You’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful “Wizard of Oz,” showing on the big screen at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on First Friday, June 1 at 7pm. Free. In this Oscar-winning film based on L. Frank Baum’s children’s books, Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto are caught in a tornado's path and wind up in the Land of Oz. Here she embarks on a quest to meet the Wizard of Oz, who everyone says can help her return home and possibly grant her new friends their goals of a brain, a heart and “da noive.”
Dorothy is of course played by Judy Garland (originally Frances Ethel Gumm), the youngest daughter of vaudevillians Frank and Ethel Gumm, who at an early age joined her siblings as one-third of the family song and dance act called the “Gumm Sisters.” Louis B. Mayer, mogul of leading film studio MGM, signed Frances to a contract in 1935 after hearing her sing. It was then that her name was changed to Judy Garland. She had good roles in a few musical romantic comedies (often paired with Mickey Rooney) before her groundbreaking part in the “Wizard of Oz” in 1939.
Former elementary school teacher Margaret Hamilton played the frightening Wicked Witch of the West. Hamilton, a life-long fan of the Oz books, was ecstatic when she learned the producers were considering her for a part in the film. When she phoned her agent to find out what role she was up for, her agent simply replied, “The witch, who else?”
Three-foot-eight-inch actor Pat Walshe played Nikko, the leader of the flying monkeys. Walshe worked in Vaudeville and appeared on Broadway as a child, but had a specialist interest in portraying animals and was a veteran animal impersonator. Upon his death in 1991 he was the last surviving credited cast member of The Wizard of Oz.
Did you know: The horses in the Emerald City palace, in particular the horse of a different color you’ve heard tell about, were colored with Jell-O crystals. Their scenes had to be shot quickly, before the horses started to lick it off.
Near misses: The part of the Wizard was originally written for funny man WC Fields, who turned the part down after failing to agree on a salary. Buddy Ebsen (aka Jed Clampett) was originally cast as the Tin Man and actually took part in early filming, but a reaction to the silver makeup sent him to the hospital and he was unceremoniously replaced by Jack Haley.
The Museum stays open from 5 to 9 pm on the First Friday of every month, inviting visitors to witness a (classic) sci-fi or horror movie, wander through eye-catching exhibits, and enjoy snacks and beverages provided by the Daily Planet Café. Additionally, the Museum Store offers after-hours shopping and an opening reception (6:30-8:30pm) for potters from Freechild Studio, whose show “Color on Clay II” is featured June 1 through July 1. All exhibited art is for sale.
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, located at 11 West Jones Street in downtown Raleigh, documents and interprets the natural history of the state of through exhibits, research, collections, publications and educational programming. Visit us online at naturalsciences.org . Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm and Sunday, 12-5pm. General admission is free. The Museum is an agency of the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Dee Freeman, Secretary.