So beloved and so vital a part of the national folklore is The Wizard of Oz that it's almost incomprehensible that the 1939 film based on L. Frank Baum's American allegory, the film that made Judy Garland a star and "somewhere over the rainbow" a goal, was not an immediate classic. As this wonderful piece by Emma Brockes (hat tip, moviecitynews.com) reports, the film did not make its $2.7 million investment back until 1956 when CBS leased television syndication rights and the flying monkeys haunted the dreams of a generation of baby boomers and their children.
Brockes delicately teases out the populist references of the source material while celebrating the New Deal lyrics of wordsmith and social activist E.Y. "Yip" Harburg. (As a college literature prof explained to us when I was an undergraduate, the yellow brick road represented the gold standard, the Scarecrow American agriculture, the Tin Man American industry and the Cowardly Lion Wall Street.) And she colorfully describes the atmosphere at the Oz conventions (before Trekkies and Star Warriors there were Oz nuts): "The Baum-ites disdain the Judy-ites; the Oz scholars cut eyes at the collectors. Everyone loves the Munchkins."
My guess is that in the age of DVD and downloads, with the possible exception of The Godfather films, the average American over 30 has seen The Wizard of Oz more times than any other title. I still shudder when I hear the seven-note bar of music that heralds the flying monkeys. My throat constricts and heart enlarges when Judy Garland sings "Over the Rainbow." What pulls me through is the film's devastation-defying hope and, as Brockes infers, the sense that we each have more power than we think we do. You?
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