The Technicolor Oz that greeted Judy Garland in 1939 seems a far less colorful place than the one in 1910’s silent short, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, above. (A version with music added can be found below.)
Adapted in part from a 1902 stage version, this Wizard – the earliest to survive on film – feels quite close to the spirit of author L. Frank Baum and illustrator William Wallace Denslow’s original creation.
Audience members who had no familiarity with the source material must’ve been very, very confused. There’s a lot of bang for the buck, but title cards aside, not much in the way of context.
No matter. There are plenty of special effects and a crowd-pleasing chorus of gratuitous beauties in tights and bloomers, just as in Georges Méliès’ seminal A Trip to the Moon.
It’s conceivable that Jack Haley and Burt Lahr, the MGM version’s Tin Woodsman and Cowardly Lion, might have been taken to see the 13 minute short as children. (Scarecrow Ray Bolger was a mere babe at the time of its release.)
Despite the presence of all the well-known characters, including two Totos, for my money, the project’s true star is Hank, the scene stealing mule.
I think the actor in the mule suit likely agreed, though Hank’s role in the Oz pantheon is minor at best.
It’s unclear to me if the Wizard’s dark makeup is meant to be blackface. According to Robin Bernstein’s Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights, the stage play that inspired the film featured minstrel songs and popular blackface actors Fred A. Stone and David Montgomery as the Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman.
The film cast’s identities have been lost to history, though a rumor persists that the young actress playing Dorothy is frequent Harold Lloyd co-star, Bebe Daniels. The original piano score is unknown, but likely hewed closely to Paul Tietjens‘ music from the play, which is what we hear in the online version.
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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She was shocked to find out how much her childhood Oz books are worth, but has thus far resisted parting with them. Follow her @AyunHalliday