Dorothy’s Abuse: The Horrors of the Oz Set
I was first shown the Wizard of Oz when I was very young, and from what I remember, I absolutely fell in love with it. From then on, I lived in my sparkly red shoes (“ruby slippers”) and the authentic gingham Dorothy dresses my grandmother made me. My hair almost always had to be braided in “Dorothy braids” with ribbons. And I knew if there was a damn ribbon in my hair or not, because I checked.
Oz seemed like heaven to me. And me, being the bonus-features-loving weirdo I am, saw the vintage Hollywood and MGM world of Judy Garland, beautiful concept art, technicolor, and “Over the Rainbow” was a heaven as well.
But that changed only a few years ago when I saw the conspiracy theory of the munchkin who committed suicide on the forest set, and the story of Margaret Hamilton almost killed and left with second-degree burns during shooting her Munchkinland scene. But remarkably, these don’t even begin to scrape the surface of what happened inside the MGM gates during filming of Oz.
Judy Garland, without a doubt, was given the shortest end of the stick and I couldn’t be more surprised at this sad fact. Underpaid, exploited, and underfed she was. Not to mention, unhappy.
Her appearance seemed to be the main focus of her early career. It’s no secret today that she was starved by the studio even before the part of Oz. The studio put her on a strict diet of black coffee, chicken soup, and cigarettes. She was fed amphetamines and barbiturates to give her energy to shoot and then rest (most of the young talents were given the same prescriptions), and also to keep her weight down. Due to her curved spine, Louis B Mayer called her, “my little hunchback” behind her back and to her face.
Garland was always seen as “the ugly duckling” next to her stage-mates. Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor to name a few. However, the studio was always trying to make her appear more beautiful. Prosthetics were constantly being applied to her nose, and caps to her teeth. Her waist was coresetted in order to mold her figure to their image. During Oz filming, these measures only increased. Her developed breasts were taped down in order to make her appear younger for the part of Dorothy, and Dorothy’s signature gingham dress was chosen because it blurred her figure and made her appear slimmer.
Rumors say that Garland’s only support system on the Oz set was, ironically enough, Margaret Hamilton who portrayed the Wicked Witch of the West. Those same rumors claim that she was shunned by Ray Bolger (the Scarecrow), Jack Haley (the Tin-Man), and Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion).
Garland’s family wasn’t responsive to her treatment. Her father, who Garland herself regarded as her one true “family member,” died years earlier, and her mother, Ethel, was more than thrilled for her daughter to get her big break in Hollywood and therefore all but sold MGM her daughter. Since her father died so early, she went looking to older men for companionship and affection. And funnily enough, some of them ended up being homosexual like her father.
Louis B. Mayer exploited her on the set plenty, but few know that he sexually harassed and molested her behind closed doors. One account of this says that he regularly groped her breasts and would even encourage other studio officials to do the same.
From the psychological turmoil and prescription drugs given to her for the studio’s reasons, I can connect the dots and therefore decipher her drug addictions, alcohol abuse, and death at 47 due to barbiturate overdose.
The Wizard of Oz used to hold such a meaning for me. Safety, happiness, and security, but now I don’t think I can see it the same way. I used to believe that everyone on the set were friends, Judy Garland was happy, the Munchkins weren’t midgets with alcoholism and drug habits, and the studio in charge of it all handled their talents as if they were human beings. I’m outraged that the Dorothy dresses I wore as a child were made that way to blur a young woman’s healthy figure. The hair I always wanted braided was almost not originally braided at all, but covered by a blonde wig. And the ruby slippers I wore everywhere were the idea of Louis B. Mayer, a real-life devil in the eyes of Judy Garland.
Judy Garland said, before her untimely death, that her childhood and her innocence was stolen by MGM. However, most don’t realize how many childhoods MGM has stolen by creating a movie for children by holding up a metaphorical gun to the beloved main character’s head and killing her with a debilitating self image, alcohol abuse, and drug addiction.
“I tried my damnedest to believe in that rainbow that I tried to get over and I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.” -Judy Garland