Wizard of Oz movie bosses worried Judy Garland wasn’t good fit

EXCLUSIVE: Wizard of Oz bosses worried Judy Garland wasn’t right for Dorothy because of her large breasts and snaggletooth but the real problem was ‘mean, drunk, and smelly’ Munchkins – and two had to be bailed out for prostitution

  • Authors Jay Scarfone and William Stillman’s new book – The Road to Oz – reveals  the secrets behind the production of the ‘most influential movie of all time’
  • Garland was forced onto a diet and had caps put over her snaggled front teeth while filming the Wizard of Oz in 1939
  • Movie bosses thought the 16-year-old was not right for the part, due to her pudgy figure, large breasts and the character’s age of eight years old 
  • But MGM co-founder and producer Louis B. Mayer and producer Mervyn LeRoy ‘saw great possibilities in this starry-eyed young girl’ and made her Dorothy  
  • Despite the fuss over Judy’s appearance, the real issue during filming was with the little people cast as Munchkins
  •  The little people were mean and smelled from sweat as well as liquor and some engaged in prostitution, write the authors
  • Judy, herself, referred to the lot as ‘little drunks’ and said the Munchkins ‘got smashed every night’
  • One Munchkin scene had to be delayed because one of the actors got drunk and got stuck with his head in the toilet bowl, having to be dislodged 

Judy Garland will forever be remembered as the actress who skipped and danced down the yellow brick road as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. But at the time production bosses weren’t so convinced she could pull it off. 

The role in the 1939 film, which has been named the most influential movie of all time, was originally written for an eight-year-old girl and Judy, at 16, had large breasts, a pudgy figure and snaggled front teeth that came down in points, write authors Jay Scarfone and William Stillman, in The Road to Oz: The Evolution, Creation, and Legacy of a Motion Picture Masterpiece.  

But Judy had the singing chops and was already known as a ‘buxom singer’ in swing music, plus she was the darling of MGM’s co-founder and producer Louis B. Mayer. 

The prestigious film studio was willing to address Judy’s perceived flaws, watching what she ate, crafting a tiny corset, hiring a fitness trainer and even giving her experimental diet pills. 

Despite the fuss over Judy’s appearance, the real issue during filming was with the little people cast as Munchkins, who were ‘mean, drunk, smelly and engaged in prostitution’, the authors claim.

Wizard of Oz bosses didn’t believe Judy Garland was the right fit to play Dorothy because of her full figure. They put Judy on intense diet, hired a personal trainer and gave her pills

The studio prescribed Judy Dexedrine, a drug new to the market in 1937 and typically given to treat Narcolepsy, depression and obesity, to lose her ‘baby fat’ (Judy pictured in 1940) 

Despite the fuss over Judy’s appearance, the real issue during filming was with the little people cast as Munchkins. The little people were mean and smelled from sweat as well as liquor and some engaged in prostitution, write the authors

The Wizard of Oz was a silver screen masterpiece in 1939, with a $3 million budget, which at the time was MGM’s largest ever. 

It was recently named the most influential movie of all time in a study by the University of Turin.

Movie bosses were eyeing Shirley Temple to play Dorothy but Judy’s voice was better and her film popularity was steadily ascending. 

Garland needed ‘physical adjustments’ but producer Mervyn LeRoy ‘saw great possibilities in this starry-eyed young girl and took her under his wing.’

To get Judy silver-screen ready for the girlish part, ‘Princess Pudge was ordered to get the heck on a reducing diet.’

The Road to Oz reveals the drama behind the scenes of the most influential movie of all time 

The wardrobe department created a bizarre looking corset contraption for her to wear, which Judy swore was made of iron.

But it successfully held down her breasts and the long wig with curls that toppled over the top of her breasts added to the deception.

‘A cleverly designed outfit and a lengthy wig concealed Garland’s maturing breasts such that she could pass for a pre-adolescent,’ write the authors in their new book that retells of the creation and influence of the film as its 80th anniversary approaches. 

MGM studios had to employ a different strategy than just an iron corset because binge dieting wasn’t working because as Judy had enablers pick up food for her at the commissary – a double portion of mashed potatoes and gravy – and sneak it to her on the set. Her favorite food was said to be chocolate cake.

The actress’s burgeoning paranoia of being watched while eating became obvious to reporters interviewing her – usually in the MGM commissary.

‘Everybody in the restaurant is watching to see that I don’t snitch an extra dessert or something,’ Judy said. At least I feel that everybody’s watching. Maybe it’s my conscience.’

Judy’s diet became a preoccupation and a running joke with the press covering the making of the film.

One reporter wrote that over an interview, Garland consumed soup, double lamb chops, a baked potato, string beans, a glass of milk, muffins, chocolate ice cream and a cup of coffee.


In an interview, Garland admitted she was self-conscious about her smile and ‘often used to put my hands over my mouth to hide my teeth.’ An earlier photo (left) shows her pointy canines, before they were covered by veneers (right) 

Judy’s image had to be tailored to the studio head’s wishes.  To fix her pointed teeth, she was sent to a dentist and porcelain caps were applied to the three front teeth

‘Every day, no matter where she sat in the commissary, the same waitress appeared to take her order. And every day the same thing happened. Judy ordered half the items on the menu – and the waitress, after carefully writing down each item, went to the kitchen and brought her a bowl of thin soup. After five days, Miss Garland gave up – and ordered soup,’ report the authors.

All of this criticism was devastating to Garland’s fragile psyche.

‘Such subjective critique made during her formative years haunted Garland into adulthood’, write Scarfone and Stillman.

‘I was studied like a piece of merchandise. It didn’t occur to anyone that I might have feelings’, Garland said in an interview. 

Bosses even assigned a personal athletic conditioner, Bobbie Koshay to the actress to get her exercising and put her through rigorous physical training including badminton, swimming, hiking and tennis.

But exercise wasn’t enough. Judy still had ‘baby fat’ so the studio prescribed Dexedrine, a drug new to the market in 1937 and typically given to treat Narcolepsy, depression and obesity.

‘While the Dexedrine provided pep, unknown was its potential for addictive misuse and adverse side effects including paranoia and insomnia’, write the authors.

The pep part of the drug was so strong the studio prescribed sleeping pills to knock Judy out at night.

The psychological damage done by MGM was long lasting.

‘I want to grow up to be very beautiful too. Only I probably won’t. But I do try’, Judy said.

Judy’s diet became a running joke with the press covering the making of the film. One reporter wrote that over an interview, Garland consumed soup, double lamb chops, a baked potato, string beans, a glass of milk, muffins, chocolate ice cream and a cup of coffee

Garland was considered pudgy and was forced to watch what she ate, crafting a tiny corset, hiring a fitness trainer and even giving her experimental diet pills 

‘She was a little girl; she was shaped like a little barrel. The wardrobe people were pinning and prodding to the point where tears were running down one side of Judy’s cheek. She told them, ”I don’t have a waistline – don’t try to give me one!” Judy’s friend, Ann Rutherford stated.

MGM’s makeup chief, Jack Dawn disclosed that ‘Judy’s eyebrows dipped down too close to her nose, making her forehead too high and her nose too short for the rest of her face’. So they raised her eyebrows.

To fix her pointed teeth, Garland was sent to a dentist and porcelain caps were applied to the three front teeth.

They didn’t stay on while filming and when they came lose on the set, a frenzied cry let loose –’Clutch’, that stopped filming and the caps were reattached.

‘I was particularly sensitive about my nose and teeth. My teeth didn’t all grow at the same time. I thought I was snaggletooth, and often used to put my hands over my mouth to hide my teeth. I was like the girl in the ads who was afraid to smile’, Judy stated in an interview.

Along with constantly monitoring Judy’s weight, the studio had its hands full with the Munchkins, the little people who greet Dorothy when she arrives in the Land of Oz.

The studio didn’t realize the needs of the little people who typically came up to a six-foot man’s knees – or their rabble-rousing temperaments, drinking and whoring.

They had to be lifted up to toilets and drinking fountains. That required husky men six feet tall who were ‘human elevators’ and could lift them up.

The little people were mean and smelled from sweat as well as liquor and some engaged in prostitution, write the authors.

Judy, herself, referred to the lot as ‘little drunks’ and said the Munchkins ‘got smashed every night.’ 

The authors reveal the little people actors caused trouble on set and were mean and smelled from sweat and liquor and some even engaged in prostitution

One Munchkin scene had to be delayed while one of the actors was dislodged from the toilet bowl

‘Oz screenwriter Noel Langley summed them up as ”the wildest, little whoring rascals you ever saw. They had to put up guards around the chorus girls to keep order on the set”, write the authors.

One Munchkin scene had to be delayed while one of the actors was dislodged from the toilet bowl.

‘We were all looking for him. And we found him, too! Apparently, he drank his lunch, sat on the stool, fell into it and couldn’t get out. There he was with his head and legs stuck up,’ remembered Ray Bolger, who danced his way through the film as the Scarecrow.

‘I will never forget two little [people], really loaded, staggering down the studio street, each clasping a bottle of champagne almost as big as they were,’ Oz makeup man Jack Young remembered recalling the Christmas party.

‘The studio Chief of Police had to bail out two female [little people] charged with prostitution’.

Young wrote that one 3’8′ little person made a play for him and tried to lure him to her apartment saying she’d mix him a drink, cook him a great Christmas dinner and then giggled and wiggled her little body and said, ‘I’m 23’.

One young girl, Donna Jean Johnson, was hired to dance as a female Munchkin in background shots.

‘I was blonde and tiny for six, and I could sing and I could dance…I was terrified the whole time I was on the set because of the midgets. They were mean! They would bump into you and say mean things to me.

‘I remember the odor of the midgets. Kids don’t sweat like adults do. I was scared the whole time I was on the set’.

Producer Mervyn Le Roy had initially considered casting children but then decided that hundreds of children would be too hard to control as well as having work restrictions so they went with midgets – 124 of them.

According to the book, ‘A cleverly designed outfit and a lengthy wig concealed Garland’s maturing breasts such that she could pass for a pre-adolescent’

MGM put out the casting call: ‘Dwarfs or deformed persons were not wanted. Midgets, being perfect humans excepting for size, were wanted’.

One man, little person agent and theatrical impresario, Leo Singer, was hired to procure the little people. He had only eighteen under contract so he reached out to the Midget City exhibition that had been at the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair which had a troupe of sixty little people.

Ed Sullivan, a syndicated columnist before he became a television personality, announced in his Hollywood column that one hundred midgets were needed at MGM and word got out on the ‘midget grapevine’.

MGM cast only Caucasian little people and refused to cast minorities.

The little people invasion became the butt of jokes at the time and accustomed to name-calling, they refused to pose for gag photographs and ‘to be pictured in any way but the most conventional still formation’.

They all had to learn to dance and had unique makeup problems requiring apple cheeks, bulbous noses, pink, green and magenta beards.

‘Out of makeup they look anything but Sweet Sixteen. Some of them have enough wrinkles to make a map of Czechoslovakia’, stated Grace Wilcox, who worked on the film.

After the Munchkinland scenes were in the can, some of the Munchkins toured when the film opened and appeared in sideshows, one being Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Some worked in vaudeville or nightclubs – all playing up the Oz connection.

The midgets weren’t the only little people on the set.

Brooklynite Pat Walshe, stood three feet eleven inches and at thirty-eight had made a career out of imitating chimpanzees in vaudeville and legitimate theatre.

Dorothy’s dog Toto was played by Carl Spitz’s dog Terry – a ‘movie dog’ who already had experience on screen.  She was trained to behave as if she belonged to Garland throughout filming

In the Wizard of Oz, he was cast as the Wicked Witch’s Winged Monkey confidante.

He had studied the mannerisms and speech of primates in circuses and zoos and could transform himself into an expert mimic.

His physical transformation into an ape took only ten minutes.

Nicknamed the human ape, he was cast as confidante to the Wicked Witch played by Margaret Hamilton.

The syndicated newspaper casting call for the most memorable talent in The Wizard of Oz went out with the headline – Got A Toto?

The casting call copy on September 5, 1938 read: Toto ‘must look something like a Scottie, do tricks, become devoted to Judy Garland and eat an apple before the camera’, according to Scarfone and Stillman.


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Letters by the hundreds poured in to the studio and hundreds of canines were tested for the role. Fortune hunting men, women, and children with dogs showed up ‘to see Mr. LeRoy’.

The menagerie included mostly Scotties as well an English bulldog and a St. Bernard.

But none of these dogs really resembled the dog in the original book so the search continued until dog fancier and trainer Carl Spitz, who owned the Hollywood Dog Training School, Movieland’s most famous ‘dog house’ decided to bring his dog, Terry, a female Cairn terrier, to MGM.

Terry not only resembled the book’s illustrations but she was already a working ‘movie dog’ and Spitz had trained Terry to copy attributes that the author, L. Frank Baum had given to Toto in the book.

A trained terrier to fit the bill was right in Metro’s backyard. ‘It was unanimous that they had found the ideal dog’, write the authors. 

Terry became Toto – on the silver screen. She was trained to behave as if she belonged to Garland throughout filming.

Garland felt an affinity for dogs after one of her childhood dogs walked directly in the path of an oncoming train when her father brought home a new puppy.

She had several dogs of her own but adored Terry and offered Spitz four hundred dollars – nearly seven thousand dollars in today’s equivalent for Terry.

Spitz adored Terry himself and refused to sell.

In the filming, when one of the Wicked Witch’s Winkie soldiers accidentally stepped on Terry, Spitz fainted for the first time in his life.

Terry continued to have a prominent film career – after winning the hearts of so many children in The Wizard of Oz.

The runaway success of L. Frank Baum’s children’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900 led to its adaptation for the stage, opera, road shows and eventually its development as a film that hit the silver screen in 1939.

The Wizard of Oz was the most successful film to come out of the prestigious film studio MGM. 

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