The Wizard of Oz movie musical premieres in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin - HISTORY
Year
1939

The Wizard of Oz movie musical premieres in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland and featuring words and music by E.Y. “Yip” Harburg and Harold Arlen, receives its world premiere in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, on this day in 1939.

The beloved characters and familiar plot points were mostly all there in the original children’s book, from the Kansas farm girl in shiny slippers transported to Munchkin land by a terrible tornado, to the wicked witch, the brainless scarecrow, the heartless tin woodsman and the cowardly lion she encounters once she gets there. But what’s missing, of course, from Frank Baum’s bestselling novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is the music that helped make those characters so beloved and those plot points so familiar. First published in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was adapted numerous times for the stage and screen and even set to music prior to 1939. It was that year’s film adaptation, however, that earned Baum’s work a permanent place not only in cinema history, but also in music history.

Lyricist Yip Harburg and composer Harold Arlen were both seasoned songwriting professionals before teaming up in 1938 to write the original songs for The Wizard of Oz, though they had worked together very little. Harburg’s best-known credits to date were “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” (1931) and “It’s Only A Paper Moon” (1933), and Arlen’s were “Get Happy” (1929) and “Stormy Weather” (1933). Their first collaboration was on the Broadway musical Hooray For What! (1937), which yielded the now-standard “Down With Love.” The success of The Wizard of Oz, however, would quickly overshadow those earlier accomplishments.

Not only did Judy Garland’s signature song, “Over The Rainbow,” earn Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg the Oscar for Best Song at the 1940 Academy Awards, but it quickly became an indispensable standard in the American Songbook, later being acknowledged as the #1 song on the “Songs of the Century” list compiled in 2001 by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.

First and foremost, however, Arlen and Harburg’s songs accomplished their primary goal with flying colors, carrying and deepening the emotional impact of the story in the film for which they were written. As innovative and impressive as the production values of The Wizard of Oz were in 1939, it is impossible to imagine the film earning the place it has in the popular imagination without songs like “The Lollipop Guild,” “If I Only Had A Brain” and “We’re Off To See The Wizard.”

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Hollywood icon Lauren Bacall dies

On this day in 2014, actress Lauren Bacall, who shot to fame in her debut film, 1944’s “To Have and Have Not,” in which she appeared opposite Humphrey Bogart, with whom she would have a legendary romance, dies at her New York City home at age 89. In a career that spanned nearly ...read more

Soviets test “Layer-Cake” bomb

Less than one year after the United States tested its first hydrogen bomb, the Soviets detonate a 400-kiloton device in Kazakhstan. The explosive power was 30 times that of the U.S. atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and the mushroom cloud produced by it stretched five miles into ...read more

Nicklaus sets title record

On August 12, 1973, American golfer Jack Nicklaus wins the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) championship for his 14th major title, surpassing Bobby Jones’ record of 13 major championships. Nicklaus shot a seven-under-par 277 at Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood, Ohio, to ...read more

King Philip’s War ends

In colonial New England, King Philip’s War effectively comes to an end when Philip, chief of the Wampanoag Indians, is assassinated by a Native American in the service of the English.In the early 1670s, 50 years of peace between the Plymouth colony and the local Wampanoag Indians ...read more

JAL air crash

At 6:50 p.m. local time, a Japan Air Lines Boeing 747SR crashes into Mount Otsuka, 70 miles northwest of Tokyo. There were 524 people aboard, and all but four were dead by the time rescuers reached the remote crash site 12 hours later.JAL flight 123 took off from Tokyo’s Haneda ...read more

Cleopatra commits suicide

Cleopatra, queen of Egypt and lover of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, takes her life following the defeat of her forces against Octavian, the future first emperor of Rome.Cleopatra, born in 69 B.C., was made Cleopatra VII, queen of Egypt, upon the death of her father, Ptolemy ...read more

“Tucker: The Man & His Dream” debuts

Remembered by some as a visionary and others as a flamboyant but failed opportunist, Preston Tucker (born in 1903) was inspired to build cars by his friendship and pre-World War II business partnership with the race car driver and auto designer Harry Miller. In the renewed ...read more

Skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex discovered

On this day in 1990, fossil hunter Susan Hendrickson discovers three huge bones jutting out of a cliff near Faith, South Dakota. They turn out to be part of the largest-ever Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered, a 65 million-year-old specimen dubbed Sue, after its ...read more

VC launch new offensive

Viet Cong forces launch a new offensive with attacks on 150 cities, towns, and bases, including Da Nang and Hue. The heaviest attacks were aimed at the area adjacent to the Cambodian border northwest of Saigon; an estimated 2,000 Communists attacked Tay Ninh, Quan Loi, Loc Ninh, ...read more

Rising NFL star paralyzed by hit

Oakland Raiders free safety Jack Tatum levels New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley with a helmet-to-helmet hit in a preseason game, leaving Stingley paralyzed for life. Despite the sport’s hard hits and reputation for roughness, this was the first and only time a ...read more

Fur trader Manuel Lisa dies

Manuel Lisa, the first fur trader to develop the upper Missouri River territory explored by Lewis and Clark, dies in St. Louis.The son of either Cuban or Spanish parents, Lisa was born in New Orleans in 1772. By the time he was a young man he had developed extensive trading ...read more

English poet laureate Robert Southey is born

On this day, Robert Southey, Wordsworth’s predecessor as poet laureate of England, is born in Bristol.Southey began writing at the Westminster School in London. He was expelled for writing an essay condemning excessive corporal punishment, which he published in the school ...read more

James Bond creator Ian Fleming dies

On this day in 1964, the British author and journalist Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, the world’s most famous fictional spy, dies of a heart attack at age 56 in Kent, England. Fleming’s series of novels about the debonair Agent 007, based in part on their dashing author’s ...read more

Russian sub sinks with 118 onboard

A Russian nuclear submarine sinks to the bottom of the Barents Sea on this day in 2000; all 118 crew members are later found dead. The exact cause of the disaster remains unknown.The Kursk left port on August 10 to take part in war games with the Russian military. Russian ships, ...read more

Great Train robber escapes from prison

On August 12, 1964, Charlie Wilson, part of the gang who pulled off the 1963 Great Train Robbery, one of the biggest heists of its kind, escapes from Winson Green Prison in Birmingham, England. Several men broke into the maximum-security facility to free Wilson, who remained on ...read more