Some lucky people can remember seeing “The Wizard of Oz” in movie theaters in 1939, but most of us were introduced to the MGM classic on TV.
So it makes sense that many of our “Oz” memories hark back to the ritual of the annual network telecast. Or, for those of a certain age, the shock of seeing it for the first time on a color set.
If ever a movie were universal, it’s “The Wizard of Oz.” So when we asked readers to share their movie memories, we weren’t surprised by the flood of anecdotes we received.
Thanks to everyone who shared a story.
George Layton, Platte City: In 1972 I was attending college at Maple Woods. While on a break in the student union with about 50 other students, I discovered a large tank of helium and some empty balloons.
I got the idea that we all should sing “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” using the helium. I filled the balloons and passed them around. On cue everyone sang the chorus together. It was absolutely hilarious, and everyone was cracking up.
Now, whenever I hear that song, I think of that day. It’s too bad it was before YouTube.
Oooooh, the colors!
Mike Haskin, Olathe: The first time I saw “The Wizard of Oz” was when it was broadcast in color on TV in the late 1950s. My brother and sister and I went across the street to the home of the local doctor, who had the only color TV on the block.
When the movie opened in Kansas, in black and white, the doctor said, “There’s something wrong with the TV,” and he spent the next several minutes adjusting the controls (separate knobs for red, blue and yellow). Still, he was unable to get a color picture.
He had just given up when Dorothy’s house landed in Oz, and when she stepped through that door I saw colors I had never seen before and haven’t seen since.
It took the good doctor another 10 or 15 minutes adjusting the controls before he got the Yellow Brick Road back to yellow and all the other colors right.
All in the family
Christie Jessee, Kansas City: In the winter of 2012 we were in Boston waiting for our soon-to-be-adopted baby girl, Julia, to be born. After six weeks away from home, my mother gave my then 4-year-old daughter, Joanna, a pair of ruby slippers and explained the story of Dorothy longing for home.
Well, it struck a chord. Joanna was hooked on Oz. She was Dorothy for Halloween that year and the following one. The family played along. Year 1: Grandpa was the Tin Man, Daddy the Scarecrow, Julia (at 9 months) was Toto, and I was Aunt Em (never again — way too many people asked me why I didn’t dress up!).
The next Halloween, Grandpa was the Wizard, Grandma was Miss Gulch, Daddy was the Lion, I was the Scarecrow and Julia, now 21 months old, was a flying monkey.
These days our sweet Julia, at 21/2, insists on listening to “The Wizard of Oz” soundtrack in the car — nonstop. As a Christmas present to myself, I purchased the whole set of “Oz” books (there are 15 of them) and am reading them with Joanna. So Oz is woven into the fabric of our family.
A rainbow connection
Paula Suroff, Leawood: “Over the Rainbow” is everyone’s favorite song. When I sang it to my 90-year-old father as he lay dying, he automatically started singing along with me. Who knew?
Soon after, I sang it regularly to my newborn grandson as a goodnight lullaby.
This song of hope, for all ages, lifts the mortal soul up to a place where “troubles melt like lemon drops.”
Now, even when I sing it to Alzheimer’s patients, they’ll sing along with all-knowing smiles. And, for a brief moment, their memory is as bright as a rainbow.
Thank you, Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg and Judy Garland, for this musical gift.
Lynn Pierce, Independence: In 1975 actress Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz,” appeared with the Hudson Brothers at Starlight Theatre in a stage production of “Oz.”
I grew up in Kansas City, but in 1969 my folks had bought a farm in northeast Missouri that became a destination for weekends and vacation. The problem was that this quaint farmhouse did not have a modern bathroom. We had a bright red outhouse!
So at Starlight, when the curtain rose on Dorothy’s farm, my excited little brother shouted loudly, “Look, Mom — that looks like our bathroom!”
Being a seventh-grader at the time, I was completely horrified. I just knew that everyone around us thought we had just fallen off the turnip truck and had come to the “big city” to see a show for the first time. I could have just crawled under my seat!
Kansas City = Oz
Kendra Keller, Independence: I lived in England for a number of years. While I was there, taxi drivers would occasionally ask whereabouts in America I was from when they heard my accent. When I told them Kansas City, almost invariably there would be a pause, then the driver would respond, “Oh, I’ve heard of Kansas — I’ve seen ‘The Wizard of Oz’!”
While overseas, I worked at Hallmark’s U.K. branch. The people there referred to the home office as either “Kansas City” or sometimes just “Kansas” (unaware, as so many non-natives are, that the two aren’t completely synonymous).
When we were encouraged to wear costumes to work for Halloween, I decided to dress as Dorothy — partly because I’ve loved the film for as long as I can remember, but also partly so that I could walk around saying “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore …”
A 3-year-old wizard
Mary Ann Brown, Kansas City: At about 3 years of age, my grandson Luke Crawford became obsessed with “The Wizard of Oz.” Whenever he came to our home, all he wanted to do was play “Oz.”
Luke was the director, as well as the actor of many roles. Of course he wanted me to play along in the role of one or two characters of his choosing. He knew all the lines and cues from the movie and corrected you if you made a mistake.
Sometimes I was directed to play the Tin Man and to stand perfectly still until he had oiled each of my parts. Other times, as Miss Gulch, I rode my imaginary bike with Toto in the basket. Often I flew around the room, mimicking the actions and cries of the flying monkeys. It was a relief to be assigned the role of the Cowardly Lion because as I entered the poppy field I could lie down for a much-needed respite.
Understandably, when Luke’s fourth birthday arrived, he requested an Oz-themed party. I decided to dress as the Wicked Witch, wearing green makeup, black hat and gown. When I arrived, Luke at first didn’t recognize me — he stared in amazement. When one of Luke’s 3-year-old cousins arrived, she took one look at me and burst into tears.
I felt bad, but it was worth her tears and his awe to have Luke follow me around the party, probably waiting for me to take off on my broom or to melt into the floor!
Call me Dorothy
Elinor Gates, Kansas City: The Christmas before my daughter turned 4, she received the video of “The Wizard of Oz.” She was fascinated and watched it repeatedly throughout January. At that point, she decided she was Dorothy.
Every day, for a full year, she dressed in a blue-and-white-checked dress and red glitter shoes, wore her hair in braids and carried a straw basket with a stuffed dog. She answered to the name Dorothy and would politely correct people if they called her by her given name, Amanda.
One day we were walking along the sidewalk in front of the library when she suddenly stopped and pointed straight ahead.
“Look!” she exclaimed. “It’s the Emerald City, and it’s even more beautiful than I imagined.”
A man passing by looked at both of us, smiled and shook his head.
What does my daughter do now? She is a high school theater teacher.
Casey Rausch, Kansas City: After I saw “The Wizard of Oz” at the movie theater in the small town we lived in, my Uncle Bob told me that he’d gone to California and was one of the flying monkeys in the movie. I said he was too big, but he said they just kept putting him in smaller and smaller suits to shrink him until he was the right size.
Made sense to a 7-year-old, so I bought it.
Meeting a Munchkin
Bruce J. Schaller, Overland Park: I grew up in the 1960s, so watching “The Wizard of Oz” every fall was a family tradition. My favorite character was the Lollipop Kid who handed Dorothy the oversized sucker. Although his screen time was brief, I loved his mannerisms and facial expression.
We lived in San Diego in the 1980s and ’90s, and my daughter Diane became friends with a schoolmate named Angela. One year Angela invited Diane to her birthday party and said that her Uncle Jerry was coming down from L.A., and that he was in “The Wizard of Oz” — as the Lollipop Kid. What a surprise and opportunity!
I scored an invite and met Jerry Maren and his wife, and got him to sign my 50th anniversary copy of the VCR tape. He was a very engaging and charming gentleman, clearly still happy about his iconic role in an American classic.
Earlier this year Jerry became the last surviving Munchkin. Now 94, he was just 18 when the movie was made in 1939.
A tale of East and West
Joan Thezan, Belton: Our family moved to Topeka in 1985; my sister and her family were already living there. My then 14-year-old son decided that since we were on the west side of town, I should be known as Wicked Witch of the West. My sister, who lived on the east side, should be Wicked Witch of the East.
We’ve had unending fun with this over the years. My son has given us coffee mugs that say “Don’t make me call my flying monkeys,” sends special messages on Halloween and cautions us about going out in the rain. Even the recent “super moon” brought suggestions of a “fly-by.”
My sister still signs her greeting cards simply “WWE.” Family and friends have jumped on board, resulting in many witch-themed gifts over the years. May the fun continue!
Denise Podschun, Overland Park: Every year my sister and brother and cousins would wait for “The Wizard of Oz” to come on TV. Many times it was Sunday night and we sometimes had church, and I thought it was most unfair to miss my favorite show when it was only on once a year. I even remember wishing there was a button on the TV to save the show (hello, VCRs and now DVRs).
We would play Wizard of Oz on the playground in grade school back in the early 1960s. Being in central Kansas, it was very real for us. I remember feeling proud that we had a movie about our state. The monkey bars on our playground became the witch’s castle. The boys were the monkeys and captured us girls and locked us in the castle. Pretty much that was the extent of the game.
My crowning joy was watching my daughter, Hayley Podschun, play Glinda in “Wicked” here in KC last October. I was able to use a lot of my Oz memorabilia to help decorate for the many parties we had while the cast was here.
A farm girl in Oz
Cynthia Kent, Paola, Kan.: I remember watching “The Wizard of Oz” the first time it was on television, in 1956. I was around 4 years old. My mother came outside to get me. The movie was supposed to be so much better in color like at the theater, but she still wanted me to see it.
I sat on the floor of a three-room farmhouse, in front of a small-screen TV, watching a girl and her dog trying to stay away from a witch. I was very scared of the witch and I’m sure I never went to the outhouse that night.
This became a family tradition for years until I finished high school. I made sure my sisters and brother were as scared as I was when they saw it.
I have shared this movie with all of my grandchildren, and many of us have been in love with “The Wizard of Oz” since our first viewing.
Cindy Orr, Overland Park: My sister and I have very fond memories of watching “Oz” when we were young. The two of us would watch this classic, eating popcorn, while sitting in our cardboard box “houses” that our grandpa made for us.
He would twist and turn our houses during the tornado scene as we screamed and giggled with delight. When the Wicked Witch and the scary flying monkeys appeared, we would feel safe in our tornado-proof houses.
In living color
Candice Baldwin, Lee’s Summit: In 1967 a band called the Fifth Estate had a hit with their version of “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead!” That was also the year I learned that “The Wizard of Oz” was a color movie.
After watching the movie every year previously on our family’s black-and-white TV, I saw it at a friend’s house on a color TV, and I was absolutely stunned and amazed when the film turned to Technicolor during the Oz scenes.
Karlyn Walsh, Leawood: I was 3 years old when the movie premiered in 1939. According to my mother, when we were at Mass the following Sunday and they rang the bells at the Consecration, I sang out “DING DONG! THE WITCH IS DEAD!”
In 1939 they didn’t think it was funny!
Sheryl Ford, Kansas City: The movie would typically air on a Sunday night. During the 1960s my siblings and I anxiously anticipated the yearly showing of “The Wizard of Oz.”
With popcorn popped, all lights out and chairs carefully positioned in front of our black-and-white TV, we were unaware of anything outside the glowing screen. We would sit nervously on the edge of our seats as the moment approached when the Wicked Witch of the West made her entrance.
As soon as the familiar cloud of black smoke appeared and just before the witch’s first cackle, my dad would sneak up from behind with a loud “BWAH-HA-HA-HA!” followed by our screams as we jumped from our seats.
There were monkeys?!
Jennifer Kellogg, Kansas City: After my grandmother died in 1955, our family spent every other Sunday with my grandfather in Dearborn, Mo. Invariably, “The Wizard of Oz” aired on a Sunday we were there.
I would beg my parents to return home earlier than usual or to stay later so I could watch the entire movie. Children were not so accommodated then, so we always left well after the movie started, but we’d be home in Gladstone in time to catch the end.
Until I was an adult, watching it with my own children, I had no idea what anyone meant when they referred to “the scary part” (the monkeys) of “The Wizard of Oz.” I had never seen that segment of the movie!
I was a Munchkin
Julie Bresette, Belton: “The Wizard of Oz,” Starlight Theatre, 1991. I was 12 and performing in “Oz” would be one of the highlights of my (very) short acting career. Rehearsing in the summer heat and singing Munchkin anthems over and over (and over) never felt like work.
It felt like I walked through the screen into the real Oz. The scenery, choreography and especially the music were magical.
Now, when I watch the movie with family, my children are always impressed that I know all the words to every song and can still sing them in my nasal Munchkin voice. We practice Dorothy’s hop-skip-jump move down the Yellow Brick Road in the living room. We always make more laughter and memories with every viewing.
Novice Buffo, Overland Park: As part of my job in the health care industry, I worked with assisted living centers and nursing homes. Halloween was always a fun time for the staff and the residents as they would celebrate with parties and parades.
In 2012 my son, Nicholas, and I (and even Max, our dachshund) decided to dress up as our favorite characters from “The Wizard of Oz” and visit several facilities. It was so rewarding to see the smiles on the staffs’ and residents’ faces when they saw us and remembered one of the most famous movies of all time!
To reach Tim Engle, call 816-234-4779 or send email to email@example.com. On Twitter: @tim_engle
We’re celebrating this month’s 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz” movie with a story a day. If you’ve missed a story here or there, you’ll find all of them at KansasCity.com/entertainment.
Sunday in A+E: Just who was L. Frank Baum?