Friday, August 23, 2019

The Wizard of Oz and Its Impact on People

 (This post is part of the Wizard of Oz Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room)

This month sees the 80th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz (1939). The first sneak preview of the film took place in San Bernardino, California on August 8 1939. More sneak previews took place on August 11 in Kenosha, Wisconsin and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and on April 12 in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. The film had its Hollywood premiere at Grauman's Chinese on August 15 1939 and its New York City premiere at Loew's Capitol Theatre on August 17 1939. The Wizard of Oz would go into wide release on August 25 1939.

Since then it has become what many believe to be the most viewed film of all time. This should not be surprising at all. It is not a simple case that The Wizard of Oz has been re-released to theatres multiple times. The Wizard of Oz first aired on network television as the final instalment of Ford Star Jubilee on November 6 1956. Beginning in 1959 The Wizard of Oz would air annually on network television until 1996. Beginning in 2002 it would again air annually on The WB for the next four years. Since then it has aired on a regular basis on the cable channels Turner Classic Movies, TBS, and TNT. Chances are very good that The Wizard of Oz was the first classic movie ever seen by many younger Baby Boomers and the majority of Gen Xers and Gen Yers.

In my case, The Wizard of Oz was certainly the very first movie I ever saw that was considered a classic at the time. In fact, I saw it at such an early age that I cannot precisely remember when I first saw it. The first clear memory I have of watching The Wizard of Oz comes from when I was five years old. That having been said, I remember that at the time I was already somewhat familiar with the movie, which means I must have seen it before. Here I must point out that my earliest memories of The Wizard of Oz are entirely in black and white. Since we did not get a colour set until I was a teenager, I would not see it in colour the first many times I watched it! Regardless, I watched The Wizard of Oz annually throughout my childhood and throughout my teens. As an adult I would miss a few airings due to life and work, but I have probably seen the majority of them. I still watch it every single time it airs on TCM. It remains one of my favourite movies of all time and my favourite musical of all time.

Because I first saw The Wizard of Oz when I was very young and because I have seen it so many times, it is impossible for me to entirely assess the impact that the movie had upon me. I certainly believe my love for classic film stems from The Wizard of Oz. When I was very young I had no idea of when The Wizard of Oz was made until my mother told me. For all I knew it could have been made in the Fifties or Sixties. That having been said, becoming aware that The Wizard of Oz was released in 1939 opened me up to other, older films. Never mind that older films were regularly shown on local stations in the Seventies. It was perhaps because of The Wizard of Oz that I would actively seek them out. I spent more time as a lad watching classic movies on the weekends than I ever would sports.

Along with Jason and the Argonauts (1963), which was the first movie I can remember watching in its entirety, I think I can also credit The Wizard of Oz with spurring my interest in the fantasy genre. I have to think that it was because of The Wizard of Oz that I would not only read the works of L. Frank Baum, but also the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, Lord Dunsany, Michael Moorcock, and others. To this day fantasy remains one of my favourite genres. If I am a Harry Potter fan, J. K. Rowling perhaps has The Wizard of Oz to blame.

Of course, I am not the only one upon whom The Wizard of Oz had an impact. It also had an impact on my late best friend Brian. Like me, The Wizard of Oz was the first classic film he could remember seeing. Unlike me, he only remembered seeing The Wizard of Oz in colour. Regardless, The Wizard of Oz spurred in Brian an interest in classic film and film in general. He knew far more about movies, both old and new, than I ever have. One difference between Brian and I is that it would also open him up to musicals right away. I have to confess that even though I now consider The Wizard of Oz the greatest musical of all time, I would consider musicals beneath a boy's dignity (the exception being The Wizard of Oz, of course) until my father convinced me to watch My Fair Lady (1964) when I was around ten. That having been said, Brian loved musicals from the very beginning, all because of The Wizard of Oz.

As big an impact as The Wizard of Oz had upon Brian and I, it would have an even bigger impact on someone very near and dear to my heart. Actress Vanessa Marquez was both my best friend and the one person I love more than anyone else in my life. She told me how she first saw The Wizard of Oz when she was only three or four years old and she decided right there and then that she wanted to be an actress. Her mother would later tell me how Vanessa, when she was all of seven years old, marched into the living room and announced, "I am going to be a movie star, just like Judy Garland!" Along with Star Wars (1977), The Wizard of Oz would remain Vanessa's favourite movie for the entirety of her life. Like Brian and I, it was the first classic movie she could ever remember seeing. And like Brian and I, it would spur an interest in classic movies that would last her entire life. I cannot say that Vanessa would not have become an actress had it not been for The Wizard of Oz, but it certainly provided much of the impetus for her doing so. It is largely because of The Wizard of Oz that we have her performances as Ana Delgado in Stand and Deliver (1988) and as Nurse Wendy Goldman in ER. I think it is also entirely possible that I might never have met Vanessa if not for The Wizard of Oz. It spurred her interest in classic film and as a result she not only became an early fan of Turner Classic Movies, but, like me, one of the original members of #TCMParty, the group of TCM fans who live tweet movies on the channel using that hashtag. It was through #TCMParty and live tweeting Mad Men that I first got to know Vanessa. In that respect, I owe The Wizard of Oz more than I can ever repay.

I know for a fact that the impact that The Wizard of Oz had upon Brian, Vanessa, and I are not isolated cases. It seems to me that The Wizard of Oz was also the first classic movie ever seen by the majority of my fellow Turner Classic Movies fans. It also seems to me that in every single case it would spur an interest in classic movies that would last a lifetime. While one hears a lot about Gone with the Wind (1939), Citizen Kane (1941), Casablanca (1942), and other classics, it could well be that The Wizard of Oz has had a greater impact than any other classic movie ever made. It seems almost certain that it has been seen by more people than any other movie ever made.


Caftan Woman said...

It is a wonderful thing that this one movie influenced such a wide variety of people in the most intimate way. It is a true work of art and of the heart.

Evil Woman Blues said...

Great piece. The Wizard Of Oz combined the best of every work of fiction: good, evil, brave, cowardly, friendship, frauds, family, and the hypocrisy of life. It was sort of a philosophical masterpiece reduced to simplicity for children that had a lasting impact on anyone who watched it. Sometimes I wish I never delved into the back stories about the making of the film as it detracted from the fantasy I wish were true.

Rebecca Deniston said...

Wow, that must have been eye-popping when you first got to see Oz in color. What a treasure this movie is. And it's awesome that it inspires so many people in so many ways.


I agree that so many people must have become interested in classic movies after watching The Wizard of Oz. That wasn't my case, but I still cherish and admire this wonderful movie.