The Wizard of Oz is one of the most revered and enduring musicals of modern history. It has been long beloved as the first real movie musical and one of the first films to ever use the new “technicolor” technology. The beautiful characters and plot points were taken from Frank L. Baum’s original book, but the movie musical featured words by E.Y. Hamburg and Harold Arlen.
A lot of people assumed that the Judy Garland helmed film premiered in either New York or Los Angeles, where most movie premieres occur. Apparently in 1939 on this day in history, the Wizard of Oz premiered in Oconomowoc, an obscure Wisconsin town.
Judy Garland entered the hearts and minds of Americans on a Hollywood level due to her incredible and irreverent performance as Dorothy Gale, a young girl from Kansas who ends up in a twisted foreign land called Oz following a tornado. She is plagued by the Wicked Witch and teams up with a lovable cast of characters who are all searching for something they lack. Whether it’s the Lion and his courage, the Tin Man and his heart or the Scarecrow and his Brain it’s a true cinematic pleasure to watch these characters navigate Oz.
The first incarnation of this story was published in 1900 as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It had been adapted many times for the stage and screen and even set to music before 1939. It was that year’s film adaptation that earned Baum the credit and reputation associated with creating a classic story.
Lyricist Yip Harburg and composer Harold Arlen were veterans of songwriting and the music industry before their involvement in the Wizard of Oz’s movie inception. They both had decorated careers before teaming up in 1938 to write the original songs and score for The Wizard of Oz.
They didn’t really have much experience working as a songwriting team though. Harburg’s best-known credits to date were the downtrodden, “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” (1931) and the romantic but equally depressing “It’s Only A Paper Moon” (1933). In an antithetical style Arlen made hits with songs like “Get Happy” (1929) and “Stormy Weather” (1933). Their first collaboration was on the Broadway musical Hooray For What! (1937), from that partnership the legendary song, “Down With Love” was born. They had no idea what the success of The Wizard of Oz would do for their careers.
Everyone knew how special this story and production and movie was when the first words “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” came out of Judy Garland’s mouth. Arlen and Harburg won the Oscar for Best Song at the Academy Awards in 1940 and since then it has been sung by some of the most talented performers of our time.