Dorothy and her friends (and adversaries) from “The Wizard of Oz” will be back in The Fox this weekend, this time accompanied by the Spokane Symphony.
The first Spokane showing of “The Wizard of Oz” was up the block at the State Theater (now the Bing Crosby Theater) on Aug. 18, 1939, a week before its national release.
It’s unclear whether the film played at the Fox Theater then, but it screened there several times following its re-release in the 1950s.
Now the symphony – which recently renovated the former movie house as its home base – will provide live orchestral accompaniment for the film in a pair of SuperPops concerts Saturday and Sunday under the baton of Resident Conductor Morihiko Nakahara.
The production is the brainchild of John Goberman, the producer responsible for the Emmy Award-winning “Live from Lincoln Center” public television series.
“The Wizard of Oz” has likely been seen by more people than any other movie. And the songs written by E.Y. (Yip) Harburg and composed by Harold Arlen have been heard by millions more, some of whom have never seen the movie.
Herbert Stothart’s original score and the orchestration of Arlen’s and Harburg’s songs were reconstructed by John Wilson and Andrew Cottee.
While Goberman’s program for orchestras debuted in 2005, the symphony will be performing along with the remastered high-definition version of the film, released last year to coincide with its 75th anniversary.
“The Wizard of Oz” originated as a children’s novel by L. Frank Baum, published in 1900. After the success of Disney’s full-length cartoon versions of fairy tales, MGM decided to make a movie musical based on Baum’s book.
Judy Garland, who played Dorothy Gale, had made films before, but her role in “The Wizard of Oz” confirmed her as a star at 17.
Dorothy is the young heroine who, after a whack on the head during a tornado, dreams her way out of dull, dusty brown Kansas into the colorful world of Oz along with her little dog Toto.
Her companions on the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City – the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), the Tin Woodsman (Jack Haley) and the Cowardly Lion (Burt Lahr) – were fantasy counterparts to farmhands Dorothy knew back in Kansas.
MGM originally considered Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin for the role of Dorothy, but producer Mervyn LeRoy insisted on Garland.
Buddy Ebsen had been cast as the Tin Man, but when he proved allergic to the aluminum dust makeup, he was removed from the film and Haley took over (with a change to aluminum paste makeup).
The story of difficulties over casting, storyline, costuming, makeup and filming problems contained enough twists to make a movie in itself.
The film had an enormous budget for those days – $2.8 million – run up by the Technicolor process and special effects that included Dorothy being caught up in the tornado and the Wicked Witch of the West skywriting “Surrender Dorothy” from her flaming broomstick.
Its first-year gross was only $3 million, a soft start for what was to become a film classic. “The Wizard of Oz” did not become really successful until its re-release in 1949, after which it became a fixture on television.
Nominated for six Academy Awards – but up against stiff competition from “Gone With the Wind” – “Oz” won only two Oscars, both for music. Arlen and Harburg won for Best Song, and Stothart won for Best Original Score.
“Over the Rainbow” was nearly cut from the film because the pre-release running time was nearly two hours. MGM reduced that to about 90 minutes.
Songs were recorded in the studio before the filming began, so Ebsen (later to become famous playing Jed Clampett in “The Beverly Hillbillies”) can still be heard on the “Oz” soundtrack despite his absence from the film’s dialogue.
An attentive listener can hear that Ebsen could pronounce the “r” in wizard. For Haley, a Bostonian, it came out “wizuhd.”