Apparently more people have seen "The Wizard of Oz" than any other film, a record enhanced by its perennial appearances on television, especially at Christmas time. The universality of its appeal remains undiminished, even more than 60 years since Judy Garland as Dorothy set out with her friends along the Yellow Brick Road.
It was not an easy film to make. Quite the contrary. Buddy Ebsen, the original Tin Man, suffered severe metallic poisoning from his make-up and had to be replaced by Jack Haley. Margaret Hamilton, the wicked witch, sustained first degree burns when a fire effect went wrong. Bert Lahr, the Cowardly Lion, experienced severe discomfort from his costume and could only sip liquid food through a straw. The adolescent Garland at 16 was far too buxom to play Dorothy (who was meant to be around 12) and wore a tightly binding garment under her dress to flatten her bust. Some of the small people who played the Munchkins turned out to be lecherous drunks and ran amok when not in front of the camera. The director, Richard Thorpe, was fired after two weeks shooting and his footage scrapped. His replacement, George Cukor, lasted only a week. Victor Fleming shot the bulk of the film, but King Vidor (uncredited) filmed the Kansas sequences, including the song "Over the Rainbow", which was deemed by studio executives as too gloomy for children, and nearly cut from the finished print.
Given such a history, it is astonishing that the result should have been so serendipitous. Yet each time it is shown, this extraordinary film (which was not even the first Wizard of Oz - L Frank Baum's sublime story had been filmed before as a silent and a cartoon) embraces a new generation of children who succumb to its magic.
"The Wizard of Oz" is on BBC1, Sunday 31 December 2000 at 3.30pm.