8 Wild The Wizard of Oz Fan Theories

Turner Entertainment Co.
Turner Entertainment Co.

Since it’s the most-watched movie of all time and one of the best films of all time, The Wizard of Oz also probably holds the honor of making the biggest leap from troubled production to quality entertainment. Buddy Ebsen had to be replaced as the Tin Man after an allergic reaction to the metallic makeup landed him in the hospital; Margaret Hamilton was lit on fire trying to leave Munchkinland; and MGM went through directors like candy.

Before George Cukor (its third director) showed up, the studio wanted Judy Garland in a blonde wig and baby-doll clothes, as if Dorothy were a human toy tromping through a cartoon dream. Luckily, he changed that (before being replaced by Victor Fleming). By all accounts the shoot was grueling; yet through all that brutal chaos, a timeless classic with six Oscar nominations (and two wins) was born.

People obsess over this movie, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. With dozens of symbols and a naturally allegorical tale, it lends itself to a wide variety of interpretations and pet theories—some of them more plausible than others.

1. Glinda is the real villain.

What do we really know about Glinda the "Good" Witch? She’s pretty? She’s dressed in soft pink? She speaks in a sweet tone? Our biases let us down again, because Glinda is one of four people in a power struggle for Oz. And by the end of Dorothy’s visit, two of Glinda's adversaries are dead and one leaves in a hot air balloon. The most damning evidence that Glinda is up to something is that she could have told Dorothy that the ruby red slippers she was wearing would send her home right at the beginning, but Dorothy had already offed the Wicked Witch of the East and made enemies with the Wicked Witch of the West, so Glinda chilled with a copy of The 48 Laws of Power and waited to be the last witch standing.

2. Dorothy is the Wicked Witch of the East.

This one is a bit beyond the poppy field, but stick with us for a minute: Every major figure Dorothy meets in Oz is a parallel of someone she knows back home—the field hands and her travel companions, the Wicked Witch of the West and Miss Gulch, and so on. But Dorothy doesn’t have a counterpart. Or does she? There’s someone in Oz that has Dorothy’s exact shoe size, but she’s crushed on arrival. Redditor Primetime2 suggests that the Wicked Witch of the East is Dorothy’s counterpart whose 1) face we never see and 2) might have had to die because her existence while Dorothy is in Oz would have created a paradox. Makes sense.

3. It’s all about a failed presidential candidate and the gold standard.

A still from 'The Wizard of Oz' (1939)
Turner Entertainment Co.

This is the theory everybody knows about because they’re taught it in high school English class without any context. In 1964, historian/author Henry Littlefield proposed [PDF] that L. Frank Baum’s story—with its silver shoes, golden road, and green city—was a parable about Depression Era populism, represented specifically by failed presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan’s thoughts on switching from "the gold standard." The theory claims that Dorothy’s adventure is a defense of farmers taking control of the levers of power as the yellow brick road (representing the gold standard) throws problem after problem at their feet with the Wicked Witch representing the banks and, somehow, the lion representing Bryan himself. Like any good conspiracy theory, every element lines up perfectly if you choose to see it that way. The only problem? Baum wasn’t a populist, so there’s very little reason to believe he would write a story championing that view. Even Littlefield has renounced the theory.

4. It presages Donald Trump’s America.

With that populist slant out of the way, we can really dive into the bonkers stuff. That includes a modern update on politics suggested by British journalist Bidisha. The two major elements are the gilded rot plaguing Oz/America and the bloviating con artist exposed as a fraud without seemingly suffering any repercussions. "The Wizard of Oz is a truly American narrative, and more influential than ever,” Bidisha wrote for The Guardian. "Dorothy goes from wishing to explore all the shades of the rainbow to gratefully embracing black and white, from reaching out to defiant insularity, from exciting new friends to old stalwarts."

5. The Wizard of Oz is Willy Wonka’s father.

A still from 'The Wizard of Oz' (1939)
Turner Entertainment Co.

If you’ve ever wondered where the red spiral aligned with the yellow brick road in Munchkinland leads, tumblr user screennamemissing has the answer: Willy Wonka’s factory. Imagine that the Wizard flew to Oz in a hot air balloon that got busted, and after securing some success in the candy business, the Wizard’s son Willy goes searching for him in all sorts of strange lands, eventually ending up in Munchkinland himself, where he learns the secrets of candy trees and establishes the Lollipop Guild. He uses those fantastical methods to soar to the top of the candy game, finds comfort in his father’s approval, and installs two roads leading from Munchkinland: One to the Emerald City of his father, and one to the factory he owns. The dates on the full theory are way off, but it’s the most fun, inventive theory going around.

6. The story is a celebration of Christianity.

There are dozens of examinations of The Wizard of Oz—both the movie and the original book on which it's based—in the context of religion, all of which note Baum’s faith. Megan Bailey’s article for Beliefnet likens Dorothy’s journey to the personal journey of Christians searching outside themselves for fulfillment, only to learn from an angelic spirit that power and guidance were with them from the start. In Dorothy's case, her well-intentioned friends nonetheless propel her toward a false idol, and the Wicked Witch of the West represents Satan’s continual temptations to stray from the righteous path.

7. The story is a celebration of atheism.

This is what happens when you have a story filled with a bunch of undefined symbols. The same exact story that was taken as a banner for Christianity was also derided by Christians for being anti-religion, a reading happily adopted by some atheists who view the movie as a journey away from small-minded thinking toward godless enlightenment. In this interpretation, the tornado represents the chaos of leaving the safety of a church tradition, the slippers are Dorothy’s self-reliance, and Oz’s command to kill the Wicked Witch of the West represents the social control of the church—with “God” ultimately revealed to be a silly man controlling a ruse. There are several theories that echo sentiments along those lines, but The Show-Me Skeptic’s is the best because it claims critical thinking itself is represented by Toto. The thing drawing us toward enlightenment is also trashing Miss Gulch’s garden.

8. Dorothy Gale is a feminist icon.

A still from 'The Wizard of Oz' (1939)
Turner Entertainment Co.

The movie is so ingrained into our thinking that it may be easy to miss how radical it is. Unlike the damsels in distress that plague(d) Western literature, Baum’s book featured a capable heroine with the power to save herself and her three bumbling male companions in a land co-ruled by several women and a grifting man. Naturally, Baum’s books were written before women got the vote in the United States, and women had been voting for less than two decades when the movie came out.

Unlike the populism theory, Dorothy’s status as an icon from what was described as “the earliest, truly feminist American children’s book” matches what we know about the author’s personal politics. His mother-in-law, Matilda Gage, was a suffragist philosopher whose writing Baum published as editor of the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, and it’s popular thinking among biographers that he took the concept of the Good Witch wholesale from Gage. Obviously this theory is a bit less “bizarre” and more “definitely true and totally awesome.”

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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