Severe burns and alleged groping: 8 scandals that plagued the cast of The Wizard of Oz.



Watching Dorothy, Toto and their fantastical friends skip down the yellow brick road toward the Emerald City is arguably a quintessential part of growing up.

The iconic film, The Wizard of Oz, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, is an action packed adventure story with some of the most memorable characters to ever grace our screens.

As these characters: Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion journey to find the Wizard they face a plethora of challenges from the Wicked Witch of the West, her flying monkeys and even angry apple trees. But behind the scenes, is perhaps where most of the unbelievable action happened, and often, not in a good way.

Watch the original trailer for The Wizard of Oz. Post continues after video.

1. The Wicked Witch suffered severe burns.

While filming one of her first scenes as the Wicked Witch of the West, actress Margaret Hamilton ended up having six weeks off production because she literally caught on fire.

In the Munchkin Land scene, the green faced witch warns Dorothy, “I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog too,” then disappears in a fiery exit, through a trap door underneath her. As she went through the door, Hamilton’s broom, hat and cape caught on fire and left her with second-degree burns on her hand.


Frustratingly, this was the back up take that the director had requested, the first take went off without a hitch.

Upon returning to the set, Hamilton was asked to perform another fire scene. She understandably refused, so a double, Betty Danko was used instead.

Danko also suffered burns after her broom caught alight. She spent 11 days in hospital and was reportedly only paid $35 for the role.

The green face paint was another hazard that the actor faced. The paint was made out of copper based ingredients which made it toxic. Hamilton refused to eat once it had been applied and would only drink through a straw to avoid ingesting the substance.

2. Judy Garland was allegedly groped by the Munchkins.

In 2017, a posthumous memoir by Sidney Luft – one of Garland’s ex-husbands, who died in 2005 – alleged that she was groped by the munchkins on set.

“They would make Judy’s life miserable on set by putting their hands under her dress… The men were 40 or more years old,” Luft, a producer and business manager, revealed. “They thought they could get away with anything because they were so small.”

However this alleged behaviour has been denied by the munchkins themselves.

Margaret Pellegrini who played one of the Munchkins when she was a 15-year-old girl, told Independent in 2009: “There were a lot of them who liked to go out and have a few drinks, but nothing got out of hand. Everyone was having a good time and enjoying themselves. There was no rowdiness or anything like that, and those stories are very upsetting.”


3. Judy Garland was allegedly given drugs on set.

Sidney Luft also claimed in the biography that Garland was given amphetamines by senior crew members while on the set of Wizard of Oz to ensure she was energised for the long hours. The drugs also assisted in weight loss, and suppressing her appetite.

Garland, who was 16 years old when she filmed Wizard of Oz, went on to have a life-long battle with drugs.

“She was married to the drugs before she met me, and she never really got divorced,” Luft wrote in the biography.

4. The snow was made of asbestos.

In 1939 there were no high-tech computer generated special effects. So to create snow in the scene where the Good Witch of the South, Glinda awakes Dorothy and her friends from the Wicked Witch’s poppy spell, they used chrysotile asbestos. The actors were unknowingly doused in carcinogenics.

At the time the substance was also used for snow based holiday decorations.

5. Tin Man’s suit was toxic.

The actor who was set to play Tin Man, Buddy Ebsen (who had actually originally been cast as Scarecrow) was sent to hospital nine days into production due to the effect of the silver makeup used to create the Tin Man’s metal appearance.

He later said: “My lungs were coated with that aluminium dust they had been powdering on my face.”


Ebsen was replaced with actor, Jack Haley and they changed the silver powder to silver paste. Despite the change, Ebsen still suffered a serious eye infection caused by the substance.

Wizard of Oz cast
Toxic face paint and asbestos-based props, talk about an OH&S issue. Image: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

6. On set temperatures often exceeded 37 degrees.

In the early days of technicolour, film productions required much more lighting for the process. Subsequently, this bumped up the heat on set.


With many of the characters in full body costumes, including the Lion, who literally wore lion pelts, it probably wasn’t a lie when the Wicked Witch screamed, “I’m melting.”

7. Dorothy’s ruby slippers weren’t actually ruby.

To move on from the long line of OH&S issues from the film set and onto a topic much more light, it turns out that Dorothy’s ruby slippers weren’t originally ruby.

In the L. Frank Baum book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz which the film is based upon, Dorothy’s slippers were actually silver. They were supposed to be silver in the film too until the studio head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer decided that ruby would be a much better colour to show off technicolour.

8. Judy Garland was not the first choice to play Dorothy.

It is hard to imagine anyone but Judy Garland effortlessly singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow next to that hay stack but she was not the studio’s first choice for Dorothy.

It was 11 year old Shirley Temple who was originally set to play the character of Dorothy. Temple’s younger age was believed to be better suited and her star power didn’t hurt either. Unfortunately Temple didn’t have the vocals necessary for the role, which worked out pretty well for Garland.

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer from Victoria. An ex secondary school teacher, Shona has a strong interest in education. She is an animal lover and advocate, with a morbid fascination for true crime and horror movies. Shona is usually busy writing and raising her children: two goats, two cats and two humans. You can follow her on Instagram @shonamarion.