Wizard of Oz

Who in the name of Oz gave the brainless guy a handgun?

The Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) had only a butterfly net and bug spray for protection in the Haunted Forest. But the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) somehow found a pistol. It didn’t save him from the flying monkeys, though.
The Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) had only a butterfly net and bug spray for protection in the Haunted Forest. But the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) somehow found a pistol. It didn’t save him from the flying monkeys, though. File photo

“The Scarecrow has a gun.”

That’s the opening line of narration to a 2008 short thriller I co-wrote called “Paint Shaker,” about a Midwest workplace shooting.

It continues: “In ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ when the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are making their way through the Haunted Forest to rescue Dorothy, each carries a weapon. The Tin Man has a pipe wrench; the Lion holds a butterfly net and a pesticide sprayer. And the Scarecrow grips a silver revolver.

“Where did the one guy with no brains find it? Nowhere else in the Emerald City or Munchkinland or any of the other regions of Oz do people possess firearms. There are axes and swords and those spear-like things the Wicked Witch’s guards carry. But the enchanted land seems to be completely free, completely oblivious to guns.

“Maybe Dorothy brought it along from Kansas …”

After watching “Paint Shaker,” a number of people questioned the reality of this detail in the beloved 1939 musical. But sure enough, the Scarecrow does indeed wield a handgun within the otherwise gunless community of Oz.

In the original script (by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf) there’s no mention of a gun. The ax is explicitly referenced. The bug spray and net are left over from a previous musical number called “The Jitterbug” that was shot but cut in the editing room. (The song — with such lyrics as, “Oh, the bats and the bees and the breeze in the trees have a terrible, horrible buzz” — was an attempt to capitalize on the dance fad.)

Pistols, revolvers, sidearms, six-shooters — nothing. Someone made a conscious decision during production that the Scarecrow should pack heat.

The inclusion introduces more questions than answers:

Where’d the Scarecrow acquire it? Is there a gun store next to the hair salon in Oz?

If he picked it up in Oz, did it originally belong to the Wizard? (Remember, the Wizard is also a Kansas native, “born and bred in the heart of the Western wilderness.”)

If the flying monkeys hadn’t grabbed the Scarecrow first in the Haunted Forest, would he have shot them?

Is killing a flying monkey considered murder or animal cruelty?

If the technology for firearms exists, shouldn’t the Witch’s guards be armed with guns instead of halberds?

Assuming the entire thing is a concussion-fueled fantasy, what does it say about Dorothy that her best friend (“I think I’ll miss you most of all”) is the only one she envisions possessing a gun?

Since “Paint Shaker” came out, people have noted that the Munchkin soldiers bear rifles. True, but look closer at the rifles and they seem like dress-uniform props. Otherwise, the soldiers might have pointed them at Dorothy or the Wicked Witch when first threatened instead of running away. Of course, if the Witch can be melted by a bucket of water, she’s probably immune to bullets. If not, she’s a pretty lame threat. (The original script doesn’t mention rifles anywhere, either.)

It’s amusing that many things were “toned down” from the screenplay to make the movie more kid-friendly. For instance, the skywriting the Witch does with her broom originally spelled “Surrender Dorothy or Die.”

Yet in pre-war 1939, nobody considered that giving a pistol to the friendliest character in a children’s fantasy might come across a tad jarring.

Because of the iconic status of “Oz,” the film has been dissected and analyzed ad nauseam. There have been countless behind-the-scenes books and documentaries. But no one from the production has ever explained why the Scarecrow has a handgun.

Maybe he was carrying a water pistol …

About the series

The Star is celebrating this month’s 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz” movie with a story every day. See previous stories at KansasCity.com.

Friday in FYI: Tornadoes made with stockings? How they made those wonderful effects in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Dress-up for Oz postponed

Curses! The Wicked Witch of the West apparently has cast a spell on our planned attempt Saturday to break a world record for largest gathering of people dressed as characters from “The Wizard of Oz.” Because of a scheduling conflict, we have to postpone our gathering until the fall. This should give you plenty of time to get your Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, Witch or other wardrobe into Emerald City shape. Look for updates in The Star and on KansasCity.com.