Restored Wizard Debuts Nationwide

The Wizard of Oz is 59 years old and still going strong. The beloved saga of a young Kansas girl's adventures in a magical land has just been re-released in more than 1800 theaters. Enhanced with a THX/Dolby Digital soundtrack, the restored film from Warner Bros. will carry millions of fans into the holiday season, many of whom haven't stepped into a theater in years. The visual improvements to the film are reportedly so good that each of Dorothy's freckles is clearly visible.

Made in 1939 for a then-astronomical $2.8 million, The Wizard of Oz was initially a bust for MGM, despite being nominated for six Academy Awards and winning two: Best Original Score by Herbert Stothart and Best Song ("Over the Rainbow") by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Yarburg. It reportedly didn't turn a profit until it began running regularly on television in the mid-1950s. The picture's financial profile has improved tremendously since then. To date, The Wizard of Oz has generated more than $4.54 million in video rentals in the US alone.

Judy Garland, who starred as the wide-eyed Dorothy Gale, made $500 per week during the shooting and received a special Academy Award for a performance by a juvenile. MGM's first pick for the role of Dorothy was Shirley Temple, but she was under contract to 20th Century Fox. The film launched Garland's career, in which she was expected to sing "Over the Rainbow" at every musical performance.

Some studio executives wanted to delete the song from the final version of the movie, but producer Mervyn LeRoy insisted that it be included. The disagreement over what eventually became one of the most popular songs of all time was only one of many glitches in the film's development. Four directors were involved, including Richard Thorpe, George Cukor, and King Vidor, but Victor Fleming directed the majority of the film and received credit for it. Buddy Ebsen, who later gained fame as Jed Clampett in TV's The Beverly Hillbillies, was the original Tin Man, but he fell sick after a few days' shooting from an allergic reaction to the aluminum powder in his makeup.

The biggest problem faced by The Wizard of Oz was being released in a year noted for some of the greatest works of American cinema, such as Gone With the Wind (which won Best Picture that year), Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and Fantasia. Competition won't be a problem this time around: The Wizard of Oz has grown to enormous proportions in the ensuing six decades. Reworked by many wizards, it's certain to put big bucks in the pockets of its new owners and smiles on the faces of its fans.