Speaking Volumes: This quintessential American fairy tale is celebrating its 80th anniversary

Released in 1939, “The Wizard of Oz” is many things: Fantasy musical, technicolor masterpiece, common Halloween costume inspiration, American treasure, humongous production, a historic gathering of little people in America, a commonly quoted movie, etc.

Anytime you bring up the movie, someone shudders and recalls their deep-rooted fear of flying monkeys, or maybe remembers a fond time skipping with friends (arms linked) and singing “We’re off to see the Wizard” just like Dorothy and her friends.

It’s been 80 years since its initial release in theaters in August 1939. It is based on the first children’s novel in a series of books, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum.

Initially, the film was not a financial success (MGM didn’t make its money back until 10 years later), but it was nominated for six Academy Awards and won two.

Making the movie was an orchestration of magnificent proportions. It changed hands often — four directors and 10 screenwriters — but every one was only a cog in the MGM movie-making machine.

“The Making of The Wizard of Oz” by Aljean Harmetz has meticulously researched details, including what each screenwriter contributed (from almost nothing to the solid structure of the film), the tortures the cast went through with make-up and costumes layered on them (the Cowardly Lion’s suit was made out of real lion’s fur), how special effects were created (and how much they cost) and more.

You can also read “Memories of a Munchkin: An Illustrated Walk Down the Yellow Brick Road” by Meinhardt Raabe, which is the movie’s making from a Munchkin’s perspective. Raabe is the coroner who officially claims the Wicked Old Witch is “really, most sincerely dead.” There are also dozens of beautiful works of art inspired by the film.

A new historical fiction novel by Elizabeth Letts called “Finding Dorothy” follows Baum’s widow, Maud Gage Baum. Mrs. Baum is a protective and caring individual with a suffragette heritage. The book follows her in two time frames — with L. Frank Baum and their relationship and with Judy Garland, trying to protect her on the MGM set.

As L. Frank Baum intended, “The Wizard of Oz” has become more than just a book or a film, but rather a quintessential American fairy tale. The best thing about fairy tales is their transmutability — telling them over and over to reflect the times.

Baum wanted to and has created an American fairy tale because this story has been retold — into 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz,” Danielle Paige’s “Dorothy Must Die,” Gregory Maguire’s adult fiction series starting with “Wicked,” 1979’s “The Wiz,” 1985’s “Return to Oz,” the Broadway play “Wicked” and more.

Celebrate the 80th anniversary by re-watching the film or introducing it to a friend or family member. Further explore the land of Oz by reading the original books or retellings, or maybe watching another Oz film.

Many of these titles and more are available with your Manatee County library card.

Call your local branch for more information on available titles.

Central Library — 941-748-5555;

Braden River — 941-727-6079;

Island — 941-778-6341;

Palmetto — 941-722-3333;

Rocky Bluff — 941-723-4821;

South Manatee — 941-755-3892.

You also can access the library via the internet at

Olivia Tooker is a Braden River Library assistant. Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday in the Bradenton Herald.

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