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On this Day in Movie History, August 25, 1939: The Wizard of Oz debuts

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On this day in 1939, The Wizard of Oz, which will become one of the best-loved movies in history, opens in theaters around the United States.

The film was previewed in three test markets: on August 11, 1939, at Kenosha, Wisconsin and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and at the Strand Theatre in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on August 12.

The Hollywood premiere was on August 15, 1939, at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The New York City premiere at Loew’s Capitol Theatre on August 17, 1939 was followed by a live performance with Judy Garland and her frequent film co-star Mickey Rooney. They would continue to perform there after each screening for a week, extended in Rooney’s case for a second week and in Garland’s to three (with Oz co-stars Ray Bolger and Bert Lahr replacing Rooney for the third and final week). The movie opened nationally on August 25, 1939.

The film grossed approximately $3 million (approximately $50 million today) against production/distribution costs of $2.8 million (approximately $47 million today) in its initial release. It did not show what MGM considered a large profit until a 1949 re-release earned an additional $1.5 million (approximately $15 million today).

Although the film received largely positive reviews, it was not a huge box office success on its initial release, earning only $3,017,000 on a $2,000,000 budget. The film, MGM’s most expensive production up to that time, failed to recoup the studio’s investment. Subsequent re-releases made up for that, however.

Telecasts of the film began in 1956, re-introducing the film to the public and eventually becoming an annual tradition, making it one of the most famous films ever made.

It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It lost that award to Gone with the Wind, but won two others, including Best Original Song for “Over the Rainbow”. The film was named the most-watched motion picture in history by the Library of Congress, is often ranked among the Top 10 Best Movies of All Time in various critics’ and popular polls, and is the source of many memorable quotes referenced in modern popular culture.

Here’s something you may not know: this version of the movie was in fact not the first. There were other versions of the movie already made, and a stage play.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a 1900 book by L. Frank Baum and W.W. Denslow
The Wizard of Oz (1902 stage play), a musical by L. Frank Baum, Paul Tietjens and others
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910 film)
Wizard of Oz (1925 film), directed by Larry Semon
The Wizard of Oz (1933 animated film), directed by Ted Eshbaugh
The Wizard of Oz (1939 film), its best-known adaptation
The Wizard of Oz (1942 musical)
The Wizard of Oz (1987 musical)
The Wizard of Oz (2011 musical), by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz, Baum’s 1914 film
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1986 TV series)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (comics), the first of a series of comic book adaptations published by Marvel Comics
Adaptations of The Wizard of Oz, including book, stage, film, television and game adaptations
Wizard of Oz (character), the eponymous character
Political interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the sources of the images in relation to the politics of the era in which the book was written

Birthdays
1909 – Ruby (Ethel Hilda) Keeler (dancer, actress: 42nd Street, No, No, Nanette [Broadway revival]; died Feb 28, 1993)

1909 – Michael Rennie (actor: The Devil’s Brigade, The Battle of El Alamein, Phone Call from a Stranger, The Robe, Hotel; died June 10, 1971)

1913 – Don DeFore (actor: Hazel, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, Jumping Jacks, My Friend Irma, The Stork Club; died Dec 22, 1993)

1913 – Walt Kelly (cartoonist: Pogo; animator: Fantasia [1940], The Reluctant Dragon [1941]; died Oct 19, 1973)

1916 – (Charles) Van Johnson (actor: Three Days to a Kill, Delta Force Commando 2, Yours, Mine and Ours, The Doomsday Flight, Brigadoon, The Caine Mutiny, Easy to Love, In the Good Old Summertime, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Two Girls and a Sailor; died Dec 12, 2008)

1917 – Mel Ferrer (actor: Scaramouche, The Sun Also Rises, War and Peace, The Fall of the Roman Empire, Sex and the Single Girl; died Jun 2, 2008)

1918 – Richard Greene (actor: Island of the Lost, The Castle of Fu Manchu, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Stanley and Livingstone; died June 1, 1985)

1930 – Sir Sean Connery (Academy Award-winning actor: The Untouchables [1987]; The Rock, First Knight, The Hunt for Red October, Highlander, Rising Sun, Outland, The Longest Day, Dragonheart, Entrapment; “Bond. James Bond.”: Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds are Forever)

1944 – Anthony Heald (actor: Bushwhacked, Kiss of Death, The Client, The Ballad of Little Jo, Whispers in the Dark, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Silence of the Lambs)

1947 – Anne Archer (actress: Falcon Crest, A Couple of White Chicks Sitting Around Talking, Fatal Attraction, Narrow Margin, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, Short Cuts)

1949 – John Savage (actor: White Squall, Shattered Image, The Hunting, The Godfather, Part 3, Silent Witness, The Onion Fields, Hair, The Deer Hunter, The Killing Kind, Soldier’s Revenge)

1958 – Tim Burton (director: Planet of the Apes [2001], Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Ed Wood, Mars Attacks!, Sleepy Hollow)1964 – Blair Underwood (actor: L.A. Law, Downtown, Just Cause, Dangerous Relations, Posse, Heat Wave, Rules of Engagement)

1964 – Joanne Whalley-Kilmer (actress: Trial by Jury, Navy SEALS, To Kill a Priest, The Singing Detective, Dance with a Stranger, What the Butler Saw)

1970 – Claudia Schiffer (supermodel; actress: Richie Rich, Friends & Lovers, Black and White)

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