THE MARVELOUS SETS OF OZ
One of the greatest achievements of The Wizard of Oz is its marvelous sets. Let’s face it. Every set in the film is brilliantly executed and a mini-masterpiece (even though most of the sets weren’t “mini”).
The Wizard of Oz was the MGM’s first big Technicolor film. It helped that most of it took place in a fantasy world. This allowed the studio’s artisans and craftspeople to experiment. The result is that now the sets have become icons of Hollywood and icons of fantasy. The upside down test-tube look of the Emerald City, the Witch’s Castle, the talking trees, the poppy field, Munchkinland, a Kansas farm – it all started in the minds of the magicians at MGM. Their ideas morphed into sketches that morphed into blueprints then into sets and finally into our collective memories.
Below are screenshots, set stills, videos, and more that show just how marvelous these sets are.
Our friend, the super-talented, Kurt Raymond has created quite a lot of Ozzy art that he has shared with us. Much of what he has shared are also widescreen images culled from multiple screenshots, enhanced screenshots, and some are fun items such as the image here showing how the story of Oz could have ended a little sooner!
You’ll see his creations in the sections below. Immediately below is a fantastic panorama that he created in 2015.
It’s hard to believe when watching the film, especially for the first time, that the Kansas scenes were all filmed on soundstages. The enormous Gale Farm set was most likely built on MGM’s soundstage #15, which was the largest of all the studio’s soundstages (Munchkinland was on the second largest, Stage 27). Stage 14 was the process shot stage, which was usually used for scenes involving rear projection. For The Wizard of Oz this included the tornado sweeping across the miniature Kansas landscape, the Witch’s skywriting, plus an unused effect of the film title on a glass ball.
Over the years an urban legend has sprung up that some of the Kansas scenes were filmed outdoors, on location. This is probably due to the fact that early in the film’s production it was reported that MGM planned to film some of the Kansas scenes on location, either in Kansas itself or at a location outside of Los Angeles. This was not feasible, especially considering the special effects needed for the tornado scenes. The two short articles shown here, published on October 30, 1938, and November 20, 1938, claim that the plans were scrapped due to logistics. When these were published, production in-house at the studio was well under way. It’s safe to assume that these stories are more fiction dreamed up by MGM’s always-busy publicity department.
Even though the Gale Farm set was one of the largest in the film, the opening shot is a combination of a part of the set and a matte painting, as seen in the triptych above. Also shown here is the set as it was readied to film that opening shot.
Below: The front of the Gale farm house was used for both the arrival of Miss Gulch and later for Dorothy’s running away from home (as seen below). Below is a set still (the Gale Farm was Set No. 01); Dorothy leaving home; Miss Gulch arriving; and a combo shot showing the use of the set for Miss Gulch arriving and Dorothy leaving.
The screenshot here gives an idea of the size of the set. Below are set design still for: The dirt mount/storm cellar with the barn and pen in the background; the barn; the back of the house; Dorothy’s bedroom; the interior of the house; the spot where Judy sings “Over the Rainbow”; and a widescreen composite showing a part of the set with the barn at the far left & the house at the far right.
The creek-side gulley where Dorothy meets Professor Marvel. The set was alter used for the paddock scene in Gone With The Wind.
Judy Garland and Clara Blandick posed in front of the Gale farm house. Both are in costumes not seen in the final film. The photo was used in the scene in which Professor Marvel looks in Dorothy’s basket for clues about her life.
The watercolor is a rendering by Jack Martin Smith, showing the Gale farm house being carried by two cloud cherubs. Smith created many elaborate pieces of artwork that aided in the final design of the sets. He was the Lead Sketch Artist on the film and went on to be a three-time Oscar-winning art director and production designer.
Probably the most famous set in the film, the Munchkinland set took up most of MGM’s Soundstage #27, which was the second largest soundstage on the lot. Shown here is Jack Martin Smith’s rendering of the set, which is basically what we seen on screen.
Below is a gallery that includes: An overhead shot showing some of the filming; set design stills; and screen shots that show off sections of the set as they appeared in the film.
Here’s another video provided by Robert Welch. The video shows the use of a gorgeous matte painting created by MGM’s Matte Painting Magician, Warren Newcombe. This was the only matte shot used in the entire Munchkinland sequence.