Today marks the 75th anniversary of the premiere of one of the world’s most beloved films – The Wizard of Oz – which took place at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on August 15, 1939. Since its debut,this timeless MGM film has become a treasure to young and old alike. David J. Hogan’s new book, the Wizard of Oz FAQ, celebrates this classic by providing a wealth of information about the film’s conception, creation, and reception. David includes a special section commemorating the Hollywood premiere. Read below!
The Hollywood premiere for industry insiders was mounted at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 15, 1939, at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, prominently located on Hollywood Boulevard. The theater’s forecourt was dominated by a faux cornfield.
Although Judy Garland was already in New York City for the August 17 Loew’s Capitol opening and her live show there, the Grauman’s event was attended by other cast members, Victor Fleming, and Mervyn LeRoy. Maud Gage Baum, widow of L. Frank Baum, attended, along with L. Frank Baum’s granddaughter, Frances Ozma Baum. Fred Stone, who had played the Scarecrow in the 1903 Broadway Wizard of Oz, also was an honored guest.
Typical of any high-profile Hollywood premiere of the time, the Oz gala was attended by a gaggle of stars. Eddie Cantor, a great fan of the Oz stories, was on hand. Others were Wallace Beery, Ann Rutherford, Bonita Granville, Harold Lloyd, and Orson Welles (less than a year after his Mercury Theatre “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast scared the pants off America). Most of the Munchkin players had left Hollywood months before, but a few who remained were recruited to appear in costume at Grauman’s: Nona Cooper, Tommy Cottonaro, Billy Curtis, Jerry Maren (as the mayor, filling in for Charley Becker), and Victor Wetter. Most of the opening-night Munchkins remained for the duration of the Grauman run.
The cost of reserved-seat admission to this gala event at one of the finest movie theaters in Los Angeles was two dollars, plus twenty cents for tax. (An admission ticket from the premiere—center left section, row 28, seat 1—sold at auction for $6,083 in the spring of 2013.) Those at the Grauman premiere received the requisite souvenir program. Fans could do star spotting from the relative comfort of five thousand specially erected sidewalk bleacher seats. The bleachers filled quickly, and the surrounding area was clogged by another three thousand fans that stood.
An after-screening party was held at the Trocadero nightclub, on Sunset Boulevard. Days after the Grauman’s event, Maud Gage Baum wrote to Mervyn LeRoy to express her pleasure with the faithful translation of her husband’s “kindly philosophy.”