"The Wizard of Oz" burst into brilliant Technicolor 75 years ago. On Aug. 15, 1939, 10,000 fans lined the streets of Hollywood for the gala premiere, just two days before the now-iconic film opened to the public.
It wasn't the first adaptation of Frank L. Baum's novels — the movies had been transporting audiences to Oz since the silent era — but it is still the only one that matters. Munchkins, ruby slippers, flying monkeys and Toto too are all part of the cultural lexicon. And that breathtaking moment when little Dorothy Gale steps out of her black-and-white dust bowl farmhouse and into the dazzling Technicolor fantasyland of Oz still sends us over the rainbow.
But in some cases, it's the darker moments and characters who work fans into a tizzy. Take TODAY's Matt Lauer, for example. The anchor couldn't help but offer his favorite line and impression when discussing the classic film:
In honor of the 75th anniversary of "The Wizard of Oz," we've put together a little trivia quiz. Test yourself: Are the following statements true or false?
1. The Tin Man cried chocolate syrup.
True: It was meant to be machine oil of course, but real oil didn't photograph well so the production substituted chocolate syrup. When Jack Haley tears up as the Tin Man, it's actually chocolate streaming down his silver face.
2. Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch, suffered electrical burns from the sparks that shot off of Dorothy's ruby slippers.
False: It wasn't electricity, but apple juice that splashed out of the slippers in a perfectly harmless (if somewhat sticky) effect. But Hamilton was very badly burned while filming her memorable disappearance from Munchkinland in a blast of smoke and fire. During a retake, flames lit her dress, hat and broom on fire and severely burned her face and hand. She recuperated for six weeks before returning to the set.
3. The Cowardly Lion's costume was created from genuine lion pelts.
True: And it was unbearably hot under the banks of arc lights needed for Technicolor photography. "He had to take his lion suit off completely after each shot," Bert Lahr's makeup man Charlie Schram told film historian Aljean Harmetz. "The poor man went through hell." The suit sold at auction in 1970 for $2,400.
4. The part of The Wizard was originally written for W.C. Fields.
True: Producer Mervyn LeRoy actually wanted zany vaudeville comedian Ed Wynn, but the screenwriters wrote for Fields' voice. Frank Morgan, who is now identified so completely with the role, had to beg to get a screen test.
5. One of the Munchkins committed suicide during production and can be seen hanging from a noose in the background of one shot.
False: This urban legend has been around for years (sometimes with a stagehand as the victim). The shadowy blur in the forest as the troupe dances out of the Tin Man scene is actually an exotic bird let loose on the set for atmosphere. Snopes has the story for you.
6. Terry, the little female Cairn terrier that plays Toto, was paid $125 a week.
True: Trainer Carl Spitz later figured that he could have gotten more — the producers were desperate to have Terry in the role — but it still paid better than the Munchkins. The little people of Munchkinland received $50 a week.
7. The set of "The Wizard of Oz" became known as the happiest on the MGM lot.
False: One actor (Buddy Ebsen) was replaced when the aluminum dust in his Tin Man makeup sent him to the hospital with a lung condition. Margaret Hamilton (The Wicked Witch) spent six weeks recovering from burns (see above) and Toto sprained his paw after an extra stepped on her. The brightly colored face makeup was so toxic that many of the actors could not eat once it was applied (they drank through straws until it was removed at the end of the day). And when Judy Garland couldn't stop laughing during one take, director Victor Fleming slapped her face to stop the giggling (she forgave him). It was a stressful shoot.
8. "The Wizard of Oz" was the smash hit of 1939.
False: The film was very popular, to be sure, but it was overshadowed by "Gone With the Wind." In fact, "Wizard" didn't even crack the top five moneymakers that year and it cost so much to produce that it didn't turn a profit until it was re-released in 1948. Since then, countless TV showings and sales on videocassette, DVD and Blu-ray have turned the yellow bricks into movie gold.
Thanks to Aljean Harmetz's invaluable and painstakingly researched "The Making of The Wizard of Oz" for much of this information.