Did the Scarecrow Accidentally Light Himself on Fire During the Filming of Wizard of Oz?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Ray Bolger occasionally set himself on fire while on set during the filming of the Wizard of Oz.

Ray Bolger was already a Broadway song and dance star by the time he took the role of the Scarecrow in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, but let’s be honest, we know (and he knew) that he will forever be known as the Scarecrow – which is certainly a fine legacy for any actor.

The extensive costuming for the film took up a whole lot of Bolger’s time, and it had other side effects, as well, most notably the effect it had upon his smoking habit.

As you can see, the Scarecrow’s costume is filled with dry straw like an actual Scarecrow…

Well, naturally, all the adult actors on the film smoked cigarettes (who didn’t back then?), and that caused a problem with Bolger’s costume.

At least twice, a stray flame from a cigarette lit his costume on fire!!

Now, of course,

A. It was just small fires that were easily put out

and

B. Most of the costume was treated with asbestos (ah, the things we didn’t know back then), so it was unlikely for the costume to ever go REALLY up in flames (this treatment was made necessary because there were a few points in the film where Scarecrow comes very close to flames)

but still, he DID catch fire, which is pretty darn hilarious, no?

In fact, according to MGM’s Studio News of the time, a fire extinguisher was kept near Bolger at all times just in case!

The legend is…

STATUS: True

Thanks to by Elaine Willingham’s excellent Cooking in Oz: Kitchen Wizardry and a Century of Marvels from America’s Favorite Tale (which actually includes a picture of Bolger in costume smoking a cigarette – if anyone could scan that for me, I’d greatly appreciate it!) and thanks also to Jay Scarfone and William Stillman’s great book, The Wizardry of Oz: The Artistry And Magic of The 1939 MGM Classic for even more information on the topic!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is [email protected]

2 Responses to “Did the Scarecrow Accidentally Light Himself on Fire During the Filming of Wizard of Oz?”

  1. If I remember Aljean Harmetz’ book on the film, Margaret Hamilton almost caught fire during one of the witch’s scenes.

  2. Kind of interesting given the TRUE story of Buddy Ebsen’s hospitalization from the Tin Man makeup.

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