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PRINT MEDIA – Newspapers

Newspapers were the bread and butter of the promotional tools for the studios.  Without television, the public relied on the radio and their daily newspapers to keep up with the latest news of the day.  Newspaper ads and articles, and especially the columns, reached a bigger audience than even the fan magazines.  Not everyone bought the fan magazines but just about every person had a newspaper subscription, or picked one up at the corner newsstand.  Naturally the studios geared much of their promotional ads and articles for newsprint publication. 

The studios gave theatre owners a wide variety of ads and copy (text) to submit to their local papers to get people into the theatres.  Considering that the average person went to the movies two to three times per week, it wasn’t difficult to bring in business.  The difficulty was in competing with the other theatres and their programs.  All of the big cities, most of the medium size cities, and even many small towns had more than one movie theatre.  The fact that the studios still controlled their own theatre circuits meant that these theaters had a steady stream of films to stay in business.  

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The Wizard of Oz was released during the heyday of the fan magazine.  These magazines were the most popular fan media of the time.  Television had not yet changed the landscape, and the Internet was a long way off.  Studios relied heavily on print and radio because there really wasn’t anything else.  The studios used fan magazines to publicize films and, possibly more importantly, promote their stars.  In 1939, the studio publicity departments still controlled most of what was published about their films and stars in fan magazines (and newspapers).  The greater percentage of articles was “fluff” and did more to promote a studio’s public image of a star rather than anything factual.  For example, MGM promoted Judy Garland as being just like any other All-American teenage girl who had crushes on boys and wanted to study a variety of professions (depending on the article) such as becoming a doctor, an author, or any other vocation MGM thought would further promote her teen image.

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There are several truly great books about the making of The Wizard of Oz.  They provide invaluable details about all aspects of the production, the stars, the promotional campaign, the legacy and last but not least, the original Oz books written by L. Frank Baum.

Those great books are highlighted here, plus there is a gallery of other notable books over the decades that might be of interest to fans of the film.  

As always, these books can be found online either via the standard online sellers or eBay and other auction sites.

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Movie posters and lobby cards have been around since the early years of the film industry.  Obviously, they’re used for film promotion but they have also become a recognized art form.  By the time The Wizard of Oz was released, posters were provided to theatres and studio promotional offices in a variety of sizes, and lobby cards were provided in sets of eight.

Today, Oz posters and lobby cards are highly collectible, especially originals from 1939, selling for thousands of dollars in the auction market.  In recent years, a new market has opened up:  fan art and digital art.  There is some fantastic and lucrative fan art and digital art.  The Wizard of Oz is a favorite subject for artists who have created some beautiful pieces of art.

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In this pre-digital era, there were many publications devoted to those who worked in all aspects of the film industry.  The target audience included more than just the studio workers, but also – and mainly – theatre owners, theatre chain operators, and local studio executives.

These publications give us a great look at how movies were promoted within the industry while also providing details about premiere dates, personal appearance tours, promotions by local movie theaters, and much more.  

It’s interesting to note just how much attention was given by the studios to these publications.  They created elaborate full-page and multi-page ad spreads that rivaled the ads they placed in magazines and newspapers for the ticket-buying public.

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Newspapers were the bread and butter of the movie studio marketing departments.  While the fan magazines were big business, not everyone bought them.  But just about everyone had a subscription to their local paper.  If they didn’t, they picked up a copy at the office or in a waiting room. 

In 1938 and 1939 (and for quite some time after) there was no television or Internet.  News traveled slower and wasn’t as instant as it is today.  Additionally, the studio publicity departments had more control over what was disseminated in the press.  In the case of The Wizard of Oz, MGM kept most details about the production on the down low.  They put out tidbits about casting and filming (including many fictional anecdotal blurbs), most of it fed to select columnists and the syndicates.  More factual information about the making of the film was contained in the trade publications (see those here) than in papers and magazines.  As the production came to a close and as the premiere date approached, MGM was ready to saturate the markets.

One thing to note about many of the newspaper articles shown here is how much information was pure fabrication.  Whether that information was given by the studio to the columnists, or whether the columnists made things up on their own, is open for debate.  It’s most likely a combination of both.  Short blurbs about the number of poppies made or recording bird sounds on Catalina Island were sent out by the studio.  This wasn’t unusual.  The studios fabricated all kinds of stories about their stars and films.  No one seemed to care and most of the public knew that much of what they were fed was fantasy.  But that’s the kind of fun harmless escapism people wanted, and needed, in the 1930s and into the war years.  We need more of that now! 

Another good example of a fabricated story is the one about the studio planning to take Judy “an hour and forty minutes” out of Hollywood to film some scenes, presumably Kansas scenes.  There’s also a story about Judy learning to ride a horse in her “spare time” on the set.  There’s even a blurb about the “Leper Rocks” (built for 1924’s Ben Hur) on MGM’s backlot being used for the rock climbing scene.  None of the film was shot outdoors, nor was any of it planned to be shot outdoors.  It was all shot inside the MGM soundstages.  

The galleries here provide a unique Ozzy time machine.  Everything is in chronological order, giving you the chance to follow the progression of the press coverage, through the release date, and over the decades.  It’s quite a ride!

NOTE:  If an article is too small on your screen, right click and choose “open image in new window” to be able to see it full size.  Or, right click and download it to your device/computer and read it that way.

One of the earliest mentions of Judy Garland’s casting as “Dorothy” was in Louella Parsons’s column, published the week of February 25, 1938.  Filming was still months away, as the production was in its very early stages.  Costumes were still being designed, songs were still being written, but little nuggets of information began to appear and would get more frequent (and more fictional) over the next sixteen months.

A Few Highlights