As our beloved Miss Garland discovered, the Yellow Brick Road is the perfect place to begin a journey into the unknown, especially when said journey is into the world of old movies. For many, The Wizard of Oz has followed us from childhood into our teenage years, when friends suggested we watch it backwards with certain party favors. Finally it’s a part of childhood we bring it into adulthood, a time when we realized we still remember each and every word.
At the tender age of out-of-the-womb, I was hooked on our VHS copy of the film the family had taped off of TV. The old Kit Kat commercials on that tape will forever be locked in my memory, as will the image of Michael Jackson’s sequin socks and Pepsi drinking. Watching my DVD today, I can pinpoint the moments when I expect the film to pause for a Kit Kat and Pepsi break. A scratch in the record becomes part of the song when you’ve never heard it any other way…
My experience of The Wizard of Oz — for I didn’t just watch this gem; I experienced it — was not always a shared one. Yes, I’m sure there were times early on when the family gathered together to watch Miss Garland in her razzle-dazzle slippers skip down yellow brick, but my memories begin a bit later than that. As I imagine is true with many readers, this was the first special relationship I had with a film, so for me naturally it took special preparation.
While the film as a whole was, and is, to be treasured on one of the highest shelves, there was one character who really got under my skin… and later, with the help of a green marker, onto the surface of my skin as well.
Before I could begin my private viewing of the movie at the age of five or six, a certain black cape had to be balled up on the floor with a pointed black hat placed on top of it. As the necessary garments rested on the carpet, I’d grab the red-handled broom from behind the garage door, always holding it broom-side-up as I walked back to the stirring black pile. Since the cape remained tied even when an Oz session wasn’t in progress (I was one of the last to master the art of shoe tying), naturally I had to be cloaked first. Resurrecting her with the placement of the hat on my head, the Wicked Witch of the West once again returned to life.
Who knows what outlet was provided by my dressing up as the terrifyingly brilliant Margaret Hamilton? I imagine 20 or 30 possible theories are all somehow correct, but it’s still a smidge of a mystery to me. I used to get angry when this part of my childhood was put on display by my family; I wasn’t so much embarrassed as I was protective of the memory — I had created my own little Oz and didn’t really understand the raised eyebrows that seemed to scream “what a weird kid.” But in my mind… weird, no. Lucky, oh you betcha!
Margaret Hamilton’s performance was the first to spark in me whatever needed sparking, and I had begun to understand how movies could be a marvelous part of my life. That trusty hat, tied cape, and red-handled broom is my first memory of what I believed to be “confidence.” Ms. Hamilton’s Witch of the West is one of the finest in film villains — she won me over with that evil self-assurance and confidence that only a villain can have — and with this came what I later named my imaginary Oscar Time Machine. Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes paled in comparison to the importance of an Academy Award, the highest honor in the (or my) land. Before my exposure to glorious Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind, I was convinced Margaret Hamilton had been robbed of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar without even a nomination.
Ms. Hamilton’s wickedness was so real to me that long before Elphaba rose up in the Broadway curtain, I had already given her character a name. As I understood it, the Witch was not threatening our post-makeover heroine when she wrote “Surrender Dorothy” in the sky with her broom; rather she was simply announcing her arrival by writing her name for all of Emerald City to see — “Sorrenda” is perhaps how I would have spelled her name at the time.
The Cowardly Lion’s accent is partially to blame here (if we even need to assign blame), as I heard no hard “r” at the end of “surrender” when he read the smoke signal aloud to the rest of the cast. Since I can’t help but smile at one of my many childhood misunderstandings that paved the way to creativity, I’ll dismiss the need to point a witchy finger in any particular direction.
One of the comforting aspects about The Wizard of Oz is that so many of us have these wonderful, embarrassing, green-marker-all-over-our-hand memories attached to it… and I’d love to hear yours! My loving worship of dear Sorrenda should by no means drown out the strong attachment I have to the rest of the cast. As I continue down my own brick road of (mostly) black-and-white, you’ll discover my love knows no bounds for the one voice to which none will ever compare… … …except maybe Liza’s.
In my next piece I’ll tackle a film of the radiant Judy Garland’s that perhaps my generation has not had the pleasure of viewing, since I only came to love it at the age of 28. Released 15 years after The Wizard of Oz, it has become one of my “Judy favorites” that manages to get me a bit teary every time. For those who have never voyaged beyond Oz, I encourage you to do so… you’ll probably hear a piece of “Over the Rainbow” in every song she sings.
Academy Awards (1940) for The Wizard of Oz: Best Music, Original Score, and Best Music, Original Song (“Over the Rainbow”). Miss Judy Garland received a special Juvenile Award at the ceremony.
My Oscar Time Machine: Best Supporting Actress for Margaret Hamilton (tied with Hattie McDaniel for Gone with the Wind).