Monday, September 29, 2014


It’s seventy five years since the movie of the Wizard of Oz was made. It’s one hundred and fourteen years since the book was written, but everyone—probably everywhere—knows the story well. The movie images, especially, lurk in the back of the mind of every one who has ever seen it, whether in the movie theater or on the small screen at home.  From the tornado to the dramatic switch from drab reality to full color fantasy, everything about it was a visual treat, especially back in the days when such "special effects" were new, and we weren’t plied on a daily basis with mind-boggling CG.

I think everyone has their own recollection of the first time they saw The Wizard of Oz. I certainly do, and the memory is not entirely a happy one. I was born long enough ago to have seen the movie for the first time in a local theater. Nothing beats the screen for overwhelming effect, even when this screen was small by current standards.  The Little Art Theater, as it was called, was basically a long narrow room with a screen and little stage at one end. It occupied the middle of a 19th Century three story, block-long brick building, the kind that lined most typical downtowns. The local college crowd viewed avant garde foreign films there—auteurs like Bergman, Renoir, Pasolini—hence the name, but our theater also showed standard Hollywood fare, because, then as now, folks need to make a living.  

My blonde, blue-eyed Aunt Jean, (now, unimaginably, gone,) took my Cousin Michael and I to see The Wizard of Oz. I can't have been more than six, perhaps even younger. Aunt Jean was a lady of standing in our little town, so I have a memory of her in a blue and white checked shirtwaist dress, low heels, a hat and white gloves. My cousin was younger, but we were both near-sighted, so we sat near the front on the aisle, if memory serves.  In those days, we both peered around the shoulder of whoever was in front of us, perched on the edge of our seats. Nevertheless, then as now impressionable, I was immediately swept away, (just like poor Dorothy!) into the fantasy.

The first scary thing was when wicked Agnes Gooch took away Toto to be put down. I had recently owned a puppy, one that had been squashed in the road right before my eyes, so I was familiar with the pain and sorrow of loss that comes at the death of a fur friend. Next, came the tornado. My home town is in western Ohio, so I was on a first name basis with those, too. I’d seen the fear grow in my father’s eyes whenever he studied our stormy, threatening, lightning-filled skies, searching for any sign of oncoming catastrophe.

Nerves already on edge, for me the grand finale came when the green-faced witch and her awful minions, the flying monkeys, took over the screen.  I was so far submerged in the fantasy that what happened next might have been expected. When the monkeys came flying to tear the poor Scarecrow apart, leaving his strawy insides all over the road—well, in sixties parlance—I flipped, and began to scream at the top of my lungs.

My aunt was mortified, as was my younger cousin—who was, as he pointed later when the dire subject came up again - a boy, and therefore impervious to fear. I was whisked out of my seat and marched into the lobby. Here, away from the movie, fear of my Aunt’s displeasure quickly displaced the nightmare in which I'd been submerged. I remember standing, sobbing under the too bright lobby lights, with my Aunt shaking me and scolding. 

 “Now, Judy Lee! If you don’t stop that nonsense at once, I will never take you to the movies ever again!” 
Eventually, we returned to the dark theater. I remember drowning in embarrassment and holding back from my earlier willing immersion in the story so the shameful loss of control wouldn't attack again. 

Fashions in child-rearing have certainly changed, but even now I bear my Aunt no ill-will, because according to the rules of the world in which we lived, her reaction was the correct one.  It's an amusing memory, I guess, and also one that is "period correct."

Anyway, Happy 75th Birthday to the Wicked Witch and all her minions. I've thought of her far more often over the years than I have of Dorothy.

 ~~Juliet Waldron

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