Was There Nearly a Film Adaptation of Wizard of Oz in Technicolor Six Years Before MGM’s Classic Version?

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: A dispute with Technicolor kept the MGM Wizard of Oz as the first instance of black and white turning to color at Dorothy’s arrival in Oz.

The MGM version of the Wizard of Oz was not the first time that the Wizard of Oz was adapted into another medium.

The most famous of these adaptations was most likely the 1902 musical (just two years after the novel’s release!).

When MGM purchased the rights to the novel, it also purchased the rights to the stage play AND the 1925 silent film of the story, all in the interest of being the only people out there with the right to do a Wizard of Oz production (interestingly enough, none of the stage musical’s songs were used).

The MGM film was to be the first Wizard of Oz production done in color.

However, interestingly enough, there almost was ANOTHER Wizard of Oz production in the 1930s, and this one would have beaten the MGM film to the “color” aspect by a good six years!

Ted Eshbaugh, with help from L. Frank Baum’s son, created a short film version of the Wizard of Oz in 1933.

The film opened with Dorothy in Kansas in black and white…

Then that famous tornado came by…

As Dorothy plummets into Oz, she begins falling in black and white…

but lands in color!!!

Then we get a shortened Wizard of Oz story that really barely resembles the novel, but at least most of the most famous characters are there (at this point in time, the Cowardly Lion’s part had been shrunk in most adaptations of the story – it was the MGM film that brought him back to prominence – this film skips him entirely), check out Scarecrow and Tin Man!

Sadly, Ensbaugh produced the film without an official license from Technicolor, so he was prevented from releasing the film theatrically.

Years later, it would pop up here and there, but in all black and white.

Many MORE years later, MGM must have bought it (or perhaps it went into public domain) and then they re-colored the film and included it as a bonus on the 70th Anniversary Edition of the Wizard of Oz DVD.

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

3 Responses to “Was There Nearly a Film Adaptation of Wizard of Oz in Technicolor Six Years Before MGM’s Classic Version?”

  1. It was actually restored to color thanks to the International Wizard of Oz Club. There’s actually been an HD restoration that’s supposed to be released to Blu-Ray soon in a set called “Technicolor Dreams and Black and White Nightmares.”

  2. Good stuff, here, and thank you for putting this “Wizard of Oz” cartoon in its proper historical context. I have a few details to add. First of all, this wasn’t even the first color Oz film (although it was the first in Technicolor). L. Frank Baum’s own multimedia show, “The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays”, toured in 1908, hosted by Baum himself with a projectionist and orchestra. Some materials about this show seem to indicate that the actors were there live as well. However, the highlight of the show was the first ever Oz movies, colored by hand. Sadly, these films have now been lost. Second, one reason the 1933 cartoon was never released (I’ve heard) is by the time it was finished, Technicolor had signed an exclusive agreement with Disney. Third, under copyright laws of the time, it would have entered public domain in 1961, twenty-eight years after its original copyright. It could have been renewed for another twenty-eight, but seemingly never was. (Renewal is no longer an option, as the original copyright is now much, much longer.) There were a few cheap VHS releases of this cartoon before it was ever released on DVD by Warner Bros. (who now own the classic 1939 Judy Garland movie, not MGM). Fourth, because it’s public domain, it’s on YouTube. Check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cp-h3Y9tHBk. And finally, it’s been restored and recolored, and will be a feature on an upcoming Blu-Ray release of Ted Eshbaugh cartoons. Take a look at the article at http://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/eshbaugh-a-sneak-peak-at-technicolor-dreams-and-black-white-nightmares/ for more information.

  3. Great stuff, as always, Eric, thanks!

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