Technological advancements, coupled with stringent safety protocols, have made Hollywood far safer as it strives to show off visual spectacle than the industry was 80 years ago. But when the influential The Wizard of Oz hit theaters in 1939, before the advent of modern filmmaking, crews created immersive moviegoing experiences using fewer resources and more tricks. Some of these tricks posed serious health hazards, but they weren't scrutinized enough to discourage implementation.
The Wizard of Oz crew was guilty of this. During the film's production, crew members sprinkled Dorothy with asbestos and hoped that people would believe it was snow. It was convincing to me when I first saw it, but I was six years old, so a ton of the finer details in that movie went over my unnaturally large head.
According to a recent Vanity Fair article, the asbestos incident was only one of many stories that, in today's world, would horrify audiences. One story that Vanity Fair didn't cover involved some of the Munchkin actors sexually harassing Dorothy actress Judy Garland, an incident that totally should have topped Vanity Fair's list.
Back when The Wizard of Oz was fresh and new and novel, Hollywood (and the world that shaped it) had very different ideas of what was “safe” than we do today. Asbestos was used in holiday decorations distributed across America, posing health risks for people who took Christmas and other celebrations seriously. Just as alarming is the fact that chrysotile, which is white asbestos and the most commonly used form of the dangerous substance, was used in roofing, brake pads and shoes, interior fire doors, stage curtains, popcorn ceilings, and many, many other types of building materials people that were around every day.
It's scary stuff, and the fact that it was so widely-used made the dangers it posed that much more real. Even worse than all that? The dangers of asbestos were first noted in 1899. In other words, the crew members working on The Wizard of Oz likely knew of its negative health effects and showered Judy Garland with it anyway.
Health hazards aside, The Wizard of Oz still stands as one of the most important films ever made. It's so important that, even now, both movies and TV shows continue to draw inspiration from the classic. And, even cooler, the film was shown in 3D and IMAX across the nation in the fall of 2013. It's safe to say that the film will continue to inspire and encourage both new and seasoned filmmakers to create powerful, enduring stories that move and wow moviegoers.
How has The Wizard of Oz impacted your life? Has it done so at all? Which of the many Oz-inspired films and shows have you seen and enjoyed? Which did you see and not enjoy? Sound off in the comments section below!