, Mickey Rooney, and Ethel Merman.

    Despite the fact that the film was a commercial failure in theaters, ABC purchased the rights to the film in 1976 and expanded the film into a Christmas special featuring live action segments with Bill Cosby as the Wizard. This version continued to air through the 70’s and into the 80’s before ABC shelved it. A Special Edition DVD of the film was released in 2006, however you’re going to have to fork over some cash if you want one, since new versions of it start at $115 on Amazon.

    This hugely popular Broadway musical is based on the 1995 book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, written by Gregory Maguire. Both stories tell the previously untold history of Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda, the Good Witch. The two young witches first meet at a university, where their clashing personalities eventually result in the best of friendships, despite Glinda’s popularity and Elphaba’s poor reputation.
    The novel became began jumping top seller lists after the broadway musical, featuring Frozen’s Idina Menzel as Elphaba and Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda, won three Tonys and a Grammy. There have even been rumors of a film adaptation, but no details have been confirmed.

    The Wiz began as an all African-American stage adaptation of the original Wizard of Oz novel, which opened in 1974 in Baltimore. Written by Charlie Smalls and William F. Brown the play made its way to Broadway in 1975 before winning the Best Musical Tony Award in addition to six other Tony’s. The play also toured intermittently in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s establishing a large following.
    You might be more familiar, however, with the 1978 film version of The Wiz produced by Berry Gordy and his Motown Productions. Gordy purchased rights to the film and even signed with the original Broadway “Dorothy” Stephanie Mills in 1977, but Motown Record’s star (and Gordy’s girlfriend) Diana Ross insisted he give her the role instead. Despite a splashy cast that included Ross, Michael Jackson, Lena Horne, and Richard Pryor, along with a budget of $24 million, the film was a massive failure when it hit theaters and ultimately lost Motown $11 million. In addition, it more or less ended Diana Ross’s film career – she did go on to act in two more made-for-T.V. films in the 90’s, but never another theatrically released film. However after it’s release to home video it developed a cult following and is still a cult favorite thanks to it’s campy, psychedelic production.

    The most recent spinoff, released in 2013, acts as a prequel to the original film version. It’s all star cast includes James Franco as Oz, Michelle Williams as Glinda, as well as Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis. The film tells the story of how a man named Oscar Diggs (Franco) made his way from being a two-bit magician traveling the backroads of a turn of the century Midwest to the magical land of Oz.
    The Disney film was an incredibly expensive (clocking in at $215 million) and a difficult one to create thanks to its heavy use of CGI elements and conversion into 3D and IMAX formats for theatrical release. However, it pulled in a staggering $493 million worldwide and a sequel, which all of the cast have signed up for according to Kunis.

    For fans of The Wizard of Oz the news of its 75th anniversary is a reason to celebrate the ageless and family friendly film. If it’s been a while since you’ve sat down and enjoyed the movie it’s readily available on demand through both cable providers and online streaming services. So, make some popcorn, sit back, and let yourself relive a childhood (or adult if you were a bit late to the game) classic.
About the author:

Elizabeth Eckhart is an entertainment and film blogger for, who finds nothing more compelling than a good story, no matter its medium.


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