In 1939, Victor Fleming added two more credits to his already impressive list of directorial efforts. He would go on to win the Oscar for directing Gone with the Wind. He would also receive final credit for helming The Wizard of Oz despite the fact that the final cut contain footage directed by at least two other men as well as the fact that by the time Fleming arrived on the set, Richard Thorpe already had about two weeks’ worth of footage in the can. Fleming’s take on the innocence and resulting “look” of Dorothy Gale would necessitate throwing out almost everything that Thorpe had filmed.
Fleming was not just taking over a production from a fired peer, he also showed up to find that the original cast was no longer intact. Buddy Ebsen (more famous now as Jed Clampette from The Beverly Hillbillies) had to be replaced with Jack Haley as the Tin Man due to a serious reaction to the powder used in the makeup which put him in the hospital. He was also dealing with the loss of the actress originally cast as the Wicked Witch of the West. Gale Sondergaard had been cast in the role with a vision (as makeup photos strongly indicate) of the Green Witch being a lot heavier on the sexy and more lightweight on the ugly. Just three days before filming, she decided against doing the movie and was quickly replaced by Margaret Hamilton. Hamilton’s less sexy and more wickedly hideous interpretation would earn her the number 4 spot on the American Film Institute’s list of the most memorable movie villains in the first 100 years of Hollywood, not to mention creating the iconic image of what a wicked witch should look like that persists even to this day.
As for the film itself, it managed to maintain a position within the top ten American movies of those first 100 years in both the original list and the revised list of the AFI’s choice for the 100 best Hollywood movies ever. The movie was one of the top ten box office hits of 1939 and earned six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture (though not Best Director, of course.) It would lose out the big prize to the “event” that was Gone with the Wind, but take home two statues for it music.