Liza, Lorna, and Joey to Introduce Oscar Salute to The Wizard of Oz on its 75th Anniversary and Mom Judy
By: Ellis Nassour
The third and definitive film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s children’s fantasy The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Kansas native Dorothy Gale’s adventures and misadventures on her visit to the land of the Munchkins became one of M-G-M’s enduring and endearing classics. Sunday’s Oscars will salute the 75th anniversary of film and Garland. In a rare reunion of the three Garland/ Minnelli/Luft siblings, Liza, Lorna, and Joey will introduce the segment.
Released in 1939, the film, with its spectacular production and unforgettable songs by Harold Arlen (music) and E. Y. Harburg (lyrics), made Judy Garland a huge star at the age of 16. She went on to a storied career on film and as a recording and concert legend. Garland was awarded a special Oscar.
The Wizard of Oz revolutionized the use of color and special effects in cinema. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture [Gone with the Wind captured that honor]. It won Best Original Song for "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," whose storied history includes being ranked first in both the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs list and the Recording Industry Association of America’s 365 Songs of the Century list; and Best Score. The other nominations were for Harold Rosson’s color cinematography, Cedric Gibbons and William Horning art direction, and the special effects by A. Arnold Gillespie and Douglas Shearer.
Trivia: the role of Dorothy was originally offered to Shirley Temple, under contract and a huge star at 20th Century Fox, which refused to loan her. The role of the Wizard was written for W.C. Fields. It’s now impossible to believe, but "Over the Rainbow" was nearly deleted after the first preview when many audience members wrote that "it slows down the action." Lorna Luft appeared as the Wicked Witch of the West in a Manchester, U.K. stage production of The Wizard of Oz.
It’s reported that health problems that have frequently plagued her, have kept Oscar-and three-time Tony-winning star and recording artist Liza, daughter of Garland and legendary director Vincente Minnelli, out of the public eye recently.
However, she performed with half-sister, concert and stage star Lorna, breast cancer survivor and daughter of Garland and producer Sid Luft, at October Birdland benefit, Lorna’s Pink Party. The onstage reunion, billed: "Together Again for the First Time in 20 Years!" was a night to remember. It raised $120,000 to benefit The Actors Fund’s Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative and the Dr. Philomena McAndrew Fund of Tower Cancer Research Foundation.
Liza also attended January’s SAG Awards. Her last Broadway appearance was 2008’s Liza’s at the Palace, where years earlier she appeared with her mother. It took home the Tony for Best Special Theatrical Event.
Lorna tours [Songs My Mother Taught Me], plays club dates, has starred on Broadway [Promises, Promises], toured [They’re Playing My Song], done TV [Trapper John, M.D.; Murder She Wrote], recorded, guested at BC/EFA’s Nothing Like a Dame, starred in Pack of Lies in the U.K., appeared regionally and in the U.K. in the stage adapatation of Irvin Berlin’s White Christmas.
Joey Luft has dabbled in TV production and appeared along with Liza and Lorna at Christmas 1963 on Garland’s celebrated but shortlived TV variety show; however, for the most part, he’s remained out of the spotlight.
The Wizard of Oz received high praise, but wasn’t boffo at the box office. In its initial release, it earned slightly less than $500,000 over its budget of nearly $3-million. It was the studio’s most expensive production to date. [GWTW cost much more, but it was financed by David O. Selznick’s studio and, in a convoluted deal not only to help with financing but also to secure Clark Gable for the role o Rhett Butler, M-G-M released it.] Subsequent releases, high-rated annual telecasts that began in the mid-50s, and, later release on video, made up for that. The Wizard of Oz was the not-so-little film that could; and it did.
Going down the Technicolorful Yellow Brick Road with Dorothy and her faithful dog Toto to meet the all-powerful Wiz, so she could find the way home, were the Scarecrow, portrayed by Ray Bolger; the Tin Man, Jack Haley; and the Cowardly Lion, Bert Lahr – all three, stage and film stars. They were in search of, respectively, brains, a heart, and courage.
Co-starring were veteran character actors Frank Morgan (the Great Oz), Billie Burke (Glinda, the good witch), the never-to-be-forgotten Margaret Hamilton (that mean Wicked Witch of the West). The film was directed by Victor Fleming [lead director on Gone with the Wind], though several directors contributed including King Vidor, who shot the opening and closing black-and-white sequences.
To celebrate The Wizard of Oz‘s milestone anniversary, last year the film, digitally-restored and remastered [including sound], was presented for a one-week engagement in IMAX 3-D.
A limited and numbered The Wizard of Oz 75th Anniversary Collector’s Edition [Warner Home Video] debuted as a five-disc set that includes Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD and UltraViolet versions of the film; and a new documentary, The Making of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz., detailing how a troubled production overcame the odds to become an integral part of American culture. Bonus features include commentary from composers Stephen Schwartz and Marc Shaiman, critic Leonard Maltin, Bert Lahr’s son John, as well as revealing interview clips with Judy Garland, members of the cast, and producer Mervyn LeRoy. Premium collectibles include an anniversary journal, "Ruby Slippers" globe, three-piece enamel pin set, Oz map, and a 48-page hardcover book (SRP $105).
Outside of the deluxe anniversary package, three more editions are available: two-disc 3-D/Blu-ray (SRP $36), a one-disc Blu-ray (SRP $20), and two-disc DVD (SRP $16.95).