Friday, November 8, 2013

Review: 'The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion'

The 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz won’t happen until late next summer, but Turner Entertainment Co. is so excited to see its property hit that milestone that it’s rushing several commemorative releases into the shops. The beginning of October saw the debut of a 3D Blu-ray of the film, and the end of the month saw publication of Jay Scarfone and William Stillman’s The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion. You can’t really blame Turner for jumping the gun since this movie has been stirring anticipatory excitement since before its 1939 premiere. Scarfone and Stillman’s book relates a pre-release frenzy the likes of which seems surprising in the pre-Star Wars age, let alone the pre-Internet one. The papers were abuzz with debates over whether the movie should be live action or a cartoon. The casting of Judy Garland was big news, as was the blond wig she was supposed to wear to make her look more like the Dorothy in L. Frank Baum’s book. Baum’s fans were writing threatening letters to producer Mervyn LeRoy to ensure he didn’t stray too far from their favorite book.

All of this electricity indicates how ahead of its time The Wizard of Oz was, and few films still resonate with viewers of all ages as it does. Those dedicated millions will find much to tickle them in The Official 75th Anniversary Companion, which compliments Scarfone and Stillman’s storytelling with choice artifacts from Turner Entertainment’s Oz archives. There’s a rare shot of Garland and Toto with Richard Thorpe, the director originally lined up to make the movie. There’s a copy of the agreement with uncredited director King Vidor stipulating that he would, indeed, receive no credit for his work on The Wizard of Oz. There are black & white and color shots of Garland in her inappropriately glamorous blond wig. There’s also a creepy shot of Ray Bolger in an early makeup that would have made him look more like the Wicked Witch of the West than the Scarecrow; several test shots of original witch Gale Sondergaard, who left the movie because she was too pretty; and production sketches, vintage advertisements, and images of funky old merchandise, such as Wizard of Oz Valentine cards and Wizard of Oz peanut butter. It’s all delightfully designed, finished off with a grab bag pouch containing a bookmark (very functional!), copies of the Witch’s death certificate and the hero’s rewards (Heart! Brain! Courage! Home!), a booklet of lobby card reproductions, a cardboard picture frame for displaying the character headshots included, and more.

Get The Wizard of Oz: The Official 75th Anniversary Companion at now here (why wait until the movie’s actual 75th anniversary?):

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