TV & Movies

'The Wizard of Oz': The Makeup Used in the Movie Literally Made the Actors Sick

We all know the Hollywood classic The Wizard of Oz as the film that follows Dorothy’s (Judy Garland) whimsical adventure after she and her dog, Toto, are whisked away from their home in Kansas to the magical land of Oz. On her journey, she encounters a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), a Tin Man (Jack Haley), and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr). However, she also finds herself in the crosshairs of the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton).

As revered as the movie is today, making the film was an actual horror story. In fact, the makeup literally made the actors sick.

‘The Wizard of Oz’ is one of the most popular movies of all time

Though the stories surrounding getting the movie made are shocking, to say the least, MGM’s gamble certainly paid off. The film was made for $3 million (about $55 million today), and it won critical acclaim and rave reviews, including two Academy Awards. It also made Judy Garland a superstar.

While it was well-received at the box office when it debuted on Aug. 15, 1939, The Wizard of Oz got a second wind when it was broadcast on CBS for the very first time on Nov. 3, 1956.

In 1967 TIME called it “the most popular single film property in the history of U.S. television.”

Making ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was a disaster

Despite how well-received and beloved the musical was and is today, making the movie was an actual disaster. When it was filmed in the 1930s following the Great Depression, and just before World War II, Hollywood wanted to pull out all of the stops.

However, at the time, MGM didn’t have the technology it needed to bring L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s fantasy novel to the big screen. Since they were so much improvising and trying things for the first time, things became disastrous quickly.

“Some of these special effects had never been done before,” The Making of The Wizard of Oz author Aljean Harmet told TIME. “There were no unions, at that time. Stars and lesser players were indentured servants [for] studios.”

Garland was just 16 when the movie was filmed, and she was put on uppers and sleeping pills to keep up with the grueling filming. There were several directors, multiple injuries, and so many more catastrophic occurrences.

The makeup used in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ made the actors sick

One of the worst aspects of making The Wizard of Oz was all of the disastrous costumes and makeup. Making things look magical in the 1930s was a tall task. Actor Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Tin Man in the movie. However, he was hospitalized just nine days into filming after being poisoned by the copious amounts of aluminum dust he was covered in each day.

After Ebsen’s hospitalization, he was replaced by Jack Haley. The makeup team used a mix of aluminum powder and paste and then painted it on the actor. Haley quickly developed an infection in his eye that had to be medically treated.

Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, was burned severely during filming. The makeup team had to rush to remove her copper makeup so that it wouldn’t seep into her wounds.

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